We’re now at that time of year when leaves are tumbling from the trees. Clocks have gone back and you can count the days down to Christmas. It’s not the time to talk about your “beach-ready” body.
But it is the time to think about your sales priorities for the new year and how you can increase sales. Especially in the tumultuous economic and business environment we’re currently operating.
If you want to optimise your sales efforts for next year what should you be focusing on?
1. Define your sales objectives
The “permacrisis” we’ve experienced over the last three years makes it tempting to focus on tactics. If we can’t predict the big picture let’s just react to circumstances.
Yet if you’re running a business you still have goals, both personal and professional.
Now might be a good time to review these (or write them for the first time ?). The more detailed the picture you can paint of where you want to be in three years’ time the more help it will be.
How many customers do you expect to have then? How big will they be and in what sectors? How many employees will you have and what jobs will they do? Will you still be WFH or do you anticipate being back in an office?
All these questions help shape what you want sales to do for you. In the case of the customer measures it’s a direct link, but the shape of your team is implicitly bound up with the shape of your customer base and will help increase sales.
2. Spend more time listening to customers
It’s tempting to become internally focused in a time of crisis.
Sometimes it’s just the strain of managing interest rates and supplier prices that distracts you. For others it feels uncomfortable to be perceived as pestering customers who are coping with the same things.
Yet turbulent times result in turbulent markets. This creates threats and opportunities – and you want to be sniffing out the upsides and helping customers work out theirs.
In 2023 more buyers than normal will be making decisions about new suppliers. It always happens with recession and will be more pronounced with supply chains still in disarray.
There’s a real opportunity here to find new ways of collaborating with customers to increase sales – maybe helping them find new markets or new customers – that can open up really revealing conversations.
You don’t need to know the answers. You’re not the only one, so don’t beat yourself up if that’s the case. And don’t use it as an excuse not to get in touch.
What you need are the questions. Just adopt a cloak of curiosity and ask your customers how they are and what’s front of mind.
3. Be brave in asking for price increases
This is painful and very real. With inflation still in double figures everybody will be looking for ways to pass this on elsewhere in the supply chain.
You cannot afford to let this end up with you.
It doesn’t matter what sector you are in or how big or small you are. With prices galloping you need to review your prices to make sure your costs are being covered.
If you run a typical small business on a net margin of 10% your profit could be completely wiped out by “absorbing” this year’s cost price increases.
It’s likely your customers are expecting these conversations so better to hold them sooner rather than later.
Pull together the data so you can provide a compelling story, book a date for the conversation and prepare how you’ll answer the inevitable challenges.
4. Scrutinise every request for discounts
Beyond the headline price you agree with customers, buyers (especially professional buyers) are skilled at eroding price through discounts.
But you’ll also have customers who just like a deal and an inflationary market is the perfect place for them to negotiate one as they know you’re keen to increase sales.
You might be so pleased at them accepting the principle of your new price list that you don’t notice the many discounts they ask for.
Discounts can be fixed (i.e. you’ll always pay them) or promotional (payable for a fixed period of time).
Any discount you offer should be linked to getting something in return. If your customer orders in full cases, or pays you within seven days then maybe it’s worth offering a better price.
But avoid at all costs discounts that are given to the customer who shouts the loudest or threatens you the most.
Like dogs, discounts are not just for Christmas. Once given you rarely get to change your mind.
5. Deliver seamless customer service
Not only are we in a time of disruptive prices and interest rates, but supply chains and employment markets are in a mess too.
Businesses of all types are struggling to get the materials or products they require. While at the same time organisations are finding it hard to recruit.
It’s creating a customer service crisis that extends from government departments like the DVLA and HMRC into large private companies too.
This creates an environment in which doing the basics well can really stand out to help you increase sales.
Most people understand the economy is in a muddle, so finding the time to explain problems and propose solutions can make you stand apart.
Better still, planning ahead, fighting to retain key staff and reiterating your high standards of customer service can help you win in 2023.
What would you add to the list?
If you enjoyed this post, you may also want to take a look at What’s Customer Lifetime Value and why is it important?