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Blog posts tagged sales

How to become a skilled networker

June 18, 2014 by Guest Blogger

How to become a skilled networker/Business people shaking hands{{}}Networking. Some people do with such ease and confidence, elegantly working a room. How we envy them. Because for ​some of us the very notion of networking with strangers fills us with dread. But making the most of social small talk is a valuable skill that we can teach ourselves, because you never know what doors a new contact can open in those few minutes. So, what’s the key to effective networking?

1 Think of networking as free marketing

It’s just another part of your marketing tool kit, which can be refined and improved. And like all tools – knowing when and how to use it, will serve you well. Prepare by writing down two or three short sentences about yourself and your business or idea and learn these in advance. Make it current, factual and positive. This doesn’t need to be a sales pitch; it’s a conversation-starter; an opportunity to introduce yourself and your business to new people or tell people you already know something new so that they can leave with a refreshed version of your ‘asset value’.

2 Networking is just social communication

It’s a conversation between people, not you trying to sell your latest product or service, but a taster, an appetiser. Give a glimpse of what you do using positive, confident language (which you’ve already prepared). And it’s two-way thing – show an interest in what others have to offer, so all parties can see if there’s something of mutual interest to follow-up.

3 Break the uncomfortable first contact by asking a question

Be conversational in your approach with a few casual questions, such as: “How have you found the event so far?”, “What’s your business about?” or “Who’s been your favourite speaker so far?” Top tip for the tongue-tied: worry less about what you have to sell, focus on being interested in the other person person. Top sales people are often great listeners.

4 Don’t be shy about moving on

If you are at an event where badges are given out and networking is part of the agenda, you’re expected to mingle rather than stick with one person for ages. It’s perfectly polite to spend a few moments with someone, make introductions, have a conversation and then say: “Well, it’s been a pleasure speaking to you. I’ll leave you to meet other people…” or “I must take the opportunity to meet so and so…”

5 Be bold – ask for connections or introductions and make them in return

It’s OK to ask if the person can think of another person at the event who might be interested in your service or products. It’s also great when you can recommend someone whose products or interests are similar and agree to connect them via email or social media.

6 Do your follow-up quickly

When you get home or have a few moments to spare, make a list of those you’ve spoken to (or scan their business cards or staple them into a notebook) and make a note of interesting things that will help you to remember them another time. And, of course, follow-up with any promised information. You should follow-up within a few days to make sure trust is maintained.

Blog supplied by Lisa Gagliani, CEO of Bright Ideas Trust, a charity that helps young people in London who aren’t in employment, education or training or who haven’t had the same chances as the rest of society to start their own businesses.

Further reading

Free sources of market data and research tools

July 17, 2013 by David Schmidt

Free sources of market data and research tools /financial and business chart{{}}Market research and competitor analysis can be a start-up’s Achilles’ heel. Incorrect conclusions pulled from incomplete or inaccurate research often lead to dire consequences for start-ups that pursue a market segment that was inappropriately analysed.

So why do so many start-ups continue to get caught in this trap? Well, the answer is actually pretty obvious.

Thorough market research drains the two resources that are most precious to start-ups – time and money. Therefore, if you aren’t a research guru but still need thorough research, you can choose either to spend substantial cash on expensive services and tools to perform the research or to spend hours using conventional methods if you are trying to bootstrap.

So how do you produce compelling market research, but preserve your precious time and money? Well, the answer is pretty simple, just maybe not as obvious.

Primary research can be accomplished by using a variety of free online surveys such as SurveyMonkey. Another great option is to embed user polls directly onto your website. Fair warning, though, the majority of people who participate in these polls are usually the ones who are most dissatisfied.

For secondary research, you can use tools such as FindTheCompany. The database recently became available to the public for free and provides information on more than 30 million private and public companies.

