There are, of course, many routes to business success but I find that SMEs in the UK often get stuck somewhere between £1million and £5million turnover. Now, if they’re happy there, providing value to clients, gainful employment to staff and decent profits for owners, then there may be no reason to change. However, if your company has been stuck with these levels of revenue for a few years and can’t understand why you’re not growing, my guess is that either you’ve failed to identify the answers to 3 simple questions or you’ve failed to put the answers into action successfully.
3 questions: Who? Why? How?
The temptation, when growing sales, is to throw money at seemingly quick, easy options. Hire more people; have a motivational training day; give big incentives for success. All those options have their benefits but the problem is that you may waste money on them unless you answer these questions first.
Who? If we have a good product or service, we believe it’s useful to anyone and everyone. That might be true but few businesses scale trying to sell to anyone and everyone. It’s expensive, it requires too much flexibility and it spreads your resources too thin. If you’re going to scale quickly, you need to identify your Ideal Client Profile. Who are the people or companies most likely to buy your products or services? This is based on their needs, their budgets and their buying processes (see below).
Why? This is all about the value you offer to prospective clients. Introducing an idea to people, gaining their interest, then moving them to commit time and money to buying what we offer is a difficult process and, often, a long one too. Therefore, we must be clear about the compelling reasons they’ll need to buy from us. What is going to make them take time away from other projects to commit to us? What is going to see them divert money from other parts of the business or other parts of their lives and spend that money with us? The ‘Why’ process for your business typically has 2 parts. Not only must you have belief in what you offer, you must also express that belief with clarity – short, sharp and interesting beats long, rambling sales pitches no matter how passionately delivered! Belief plus clarity will move your Ideal Client Profile to action by making clear the value you offer.
How? Your final question is to ask how your Ideal Client Profile makes the first steps towards buying decision. Something that has changed in the last 2 decades – and continues to change quickly – is the huge range of access points available to buyers. The better you understand how they buy, the more likely you can fit into a process they already know, like and trust. A warning here though: clients often don’t really know how they make buying decisions! This means that if you only take their word for it (eg. “Please don’t call me; send me an email and I’ll come back to you, if interested), you may fail to engage with them. You might find it more useful to ask existing clients how they decided to work with you. They’re more likely to be honest about it (no need to mislead for fear of being ‘sold to’!) and they’re also people that have bought rather than ones ‘thinking about buying’.
I’m always careful to be too prescriptive with advice as some companies achieve success without following any of these steps! I’d suggest that they’re successful in spite of their sales processes rather than because of it and hats off to them for doing so. However, this type of success story usually happens quickly so, if your SME has been around for a while and reached a certain level of success before hitting a ceiling, then answering the Who? Why? How? questions could well give you the most important answers you need this year.