We need to connect our business in the same way we build our own support network of friends. Friends support each other, and groups of businesses also support each other.
You don’t pay your friends to associate with you and neither should you pay businesses to support you – so don’t compete solely on price. Give them the benefit of your expert knowledge, share your wisdom so they can figure out the best supplier (you) of what you offer. How do you do that?
Put your information onto the internet. You can utilize your own blog or any business-related website.
The biggest business-focus website is LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/). Placing information about your organisation there, or the business pages of Facebook, will deliver your details to a wider audience than you can otherwise reach. You might also be able to use sites like eBay, Amazon or Kindle.
There are obvious attractors to using the internet for business, and you can decide to take the step – establishing a business presence or not – by looking at your own business.
Can you deliver what you do over distance? Products can be shipped, and information can be delivered almost immediately. How much of what your company delivers can be delivered to remote corners of the world?
You can also use the internet to increase your scope, the ‘reach’ of your promotional activities. You can connect with new people and establish your credentials, and demonstrate your niche knowledge.
If you don’t currently utilize the internet – can your products or services be marketed and delivered to a wider range than your current premises allows? Would it be effective if you promoted your business to a wider geographic range? Would your sales improve if you could target specific types of people to deliver your message to?
You also might choose to promote your business on the internet if people will travel to where you are to use your services. That doesn’t have to mean a special trip – maybe your service is attractive to tourists who are arriving near you anyway. Maybe you operate a specialist bus service taking tourists to a particular type of local sights: historic sites, natural wonders, shopping tours, or pub cruises.
It comes down to: where are your clients and how do you contact them?
Humans like to connect, we’re social animals (Well, most of us at least!). And we’ve found ways to connect over distance. That started with elaborate message systems used by ancient armies and continues today with the internet. The ancient systems each had a specific purpose and so too do the networks on the internet.
Some are designed for personal connection, some are designed to connect business. Your job is to use the right kind of network.
Why would you need to use the right kind of network? Customers have always wanted to know you as well as your business. In the old days they simply spent time in or near your premises and they found out about both. Now you have to tell them because many live too far away to loiter near your place of business, many don’t have the time to do that even if they were close, and the rest don’t think they should chase you anyway. So you have to be proactive, and tell them.
People want to know that you are good at what you do – whether you sell quality products or provide excellence in service, and they want to know about you: are you trustworthy? The good news is there are places on the internet that are designed to deliver business or personal information. You use the business networks to educate your target market about your business, and the personal areas to introduce them to you: your ethics, values and the fact that you care.
Why? People prefer to do business with those they know, like and trust. You have to arrange things so your market believes it knows you, it likes you and can trust you.
In principle then you use the personal networks — also known as social networks – to make an initial connection, to establish your credentials, and to introduce people to your income-producing sites. That said – some networks are trying to monetise and that means they try to be all things to all people. YOu just need to utilise the internet sites of your choice, those best suited to your needs, to deliver your message.
Examples of personal connection sites are Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and more are being added every week it seems. LinkedIn is aimed at business, as are Government sites (Local, State and Federal Governments do what they can to promote business), and again more are regularly being announced.
Personal sites allow you to demonstrate your values, business sites allow you to demonstrate your knowledge. Together they present a whole picture of you, and that is what it takes today to succeed.
One word of warning before I go: How long can you pretend to be someone else? For most people I know the answer is “Not very long”, so present your real values and knowledge, otherwise your new customers will form a queue at the door – on the way out.
Some people really enjoy getting out and meeting new friends, some feel that is a chore. But it is an activity that you need to master if you are going to make a success of your business. The good news is there are ways to make it easier, and maybe even fun!
First of all – before you attend a networking event: set some goals. How many people do you want to meet? What kind of people? Meaning maybe what role they play in the company they work with, maybe the kind of company they work with, or maybe the kind of problems their company has. Of course you can establish absolutely any criteria that works for you, you just have to have a good image of what you are looking for.
