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Sales Fundamentals for SMEs

Having a strong bottom line is key to success for any business. Find out whether you're ticking the right sales boxes in our fundamentals guide.
Sales Fundamentals for SMEs

Updated on 01/10/2020

Whether your business’ offering is a product or a service, the ability to consistently drive sales is likely one of the most important priorities on your mind as a business owner in the UK. Being able to sell effectively and generate revenue is perhaps the most fundamental aspect of any business; the transactional exchange for your time or product for cash is at the core of running a successful business.

It proved a huge shock to the system, then, when the basic ability to make sales was challenged by coronavirus. With customer needs changing rapidly, restrictions designed to prevent the spread of the virus affecting supply chains, and staff becoming ill and unable to work, many stable businesses found themselves in a challenging situation.

Now may be the perfect time to re-examine the basics of your sales mix to ensure that you’re investing your time wisely into the right type of revenue-driving activity. Read on to find our suggestions for what to reconsider and optimise within your own sales process.

The key elements of the sales process

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Let’s start by identifying the key elements that could predict success in a sales process.

1. Identifying prospective customer groups

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By analysing all the potential benefits and uses of your product/service, you are well positioned to identify potential customer groups that your offering could appeal to. It may be easier to spot the core value in a product, and from this, identify an audience segment, however the more difficult task is to identify ways in which your product could appeal to slightly more niche groups.

For example, if you run a small shop within the food and drinks industry, you’re likely to have a good feel for who the average customer is who walks into your shop. But what if you could pivot your offering slightly to appeal to a broader range of people? Perhaps by offering a delivery service you could appeal to a customer group that doesn’t feel comfortable visiting your brick and mortar store during lockdown. Or, by offering a new gluten-free, vegan product range, you may connect with those with specific dietary requirements or students attending university in your city, for example.

There are a few tricks to help you spot these opportunities. One is to examine competitor products within the same industry and compare the pros and cons of their offerings with your own (this should be part of your marketing strategy). Another is to brainstorm with your stakeholders on how to pivot your offering to tap into wider industries. For example, a coffee shop may start selling a new range of healthy snacks which tempts commuters into their shop, as opposed to commuters continuing to visit a convenience store on the way to work.

With a strong understanding of who your products/services could appeal to, you’re ready to start building your target audience segments and to think about how you’ll be perceived by those segments. Speaking of which…

2. Preparing your sales presentation

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Have you ever seen the excruciating moments on Dragon’s Den whereby the dragons ask the contestants a simple question about their product, and they stutter, having absolutely no idea of the answer? Preparing your sales presentation is all about doing the serious market research to understand exactly how your product stacks up against your competition. You could even rank every aspect out of 10 of your own and competitors’ products to identify exactly where your strengths lie.

But you knowing this yourself may not be enough. Your sales team must understand each of these benefits in great depth to be able to sell by using your unique competitive advantages. A successful sales strategy includes your team having a very similar conception of the strengths and weaknesses of your product/service. This also helps with upselling; perhaps if you have a customer looking to purchase a new boiler from your boiler company, they may also be interested in signing up to a subscription-based health check scheme. That is, if they find you trustworthy and reliable, so having a well-informed and friendly team that understands exactly how you can help a customer could be essential.

This logic applies to digital sales as much as physical sales; the outgoing communications in your advertising material and collateral should ideally have a degree of consistency. This leads us on to a different type of preparation, which is analysing the customer journey to understand key touch points.

3. Understanding the customer journey

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Essentially, the sales process should mirror the buying process directly. To understand the latter, you could look to map out the customer journey to identify exactly how their experience of your business is likely to play out.

Again, we can use customer segments to make this process manageable. For example, perhaps you’ve identified a target audience segment as 25-40-year-old parents. For this segment, you could write down:

  • What messaging they are likely to have been exposed to via your display and social media advertising.
  • Their first impression of your brick-and-mortar store (or website, if applicable).
  • How their shopping experience felt. You can gain insights into this by implementing feedback forms, and taking the personal feedback of your staff into account; what questions did people ask and what did they need help with?
  • Your follow-up process - what emails do you intend to send them (if permission is given) and special offers do you intend to share with them?

By mapping out this customer journey, you may find it easier to decide on how to optimise your sales process at each ‘touchpoint’; that is, at each point of interaction between your business and a customer. There’s a bigger picture element of what is the nature of your customer journey, and what specific activity can you undertake to make your customer experience the best it can be? For example, do you need to improve your user interface if your customer journey is purely digital? Is face-to-face selling the key to success for your small business?

With your customer journeys in mind and your sales process established, it’s time to decide who will be doing what, and when.

4. Setting clear roles and responsibilities

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As a business owner, setting clear roles and responsibilities for your team is a good way of making sure that things get fixed quickly. By matching your team’s strengths to the challenges you encounter, and upskilling where needed, you’re going to reduce the amount of time customers spend worrying about negative aspects of their experience so they can focus on getting what they need (which could result in generating revenue for you).

Why does this matter? Well, as a customer, one of the most important aspects of your shopping experience is immersion. If you’re clothes shopping in a physical store, then you want to focus solely on assessing the clothes, homing in on that visual and tactile experience. Similarly, if you’re out for a coffee and want to relax, you want to think about the taste of that coffee and the tranquillity/ambiance of the coffee shop.

Any distractions or complications you run into during this journey can break your immersion and leave a bitter taste in your mouth. So, if you run into an issue- perhaps something isn’t to your liking or you find a broken product, you want it to be dealt with immediately.

Knowing who is responsible for which part of the sales process, be it sales itself, feedback, customer support, and ensuring that everyone is aligned on their responsibilities, means less confusion is likely to occur when hiccups do inevitably happen. Do your team have complete clarity on their roles and confidence in delivering?

5. Objections and follow-ups: the aftermath of sales

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One final and crucial part of the sales process that is sometimes overlooked is follow-ups to positive and negative sales experiences. Here are some suggestions for how you could optimise your follow-up process:

  • Build remarketing lists. Invite customers to sign up for special offers and share their email with you for marketing purposes. From this, you can build a database of customer emails comprising customers who you know are likely to be receptive to your products/services – but of course, be mindful of GDPR laws.
  • Invite customers to review your company after a positive experience. Reviews left on websites such as Trustpilot and TripAdvisor (and there are many more) can encourage more customers to visit your store, and they’re also taken into account by Google when deciding who should show at the top of their specific search results. Improve your SEO and encourage more business by inviting customers to leave a quick review - and responding to all reviews may leave you in even better stead.
  • Deal with objections maturely. If a customer has a valid reason for being dissatisfied with your product/service, then carefully consider your response to their objection. It may benefit your business more in the long run to apologise and turn that negative customer experience into a positive one, than to keep a few pounds’ worth of revenue and lose that customer forever. If not, they could also potentially spread bad sentiment about your business through word of mouth, so handling complaints in a professional and mature way is a step every business should consider.

We hope that the suggestions we have outlined in this article could provoke some interesting thoughts on how you could optimise your own sales processes and potentially even boost your revenue going forward.

How could Esme help?

These are difficult times for many businesses, so it’s important now more than ever to take good care of yourself and your team. If you’re concerned about your business being impacted financially due to coronavirus, visit our FAQs page for information about how we may be able to support you.