Managing a Startup Business

If you can’t find a way, then make a way!

Starting a business, any business is a brave step. But how do you manage a start-up business as well as find customers or put in place a customer acquisition strategy on tight or even zero budgets. Working with early stage and start-up companies I know first-hand how limited resources can be. The tendency for many small businesses is to focus on the product. They add in more and more features or take comfort in a well designed website or just even they talk about strategy rather than putting in place a plan to find and sell to customers so the business can getting on track to achieving  business success AKA revenue generation. The below list is some actionable business tactics to get your small business sales pipeline moving and put you on the track to success.

business-startup

Know your Target market – don’t try to sell to everyone

Product to marketing fit is critical to any business success however a business start-up should never try to be a great product to satisfy all buyers’ needs, this will simply not work as no one product will be for everyone. So step 1 is to try to focus in on one customer target group. It will make the business look more focused, knowledgeable, and professional plus it allows the business to channel its efforts into making one target group happy. The key now is to do a customer targeting exercise (figuring out who your customers are and what they want). I am not saying this is easy, especially if your business is new or you only have 1 or 2 beta customers. Brainstorm on what set of buyers or people who might need your product now by matching it back to what problem your product solves, this is sometimes called your USP- unique selling point or Value Wedge. Also check if it is a fluid market (low hanging fruit to be gathered) by doing some Google searches on related keywords. Balance the fact that you don’t want to define your target market so small or so tightly that it’s something people won’t search for. Think in terms of keywords, search terms or existing topics being discussed on forums or industry buzz.

One Swallow does not make a summer

The lesson here is stay focused on executing the business model and don’t get distracted. A good example of this is a company in the SaaS space I work with, received  a phone call from a big company about doing a demo of their product at their offices which would include a customization element. Even though the meeting went ahead, it came to nothing because my client company was not big enough nor could afford to serve companies in the non-SaaS way. They simply were not big enough to fulfil all the product amendments for this one customer or have a dedicated team to work on the project at the stage where they were trying to find the best product to market fit. This distracted the team for over 6 weeks when they could have been doing more productive lead nurturing work.

business-planning

Make a plan

A business plan will at the very least serve as a guide or a roadmap along the way. Too many small businesses talk about being agile or nimble. That is a process or a culture; it is not a business model. What this can often mean is that their limited resources are waiting to respond to the next challenge thrown before them. I am not suggesting that this is wrong as sometimes it is necessary but not all the time so try to build a business plan. The goal is to develop a sound business strategy that provides a reference framework to keep the business on track to grow by building its awareness, developing brand consideration, attracting new customers and closing sales deals.

Tip: Use this Free Business Tools to focus on your business plan to success, time is precious, do not waste it.

Develop a clear brand for your business

A branding is not just for large corporations; from tiny acorns big trees grow! This does not mean spending vast sums on branding but rather it reflects your mission, values and what your product stands for. The major action here is to determine the core attributes of your brand and promote this .Always strive to present your company in the same way, carve out an awareness level on what your brand represents (product innovation, cost leadership, service leadership ) so that it contributes to the overall business in a cost effective way.

Publish great articles

The old adage about content is king is true. Along with being a product or service company also think of your business as a content publishing house. Articles get search traffic via targeted keywords (SEO) but just as important it positions your brand and business as thought leaders. But you have to stand out from the crowd to get attention. Articles need keyword optimised titles PLUS great content, make them factual or research based to further boost readership. No point in publishing articles as a box ticking exercise, make sure the articles you publish are the best so people want to read or download them or don’t bother. Blunt but true.

A few tips on great content angles:

  • Be highly creative or controversial
  • Be the most knowledgeable
  • Have the most research
  • Write strange articles on your industry

Be Social Media Aware.

As a start-up you probably will read loads on inbound marketing, social media or social selling. Being social media aware is more than a few twitter posts or Facebook likes. Every business needs to have a presence and visibility on a variety of Social Media platforms. Create a social media plan (based on article sharing) and then schedule your social media activities so that you build relationships with social influencers, potential prospects, customers and the public. Learn the art of social selling – share to receive.

