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Commentary by Stuart R. Crawford

RISMEDIA, Jan. 4, 2008-What sales strategies have you developed in your business for sales success? Many of us in the small business consulting business usually have a strategy built on word of mouth referrals that allows us to have a quick selling cycle, limited competition and provides us with an abnormally high closing ratio.

This is great for the immediate success of our businesses and it can be sustained over a period of time, however, what happens if the referrals cease or slow down and the well runs dry? What selling strategies can we deploy in our business to sustain growth in our businesses? What unique spin can you offer to a niche market? How much work are you willing to give away? Do you chase prospects?

In business, you are truly measured by how much business you bring in and what the bottom line looks like. You can have the best solution, the best core principals, the best technical team – the list never ends, however if you can’t sell your offering, engage new opportunities and provide a skill unique to the market, you may find yourself in a jam and rapidly running out of money.

Here are some tips that have worked for me to grow my business and perhaps provide you with a higher closing ratio:

1. Pick a niche – The real estate marketplace is exactly like learning to play music, there are so many different types of music that it is almost impossible to master all the different genres. It is recommended that you decide on one area to master and two others that you can learn well. Why? You need to be able to speak the language used in a specific market, specialize in their unique requirements and most importantly become the expert (someone they can turn to in their time of need). If you are scattered in your offerings, it will limit your ability to service all of your clients to the level of service that someone who masters a niche can deliver. When you combine the combination of picking a niche market and become the experts it also allows you to specialize in a specific technology offering that serves that niche. You will master that core market and become the “go-to” solution provider.

2. Bond and built rapport – When you can bond with your clients or even your prospects, your chances of success greatly increase. People buy from those that they can trust and respect. When you engage with a prospect or client and build a relationship with them, you instantly eliminate the competition and potentially some of new big box threats from entering into your client base.

“Building a relationship with my clients is the basis for everything I do with my client,” states Joddey Hicks from Heartland Technologies in Ames, Iowa. “I not only want to know everything I can about their business, but also their personal life also. When I have built a relationship like this, I then truly understand not only how but why they make the decisions that they do. With this knowledge I can bring them the solutions that will help improve their business and the personal lives.”

3. Ask questions immediately – How many questions can you ask? The best sales people have the ability to dig deep into the needs of their clients. You need to ask questions immediately. This is a very important step, many times small business consultants get tied up in the “what we do” or “what we can provide” well before they understand the needs of the prospect. “Shut up and listen” is a critical skill to master. It is extremely important to ask some qualifying questions when dealing with a new prospect like “Are you the decision maker?” or “Are you looking at multiple offers?” These important questions will help you as your prepare your strategy and when you can dig deep, you have the ability to hit the exact solution that is needed, increase your total sale and have a potential client for life.

4. Find out what the budget is – This is must! You can find this out during your questioning. How many times do you work hard to prepare a proposal to find afterwards that they never had the money in the first place? If cash flow is a concern with a prospect or they want the big solution and only have an entry level budget, you can invite other mechanisms like financing or leasing to assist you during your proposal.

5. Prospect Education – Nothing beats education, as a focus to sell a solution, an educated investor has the potential to purchase more of your solution up front and continuously purchase from your business during the tenure of your relationship. However, watch the trap of providing “unpaid consulting;” there is a fine line here. The goal of prospect education is to provide them with enough information or education which allows them to make an informed decision that meets their business needs.

6. Unpaid consulting – How much unpaid consulting does your business do every year? Many times we get caught up in the “Can you provide more information” game and provide many hours of consulting work for free that you should be charging for. How many times are you asked for a detailed breakdown of part numbers or just a bit more information before a decision is made? Many of us provide many hours of unpaid consulting just to have our knowledge given to the competition and they scoop the deal that we worked so hard on. Be careful not to fall into this trap, there is a fine line between educating your prospect and working for free.

7. Don’t play roadrunner/coyote – Did the coyote ever catch that roadrunner in the cartoon? How many potential customers are you chasing? How long do you chase them for? How much time does your team waste chasing prospects that may never buy from you? What is the true cost of chasing dead prospects? Chasing business can take away valuable cycles that you can use to go after good prospects that are ready to invest their dollars in your solution and business. I do recommend keeping stale prospects on your mailing list and other “zero-effort” touch point strategies, however, you need to the cord eventually and move onto some new opportunities.

8. Buyer’s remorse – This is a secret killer in sales. Have you ever been on the other end of the phone when that huge purchase order crashes the day after you sell it? What just happened is usually the question that is asked? What I found to assist in preventing that from happening is simply to ask the question, “Is there anything that potentially can cause you to cancel this order?” This question puts the prospect or a client’s mind at ease and informs you up front what potentially can derail what we have been working on.

These are some basic strategies to sales success that I have picked up in my travels as a small business IT professional and eventually owning my own consulting business. Sales should not be a taboo word in your business, and it must be embraced by all members of your team right from the technical teams to the person that answers the phone at your office.

Stuart Crawford is the Director of Business Development for IT Matters Inc., Calgary, Alberta’s award winning Microsoft Small Business Specialist. He can be reached at Stuart just released his second book for the Small Business IT industry entitled “Do you have IT?

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