Today, I’ve got a major challenge for you. I want you to take a look at what you are currently spending on marketing – whether it’s on brochures, your website, pay per clicks, PR, newspaper, direct mail, social media etc. – and I want you to slash the total budget by 20%. No matter what you are selling and where you are selling it, I guarantee that you won’t miss that 20%. And there is a very good reason for that. 96% of the people who see your message right now, don’t get it anyway. You are spending thousands of dollars each year on sales and marketing materials to increase your sales and the vast majority of your prospects don’t understand your message – so they can’t possibly recall it and buy from you.
So with the money you just saved in your pocket, we are going to take a few minutes right now to re-engineer your message and give you a much better chance of getting through and being understood. The good news is this – it is not going to cost you much to take the time right now to create a message that helps more of your prospects to say “yes”. And if more leads say “yes”, the money you do spend on sales and marketing is going to increase your sales.
To prove my point, I’d like to make you an interesting offer – I can either give you $50 cash right now or a piece of paper where I will write the net present value of a five year annuity at a compound annual interest rate of 10%, adjusted for CPI. Which of these sounds more appealing to you? Which would you rather take right now? Which of these can you take now, put in your wallet or spend it at the shopping centre?
Unless you are one of those very rare individuals who can calculate in your head the value of my second offer, I’m willing to bet you’d rather just take the $50. And that makes a whole lot of sense, because everyone knows what $50 is and what it is worth. There’s nothing confusing about it, is there?
The part of your brain that makes decisions is not interested in working hard to figure out what my message means and what it’s worth. That part of your brain is looking for something that is tangible. And if you’re unsure about whether a message is tangible or not – ask yourself “would a 6 year old understand it?”
Think about it – if I offer you a $50 note or an orange, you don’t have to think very hard about it to figure out what I am offering you, do you? Both of them are equally easy to understand. As soon as you see it, you know what it is and you know exactly what you can do with it. $50 will buy you enough food to cook a meal and the orange is good for you – it’s tasty and you can eat it. There are no directions and no heavy thinking required to make sense of what I am offering you. Your new brain doesn’t have to do any thinking (and wasting time) to get my message.
So what does this mean for you, your message and your customers? If you are making it hard for your customers to understand what you do and whether they are getting a good deal, you need to spend some time right now making your offer more tangible. Ask yourself “does my message include a bunch of big words, fluff and jargon?” Could it be boiled down to something that a 6 year old could understand? What do you need to do to communicate it more clearly to increase your sales – t0 help your prospects to be able to say “yes”? Can you simplify the words that you use or introduce photos or props to get your message across faster?
Now, I think you can guess that coming up with a simple, succinct message is a lot harder than being lazy and throwing together an ad full of useless, complicated information. A good rule of thumb here is to remember that you should be working harder to craft and simplify your message than your prospect has to in order to decipher it. Someone has to do the hard work – either you are committed to doing it before hand or your customer will need to think about it.
Now if you are serious about saving money and you want to increase your sales, you won’t spend another cent until you stop, take a good hard look at your materials and do whatever it takes to make your message tangible. You don’t have to spend more money to chase find customers. What you really need to do is take the complication and confusion out of your message so that more of your prospects can say “yes” now.
In 1949, thirteen (out of a highly skilled team of sixteen men) died battling a relatively small blaze that turned deadly in Mann Gulch, Montana. Upon investigating the circumstances of why thirteen of the “smoke jumpers” died while only three lived, Norman Maclean wrote a book entitled “Young Men and Fire”, which is the true story account of that fateful expedition of the “smoke jumpers” – fire fighters who parachute into the back country to fight fires.
Maclean found some startling and interesting facts. Mann Gulch is surrounded by steep canyon walls with the northern slope at a 75% incline. When the wind turned suddenly on the smoke jumpers, they were in a race with the fire up those steep walls. Unexpectedly, the fire started to spread much faster than anticipated.
One of the amazing and notable things that Maclean discovered was that the thirteen who died had carried their tools – heavy poleaxes, saws, shovels and heavy back packs – while attempting to out run the fire up those steep walls. In other words, the thirteen had run as far as they could with all their equipment, even though that equipment was worse than useless in a race with the fire. Their inability to drop their heavy tools and packs ultimately prevented them from being able to outrun the fire. To these seasoned fire fighters, their tools were more than simple objects – they represented who they were, why they were there and what they were trained to do. Dropping their tools would have meant abandoning their knowledge, beliefs, training and experience.