For industry research, a great (and often overlooked) resource is public companies’ annual reports, which are often filled with hidden gems. They provide insight on an industry’s size and growth rate, as well as predictions on where the industry is heading in the near future. Public companies pay expert consultants lots of money to research and develop these reports. Essentially, they are paying for the data you need. And the best part – you don’t even need to be an investor to get these reports.

Finally, be a customer of your competitors. Look at their advertisements. From this, you can infer who their target market is, and which demographics they are trying to expand into. If your competition has stores in your area, pay them a visit. This sounds obvious, but many people don’t realize how much information they can gather simply by getting in their car and driving around town. This doesn’t mean you need to be deceptive, just be inquisitive.

Nowadays, start-ups cannot perform efficient and effective market research by sticking to outdated methods. They must innovate and make use of the new methods and free tools that emerge every day. Be smart about your research, it might save you more than just time and money – it might save your start-up.

Blog by David Schmidt, head of audience development at FindTheCompany.com

Big Nev's right - happy people sell

July 15, 2013 by John Sylvester

Big Nev's right – happy people sell/man holding a paper with a smile{{}}Happy people sell, according to Neville Wilshire, star of The Call Centre, BBC 3’s new fly-on-the-wall documentary. Wilshire may be a little unorthodox in the way he handles his staff, but he makes a very valid point. Happy staff are more productive. Practical jokes, X-Factor style competitions and in-office speed-dating are not necessarily right for every business, but fully engaging staff is the best way to ensure they generate results.

There are many ways to engage employees and boost productivity. These do not have to be outlandish and neither do they have to be a financial burden on the business. Offering rewards or benefits schemes, such as high street discounts, reduced-cost gym membership or free cinema tickets are a surprisingly cost-effective way to make a real difference to your employees’ attitude and your bottom line.

Consulting with staff about what sort of rewards would suit them is the ideal way to get them working at their best. There is no need to get as personal as Big Nev, but (providing your business can afford it) it’s worth finding out what incentives will help to bring the best out of your employees.

Once the most appropriate incentives have been decided, rewards and benefits can be easily and effectively put into place that will really make staff feel appreciated and give them something to strive for.

Enthusiastic and energised staff will have a better attitude to work, a greater sense of achievement and produce better results for their employers.

Blog supplied by John Sylvester, executive director of P&MM and brand director for motivation at the Institute of Promotional Marketing.

Five tips that can make you a better negotiator

December 05, 2012 by Jo Greig

Five tips that can make you a better negotiator/business man and business woman fighting{{}}While many people like to think of themselves as good negotiators, many do not understand some of the simple rules, which can quickly label you as inexperienced, which of course is not a position you wish to be in, especially when pitting yourself against a skilled and seasoned negotiator. By steering clear of the following five pitfalls, you should be able to navigate your way through any negotiation with ease.

1. Don’t negotiate blindly

Before beginning any negotiation, you must determine two things: your desired outcome and your bottom-line tolerance level. If not, you will have no direction and will likely be dissatisfied with the outcome of the negotiation.

2. Don’t start the negotiations

If at all possible, have the other person put the first number on the table. The reason for this is simple, as illustrated through a hypothetical example. X is willing to sell his widget for £100. X asks Y what he is willing to pay for the widget and he says £150. By Y bidding first, X earned an extra £50 even before the negotiations were underway.

3. Don’t avoid the process

Negotiating is a back and forth process that takes time. Many people who are uncomfortable negotiating try to avoid the process by being upfront with their real bottom-line number. This causes negotiations to break down, because the other side simply will not believe you. The expectation is that your opening number will be high/low and move from there. In fact, if you are responding to an opening bid, it is assumed that your target number is the number exactly between the two currently on the table. If you step up to the negotiation table, be prepared to play the game.

4. Don’t bid against yourself

A skilled negotiator will try to get you to bid against yourself and a rookie negotiator will fall for it. This happens when the skilled negotiator gets the rookie negotiator to increase his bid without moving himself. To gain respect, say: “I’m not going to bid against myself. I’ve put a number on the table. It’s your move.”

