At some level, all owners of businesses, no matter how big or how small, must "sell" their businesses. But why do so many entrepreneurs remove themselves from the actual sales process all together or limit their sales exchanges to "closing" or "top dog" meetings?
I believe the answer is, even though they make a habit of exercising their significant analytical, interpersonal and persuasive skills during interactions with employees, suppliers, investors, existing customers and other key players, most entrepreneurs find a way to rationalize away any personal commitment to an ongoing, day-to-day involvement in their organization's selling activities. Maybe they've forgotten the importance of selling; maybe they feel they've outgrown the world of sales; maybe their idea of selling is coming in at the end of the process and hobnobbing with a client or prospect.
An elite group of dynamic, revenue-focused entrepreneurs know better (I interviewed more than 120 of them for one of my books). They know there's much more to a sale than a close, and much more to a relationship with a customer than "schmoozing". In my experience, entrepreneurs who get out there and sell tend to do so in very large volume indeed--by adhering to the following principles, all of which can and should be adopted by business owners who want to continue to grow their businesses:
1. Personally and consistently model the ideal sales process. Talk about a morale-builder! Everyone in a company needs role models, someone to emulate, especially salespeople. Who plays the role better than the head of the company?
Does your sales process accurately reflect the way your prospects' buy? The best way to find out is to call up the last three customers you--or one of your salespeople--landed and ask them this very pointed question: "Was there any point in your decision to buy from my organization at which you felt we weren't responding to your needs?" If they answer yes, you've got some work to do with your sales team.
2. Establish personal visibility within the marketplace. Imparting a touch of personal accountability and a sense of mission enhances your company's brand, image and reputation.
Do you actively and regularly get involved with any one of the following:
- Chamber of Commerce meetings and/or presentations
- Networking groups
- CEO groups
- Industry associations
- Philanthropic endeavors
If your answer is no, then I invite you to make yourself available starting today.
3. Personally monitor changes in the marketplace. There's nothing like talking to customers directly about how they're using your product, service or solution. Leaving this to anyone else in your company or to a group of external consultants can lead to missed opportunities and a slower-than-necessary time to market for new products and services.
Do you personally know how your products, services and solutions are being used? Don't kid yourself or second-guess your marketplace! Ask five of your most mature customers and five of your newest customers exactly what they're doing today that they weren't doing before they invested in you and your company. Pay close attention--my guess is that you'll be in for a big surprise. Then take what you learn and purposefully put it into your marketing literature.
4. Constantly build interpersonal skills to secure one-on-one loyalty from your customers. Top CEOs send personalized, handwritten thank-you notes to each and every one of their colleagues at client/customer organizations. (Don't underestimate the power of a hand-written note! These can build truly extraordinary customer relationships.)
When was the last time you sent a personally signed thank-you note to your customer base? Start today, and select ten customers a day and drop them a note of thanks. Oh, by the way: It's ok to include a special notice of any new products you might released or a special offer you're making only to your best VIP customers.
5. Do what you can to increase your high-margin, add-on sales. This most often occurs when a business owner assumes direct, personal responsibility for connecting with people at the highest level of the target organization and building long-term partnership plans.
When is the last time you picked up the phone and made a personal call to someone at your level in your customer base? If you're looking up at the ceiling tiles giving your answer some thought, it's been too, too long. Don't be shy in getting in the habit of asking your existing customers for add-on business and referrals. They'll both add loyalty and revenue to your business relationships.
6. Send a gift that dramatically illustrates the value of your relationship with your customers. Sure, people buy your stuff, and sure, you're thankful. But the most successful entrepreneurs I've dealt with have a unique way of staying on someone's top of mind.
Do you have a constant presence in your customers' environment? Here's a real-world strategy I love: Get a fancy coffee mug with your company's logo on it; place your signed business card inside and attach a large "Sale Price" tag to the handle. On the front of tag, list the hard-dollar value that your business relationship has delivered; on the back, list the harder-to-quantify soft-dollar value that your customer has accrued because of doing business with you. Then send the mug to the CEO of the company who's your best customer. Repeat the process for all your top customers.
The moral of the story is this: When the owner of a business is closely involved in the sales process, two great things tend to happen. First and foremost, more deals (and bigger deals!) close in a shorter amount of time. Second, every employee gets to witness top-down involvement in revenue-generating activities. Let's face it: When the business owner does something, everyone in the organization takes notice and perceives that activity as important. So if you're an entrepreneur who wants ground-level selling to take on added importance, hit the phones and make some cold calls in a very visible way.