This might not seem like a hard choice to make to you, but because these specialized fire fighters hadn’t been trained for such an unpredictable moment, they had no alternative models or maps for behaviour. In moments of uncertainty and imminent danger, clinging to the old “right” way might seem like a good idea… but more often than not, it is actually deadly.
The three survivors of the blaze were forced to think outside the box and develop alternative methods of escaping the fire. Once they figured out they were no longer “fighting the fire” but were instead “trying to escape from it”, they realized they had to drop all of their useless equipment. One survivor used an innovative technique called the ‘escape fire’ where he took a match and lit a ring around him so that the fire would “jump” over him. When he tried to suggest it to the other men, they continued running up the steep slope because the ‘escape fire’ technique had not been part of their extensive training. Their inability to drop the tools and equipment that weren’t working and seek new methods to escape is what ultimately led to them being engulfed by flames and smoke.
My question to you is this: What are the poleaxes, shovels and backpacks you’re currently running with?
What are the tired, worn out strategies and tools which you are lugging around? What existing beliefs and models of behaviour do you need to drop in order for you to survive and prosper (even thrive in a recession)? What training, attitudes, decisions or experience needs to be abandoned in favour of a new, innovative approach?
It has often been said that “the thinking that got you to here, won’t get you to there”. Never has the simplicity and wisdom of this statement been more poignant, than it is today. Those of you who adopt and learn the critical skills, tools and mind-set necessary to survive and even thrive in a recession (or despite any challenge you face) will be the winners in all this. But, this has always been true. Survivors and successful people triumph because they are flexible and willing to do whatever it takes to get the results they desire. New or changing circumstances always necessitate a new perspective or approach: The alternative, “doing the same thing over and over again” is the definition of insanity and can only lead to suffering, disappointment, frustration and pain.
The events of the past few years have clearly shown that there is fire raging out of control in our global economy – the markets are extremely volatile, banks and corporations are in trouble, credit is tightening, our personal debt is far too high and property values are threatened. Change is upon us and we all must examine what we have chosen to carry on our backs to thrive in a recession. Burying your head in the sand and “doing more of what you have always done” are no longer viable options.
No matter where you are at right now…I have a belief that it is impossible for you not to become even more successful NOW. Take some time today to assess your approach to date – what is working and what is not. Write an action plan and take 3 steps today towards achieving the life that you imagine in your mind. After all, success is not by chance or circumstance, it is by choice! Choose wisely.
When clients ask how to close more sales and free up cash in their business, I like to tell the story of Byron the guns and collectibles dealer. He lives for his business because it gives him the chance to make a living out of doing what he enjoys most: collecting.
He was struggling 12 months ago because he was out of cash and unable to buy new stock. This was a real problem because the strength of his business lay in constantly having new items to show off. New stock encouraged his customers to come back often; no new stock meant they would tend to check out his competitors first.
When I first walked into Byron’s shop, one of the most obvious items was a beautiful old gun, proudly (and securely) displayed in a glass cabinet. I couldn’t help but ask how much it was worth. He explained that it he had bought it for $5,000 dollars, but was looking to sell it for $7,000. Following a hunch that I had hit on his problem straight away, I asked Byron when he had bought the gun. He didn’t remember exactly, he said, but thought it was about five years ago.
I asked Byron how many other, similarly high value items he had in his store. We went for a walk and in the course of showing me around, he pointed out at least a dozen items which he had bought for over $5,000 over the last few years. In each case, he was quick to tell me how much he was intending to sell the item for, and the margin was always 30 to 40%. But the fact was he hadn’t sold these items so they were costing him money and, most importantly, causing him to miss the opportunity of buying new stock.
Byron had spent nearly $100,000 on expensive items over the years. The items were attractive and valuable, but they weren’t particularly rare, so they weren’t appreciating in value significantly. In effect, Byron had put $100,000 on the shelf of his office and left it there for all that time. In other words, while he wasn’t borrowing money from the bank, in effect he was borrowing it from himself. He had missed the opportunity to invest the money somewhere where it would give him a solid return, such as in a term deposit or in blue-chip shares. And he missed the opportunity of using that money to buy smaller, less expensive items that he knew would sell quickly. He needed to do something (and fast) if he wanted to close more sales.