5. Don’t be afraid to walk away

When people are negotiating, they can easily become caught up in the moment. When this happens, there is a very real possibility of committing to a position one later regrets. The way to avoid this trap is to be prepared to walk away when you reach your predetermined tolerance. It is important to do this for another reason. The other side may be bluffing. By walking away, you clearly indicate your position to the opposing party. Understand that many negotiations are completed after several sessions. This will allow you to walk away with the confidence of knowing that if the deal happens, it will be on your terms. 

  •  This article is written by Jo Greig on behalf of The Gap Partnership, experts in negotiation, consultancy and training solutions.

The Apprentice: snap and snappier

June 29, 2011 by Simon Wicks

Missed the ninth episode? Catch up here

The task

Zoe hates Melody. Melody hates Zoe. Actually, I suspect Melody hates everyone, but this week was all about the battle between two strong personalities. It was like Big Daddy vs Giant Haystacks all over again (Zoe is Giant Haystacks, naturally – hair all over the place). And, like those theatrical tussles, there was only going to be one winner: Melody, bloated by ambition, won’t allow anything to knock her down.

The task should have been fun – invent an original idea for a biscuit, make it, brand it and flog it to three of Britain’s biggest supermarkets. Sweet. Lord Sugar divvies up the seven survivors: serial winner Helen is on Venture, along with Jim and Natasha. Zoe and Melody find themselves side by side on Logic; the seeds are sown. Oh, Tom and ‘little’ Susan are in there somewhere, too.

Zoe instantly mows down Susan in her pitch for leadership, citing her experience in the food and drink industry. She delivers the first blow to Melody by packing her off to Wales with inventor Tom to make biscuits. “Don’t take this the wrong way,” Zoe drawls contemptuously, “but I’m probably happier working with Susie.”

They have only the fuzziest of ideas about their biscuit and none at all about their target market. But they do have a name (BixMix), a strapline (“Snap and share”) and an inventor on their team (Tom). It’s the inventor I’d worry about.

Logic, led by Helen (also from the food industry) and capably supported by Jim (ingratiating) and Natasha (anonymous) is harmonious by comparison. Helen is oppressively efficient and seems more like an android by the week. They go for “Special Stars” – a biscuity treat for kids when they get home from school. Mmm, special. The tagline is contradictory: “The after school treat for any time”. Errmmm.

The best bit

Tom making biscuits. In his element, the inventor showers his team with one crazy idea after another: first there’s the “Mermunchie” (“The emergency biscuit to be eaten in emergencies”), then the “biscuit-within-a-biscuit”. He tinkers and fiddles happily as Melody twitters girlishly about hearts and sharing.

But Melody, whose intellect is hardly her strong suit, suddenly lets slip a shard of wisdom: “I think big and then try to work out the details,” she smirks. “He works out the little, little details and then tries to fit them into the bigger picture.” She quickly kills her insight with the idea of biscuits as popcorn – “Popscuits”, obviously. That “big picture” thing – it’s tougher than it looks.

In the end, they compromise on a biscuit-within-a-biscuit that you can “snap and share” with your loved ones, family, friends, the bus driver, whatever. “Why didn’t you make it snap that way?” demands Sugar. If you have to ask a technical question about a biscuit, it’s not a good biscuit.

The worst bits

The sniping and general bitchiness between Zoe and Melody is actually the best bit. Only it’s the worst bit. But it’s the best bit. It’s riveting. They even argue in the middle of a supermarket as a team of buyers waits for them to start their pitch.

“Melody is a nightmare to work with,” spits Zoe. Melody is sniffily superior. “I’m not used to that sort of behaviour in a public place,” she exclaims. “Oh please!” cries Zoe, in chorus with several million Brits.