Keep it lean and mean – know which plates to spin

Like most start-ups you have a lean team so make sure you know what everyone is doing. Who is driving customer acquisition, marketing and sales? Revert back to your plan and prioritise the key initiatives (revenue and product) including major tasks such as content creation, social media interaction and social selling. Time management and knowing which plates to spin can sometimes be complicated for a small business as they dash around from pillar to post. Find and use the right tools, free business tools like Zoho or Trello should save you time or tears. Finally from me to you, a message of sincere best wishes in your business venture. Happy hunting!

Sales Strategy Plan

A sales strategy is the process of matching the business purpose or mission with a sales plan, then putting in place goals, metrics and sales tactics. The sales strategy will also map out courses of action and allocating resources to achieve the selected goals and tactics.

sales-strategy

A sales strategy is really about answering the one critical question “What is the best most viable method for the business reach paying customers for the product or service? Is it sell to or sell through, direct or indirect?

Before a sales strategy addresses how the sales team will sell or, it must first address how customers are buying. Today customers are seizing the balance of power in the buyer-supplier relationship, more and more aspects of the sales process is being played out online, so companies need to structure the sales plans and resources for this new reality.

  • “57% of the purchase decision is complete before a customer even calls a supplier.” (CEB)
  • “67% of the buyer’s journey is now done digitally.” (SiriusDecisions)

Today’s selling reality.

Potential customers or prospects will have researched a supplier based on digital reach and industry influence before a sales rep ever gets to talk to them

Sales and marketing are now one team, an integrated “Smarketing” team that functions to target and acquire customers.

Understanding customers buying behaviour define the product offerings.

To sell more and win market share a business needs to offer more seamless customer service touch points through lower cost channels

Vanilla flavoured selling will disappear, sales teams need to be specialised, social enabled and multi-channel savvy.

Sales reps have to work at adding value in the sales process rather than just quote features and benefits.

Sales complexity and the sales process needs to be minimised to ensure selling costs are controlled in a tighter margin environment.

The key Sales Strategy Questions.

Asking and answering a series of sales strategy questions will help a business identify and take advantage of the best opportunities to sell better and more often. Also Sales leaders who acknowledge the new selling reality need to know how to answer questions like:

  • Does the business have a market development lead strategy (selling more of same product to same/new customers) or a product development strategy (selling new products to same/new customers)?
  • Who is the business selling to? Does it know which market segments have the best growth rates?
  • What is the most effective means of reaching target customers and what is the cost in taking this route?
  • How does marketing and sales share the workload and collaborate?
  • How does the business equip the sellers (direct, indirect, partners) with the right content, expertise and skills to navigate the customers’ buying journey and then differentiate the business value proposition?
  • Does the business collect and analyse data to forecast which products customers are likely to buy or trends developing?
  • What is the most effective sales and distribution model?

“To compete in today’s customer educated world, companies got to have something different. The product must higher quality, easier to use, more convenient to buy, or a better fit than the competition.”

Sales Strategy Selection.

The sales strategy selection should cover what is the customer sweet spot, what are you offering them, sales deployment for customer coverage based on customer sweet spot, sales and marketing activities, what sales and marketing enables/tools will the business use, how you will manage and track performance against the goals.

  1. The target market. This is the customer selection, customer sweet spots where the sales and marketing focus will be.

Give it some detail. Once the target market has been defined, give it some detail. How big is it, profile of customers, buying preferences then create a hit list. The hit list should be number and data driven, do you have 100 or 1000 or 10,000 prospects on the list.

  1. Reaching the target market. What is the primary reach method or put another way “what is your customer acquisition plan”, is it on-line, social media, cold calling, partners, channel or networking?

Regardless of the method to reach paying customers, reaching the target audience takes “Smarketing”, sales and marketing working together on tactics like content marketing, social selling, industry influence, thought leadership, blogs, and whitepapers, audience reach on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn etc.  Effective sales strategy using Smarketing means a business drives marketing qualified leads (MQL) and sales-qualified leads (SQL) into one sales funnel, then measures, monitors and ensures follow up on the leads generated for the business.

A business needs to map out the sales cycle and sales process. This is all about getting the sales team selling. The “Smarketing” effort should have a target of generating leads via inbound marketing, landing pages, request for information, social selling on LinkedIn and other social media sites, cold calling or field visits.