Compounding all of this was the fact that the global financial crisis had caused demand to drop markedly which meant his customers just weren’t coming in or spending as much as they used to.
By making a few simple adjustments, responding to trends in the industry and addressing a need that his customers, Byron was able to turn his business around, close more sales and double his bottom line.
The first thing he did was to free up some cash by actively selling some of his more expensive and slow moving items. He used online auction sites and his own network to find buyers, while keeping his marketing costs low. In some cases he had to sell the items for a little less than he had intended, but the benefit (when he was able to close more sales) was cash in his pocket.
The next thing he did was set up some systems to keep better track of inventory. He started by recording everything and noting the age of all the items (i.e. the length of time he had held it in stock). We agreed that in future, any item that had not sold after 8 months would be reviewed. Byron would investigate the item’s market value and decide whether or not it was increasing in value sufficiently to be worth keeping. If not, he would act to move the item on.
After a few months, Byron was making much smarter purchasing decisions. He was still enjoying ‘collecting’ for his store, but his focus was different. His focus was less on attractive, expensive but not-so-rare items, and more on smaller items he knew he could sell quite quickly. To his pleasant surprise, he increased cash flow by $100,000 in 3 months and found that by using this strategy, he was able to do more shopping rather than less, because he had more cash available to spend.
Lastly, but perhaps most significantly, Byron introduced 2 new complementary strategies which literally transformed his business. To counteract the soft demand for firearms and the relatively fixed, low margins, Byron convinced his customers to purchase 18 months worth of ammunition upfront and he provided storage (if required) onsite. This allowed him to renegotiate terms and pricing with his suppliers, plus generate more cash flow in the short term. Since the margins on bullets was much higher than on the guns themselves, his overall profitability improved. In addition, Byron incorporated training and certification into his standard offering and opened up his target range to paying customers 3 nights a week. This allowed him to create new, highly lucrative income streams and increase the frequency with which his customers came into his business.
While Byron’s story on how to close more sales might seem unique and industry specific, there are many ways to take the overarching philosophy of what he did and utilize it to improve your operating cash position.
How can you identify and start selling silver bullets in your business? Begin by first examining the big picture…
Identify the items in your inventory that are essentially dead stock – i.e. haven’t sold in over 8 months. Determine what the total value of the stock is and devise a plan to convert it quickly into cash using a minimal amount of advertising.
Focus on the gross profit margin of all of your products and services. Are some of these more profitable than others? To improve your overall performance, concentrate on the former, and improve or eliminate the latter. What items or services could you add which would allow you to service a need, improve your relationship with your customers and grow your bottom line?
Negotiate better terms and/or prices with your supplier in order to increase the amount of gross profit you make on each sale. Consider which items you could sell in bulk upfront to your customers and use this new volume to improve your buying leverage or cut out the middle man.
Marketing should not be treated as a fixed and sacred cow in your business. Do not spend another dime on marketing until you ensure that you are maximizing the amount you retain on each sale to cover fixed costs. Also, only spend money chasing customers and sales if you can measure the financial return that you will get. Unless you are a multinational brand, money spent solely on branding is wasted.
Make it easy for your customers to find you and see what you have to offer on the internet. The database of potential shoppers that you have earned the right to speak to, is in fact your greatest asset. What can you do today to add value, enhance their experience and close more sales?
Finally, examine the fixed expenses in your business. Identify whether or not there is a cheaper, faster or superior alternative that doesn’t compromise quality or customer service. Is there a way to shift how and what you do so that fixed expenses can vary (i.e on a pay per use basis) with the level of production and/or sales? And remember, no one has ever grown their business by [exclusively] focusing on cost cutting – so use this tactic as your final step in a comprehensive plan to get your business firing and hitting targets. Your primary goal is to close more sales and increase the amount of gross profit (or contribution margin) that you make from each sale.
09 Nov 2011
As a business owner, I’ll bet you’re incredibly busy and find that there never seems to be enough hours in the day to complete all your work.