Having a detailed image of who you are looking for allows you to quickly decide if the person you are talking to is or is not the kind of person you want to establish a relationship with, and then you can take the appropriate action.
That action might be to get to know them better, or it may be to make a polite excuse and move on. Either way you then haven’t wasted your time.
Later in this post I’ll share a link that will take you to where you can learn all about networking, but for now just practise saying things like “I think I just saw someone arrive that I need to connect with – will you excuse me?” With a simple statement like that you are free to pursue someone that you actually do want to talk to. And note that it says “Need to connect with”, not that you already know them, so anyone can be the person you next speak to.
It’s great to catch up with old friends and talk shop, reminiscing about the old days. And you should acknowledge those you already know, and spend a little time reinforcing the relationship. You just have to remember that you are there to meet some new people, not to talk shop all night. If you have things to talk about then arrange a time for a coffee meeting, after all they should have goals to meet new people too.
Your goals can be directed at finding people who want to buy what you want to sell. You are looking for buyers but you are not necessarily trying to close the sale right here, right now. That is: if they initiate the part of the conversation that says they are ready to buy the of course you go along with that. What you don’t do is push that yourself. This is a time when you must think of the lifetime value of a customer – how much they will spend over time if they always buy from you. Your job at the networking event is to establish the connection in such a way that it makes them want to buy from only you. That will make you far more profit than closing a sale right here, right now but losing the relationship going forward.
You make them want to continue to business with you by getting to understand them and their perception of their problem, then educating them about how you and your product or service solves that problem better than your competitors. That doesn’t mean you say nasty things about your competitors, it means you demonstrate that you understand your customer – the person you are talking to – and that you demonstrate that you care about them getting the service they really deserve.
Yes, you talk about the good things that you do, and you then bring in the phrase “…and what this means for you is…” and you describe what they will experience as a result of your great service or fantastic product. The point here is that most buyers don’t really care much about your list of features, nor do they care a lot about the way most state benefits. They probably know what they want, so your list of features just gets you into the game, it doesn’t ‘win’ the game for you. If you don’t have the features they are thinking about then they cut the conversation short.
They don’t care much about the list of associated benefits either, because they know that “You say that to all the potential customers”. What they do care about is that you understood them when they described their specific problems and that you can help them fix them. That means that you have to talk form their perspective, using their terminology where possible, using their descriptions as examples, and educate them about your solution.
It doesn’t hurt to arrange a coffee meeting with them either so you can show them your presentation, bring some samples and start the actual sales process.
To succeed in business you need to regularly attend events where you can meet new buyers, have goals that help you at those events, minimise the time you spend with people that can’t help you, maximise the time you spend with those that can help, and demonstrate value to those who have problems that you can solve. And if at all possible arrange to meet them later!
This post is a quick introduction to business networking – I have consulted to a group that specializes in teaching the skills needed to succeed. If you want to know more just visit www.masterclassnetworking.com. You don’t have to say I sent you, just take a look and if it seems that what they offer is what you need then: problem solved.
Being in business means making a connection with your target market, then strengthening that connection over time. Almost everything you say or do can change the strength of the connection, and in this series of posts we’ll focus on the activities you perform to widen your base. Some people call that “networking”, but it’s far more than that.
In this first post we’ll cover the different kinds of activities, then they will be covered in a little more detail in the posts that follow.
You can meet people face to face. This usually means going to an event where you are likely to meet people who need what you sell. It doesn’t mean trying to sell them at the meeting though. Well, certainly not during the first conversation.
You can meet new people by telephone. This just means that instead of attending a function in person that you can call people who you have identified that are likely to be interested in what you sell. The important feature here is they they must be likely to be interested and your script has to be written from their perspective, not yours. That just means that your intent is probably to make a sale, and taking a few seconds more to get there is probably better than being quick but missing out.