The winners and losers

Melody wins the battle, but is scarred – Sugar and his management team noting that, despite her “sense” (eh? She did a roleplay as a sales pitch), she seems to generate a lot of ill-feeling. Zoe’s gone; she may be assertive, but she can’t make a good decision for toffee. It’s a farrago – decent name, decent strapline, terrible product and no idea who to sell it to.

Helen wins. Again. That’s nine weeks in a row. How does she do it? The marketing strategy is confused and Jim makes an astonishing pitch to Asda in which he promises a movie tie-in with Harry Potter. Amazingly, Asda places an order for 800,000 units. “It’s a mega-product” stutters a stunned Sugar.

The ones to watch

Helen. And, yes ok, Melody. Despite her lack of irony, self-awareness, relationship-building skills, sound ideas, accountability and maturity, Sugar seems to like her. There's no accounting for taste.

Helen evades scrutiny once again. She’s smart, efficient, quick on her feet. But at some point, somebody is going to notice that she makes decisions too quickly in the name of efficiency and ends up backing undeveloped ideas.

Business lessons

Just the one, from Lord Sugar himself. “At the end of the day, marketing is all superficial if what’s in the box is rubbish. The most important thing is to make sure that what you’ve got in the box is good value for money.” I’d second that.

Quote of the week

The Welsh biscuit-maker: “You can do anything you want. Never say never in the biscuit industry.” I love this show.

Missed this episode? Watch it on BBC iPlayer.

Lord Sugar’s Profitometer

Sugar’s stock just keeps on rising. The man talks sense, you know.

The Apprentice: Just two survive the interviews

December 16, 2010 by Rachel Miller

Missed the eleventh episode? Catch up here:

The task

It’s the interview stage. The previous tasks look like a walk in the park compared to a day facing Lord Sugar’s inner circle of business heavies — Margaret Mountford, Viglen CEO Borden Tkachuk, former Amstrad CEO Claude Littner and lawyer Alan Watts.

The candidates put on brave faces but the masks slip pretty fast after the first bruising encounters. To begin with they try to convince their fellow candidates that they have done well as they wait between interviews but as the day wears on, the toughness of the task is written on their faces in sweat and Stuart sums it up by saying, “I feel like I’ve done ten rounds with Mike Tyson”.

How did the candidates perform?

Jamie

Jamie’s attempt at joking on his CV — saying he has a third nipple and then revealing it’s a lie — is derided as “puerile” by Margaret Mountford. His Cyprus-based property business also comes under scrutiny in the interviews. He is accused of playing the blame game — blaming his parents for his poor qualifications and his Cyprus partner for his business failings. He tells Margaret Mountford, “I’m a key cog in a wheel.” She says, “Any wheel?” and he replies, “I am a cog”.

Stuart

Stuart greets Margaret Mountford like an old friend and gets a frosty reception. He tries to convince all the interviewers that he isn’t dishonest even though he has written on his CV that he once told the media a whopping lie — that a rival had gone bust. Worse, he has claimed to have a full telecoms license when in fact he only holds an easy-to-get, inexpensive ISP license.

Claude Littner really goes to town on him. He says, “’I am Stuart Baggs the brand’ — what on earth are you talking about? Don’t tell me what a brand is. You are not a brand.” Later Stuart says he is a big fish in a small pond. Claude responds, “You are not a big fish. You are not even a fish.”

Stella

Stella’s corporate background is still being cited as a drawback. At one point she is accused of being a “glorified PA”. Borden Tkachuk calls her the “admin queen”. But Nick Hewer leaps to her defence calling her “entirely decent” and Karren Brady says, with feeling, “She’s ambitious and there’s nothing wrong with an ambitious woman.”

Chris

Chris is not that long out of university, so he bigs up his academic achievements. This does not go down well at all and you get the impression that Stella’s “I left school at 15 with no qualifications and look where I am today” is impressing the panel far more than a first class honours degree.

Chris also has to deal with accusations that he’s a quitter having dropped out of a law degree to do politics and having left his investment bank job after just nine months.

