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Small Business Success Index 4

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73 marginal
Capital Access 67
Marketing & Innovation 65
Workforce 76
Customer Service 88
Computer Technology 73
Compliance 92
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Ready To Grow Your Business? Know Thyself Before Hiring

March 29th, 2010 :: Monika Jansen
Handshake

From Aidan Jones on Flickr

I recently met a super cool CPA.  I do realize that statement is (usually) an oxymoron, but this guy is pretty much the opposite of what I expect a numbers-loving, detail-oriented accountant to look and act like.  Jason Howell is one of the nicest, funniest, most friendly people I’ve ever met.  He is full of energy, quick to laugh, and very engaging.  In other words, he’s my kind of people.  After talking to him a couple of times, I realized that not only is he really smart, he is also overflowing with advice for small businesses.  We sat down one recent warm, sunny afternoon to talk about small business finance and money matters.  This post is the first in a series of three based on the wisdom that Jason so generously shared with me.

The idea of hiring my first employee, full-time, part-time, or temporary, is exciting and scary at the same time.  I’m getting busy enough that I don’t really have time for networking anymore.  In the next few months, I should also be on the verge of turning away prospective clients.  In this economy, that’s pretty cool.  On the other hand, hiring an employee strikes fear into my heart.  Just thinking about the additional paperwork (we all know how much I love accounting/finance/tax stuff) and time needed to manage others stops me cold.

Jason said that before you or I think about hiring, we need to think about our business and what we most enjoy doing.   Simple enough!  He said all small business owners have varying levels of expertise in following three areas: 

  1. Technical skills.  We are technically proficient at whatever it is we do.   We might not love everything it is we do, but we are good at doing it.
  2. Management skills.  Some of us are very good at delegating responsibility and leading and managing others.  You can hand over the aspects of your business you don’t enjoy to focus on what you do enjoy.
  3. Sales skills.  Some small business owners think very strategically and are totally sales-focused.  They have a long-term vision of how they can grow their company, and they are good at selling their company’s products and/or services.  These people live for networking and closing the sale.

When you’re ready to hire people, simply figure out which skill it is you enjoy the most.  Is it doing the work, managing others who will do the work for you, or networking and selling your products and/or services?

If you enjoy the technical aspect of your work…Hire a salesperson to network and drive sales.  Train the heck out of that person so they know your business inside and out.  They need to have several elevator speeches ready for different audiences and have the charm and persuasive skills to set up meetings and close deals.  They will be out and about constantly, leaving you time to focus on doing what it is you do.

If you like managing others…Replicate yourself.  Hire people who have the same and/or complimentary skills and pass work over to them.  You’ll still get to do some technical aspects of your business if you choose—the ones you like doing best.  Say you’re a bakery owner.  You specialize in artisanal breads—it’s what you love doing and what you’re known for—but you also make pastries, which you don’t enjoy as much.  Employee A can help you with the bread baking, while Employee B can make the pastries.

If you’re a born salesperson…Find technicians to do whatever it is your company does.  This will allow you to be out networking, selling, and closing deals.

Does great CRM software exist for an independent professional?

February 17th, 2010 :: Carlos Diggs

One of the greatest frustrations for many independent professionals is the lack of a really good, flexible, economical contact relationship management system.

Does such a thing exist for a solo business person?

Everyone’s needs are unique. Your knowledge and experience may make the selection and implementation easy or difficult. You may have to compromise on a few features and functionality and settle for at least 80% of your requirements. I have spoken with many colleagues and clients who are all dissatisfied with what they are using. So, a fundamental question is this: Is there a resource for doing a fair assessment of all options? Well, it depends.

All successful systems and software selection projects begin with a list of requirements or wish list (Must have vs. Would like to have). You may ask, “Where should one start? Are there knowledgeable people who can guide a person or team toward an intelligent selection of a contact management system?” The answer is YES.  They exist at www.360salesfocus.com. 360SF will hold your hand through the entire selection process or provide just-in-time coaching on an as needed basis. For individuals who want to do it themselves, below are some initial considerations.