Have you ever noticed that some of your everyday activities are just deeply ingrained habits – driving your car, putting on your watch, brushing your teeth or taking a shower? You wouldn’t dream of not doing them, they are part of your routine and they just seem to happen automatically. In your business you also have habits such as checking your website, opening the mail, reading emails, grabbing a coffee and glancing at your diary. You do them without conscious “thought” and they seem to fill up hours in your day…
But what about all the actions you need to take in order to build a more profitable and efficient business? Like following up with your best customers, asking for referrals, strategic planning and goal setting to grow your business? When do you do these activities? Do they often get relegated to “tomorrow” or “sometime soon”?
If you’ve ever spent your day stuck in back to back meetings, answering routine questions from your team, responding to emails, helping other people, doing paperwork or tidying your office – you already know that these are “make busy” activities, and they will keep you trapped where you already are – just simply maintaining, not growing your business. By filling your days with these tasks, you are in effect avoiding the very activities that you know will really move your business forward and produce tangible results.
Your “make busy” work or habits create the magnificent illusion that you are hard at work, simply because you feel “flat out” and your day is full of tasks. Let’s be honest, you would actually rather do anything than face the activities you know would radically accelerate your business success NOW! In fact, you often get to the end of the day and say to yourself “It’s OK, I was really busy, I’ll just get to that marketing plan tomorrow.” Or “I just couldn’t find the time today to make that seminar on leadership or customer loyalty.”
If you are waiting for the right or best time to do these critical activities in your business, it will simply never come! There will always be other “busy work” to fill all of your available time. You need to find a way to make your business building activities an ingrained habit too, if you want to grow your bottom line and live the lifestyle of your dreams.
Do you relate to or identify with any of these common sabotage habits?
1. Perfectionism – this tactic is insidious. It often immobilizes us from making a decision, starting a project or activity and signing off on a piece of important work. Most tasks don’t have to be 100% perfect, they just need to be good enough. The other way that this can show up is when you deceive yourself into believing that no-one else can do the job (even simple routine tasks) to your exacting standard, so you must do it ALL yourself. Follow the 80/20 rule, delegate what you do not have to do yourself and give yourself permission to be human!
2. Refusing to Let Go of The Past – Have you ever heard yourself say “last time I tried that, it didn’t work”? Or have you ever simply avoided doing something that you know you should or need to do but were afraid to do because “last time it didn’t work out the way you wanted it to”? Even though it’s a good idea to stop doing what clearly doesn’t work, it’s important to remember that the past does not necessarily equal the future. If you catch yourself finding reasons from the past to justify why you are not moving ahead toward your compelling future, stop NOW and take a good hard look at whether these are just cleverly disguised forms of self-sabotage.
3. Lack of Accountability – who is holding you accountable to the decisions you make and the actions you take in your own company? Isn’t that why you went into business for yourself in the first place – so that you could be the boss and do things your way? Find someone outside your business – a coach, mentor or trusted advisor that can act as a sounding board and hold you accountable to staying on track.
4. Lack of vision, planning and specificity – if you don’t know where you are going, how will you know when you get there? Enough said. If you don’t have a 90 day, 1 year and 3 year business plan, you need to make this your number one priority in your business. Set a weekend aside and find a place where you will not be disturbed by anyone or anything. Set down your goals clearly and succinctly – get clear about the specifics (who, what, where, when and why) and set realistic deadlines for completion. Goals need to be written down in detail to allow your mind – which is a goal seeking mechanism – to do its magic.
5. Lack of focus – stay focused on the important task you are currently working on and only allow yourself to be diverted by real emergencies.
6. Fear of Financials – you cannot have a truly successful business if you don’t know your numbers. Not knowing your numbers has already cost you time and money. Find someone who can explain your financials to you in plain English – learn the key drivers and indexes in your business (such as break even, productivity ratios, inventory turns, gross profit margins etc.) and track them daily.
7. No USP – the greatest product or service in the world will not sell if you have not clearly defined why someone should buy from you instead of your competitors. “Build it and they will come is a fallacy.” If you have not yet figured out what is unique about your product or service and found a compelling and cost effective way to communicate it in everything you do, you are literally flushing your marketing budget down the toilette.
8. No Testing and Measuring – this is the most-often overlooked activity by small business owners. The simple act of testing and measuring everything in your business…and I mean everything…will save you thousands of dollars this year. No matter what “it” is, if you haven’t tested and measured “it”, you don’t really know if “it” works. And until you know if it works, you don’t have a reliable, predictable business that will run without out.