Joanna

Poor Joanna is like a rabbit in headlights when Borden Tkachuk asks her to tell him about Lord Sugar’s companies. She doesn’t know how to pronounce them, let alone what they do.

Praised for starting a business, she is then criticised for not trying to grow the business. Joanna says “I don’t want to be known as Joanna the Cleaner”. But the panel suggests she should focus on being Joanna, owner of a successful cleaning business.

The losers

Lord Sugar wastes little time in sacking Stuart. He tells him, “I don’t believe a word you say.” And he berates himself for allowing Stuart to come this far.

Jamie, meanwhile, is let down a little more gently — he has “come to the end of the road”.

Finally, Joanna gets high praise from Lord Sugar as he, regretfully, points the finger at her. He says, “You leave here with your head high, You’ve done very very well.”

The finalists

So two bankers — Stella and Chris — have made it to the final. My money is still on Stella.

Quote of the week

“My four advisors, they have said to me you’re full of s**t basically.” Lord Sugar, as he fires Stuart.

Missed this episode? Watch it on BBC iPlayer.

The Apprentice: Stuart bags a place in the final five

December 13, 2010 by Rachel Miller

Missed the tenth episode? Catch up here.

The task

And then there were five. It’s like an Agatha Christie novel — characters keep getting bumped off left, right and centre. But before we get to this week’s boardroom firing, the remaining six have to set up tours around London and sell tickets to tourists. Stella and Liz are in team Apollo with Stuart at the helm while Synergy’s Jamie and Chris are lead by Joanna.

Apollo chooses to run a cockney tour while Synergy plumps for a ghouls and ghosts experience. Both team get the chance to pitch to the London Visitors Centre who are willing to sell tickets on behalf of one team – for the right deal.

This task allows Stuart Baggs to say lots of disturbing things like — “Tourists are just juicy money bags. I’m going to dip my hands into their pockets.”

The best bits

No-one handles the negotiation with the London Visitors Centre well. They don’t have a plan and their negotiation skills are poor. Stuart pitches his prices far too high. But the manager of the Centre is rubbing his hands in glee when Chris inadvertently offers the Centre 20 per cent of the entire takings — rather than just a cut of the Centre’s ticket sales. Synergy even has to hand over 20 per cent of Jamie’s hard-earned tips! Collected in his very own hat!

But it turns out that this deal is, in fact, a stroke of genius. The partnership with the Centre ensures they sell way more tickets than Apollo.

The worst bits

The tours are terrible. It’s amazing that the passengers don’t simply get off the bus when it stops at traffic lights. Jamie’s commentary is endearing but wildly inaccurate — “The Thames is the second biggest river in London”. Nick Hewer is on board and his face is a picture.

Stella’s tour includes a lot of time spent wandering around the East End looking for a jellied eels stall (and never finding it) and having a lovely sing-song on the top deck of the bus. Karren Brady also looks less than impressed.

It’s getting pretty tense too as the competition reaches its final stages. Chris and Stuart have a turf war in Trafalgar Square and after a good deal of swearing, Stuart challenges Chris to an actual flight. It reminds us that Stuart is young enough to behave as if he’s still back in the playground.

The winners and losers

So Synergy wins and Liz, Stella and Stuart are left in the boardroom. Stuart quickly takes the offensive, making crazy financial promises and pleading for another chance. The substance of what he says does not impress Lord Sugar. “One day you’ll look back and cringe,” he tells Stuart. Lord Sugar also highlights Stuart’s childishness and wonders if it’s time for “beddybyes”. But Stuart’s spirit has made an impact and, amazingly, Lord Sugar points his finger at Liz.

The ones to watch

Stella, Joanna and Chris still look strong but after this week’s bombshell, who knows?

Quote of the week

“I’m not a one trick pony, I’m not a ten trick pony. I’ve got a field of ponies waiting to literally run towards this.” Part of Stuart’s impassioned speech that persuaded Lord Sugar to keep him in the contest.