  1. Customer Nurturing. The sales process should be void of any unnecessary complexity or obstacles in customer interaction. The sales process has to include social selling, where the sales team gets engaged with social selling to the prospects. This stage is where prospective buyers are sourcing, digesting and reviewing information and content. A recent report by Act-On showed that 85% of Business-to-Business buyers said it takes three or more pieces of relevant content to help make a decision on progressing with a supplier. So, a business can lead nurture by influencing the buyer to take action by feeding them with relevant content on their terms or personalised preference.

Make sure the sales teams are delivering on what the marketing message promoted. Vanilla feature and benefit selling is gone, train the sales team to be industry experts, build the customer relationship. Don’t expect them to stay with you or use you for other needs if you are not taking the time to build a relationship with them. The sales process does not end with the sale.

  1. Collect and Analyse Data. This is one of the most critical aspects of a successful sales strategy. As a business moves forward with the sales plan it must collect, track and analyse how well the sales tactics, product offerings or pricing is working. Every sales rep to sales leader should be asking these questions:
  • How did it go?
  • What worked?
  • What didn’t work?
  • Did we hit the numbers?

Collecting the data gives the insights as to what works and what does not so a business can tweak the sales process.

So to recap, the Sales Strategy should cover:

Target Customer Profile – Customer Segmentation – Sales /Distribution Model – Sales Process Definition (i.e. Sales Cycle) – Sales Funnel Calculation – Pricing Strategy – Upselling and Cross selling Strategy

The actual Sales Plan Components should include:

Sales Materials – Content Materials – Sales Team – Smarketing, Sales Pipeline – Customer Nurturing and Channelling – Sales Cycle – Closing Techniques – Sales Forecast – Timeline – Budget

The challenge for sales leaders today is to better execute on their sales strategy. Buyers and business even consumers are going through changes in what they buy, how they buy, and what they are willing to pay for it. As buyers change how they buy, vendors need to change how they sell. The way a business sold its products or services is not going to cut it in the future. Sales strategies need to be nimble, social driven and customer lead. Now is the time to revisit and revise the sales strategy.

Business Plan for Growth

Devising a Business Plan and Strategy for Growth

Business plan and implementing a business strategy is more than simply achieving business goals. It inspires people to work hard, makes the team feel part of a purpose; it incites actions and ensures that activities happen. Simply constructed, effectively executed, a business strategy is a template for business success.

  1. Take Time to Think

A business needs strategic thinking before any strategic planning. Maybe the biggest strategic obstacle to any business is if they can out think their competitors.

“If today was the last day of your life, would you do what you are about to do today” Steve Jobs

  1. Ask and Answer Key Business Questions
  • The purpose of the business
  • Strength of the team
  • Current effectiveness
  • Financial resources of the company
  • Target market trends
  • Current market position
  1. Know the Business Why
  • Real planning and growth strategies are founded on “Business Purpose”
  • Vision: where the business is going in the long-term
  • Mission: the business purpose and reason WHY for existing
  • Values: Who and what the business stands for
  1. Business Mission
  • Think about the Business Mission
  • The business mission concentrates on the here and now. A mission statement defines the fundamental purpose of any business. It identifies who the company is, what it does, and who it serves.
  1. Why do Business Planning?

A business plan gives a business options, it can Die Quickly, Die slowly, survive or thrive. Doing nothing is not an option; a no business plan is the weakest plan of all.

 business-planning

  1. A business strategy to Thrive
  1. Start with goals – what do I want out of this business?
  2. Create a vision of what the business needs to look like in order to accomplish your goals.
  3. Create a business mission to guide you along the way.
  4. Develop strategies to get you from where you are now to where you want to be in the future. Strategies require investments – which mean budgets, resources and timelines.
  1. What is strategic business planning?

Strategic planning is the process of determining the primary business purpose (the “WHY”), putting in place goals and tactics, then adopting courses of action and allocating resources to achieve the selected goals and tactics.

What causes business success?

  • Has history shown us that the No.1 business killer is lack of market?
  • When a great business team meets a stagnant market, market wins. When an average business team meets a great market, market wins. But when a great business team meets a great market, then something really special happens.
  1. Ideal Growth Plan
  • Desirable products or Services
  • Big enough market
  • An economical way to target and serve it.
  • Note: Product quality will not create market size; Steve Jobs learned that lesson with his NeXT business.

business strategy options

  • Market Penetration – selling more of the same things to more of the same customers
  • Market Development – selling more of the same things to different customers
  • Product Development – selling new products or services to the same customers
  • Diversification – selling new products or services to different customers

Market penetration

Market penetration is the name given to a growth strategy where the business focuses on selling existing products into existing markets.

