Are your sales flat? Do you struggle to win new business from year to year? Are you afraid to increase or experiment with your marketing spend?
In Part 3 of this series on entrepreneurial obstacles to success, we explored the challenge of Organization.
In this article, we explore the challenge of Business Development. This is the fourth roadblock to business growth.
The Five Growth Roadblocks
- Cash Flow
- Business Development
- Business Model
3. Business Development
For most of us, obtaining consistent, repeatable, year-on-year sales growth is the biggest challenge in running a business. Finding the right solution to this problem will have the greatest impact on your firm’s growth potential and long-term value. Of course, there are some lucky few who happen to start a business at the right time. For them, the demand curve is still growing and competition is thin. However, for the rest of us, competition is fierce and winning new business remains a major challenge on a daily basis.
Here are symptoms of this problem:
- You don’t see revenue (sales) rising from one year to the next—business is flat or worse.
- You can’t find enough money to spend on extra advertising, marketing or sales people.
- The channel through which the majority of business comes in is only so big and then peters out.
- You can’t seem to win new customers or clients away from your competition. Or worse, you are losing customers to your competition and can’t seem to stop it.
- The CEO brings in all the business. But then the CEO doesn’t have the time and bandwidth to attend to the rest of the business.
I wish I could say there are simple solutions to this challenge, but the truth is there are not. It will take some time and experimentation to find answers. In most cases, the process can start yielding results in the first three months. Many companies will need a “quick fix” because they are losing sales. However, a loss in sales is often symptomatic of deeper issues covered in this Roadblock Series. For most of us, it can take over two years to find and assemble the best approaches to creating a truly successful marketing mix. Wins will certainly occur along the way. This is a step-by-step-up process. Otherwise nobody would continue. But patience and persistence are truly the hallmarks of longterm solutions to this particular challenge.
Fix What’s Already Broken
There’s an old adage that says it’s easier to keep old customers than to find new ones. If you see that you can’t hold onto your current business for very long and you are constantly chasing new business, then it won’t make sense to do anything extra until you stop the bleeding.
Follow the steps outlined in other sections of this Roadblocks Series. Make your organization sound and find the best people. Doing this will serve as a strong foundation for future growth. You will find that having a seamless organization is the best way to retain current customers. It will also open unforseen opportunities to grow your relationship with existing accounts. When a customer feels like their needs are being well met, they will come to you with more business.
How To Get More Sales
OK, so how does a small or medium-sized business generate more sales? As I said earlier, there are no quick answers on this journey. You will need to experiment with a mix of new marketing channels and diversify your sources of business. Talking directly to your best customers is often the best place to start. Find out what they read, watch, listen to and where they go for entertainment and fun. Do they fly frequently on airplanes or do they spend free time mostly web-surfing or watching TV?
Most importantly, ask them how they would find out about a new company that does what you do. Most of the time you will find that web searches are the first answer that you will get. However, don’t let that stop you, try to find out the rest as well. Once you have a good understanding of the media habits and entertainment preferences of your clients, use this information to generate creative ways to reach them and use that information. This is truly a creative process and may require outside help to maximize. The best creative agencies try to get inside the head of a customer and find ways to associate the business with something the customer resonates with.
In this age, the most cost effective medium is the Web. Depending on your industry, this might include advertising on Facebook or Google. But it might also be fruitful to post ads in local papers, buy short radio spots, do local cable or even hire a traditional sales person. Going to conference can have mixed results depending on the industry. While everyone else is focused on web-vertising, I have even seen a few companies generate successful direct mail campaigns. The competition in direct mail is much smaller these days!
Only through trial and error and by watching your most successful competitors will you learn the right combination of marketing channel mix.
One quick piece of advice: An often overlooked opportunity occurs when when inside sales people (the ones taking orders for your product or service) are trained to upsell more services to the existing customers or to ask for referrals. Simply implementing a training program to maximize this process will help your business to experience an immediate uptick in sales.
I also want to specifically call attention to one error I see being made by companies both large and small. This relates to the general use of the web for advertising and marketing. Unless you are in a commodity business, using SEO and related approaches may not work well. There was a time when this was the best way to get noticed on the web. Today, competition is fierce and most of us have to develop a deeper approach called Content Marketing. However, going to an SEO and Pay-Per-Click firm is where most people start.
In forthcoming blog entries I will spend more time on this particular challenge. After all, it is the most important part of the business cycle.
In sum, without a number of alternative approaches to reliably generate new sales, no business will grow beyond its current level — or worse.