Missed this episode? Watch it on BBC iPlayer.

The Apprentice: Stella’s halo slips

December 07, 2010 by Rachel Miller

Missed the ninth episode? Catch up here.

The task

Another pre-dawn start and this time they are meeting in Tower 42 in the city of London. As the sun comes up over the London skyline, Lord Sugar rises up to meet them in a great glass elevator. So what has he got in store for them this week? It’s a treasure hunt — the treasure being an eclectic list of hard-to-find items — including Indian gold, chickens’ feet, white truffles, a four-foot length of kitchen worktop (rarer than you might think), a special length of tartan, an antique sewing machine and the Bluebook (a set of four handbooks teaching London cabbies “the knowledge”).

There are ten items in all. But the critical thing is not just to source the items but to buy them at the lowest price possible. Failure to buy incurs a fine of £50 plus the list price. This task has got Lord Sugar’s name all over it — it’s all about wheeling and dealing. He chops and changes the teams once more and this time, all the girls are in team Apollo while the three remaining boys are in Synergy. This week’s team leaders are Liz and Jamie.

The best bits

Once again, it’s fascinating to compare the different approaches. The girls are well-organised, taking a full two hours to phone around and source the items before they hit the road. The planning pays off and they get all the items on the list. The boys, meanwhile, are strong negotiators and get some of the items at incredibly low prices. It’s all thanks to Jamie’s inspired approach — to come up with stories to support their bargaining. A taxi driving brother, a Scottish wedding — there are no limits to the tales they can spin in a bid to get a bargain. The tall stories work — not because they are believed (they are not) but because the sellers have to offer a rock-bottom price to get shot of these strange people.

The worst bits

So both teams have strengths but who has the edge? Athough the girls look like a crack buying team and the boys are disorganised, the bottom line is price. While the girls enjoy the treasure hunt, the boys rightly see it as a bargain hunt and negotiate accordingly. The biggest disaster occurs when the girls go to a Knightsbridge restaurant to buy their truffles. Not only are they shopping in the worst possible place for a bargain, they get their maths all wrong and manage to pay twice the going rate.

The winners and losers

The girls lose. Everyone is shocked, especially the boys. Talk in the boardroom is all about Trufflegate. Laura and Stella were the ones who did the deal so they come in for a lot of flak. In fact Stella is really in the spotlight this week and not in a good way. All the girls accuse her of being a poor negotiator. Karren Brady says she’s too “corporate”. Perhaps what they really mean is that she is too full of herself. Suddenly, everyone is keen to bring her down and peg or two. But Lord Sugar acknowledges her past strengths and eventually tells Laura she is fired.

The ones to watch

Stella’s halo has well and truly slipped. Judging by the frosty atmosphere between her and Liz back at the house, the gloves are off between these two strong contenders. Joanna, though, is quietly looking like a possible winner. But the boys will have to lift their game if any of them want to stand a chance. Then again, as Stuart says, “even when we’re s**t, we win”!

Quote of the week

“We’ve negotiated well, we’ve got every single product, we’ve come back here feeling confident, everybody’s done a good job and I can’t wait to hear the results.” Laura Moore, shortly before she is fired.

Missed this episode? Watch it on BBC iPlayer.

A challenging first six months in business

November 29, 2010 by www.inafishbowl.com

My jewellery-making business, Mama Jewels, is nearing the end of its first sixth month of trading, so I thought I’d share an update on our progress so far.

This week my youngest son had his first birthday and I had my first day off Twitter, Facebook and my laptop for as long as I can remember. It felt good to leave my iPhone in the drawer and go out for the day. He was three-months-old when I decided to start Mama Jewels and both my sons are very much part of the journey. I’m hoping to have them trained in jewellery-making very soon!

Very good things are happening all the time, but I am finding myself in a constant juggling act, having to work some very late nights and early mornings to keep up. Sales are increasing, but they’re still not at the levels I wanted at this stage. I keep hoping this will eventually improve.

