Sales Strategies for Small Businesses: Product Delivery, Customer Relationships and Customer Feedback

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This series of articles looks at ways to improve sales for small businesses. We are looking at sales holistically to see how we can improve each stage of the sales cycle. So far we have covered product development, positioning, promotion, lead generation and conversion/ close.

In this final article, we will look at the last three stages of the cycle: product placement/ delivery, the post-purchase customer relationship, and customer feedback/ product improvement.

The 8 Step Sales Cycle

Product Delivery

Once the sale has been closed, it is essential to deliver the product or service in line with the agreement. This is where the rubber meets the road for the customer. Delivering the product completely, on time, exactly as it was described, will often make the difference between a repeat customer and a one-time customer.

Here are some things to consider:

  • Timing and scheduling. Fulfill the order by the agreed upon time and date. This is especially important if you established the time and date yourself, with no input from the customer.
  • Packaging is an opportunity to further promote your company and products. Use it to your advantage. If the customer receives a package in the mail, include information on other highly-targeted products or services and how to buy them. If they receive a ticket to an event or performance, put the information on the ticket itself.
  • Plan ahead for logistics. It seems like going down to the post office may be the least of your worries, but this is where a lot of insignificant problems can become significant. Take the extra few minutes to do this planning because you may find there is some obstacle or issue you had not considered. Attention to detail makes a difference.
  • Under-promise and over-deliver. It is easy to fall into the trap of over-promising things when promoting the product or trying to close the sale. This is a mistake, because when the sale actually does come through, the truth will come out. Instead, get in the habit of under-promising and over-delivering whenever possible. Give the customer something extra along with their delivery or receipt of the product. This goes a very long way toward their perception of the company and their likelihood of returning.
  • Confirmation is especially powerful in online selling. Use a confirmation page to promote other products/ services, especially low-priced, impulse purchases. Whether online or offline, sending an email, text message or phone call to the customer after the purchase may be an option for you. If there is a time lag between receiving payment and delivery, then confirming the receipt of payment is certainly essential. Taking time to confirm the payment or delivery is your main tool in beginning the post-purchase relationship.
  • Say thank you. Mom was right, courtesy makes a difference. It takes no effort, but being pleasant and gracious goes a long way in the customer's mind, some more than others.

Post-Purchase Relationship

The post-purchase customer relationship gives you a lot of opportunity to sell, both now and later. Companies that take advantage of the post-purchase period really set themselves apart as those who are in business for their customers. Here are some ways you can take advantage of this valuable tool:

  • Reach out to the customer to make sure everything is good, and as they expected. If they have a problem or concern, try to remedy it or assist them in some way.
  • Up-sell. A closed lead is your most likely repeat customer. If they have spent money once, they may spend it again, so take advantage and offer another, more expensive product or service. For some, this will need to be done prior to delivery.
  • Resell. Immediately start the process of selling again. Ask when the customer would like the next order delivered, cite the newest products that are out (and that no one else has heard of yet), and so on.
  • Provide extras that cost you little or nothing, such as access to a special section of the website or a rewards program that encourages them to keep buying. Offering discounts for repeat purchasers actually makes you more money in the long run because it will cost you less to give a discount for a returning customer than to obtain a new customer.
  • Convert a "customer" into a "client" by providing special benefits that are only available to regular, reliable purchasers. Give them more attention and greater access to your products or services that a low-level purchaser would not have. A lot of business is done this way--not advertised or promoted to the general public, but made possible by the close relationship between a loyal client and a quality company.
  • Maintain communication wherever possible. Add the customer to your mailing list. Even better to place them on a specific segment of the mailing list based on their demographics, their purchase, the amount of money they have spent with you, etc. This enables you to better target messages to them. Remember to not abuse the mailing list, an occasional message or update to maintain awareness is usually sufficient.

It is ironic that many small businesses want to increase sales, but often ignore the power of the customer relationship. They try endlessly to get new customers, forever locked in the game of churn-and-burn. When, if they just put one-tenth of the effort they put into getting new customers into servicing their existing customers, they would make more sales and more money.

Contrary to what many think, the vast majority of the transactions, and the vast majority of the money to be made in small business, is with repeat customers, not new customers. The cost of recruiting one new customer could be hundreds or thousands of dollars, from the employees needed to research, create and execute a promotional campaign, to the specific costs of advertising, to the commissions of the sales rep, etc. The cost of servicing an existing account is minimal in comparison.

Customer feedback and product improvement

Your organization should always be open to new feedback and new ideas from customers. Customer feedback provides important insights for all stages of the sales cycle. To their detriment, many companies neglect this important stage, and miss out on great opportunities to make more sales.

Here are some ways to get constructive feedback from customers:

  • Use polls, surveys and focus groups. Include questions about how customers heard of you to get an idea of which of your promotional strategies are the most effective.
  • Solicit reviews and feedback on the ease of using your website and the website's design by placing forms and short polls that customers can fill out anonymously at the bottom or sides of your webpages.
  • Track rates of unsubscribing and complaints from your mailing list over time, and compare it against the subject-matter and timing of your mailings.
  • Track the success of promotional campaigns like coupons, discounts and affiliate programs. This will help you determine how you can reach your best customers, who your main customers are and where they come from, and thus how you can best serve them.
  • Social media feedback on Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites. One of the great advantages of social media is that it gives consumers a relaxed and low-pressure environment to voice their opinions about companies. Turn idle chatter on social media to your advantage.
  • Other online feedback can be found through search engines (simply search for "reviews" or "opinions" or "pros and cons" associated with your company). Yelp and similar sites will be useful for many retail and brick-and-mortar businesses.
  • Customer feedback about competitors that offer similar products and services. This also falls under the heading of market research. It's always better to learn from other people's mistakes than to learn from your own.

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