Sales Strategies for Small Businesses: Lead Generation and Closing the Sale

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Small Business Sales Tactics

In this series, we are looking at how small businesses can increase sales. So far we have looked at product development, pricing, positioning and promotion. This article looks at the next two stages of the sales cycle: lead generation and closing the sale.

The 8 Step Sales Cycle

Social Media Leads

Followers and likes on social media should be viewed as potential leads only. It takes very little effort to click a "like." So it does not convey enough intent.

They are more likely to buy than a random person, but less likely than someone who has contacted you directly or signed up for the mailing list.

A recent study found that social media influenced less than 1% of purchases for large companies online. There is ongoing controversy as to the effectiveness of Facebook's advertising model.

A social follower can turn into a legitimate lead if they do something indicating a real effort at exploring your company and its products.

Lead Generation

Good promotion will generate lots of leads that can be converted into closed sales. If promotion is about getting your name out there, lead generation is about getting people interested in buying.

A prospect becomes an actual "lead" when they express interest in buying in some way, whether by walking into the store, visiting the online store, or sending an email inquiring into your services. Sometimes just signing up to the mailing list counts.

Lead generation is an important step between promotion and closing that is easy to overlook. The key is to push the prospect toward making a decision. Here are some ways to do that:

  • Offering discounts, coupons, specials and other short term incentives that are more likely to get them in the door, or on the website, than just simply putting out your name and a brief description of your product. Emphasize the limited time for the offer to further encourage a decision.
  • Draw attention to the limited supply of the product or service. Also make it clear that demand is through the roof for this item and everybody wants some of it.
  • Structure your website to minimize the distance between entering and purchasing. There should be a prominent and obvious way for prospects to purchase a ticket, search for their desired product or contact a sales representative. At the very least, this will guarantee you that a really excited prospect actually does turn into a real lead, instead of getting lost, losing interest, and leaving.
  • Present calls to action--specific, clear commands that encourage the prospect to buy or at least visit the purchase page or purchase location. Examples: "Buy now," "Visit our store today," "Click here to learn more," "Try one today." When possible, link words and phrases like this so the user can click them and immediately go to the desired page.
  • Highlight a specific product or service somewhere prominent (homepage, storefront, etc). Clothing shops have been doing this for many years in the form of mannequins in the store window. Restaurants often have a sign highlighting the soup of the day. Take one of your products and feature it on your homepage, Facebook page or Twitter page (along with a discount if relevant). This gives online passers-by a quick idea of what you are selling without requiring them to make any effort. It draws them in.
  • Provide demonstrations and samples. Bring the product to the customer, instead of waiting for the other way around. You can do this online as well as offline. In-person demonstrations can be very effective for accelerating the sales process.
  • Give a preview. Videos and photos are especially useful here. On your homepage, place a brief video (20-30 seconds), several compelling images or an animation to give the visitor a preview. This is very effective for products but especially services that are more intangible.
  • In your ads and blurbs, when possible, mention your product/ service and a description of it first, and then your company's name. People are more likely to search for "baked goods" than "Julia's Houston Bakery." The only exceptions to this rule are very big companies with lots of name recognition (which you probably are not if you are reading this).
  • Wherever possible, use names and titles to your advantage. Things like your website URL, the company name itself, your Twitter handle, titles of your Facebook pages, your pseudonym on YouTube and Hub Pages, and even the job titles of your workers. "Jimmy's Shoe Co." is more likely to be found by their target market than "Jimmy and Co." And "Jimmy's Affordable Shoes," with a better-defined niche, is more likely still.

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Zig Ziglar on Closing the Sale

Six Ways of Closing the Sale

At long last, it's time to seal the deal. All your hard work so far has been for this goal. But what's this? Your great lead, who agreed to make the purchase last week, still hasn't sent the check?

The handshake at the meeting does not mean you get to rest on your laurels. Now is the time to get more aggressive, not less. Instead of viewing a verbal understanding, or even a signed contract, as a "sure thing," you should view it as the "lead with the highest likelihood of closing." It is not a sure thing. Not a guarantee. Only when you have that check in your hands can you rest on your laurels (and even then, not really, as we will see later in this series).

Here is what you need to do to have the best chance of actually getting that money:

1. Increase communication with your client, do not decrease it. Phone calls, emails and if necessary one more in-person meeting. Keep the lines of communication open now more than ever. The reason is simple: if the client chokes or has last minute doubts, you want to be there to answer their concerns.

For impersonal sales systems like an online shopping cart, this means providing FAQs as the customer checks out, clearly explaining the steps that are happening (Step 1, enter your desired number of units, Step 2, enter your address and credit card information, etc), and providing a phone number for them to call with any last minute questions on their order. Where possible, send emails to those leads who did not complete their order. This technique has a really good success rate.

2. Explicitly request payment. Sounds crude, but it works. Don't worry, people will not hate you for wanting to get paid. In fact, they will respect you as someone who takes their business seriously. Do not expect people to eagerly hand over money just because they said they would. Expect to have to encourage them.

3. Draw a line in the sand. Sounds threatening? It doesn't have to be. It's just about setting boundaries. Some clients will try to push you to start delivering some of the product before payment. "I need to get this project started ASAP, thanks I really appreciate it!" or "I need you to send me the first round this week because I'm traveling Saturday, I can wire you the deposit by next Monday..." Unless it's consistent with your agreement, or you have a solid relationship with the client and you know they are good for it, don't give in.

I have unfortunately seen many deals end with a fraction of the initial agreed-upon price because a business owner did not set proper boundaries. It is a damning precedent. That client will expect the same "rules don't apply to me" treatment forevermore. Once you allow flexibility, there is no going back. The toothpaste is out of the tube.

Be very careful with your boundaries. It will enhance your reputation as a serious business with real rules and predictable policies. Let them be "flexible" with others. You have bills to pay. That being said...

4. Don't be afraid to start early delivery for a loyal client. A client who has been loyal for a while deserves some slack. It strengthens your bond and increases the likelihood of more business in the future. Returning and loyal customers are the ones who should be rewarded in this way, not new customers. Let new customers earn their special treatment by showing they will be loyal and follow your rules. Of course, most loyal clients will be happy to pay on time in full, so this is rarely an issue.

5. Help the customer to pay. Another very simple but powerful technique. Remove as many barriers as possible to payment. Logistical obstacles (whether legitimate or not) often come up when it comes time for collection.

The client was going to pay through PayPal, but now their computer crashed and is being repaired? It's OK, you can also take a check. They were going to mail the check today, but they are working late, now it's after 5 PM, and the post office is closed? No problem, send a friendly representative to their office to pickup the check.

Do whatever it takes to make it happen. Expect friction. Expect unforeseen obstacles, and have the systems and procedures in place to get the money. Often the client wants to pay, but is (understandably) not inclined to make the extra effort to get you the money. So the onus is on you.

6. Reward prompt payment with discounts on this purchase and/or future purchases, free gifts, giving them first crack at new product offerings in the future, superior customer service, and other incentives. But do not abuse these techniques. You don’t want to get in the habit of devaluing your products with lots of extras in the attempt to get the close in the heat of the moment.

"Closing the sale" means different things to different businesses, so not all of these tips will apply to your situation. Experiment with different techniques to see what works for you. If you consistently have a hard time closing sales, there may be more fundamental problems elsewhere in your sales cycle, such as with product development or pricing.

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