The current favourite/favorite is of course via the internet. Interestingly enough the basic rules don’t change. You first need to make a connection, allow them to discover your expertise, then make an offer. What has changed is the geographic reach and the presence of trolls if you say something that someone might consider inappropriate. An example of this is a recent post on a business page I’m a member of was considered to be an advert by some, and they were quick to point out that overt adverts were not allowed in that arena.
Whatever you do to meet new people there are some things that you must do first. One is to prepare your opening statement. Remember that it is designed to make a connection not a sale, and you want to get them talking about themselves so you can ascertain if you can help them, and if so how. That information is useful in leading to a sale.
You will need different “conversation starters”, and be practised in their delivery because you can’t sell somebody something unless you are first in a conversation with them. (OK, normal retail stores are an exception to this rule!)
You need to know the stages of the journey you want to take your new friend through. Connection, identify with, fact finding, and solution for example. That will be easier if you understand how people communicate. (It’s OK, probably 90% of people don’t really know how people communicate. For example most people think others communicate “Like I do”.)
We’ll cover the different communication styles later, for now we’ll focus on different networking activities you might take part in. See you in the next post.
KPI’s give you insights into your business, and they allow you to track your progress. A better way to explain it might be: Would you know if asking one question when people walk into your premises increased your sales by 16%? Would you know if your sales increased by that amount because of the new question?
Most sales people ask “Can I help?”, “How can I help?” or something touchy-feely like “How are you today?”. The point is to get a conversation started, because only once a conversation has started can you sell something. The trouble is those questions are too easy to shrug off, or they only work where the customer is very regular – for example buying their daily (or hourly) coffee fix.
For those in direct sales, where the customer only visits on an irregular basis, try saying “Hello! Have you shopped here before?”
No matter what they say it will result in an answer that means “Yes” or “No”. For those that say “Yes” you then say “Great! We have some special deals for returning shoppers. Let me tell you about them”. For anyone who says “No” you respond “Great! We have some special deals for new shoppers. Let me tell you about them”.
Not everyone will happily enter into a conversation, but asking that question and following up with the appropriate response increased sales in one retail outlet by 16%.
The thing is: you only know what the increase was if you track the numbers in your business, and you have some control over the way your team interacts with your customers. Otherwise sales may have randomly jumped, but you won’t know why. And that means you can’t replicate the increase.
But not every increase will be 16%. You might not even believe that your sales can increase 16% in one step. Maybe only 5%, year on year. that’s still worth doing.
You might also increase your customer base by 5% in a year. That’s also not a big step.
However now you have 5% more sales to 5% more customers. Because one metric affects the other your profit has jumped by more than the combined 10%. Let’s further assume that your expenses reduce by 5%. Each of these goals is achievable in a year.
It will depend upon your starting point: your current profit margin, your current average sale, and your current expenses – your profit for the year will increase by at least 15%. But you can only do that if you can accurately measure your current metrics and track the results of the new things you try.
You need to track the results because a change might result in worse figures. You need to identify that and return to the old way as soon as possible! If a change makes a positive difference then you also need to identify that and spread the word as quickly as possible.
Most of us say that “We don’t know how to work ON our business”. That’s in large part because we don’t have the metrics in the first place. If you were a carpenter – could you cut the wood to size without measuring? Of course not, or if you did it would be an amazing coincidence!
By the same token you can’t improve your business in any meaningful way unless you know what is really happening now.
There are many factors that you can adjust in your search for better profits – more sales, lower expenses and higher profit margins are obvious. You might also present a more professional image by the use of a uniform, you might redecorate your premises – perhaps even adding some privacy so clients don’t have to explain their problem in front of other clients, or go all in and move location. Maybe you can improve your results by training your team in better ways. Or build a better reputation by becoming involved with community causes or not for profit organisations.
Each of these (and lots more) can have a positive effect on your business turnover and profit margins. All you have to do is get control and then make these small adjustments. And to do that you need your business metrics.