Market penetration seeks to achieve four main objectives:

  • Maintain or increase the market share of current products – this can be achieved by a combination of competitive pricing strategies, advertising, sales promotion and perhaps more resources dedicated to personal selling
  • Secure dominance of growth markets
  • Restructure a mature market by driving out competitors; this would require a much more aggressive promotional campaign, supported by a pricing strategy designed to make the market unattractive for competitors
  • Increase usage by existing customers – for example by introducing loyalty schemes

A market penetration marketing strategy is very much about “business as usual”. The business is focusing on markets and products it knows well. It is likely to have good information on competitors and on customer needs. It is unlikely, therefore, that this strategy will require much investment in new market research.

Market development

Market development is the name given to a growth strategy where the business seeks to sell its existing products into new markets.

There are many possible ways of approaching this strategy, including:

  • New geographical markets; for example exporting the product to a new country
  • New product dimensions or packaging: for example
  • New distribution channels (e.g. moving from selling via retail to selling using e-commerce and mail order)
  • Different pricing policies to attract different customers or create new market segments

Market development is a more risky strategy than market penetration because of the targeting of new markets.

Product development

Product development is the name given to a growth strategy where a business aims to introduce new products into existing markets. This strategy may require the development of new competencies and requires the business to develop modified products which can appeal to existing markets.

A strategy of product development is particularly suitable for a business where the product needs to be differentiated in order to remain competitive.  A successful product development strategy places the marketing emphasis on:

  • Research & development and innovation
  • Detailed insights into customer needs (and how they change)
  • Being first to market

Diversification

Diversification is the name given to the growth strategy where a business markets new products in new markets.

This is an inherently more risk strategy because the business is moving into markets in which it has little or no experience.

For a business to adopt a diversification strategy, therefore, it must have a clear idea about what it expects to gain from the strategy and an honest assessment of the risks.  However, for the right balance between risk and reward, a marketing strategy of diversification can be highly rewarding.

  1. All Business Plans need Resources

Money – to fund cash flow, product, materials and resources

Information – Market and product research, market trends, market size, customer profiling, customer acquisition

People – The team needed to facilitate the growth plan, to execute the plan, to manage the costs

The success of a business strategy depends on the resources available to thee business. A good tip is to follow this 5 Step Planning Process

  • Imagine – what products or services
  • Dissect – data and customer feedback
  • Expand – market research and tasks
  • Analyse – results, information, investment
  • Sell – customer acquisition, marketing, sales

Every business should develop a “strategic hypothesis” and test it out making very small bets. Try to sell the idea to a customer before it’s built, look for a supplier, and ask a mentor or advisor who has some expertise in the new area.

10. People don’t plan to fail, they just fail to plan

A business plan for growth should be grounded in your Business Purpose, Mission and Core Values, a solid business strategy will help you develop a plan of action and maximise your likelihood of success in achieving your vision.

 

Business and Leadership

Business leadership can be hard to define but it is a title many aspire to regardless of company size or industry. But is business management different to business leadership and which of these traits (leadership or management) is the most valued when promoting someone to a senior role. Is the term “business leader” being overused to the extent that it is rendered nearly meaningless?

business-leadership

business leadership

The press and online articles are full of sound bites and quotes from business leaders. What are these so called business leaders?. Business leadership was once deemed to be a wealth generator, someone who took a risk, set up a business to create wealth while generating employment or was instrumental in delivering huge growth for a company. So are the real business leaders people like Bill Gates,Michael Dell, Larry Ellison or Steve Jobs to name but a few right down to the heroes of a local economy, small business people who create opportunity and employment for their local area.

Anyone with a Twitter account and a blog is a Business Leader.

It is important to state that titles are an important aspect of any organisation, business or company. They indicate a certain level of achievement, authority and responsibility. However leadership used to mean something specific. High level executives. Leaders of industry. Time was you would never call a middle manager or a front-line supervisor, a leader. Today it seems when anyone kind of picks up the ball and runs with it are called people or business leaders. What we’re really talking about here are people who are engaged in the business. So we have become accustomed to seeing the term business leadership being used in a very broad sense.