Regardless of the nature of your practice as an independent professional or the size of a company, its sales value and volume, business development for simple or complex opportunities, I always suggest to clients to first clearly define their processes before evaluating and selecting a technology or automation tool for anything.

For example: What does a typical sales cycle look like for you? How do you process new leads/contacts? How soon do you follow up?  What method do you prefer (email, letter, greeting card, phone call, etc.)? What’s the message? Do you have a sales/biz dev process? What are the steps, decisions, possible outcomes, etc.?

Processes enable people and technology enables processes

Technology without a correctly defined process will speed up poor results. It’s the old garbage in, garbage out concept…but faster.

MY PREFERED METHOD when I was an independent consultant: Even though I’ve implemented, used, optimized, and managed several CRM projects for clients (including SalesForce.com and ACT!), for 20 plus years as a solo consultant or, as the only business development person, my preferred CRM & Sales Force Automation (SFA) has consisted mostly of Microsoft Outlook for basic contact profile descriptions & management. I first had to learn effective relationship management without technology to make this work, thanks to Stephen Covey’s 7-Habits of Effective People. Outlook has all the basics such as detail contact info, calendar, and task, space for tons of notes, attachments, and links on every item. I think this may be true for most PC & Mac office-like contact/calendar/email applications.

For forecasting and tracking sales/business development opportunities, a spreadsheet does it all on one sheet, one line per opportunity (forecast of qualified opportunities…date, company, contact, offer, value, priority, close date, win-probability percentage, next Step (notes/remarks). If you want to see a good example, contact www.360salefocus.com/contact-us for a free Microsoft Excel forecasting spreadsheet that we use often and that you may use and modify for your unique purposes.

One of my requirements is mobility. Both Outlook and the spreadsheet interface well and are mobile (works on my smart phone).  I use Card Scan to scan business cards that I receive from meetings and networking events. I import ../../../css/and_synchronize_contacts_with_Outlook._It_s_also_great_for_mail_merges__letters_and_emails.css). I’ve also incorporated David Allen’s Getting Things Done method for processing all my action items.

Once you get your process defined, then you can go shopping. Effective contact relationship management is at the core of what I do and coach my clients to do. Technology can bog you down if you are not careful. Let’s face it; nothing gets done unless you do it…whether on paper or on-screen. A discipline to keep records up to date, follow-up and follow-through still requires the consistent human touch.

One other consideration might be a marketing campaign management system for managing high volumes (> 500 contacts per campaign) of outbound/inbound lead generation efforts of large and frequent marketing campaigns (direct mail, events, website leads, etc.). This is ideal for processing and managing hundreds of leads that you will try to convert to clients. You still need a process first.

Unless you are trying to track contacts for a multiple people, I would keep it simple and use your desktop office apps for contact profiles, scheduling events/meetings and tasks, date all detail notes, and use every reminder and alert possible.

If you need help implementing a program like this, consider contacting a sales consultant.

Share your experience by leaving a comment.

At http://www.360salesfocus.com we have an entire integrated sales and marketing company at your disposal. How can we help you generate more business? Let’s talk about making something happen for your company.

Carlos Diggs is Managing Partner at 360 Sales Focus, a full service sales and marketing consultancy. His LinkedIn profile can be viewed at www.linkedin.com/in/carlosdiggs. Reach Carlos at [email protected] or 410.782.0360 or follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/360salesfocus.

How to Follow Up with Prospects and Clients: Be Diligent, Not Desperate.

February 10th, 2010 :: Carlos Diggs

Sales Coaching Tip

I am often asked how much is enough or too much:

  • How soon should I follow up with a prospect?
  • How many phone call attempts?
  • How many voice mail messages?
  • How many emails?
  • How many pigeons?
  • How many telegraphs?
  • How many smoke signals?

Well, it depends on many variables, so let’s address one of the common scenarios.