Unfortunately, there are no quick fixes. As you already know or suspect, some of the most common forms of self-sabotage are habits because they are deeply ingrained behaviours that take time to establish or eliminate. In the 1960’s a highly regarded plastic surgeon, Dr. Maxwell Maltz discovered that it took 21 days for amputees to cease feeling phantom sensations in their amputated limb. From further observations and significant research he established that it takes 21 days to create a new habit.
Brain circuits take engrams (which are essentially “memory traces”) and produce neuroconnections and neuropathways only if they are bombarded for 21 days in a row. This means that our brain does not accept new data or information for a change of habit unless it is repeated each day (without fail) for at least 21 days. Changing habits (whether positive or negative) can be done but it takes time and consistent effort.
Do yourself a favour and identify today which form of self-sabotage is the primary one that is holding you back from having the business and lifestyle of your dreams. Make a plan on paper – specific decisions and actions that you can take to move forward in this aspect every single day for the next month. It is imperative to track your progress each day and I highly recommend finding an objective person outside of your business to hold you accountable to your plan, actions and results.
Is your business growth starting to plateau or stagnate?
It’s easy to sit back, take the foot off the accelerator and watch the sales roll in, especially if you’ve been satisfied with your recent performance. But keep in mind that if you slack off too much, your competitors will soon catch up and eventually put you out of business.
Take a look around – businesses (and your competitors) are closing their doors due to the drop in consumer spending – which means MORE potential customers for businesses like YOU, that do survive. Today is the best time to take steps to revamp your marketing efforts and respond to the needs and the pain of your target market.
In these tough times, it’s going to take more than “thinking outside the box” and goodwill with existing customers to secure the survival of your business.
I want you to STOP right now and make a list of everything that you (and your competitors) do NOT do to make it easy for your prospects to buy from you. If you want to succeed over the long term, you will take a good hard look at both of these lists and find a way to do whatever it takes, for as long as it takes, to win your customers and keep them.
Granted, this is not an easy task. Most businesses will continue to do what they have always done – guess or assume what they think their customers need. However, no matter how challenging it is to ask the hard questions and re-engineer your strategy, I guarantee it will be a whole lot less painful and stressful than going under.
I had a married couple come to me once for advice and coaching – both the business they were in and their relationship were at the breaking point. The husband turned and said to me “I don’t understand it. I do everything humanly possible for my wife and she doesn’t appreciate me and I don’t think I can possibly do anything more to satisfy my customers – they are never happy and always want more. What can I possibly do?”
My answer to this age old dilemma applies to him, his marriage, and to you in your business right now. “Sounds like you are doing a lot. Too bad it’s everything BUT the very thing that your partner and customers need most.”
While this may sound harsh, I think you will agree that it is absolutely true. It does you no good to work harder doing everything…instead of focusing on the 1 thing that you customers actually need. Wouldn’t it be easier for you to work smarter, not harder, if you knew with absolute certainty what that 1 thing is?
How can you take the lesson from my client and apply it to your own business right now?
How could you go about figuring out what that 1 thing is?
I want you to do something really radical today and start asking both your prospects and existing customers what they need. You need to find out:
• What is the biggest challenge your prospects are facing in their business?
• When your customer thinks of the product or service you provide, what is THE most painful or difficult issue associated with acquiring it?
• What is the most important criteria to your purchaser when evaluating a company like you?
• What are some things that he/she thinks about or considers from a financial perspective when selecting that product/service or a vendor?
• What is the key strategic driver for you customer’s decision?
It doesn’t really matter what you have done up to this point or how hard you are working. There is no prize for volume or quantity. What counts is quality and relevance.
Are you giving your customers what they want and are you willing to do whatever it takes to help them cure the pain that they are in?
More of the “same old same old” is not going to differentiate you from the pack, build trust, win customers and grow your business. Take some time today to really think about what you offer and how it could be improved to meet the primary need of your customers. If all of your customers were to leave today, what would you need to change in order to win them back and survive?
At the end of the day, price is never the determining factor. Once you uncover the true cost of the problem they are facing, price becomes irrelevant. Your customers will always be willing to pay a fair price for a product/service that cures their pain – not to mention the peace of mind that comes with excellent service. Take stock of what the competition is NOT willing to do and what your customers wnat most from you.
Do something unique – listen and be willing to do whatever it takes to deliver what they want (and need). Anything less, is simply a waste of your time and money on everything that doesn’t really matter.
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