This is probably the reason middle or senior managers in large multi-nationals often get referred to as “business leaders” in press articles. Most do not define business strategy, how the business operates, the culture  or the direction of the business. So the business leaders we often see quoted in the press in most cases are business managers (even if they do have the title VP or director they are in reality managers). Title inflation, self-proclaimed titles, and title overexposure are the cause of dumbing down leadership titles. When titles are overused or abused, they lose their meaning.

Business leadership has nothing to do with titles. A C-level title, does not automatically make someone a “business leader.” In fact no one really needs a title to lead. The reality is anyone can be a leader in their community, sports club, in family, all without having a formal title.

There are lots of business managers who aspire to be business leaders but lots more do not. Having an MBA with a C level title while working within the cushion of a large organization does not a business leader make. The role of these business managers is to “Implement”. That is to take the pre-defined strategy and Business goals and implement them whether its sales,marketing,finance or product. They may lead the unit or division from a tactical stance but they do not lead the business.

The world seems to fallen in love with titles and in a centralised decision making business world maybe bigger titles such as VP or Country Manager are a way of compensating for the true role a manager is expected to perform.

Business Leadership has nothing to do with level of seniority or someone’s position in the hierarchy of a company. Too often in business, when we discuss the company’s leadership we are most likely referring to the most senior executives in the organisation. They are just that, senior executives or business managers. Leadership does not automatically happen when you reach a certain pay level. Hopefully business managers can work to earn the title business leader but there are no certainties.

If you are reading this article hopefully you love business and business strategy, the cut and trust of sales,marketing, trying to win a customer, managing people to deliver higher results but this does not make us a business leader. Knowing ones place in the business world is healthy and honest. First and foremost “Know Thyself”. No need to perfume the pig, a great manager is a great manager, no need to embellish it with titles that do a disservice to the title “business leader”, a title many aspire to but only a small portion ever really earn the right to be called it.

Not everyone in business sees themselves as a potential leader.  Maybe it is really about being the best at their job they can be.

However for people who want to continue the business leadership journey, then maybe it is a process of influence, which stimulates and maximises the efforts of others, towards the achievement of a goal. Real business leadership stems from influence, not title, authority or power

A few tips to build up a leadership profile includes (A) they learn to act like a leader: to manage their image in a genuine, authentic way. (B) They are straightforward; they tell people what they stand for, and then stand for it. (C) They are inspirational and learn what motivates people. They are optimistic and use emotion in their communication. (D) They know the people they are leading and help them develop and (E) They stimulate people, make people think and make them take responsible  but always with the positive support of a business leader knows they must provide.

Get the Sales Team Selling

To win more customers and grow, every business needs to focus on getting the sales team selling, they need to get sold on sales actions and sales time not just the company’s sales process. One question any salesperson needs clarification on is “what do you want me to do”. Seems like a easy question for a sales leader to answer,”Go sell”. So what does selling actually mean in your business?, is it revenue, margin, revenue by product line, number of new deals?. Once upon a time selling was easily quantified. In the day of the door to door sales, all a sales person needed was the product to demo and enough streets with enough door bells to ring. Simple numbers game, keep knocking until someone opens, give the sales pitch and close.

Today in the digital era, sales has moved inside, online, blended, push,pull, hunter,miner, gatherer and the systems supporting the sales process have gotten more complicated. First we had contact management with software programs like Goldmine, then came CRM and now Sales Force Automation.Which makes me wonder, has actual selling time got second billing to the sales process?, are sales people more engaged in the sales process and systems than the actual selling itself?. Maybe its time to spend longer fighting for more sales!

selling-time

Sales models for many companies have become more complex and less efficient in the quest for data, putting pressure on the rate they can acquire customers, productivity and even shifting the focus point from selling time to process time.

The guiding principle of all sales and marketing teams is to maximise selling time, lead generation and relationship building. That may sound obvious to any sales leader, but it is important to remember that the drive for data and sales insights can collide with the forces of rising complexity in the sales process. In fact, sales teams can over time slip comfortable into being sales processors against being sales winners. Companies must understand and clarify the scope of their sales teams while promoting efficiency throughout the sales process.