Common Scenario: You just had a meeting or presentation with a prospective client. Your client requests a proposal. Assuming you’ve qualified this opportunity and client based on need, budget, time frame and solution fit (Free B2B Qualifier). Before you leave the meeting agree to a proposal delivery due date (stick to it), and agree to a decision date. Get your clients preferred method of communication (i.e. email, phone, texting). If your client agreed to tell you NO, chances are, you won’t have to call or email them too often. We all know that things happen. People get sick, holidays, vacations, etc. So, you have to trust your instinct, be diligent, but don’t always assume the worst if you are unsuccessful in reaching them after a couple attempts. Now is the time to practice DILIGENCE and PROFESSIONAL PATIENCE.

In a situation like the one outlined above, the first and most important point to keep in mind is not trying to trick the client into saying yes. Hearing “No” is more productive than spending three months chasing the opportunity only to learn that you did not win. Top sales professionals have learned how to win fast and lose fast. They spend less time forcing unproductive opportunities and more time advancing relationships, opportunities, and sales.

How to develop an open and upfront channel of communication?

One method for developing an open and upfront communication channel with a prospect or client is to let them know that it’s okay for them to tell you NO. Saying something like, “I know you have many options, so if for some reason you don’t think we are a good fit or you just don’t like our offering, are you okay with telling me NO”? With a smile and humor say, “I don’t want to be annoying, leaving you  hundreds of voice mail messages and thousands of emails, because you are trying to be polite and don’t want to hurt my feelings. I would be most grateful if you would say NO as early as possible so we are not wasting each others time.”

How to Follow Up?

Don’t call or email everyday. Once per week is enough (no more than twice if you just feel compelled). Develop a mind set that you have too many new prospects in line waiting to meet with you and too many clients to care for. You really don’t time to call more than once per week…maybe only once every other week.

If you call first and choose to leave a voice message, immediately send an email, “I’m sorry I missed you today. I just left you a voice message regarding…I would appreciate a reply by___”.

If you send an email first, call and say, “I just sent you an email regarding… I want to make sure it didn’t end up in your junk/spam folder. I would appreciate a reply by ____”.

Always smile when on the phone…especially when leaving a voice message (they will hear your smile or lack thereof). Never sound impatient, rude, arrogant, annoyed, or timid, shy, soft spoken or weak. Leave an optimistic and friendly message like you would for a close friend or your grandmother. Regarding emails carefully check your writing tone. Try to choose words and phrases that evoke images and emotions of professional gentleness and kindness, yet with a mild since of urgency to meet upfront expectations.

I have a lot of success with getting timely replies from prospects and clients by using email subject lines to send very short “text-like” messages to ask a question or make a request. I don’t use cute texting shorthand or abbreviations. I may just insert a brief question that can easily be reviewed in their email inbox. If you need to write more, continue in the body of the email. Use clear key words such as: “Do you have time to meet next week” “Request for Information:” “Proposal Attached:” “Action Required:” “Please Review:” “Call me 400.555.1234,” etc…use your imagination.

If you need help implementing a program like this, consider contacting a sales consultant.

Share your experience by leaving a comment.

At http://www.360salesfocus.com we have an entire integrated sales and marketing company at your disposal. How can we help you generate more business? Let’s talk about making something happen for your company.

Carlos Diggs is Managing Partner at 360 Sales Focus, a full service sales and marketing consultancy. His LinkedIn profile can be viewed at www.linkedin.com/in/carlosdiggs. Reach Carlos at [email protected] or 410.782.0360 or follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/360salesfocus.

#1 problem salespeople need to overcome?

February 3rd, 2010 :: Carlos Diggs

Sales Coaching Tip 

After all is said and done (listening, planning, practicing, preparing, attitude adjustments, etc)…IF YOU ARE NOT OUT SELLING, YOU ARE BEING OUT SOLD. 

TOP PERFORMING sales professionals too often get bogged down with too many unnecessary and labor intensive administrative chores imposed on them by a poorly defined sales management process. (e.g. legacy/manual forecasting systems, CRM systems that are not used correctly). Therefore, impeding their quantity & quality face time with clients and prospects. Release (free up) your top performers by giving them administrative support and streamlining/optimizing systems, processes, and reporting requirements.

