After World War II and graduating from engineering school, my dad invented one of the very first spray valves for paint cans back in 1960. He formed a company (Univalve Corporation).
Dad designed the valves and assembly equipment. He held the patents on the product designs. He had the tooling built (injection molds) to produce the valves. He hired workers. He did the engineering, operations, and the sales for Univalve. He also tried funding everything himself.
My father did all of this for years, while having a wife and four kids at home. Naturally, he was in up to his eyeballs and eventually had to sell the business (i.e., he was financially over-extended). So he sold the business in 1963. And what usually happens next … happened …
The new owners did not want him hanging around, so they fired him nine months later. This event was the beginning of our family’s trek from Chicago to Canton, Ohio.
… If You Can’t Sell It, None Of It Matters
The most important lesson my dad taught me from his entrepreneurial stint was,
“Mike, always remember this. Anybody can build anything … but, if you can’t sell it, none of it matters at all.”
He told me that dozens of times when I was growing up. Well, I’ve never forgotten that lesson. Sales are everything. Without sales, you can be absolutely certain that you will fail. The need for a business to have sales “trumps” every other issue a business will face.
CAUTION: Sales Can Disguise a Multitude of Underlying Sins
Sales are the lifeblood of every business. You must have sales. However, if your sales come too easily and too quickly, they can sometimes temporarily mask your business’s internal flaws. When your business starts getting sales, it’s easy to become comfortable and even get a little sloppy. Since you’re making money, you may neglect to root out any deeper problems. This is bad and can later become catastrophic.
Sometimes the sloppiness comes in the form of product quality issues, or lack of attention to customer relationships, or ignored operational issues, or finance management, or legal issues … or any one of dozens of tasks.
Although sales are wonderful, be aware of the truth in the old expression: Sales covers a multitude of [business] sins. Don’t let it happen!
With that caveat in mind, here are three methods for building impressive sales numbers.
Sales Strategy #1: Relationship Selling
- First, we have always “pounded the phones” in search of possible prospects. Pounding the phones is never easy, and it has gotten harder over the years. But we still successfully make many outbound sales calls.
- Second, we build a relationship with our customers, one customer at a time (i.e., relationship selling). We listen to what their needs are, and we do our very best to satisfy as many of their needs as we humanly can.
This process has helped us create two long-lasting, successful businesses.
Disadvantages. However, building relationships isn’t free. It comes at a price … a heavy price in both time and opportunity.
Here’s one example of what I mean. Many of my customers (especially the older ones) have a relationship with one or more members of my staff. Because of these relationships, the customers sometimes command/consume an excessive amount of my staff’s time and attention. There have been times that we’ve even customized our offerings in an attempt to meet their needs.
Without a doubt, these relationships have made my staff’s approach very customer-focused. Most of the time this is a very good thing. However there have been occasions when my companies have over-extended themselves in an attempt to satisfy our customers.
In other words, we’ve done things that help our customers, but to our own detriment.
Sales Strategy #2: High-Volume Sales … Utilizing the Power of the Web
Two of my other companies (Patriot Software and Career Marketplace) have sales models that are based on the massive numbers of prospective buyers who access the Internet. Think of the millions of customers that Amazon and eBay have. It’s impossible for them to maintain a personal relationship with each customer. Instead, they have created easy-to-use software, and they provide excellent customer service when it’s needed … which is exactly what my two companies have done.
Patriot Software for example, is on its way to becoming the largest payroll software vendor in the USA. Depending on who you ask, there are ~23 to ~28 million businesses in the USA (of which ~99% have fewer than 50 employees). We are steadily capturing a segment of this small business market by keeping our pricing very low, providing great software, and offering exceptional customer service. But, we won’t be able to spend time getting chummy with each of our customers. In order to keep our prices down low, we know that we have to be extremely helpful, but efficient at the same time.
Disadvantages. Your small business has limited time and limited funds. For you, the clock is ticking. This is just a fact. It’s unrealistic to think that you can measure every marketing effort you attempt.
Knowing which of your activities are driving your sales is important, because you can’t improve what you can’t measure. What’s driving visitors to your website? Is it the blog articles you write? Is it your pay-per-click advertisements? Is it your press releases? Your link building? Your referral program? Your lead-nurturing? What? You need to know. You need to measure.
Also, in a perfect world, you would measure your marketing results by making one change at a time. For example, you would make one change, wait for a little while, test the results, make another single change, wait, and test those results, etc. Instead, because your time and funds are limited, there will be times when you’ll just have to use “your gut” and make several changes all at the same time. It’s not ideal, but it’s the reality of small business.
Remember, you can’t improve what you can’t measure!
Sales Strategy #3: The High-Volume Sales Funnel
Think of your website, customer sign-up process, and your onboarding process as a “funnel”… a marketing and sales funnel.
- You have many prospects coming in at the top of the funnel.
- You try to move those prospects further down into your sales funnel and turn them into leads.
- You then give more attention to those leads in hopes of pulling them further into your sales funnel and eventually converting them into customers.
Build trust. Patriot Software views all 23-28 million small businesses as potential sales: i.e., prospects. Of course, we’d love to have them all come and buy from us right away, but that’s unrealistic. So instead, we try to give them reasons to come to our website or blog and get to know us. As small business owners get to know us, they usually start trusting us, and then they eventually buy from us. Once they use our quality software and see that our customer support is real, they tend to stay our customers for as long as they’re in business.
Lead-nurturing. Most website visitors don’t buy the first time they visit someone’s website, including ours. So we try to offer our visitors something of value in exchange for their email addresses (e.g., quality white papers, a guided demo of our software, the ability to test drive our software themselves, payroll webinars, etc). Once we receive an email address, we consider that prospect to now be a lead. We gently and periodically send our leads valuable offerings, in hopes that they’ll return to our website and continue getting to know us. This is called lead-nurturing.
Your Takeaway …
- It’s a numbers game. Driving visitor traffic to your website and down into your sales funnel is a “numbers game.” The goal is to drive large volumes of prospects into your website funnel.
- Make it easy for leads to buy. We keep our website as simple, yet informative, as possible. We make it easy for a lead to sign up with us and use our software for free for 30 days.
- Ask for the credit card! And then, we invite them to become our customer by asking for their credit card.
(Everybody’s got to eat!)