There are thousands of ways to kill a sale but only a few ways to win them. Some ways to kill a sale are obvious like not showing up to a meeting prepared, not following up, not listening, not establishing a realtionship, going to proposal too early, not speaking to decision makers… the list goes on. These can be easy to identify and with some training and practice can be overcome.

Then there are the sales killers that hide beneath the surface that many companies and sales managers do not even know exist. These are the sales weaknesses in the sales process (over reporting anyone?) which when combined with a salesperson’s own make-up can act like weights pulling down the sales efforts and results.

sales-team-productivity

Aligning your selling efforts with sales process takes work. Sometimes companies can be cautious about meddling with the sales force—directors and even owners need to overcome the common fear that disrupting it will hamper revenue or market intelligence. Then, other stake holders from not only sales, marketing and sales support but also other functions, such as finance, must work together to identify and prioritise the expected outputs from the sales engine. Next, successful sales teams transformations require support from the very top: someone has to take the lead, get the senior people from across the company to sit down, share data, and be willing to talk about what’s not working. This leader must override internal concerns, see the big picture, and focus on the best solutions to boost the time spent selling regardless of past practices.
Changing the sales focus and sales teams activities may mean changing the sales talent as successful sales teams refocusing may change how people carry out their roles and the ways other stakeholders interact, from customers to marketing and back offices.

Finally, winning back and protecting selling time for sales people to sell requires vigilance. The growth of multi channels marketing and sales channels in the  B2B and B2C markets can demand non-selling activities into the sales teams day. In addition, old habits chip away at selling time: a salespersons ingrained response when a customer needs a quick answer to something is to drop everything and dive in, even when a well mapped out sales support or customer support mechanism is in place to handle any issue faster and better. The new mantra has to be “A sales teams time is better used to sell.”

An example of refocusing the sales team selling time, was an Internet company who set aggressive targets for sales metrics such as the number of new customer interactions per week. Giving the sales people goals they could not meet without changing their behavior forced them to adopt to the change in sales focus. Success became self-reinforcing: the more they stayed in the business of selling the better they performed.

 In larger companies, viewing sales operations across departments may not be easy, nor is implementing changes that affect the entire sales process. Yet the more sales operations can be streamlined and admin reduced, the more likely customer satisfaction will improve as deals close quickly and sales pipeline grows faster. At these companies, the result can often be millions of Euros in higher revenues and lower sales costs.

Get the right sales people and channel in front of the customer at the right time.

It may not be enough to transform the sales teams by hiring people with the skills and capabilities to sell solutions to target sectors. Companies might have to restructure their sales coverage model, which means defining the sales roles differently. The questions to ask, include how much hunting versus gathering capacity to employ; what the role of sales specialists should be; whether to use one or multiple sales people to serve a segment or customers across different geographies.

When to hunt for new customers and when to mine deeper within current customers is one of the answers that needs to be made explicit to any sales team. Too many sales people often get comfortable serving their current customers, so an obvious initial step is to charge them with becoming more aggressive about mining the largest customers to their full potential. At the same time, however, the life blood of any business is acquiring new customers.

That’s why an effective coverage model needs to be deliberate about who should be hunting and where. Sales managers should meet regularly with hunting sales people to understand and actively refine their target prospects and beach-head plans. Given the degree of sales difficulty and the strategic value of acquiring new customers, sellers should receive a compensation recognition for breaking into new accounts.

Whether hunting,farming or mining, it’s critical to get the mix and sequence of sales skills, sales training and specialists right. Do not ignore a sales stream because there’s no sales expert in-house to cover the area with the skills the target customers considers crucial.

Sales people need to learn and be taught how to orchestrate effective teaming. Like musicians who seamlessly improvise back and forth after they have played together several times, salespeople who get to know and trust one another tend to sell together more effectively.

Sales people need to get sold on selling again,

They need to understand that new customer conversations are a priority, building and expanding relationships is more important that a spreadsheet and get the answer to “what do you want me to do?.

Sales Strategy – Marketing Services – Sales Consultant – Social Selling – Inbound Marketing – Lead Generation

I'm always available to have a chat on your business plans and any challenges in lead generation, social selling, marketing or sales.