A positive outcome from a difficult economic climate is that it often inspires budding entrepreneurs to take control and set up their own business. In fact, the number of entrepreneurs setting up their own businesses is growing rapidly. What’s more, it seems that female entrepreneurs are coming to the fore, with half (49.5 per cent) of small firms established in the past two years in retail, hotels, catering and leisure owned primarily by women.
Despite this growth, it is still overwhelmingly difficult for entrepreneurs to make their mark in the business market. This is because many start-ups have the know how about the market and their product, but struggle with finalising sales. It’s these key skill sets, like leadership and sales, that will help them edge out the competition.
Entrepreneurs require a different set of skills compared to their more seasoned professional business owner counterparts. Entrepreneurs often need to be more agile and take more risks. They tend to struggle with a lack of profitable sales; paid within stipulated payment terms, a poor pipeline and cash flow difficulties. The only way to address these issues is to ensure a great pipeline of sales and a broad customer base. This is where entrepreneurs need to learn new skills. Sales is a process, built on a series of skills that can be learnt, developed and grown over time. Developing sales skills is imperative in financially challenging times and will help entrepreneurs win business.
While economic recovery is underway, the pace is slow and this makes buyers of products and services much more reluctant to change suppliers or to take business risks. These types of variables in the business market place create real barriers to growth.
Many start-ups and entrepreneurs struggle with this fear of change and risk aversion from buyers and consumers. However, specific selling strategies, and skills can be learnt and are crucial to small businesses’ survival. My top selling strategies are:
- Don’t give away free advice – firstly, no matter what your numbers look like, don’t be drawn into cost cutting or free advice, as this is a one way track to failure. It comes across like you don’t value your service and how can a customer be persuaded to trust you if you don’t trust yourself? Clients do not want the cheapest, they want the best. If you start a process of free consulting then you start a vicious cycle that will only get worse.
- Listen – remember that people are most interested in themselves and the challenges they face. The amount of sales you make is proportional to the amount of information you gather, not the information you give. One of the greatest skills you need to master in a sales environment is to be an effective listener. By talking knowledgeably about your prospects’ problems, you will hold their attention and ultimately, enable them to engage with you.
- Be discerning – when we meet with prospects we want to hear a yes. That’s only natural. We also feel in difficult times, beggars can’t be choosers. But sometimes if you’re in front of ‘the prospect from hell’ you need to make a judgement call as to whether it would be beneficial to turn them into a client from hell – or simply walk away. Sometimes it pays to be discerning. In the business world there will always be time wasters; the trick is to spot them early and not let them waste your most valuable resource – your time.
- Enjoy it – sales meetings and calls do not have to be a gritty, hard-won, exhausting experience. You may need to be gutsy for a few seconds at a time, but learn to relax and bring some humour into things. If you enjoy what you doing, it comes across in your speech, body language and your whole presence.