 UNDER PERFORMING sales professionals too often welcome all administrative tasks and sales/reporting fire drills as an escape and sanctioned excuse for not achieving goals. Even more importantly, this group must be released (freed up) by giving them administrative support and streamlining/optimizing systems, processes, and reporting requirements. To help get them back on track, some initial performance coaching focused on easy wins (appointment setting, proposal submitted, etc) will be required to build confidence, momentum, sales endurance.

Take Action

Nothing, absolutely nothing happens without ACTION. The law of physics says…for every ACTION, there is an equal and opposite reaction (RESULTS). So, as the recording artist Sting sings in one of his songs, “If You Love Someone, Set Them Free.” You do love your sales people? Sales people need love too (smile).

If you need help implementing a program like this, consider contacting a sales consultant.

Share your experience by leaving a comment.

At http://www.360salesfocus.com  we have an entire integrated sales and marketing company at your disposal. How can we help you generate more business? Let’s talk about making something happen for your company.

Carlos Diggs is Managing Partner at 360 Sales Focus, a full service sales and marketing consultancy. His LinkedIn profile can be viewed at www.linkedin.com/in/carlosdiggs. Reach Carlos at [email protected] or 410.782.0360 or follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/360salesfocus.

Six Things You Need to Do to Build a Sales Pipeline

January 26th, 2010 :: Steven Fisher

People get thousands of sales messages and pitches per day and it only is getting more saturated. How do you get more customers with so little time to get your message in front of them and acted on? They say it takes six impressions for people to remember a sales pitch or message.

You will need to utilize different channels where your audience is located. This could be email newsletters, search engine advertising, cold calls, letters, etc. This is a mix of inbound and outbound marketing and in order to build your sales pipeline we have identified six things you need to do to get that pipeline to grow and produce results:

1.)  Perform Outbound Marketing Activities

  • Networking with existing friends, colleagues, and acquaintances.
  • Attending industry/trade meetings and walking the floor
  • Securing speaking engagements at local and regional associations or interest groups
  • Hosting breakfast meetings people in the circle of who you are looking to connect with
  • Cold and warm telephone prospecting
  • Direct mail/e-mail/fax prospecting followed up with direct telephone calls

2.) Reinforce brand with inbound marketing activities – this includes e-mail newsletters, podcasts, search engine optimization, white papers, and social media tools (blogs, Twitter, Facebook).

3.) Set Metrics – These can be a variety of things and Bnet.com sums it up well – “Measure the performance in each stage of the process, benchmark, and establish the potential for improvement. This allows you to trade off strategies, such as investing in after-care versus A&P, account management versus tele-sales. It also helps you prioritise key initiatives, and incentivise teams around the biggest value drivers. The absolute key to success is finding ways to collect good quality information without creating a paper-chase for the team That will provide them with added value in their roles. Involving the sales team in developing this is critical.”

4.) Follow up – You know, many people work so hard to get your information or they meet you and never reach out even after having identified the need for your offering. Follow up with a hand-written letter or send them an email to schedule a meeting or a quick call. Many people don’t like the interuptions of a phone call unless they asked or you have asked a gotten their permission. I know that nothing that irritates me more than getting a number on my cell that I don’t recognize and answer thinking it might be important and the sales person tries to pitch me at the wrong time.

5.) Add them to the pipeline and keep up the activities – You have to keep up the activity. I know this sounds like a law of numbers and in most cases, it is. Keep the pipeline full and keep selling because you will close some and will lose some. The most important part is that you get out there and sell.

6.) Track your response rate and successes AND learn from them – This means that you will lose some and probably lose many deals. Learn why, was it turn around time or pricing or capabilities. Try and really learn what is getting you the sale and what is not. Also understand how they found out and what marketing activities worked. All of this will help you as you cycle back to step one and do this on a regular basis.

What is Working For You?

So what is working for you to build your sales pipeline? Are you following a process like this? What activities are you engaged in? Leave a comment so we can learn from you.