Visits and online sales are rising steadily after the launch of our new website, which took three (very long) months to develop and even then it didn’t launch on the date planned or the revised date. If you’re planning to launch a new website, build in plenty of spare time, especially for setting up payment accounts, which took longer than I’d expected.

Mama Jewels is currently stocking in 11 online boutiques, which is steadily increasing as we follow up new leads each day. We also have three independent baby shops stocking our products offline. This number is still low, because my ability to make visits is very limited because of my childcare commitments. Over the next couple of weeks I’ve temporarily arranged some extra childcare so I can make more sales visits.

We’ve plenty of events planned coming up to Christmas, including home parties, markets and fairs in targeted areas. We’re starting to get approached by mum and toddler groups to exhibit directly, so word is getting out there, which is great.

I am currently working on improving my Ebay shop, too, which has proved very successful so far and I have approached a friend who is an expert on selling via Amazon.

Progress is good, with daily glimpses of new opportunities. Generally, consumers are feeling the pinch and they’re more cautious than ever. Hopefully, the upcoming season will give us that extra little boost and encourage shop owners to trial my products in a few more retail outlets before Christmas. We’ll see.

Amanda Waring, Mama Jewels

You can find out more about Amanda on the interactive business website www.inafishbowl.com

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The Apprentice: Das ist wunderbar!

November 25, 2010 by Rachel Miller

Missed the eighth episode? Catch up here.

The task

Much excitement this week as the contestants find out they are going abroad. Destination: Hamburg. The mission: to sell new flavours of crisps to the Germans. Germany’s snack market is worth millions of Euros and is dominated by strong flavours like paprika. The two teams have to work with crisp makers in the UK to come up with new flavours that will tempt the German palette. Synergy is lead by Chris Bates, who has something to prove, having been in the losing team too many times to count. He has Liz, Jamie and Chris Farrell to help him. Meanwhile Apollo is lead by steady Stella and she’s working with Stuart, Laura and Joanna.

The best bits

Stuart reveals a creditable knowledge of German that he’s keen to show off. Absolutely everything is “wunderbar” according to Stuart. It’s pretty hilarious but actually his spirited attempts to speak German pay off big time. It breaks the ice with prospective customers and earns him respect. His approach is in stark contrast to Synergy’s Chris Farrell who says “I hate the Germans” at the start of the task.

The product development part of the challenge sees both teams looking for interesting new flavours. Nick Hewer’s eyes look skywards as Joanna suggests “:curry pie”. In the end, Apollo goes for beef & chilli and stilton & paprika, while Synergy chooses curry wurst and goulash. Yum yum!

The worst bits

Synergy makes two classic mistakes. Firstly, when setting up a sales appointment, Jamie and Chris Farrell are offered the choice of a 9am slot or a 1pm slot. Chris goes for the early appointment but Jamie, looking at the diary, suggests they change it to the later time. It soon transpires that there’s nothing actually in the diary at 9am. Perhaps Jamie wants a lie-in. It gets worse. Apollo gets the early appointment and wins a big order. Synergy gets diddly-squat.

At another prospective business, the manager is out and Jamie and Chris waste time talking to someone who does not have any buying authority. Apollo turns up later, the manager is in and he places an order. Kerching.

The winners and losers

The task is won by Apollo even though Synergy do get a cracking £14,289 order from one customer. But Apollo gets more appointments and more orders at the end of the day. And so this week’s loser is — Chris Farrell. Lord Sugar doesn’t think he has the entrepreneurial spark he is looking for, based, it seems, on his performance throughout the series. Team leader Chris Bates breathes a massive sigh of relief.

The ones to watch

Joanna is suddenly looking very impressive. So much so that hard-to-please Nick Hewer singles her out in the boardroom and praises her for her perseverance. “You were really firing on all 12 cylinders”. It looks like she could give Stella a run for her money.

Quote of the week

“You did try hard. You tried really hard. So hard, in fact, that you annoyed the guy. He found you quite unprofessional. I think he could smell your desperation.” Karren Brady.

Missed this episode? Watch it on BBC iPlayer.

Set your business apart for less

November 03, 2010 by Dale Cook

Growing a business isn’t easy, but experience has taught me that one of the keys to success is to set yourself apart from the rest. Thankfully, it doesn’t have to be expensive.

Firstly, you must understand your customer.

You want the product or service you sell to become a real hit among your target market, but do you really know who buys it? There are many factors to consider and these could change with emerging trends. It’s important you gain an understanding of who is buying and what the biggest driving forces are that make that someone choose you, your expertise, your brand, your product or service.

Next, get online.

The internet is a low-cost billboard for you to showcase your business and perhaps sell your products and services, but the prospect of hiring a web designer can be daunting. Why not take a DIY approach? The good news is that a modern range of software is demystifying web design. There are simple, drag-and-drop visual web design programmes not a million miles away from an office word processor. Some packages boast even more potential, producing feature-rich websites without using any HTML coding. A professional-looking site can be produced and online in a matter of hours, even if you have no prior experience – and without a hefty bill for design and build.

It pays to advertise.

Consider placing an advert in a targeted publication so you can be seen by the right people. Consider your budget – is radio or TV a possibility? How about adverts in mobile phone applications? If you need to keep your costs low, creating your own advert can still work wonders. Distil what you want to say and make it an attractive proposition. Decide what your brand values are and keep messages within brand guidelines. Focus on an easy-to-remember call to action.

Go direct and save a small fortune.

Cut out the middle men by producing designs yourself and sending them straight to a professional printer. Some flexible design and publishing programs are ultra user-friendly. Templates offer a quick way to make polished materials and your designs can be shared in a professional, compatible format (eg PDF) for accurate printing in any pro print shop.

Don’t rush out a poster, newsletter, brochure, flyer or other materials.

First, thoroughly check text for spelling and grammar mistakes. Use software to help, but remember to check for errors with the naked eye, too. There are proofing tools built into popular desktop publishing packages, design products and word processors, but they might not always pick up correctly-spelled words used in the wrong context.

Less really is more.

When you decide to produce your own poster, advert or other marketing materials, remember that a clear message will have more impact. Don’t use graphical effects for the sake of it or use too many different fonts, sizes and weights, otherwise the design will look unprofessional. If you have a coloured area or image as a background, you might want it to go right up to the edge of your page, but headlines, text, logos and other important information should be places well inside the edge of your design. What is it you or your customers like about other advertising you consider to be effective? Bear these points in mind when you work on your own materials, whether editing a design template or creating a design from scratch.

Dale Cook, Serif

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Sales leads and breaking even

May 24, 2010 by www.inafishbowl.com

You can find out more about Marcela on the new interactive business website www.inafishbowl.com

Getting the boring essentials right from the start

April 07, 2010 by Chris Barling

There’s a dilemma when you are starting a company. There are lots of boring essentials like company formation, VAT, Data Protection Act, employment law and, depending on which industry you are in, a host of other legislation. Yet complying with these doesn’t help you to sell anything, build a customer base or most importantly turn a profit.

It’s incredibly difficult to find the balance between being too gung ho about regulations (with risks starting at inconvenience and ending in prison), or over egging things, with a bigger risk of business failure. Hovering around are lots of professional advisers with fees to match - that’s the accountants, lawyers and consultants. Unfortunately it’s hard for them to be entirely impartial as their business is about charging fees.

Here are my top tips for getting this balance right.

  1. First you need to understand the issue. You need to know what laws may apply to you. Books and the web are the cheapest forms of education along with free seminars from Business Link or professional advisers offering free consultations in the hope of getting your business.
  2. Then make sure you stay legal with the minimum of work and elaboration. Remember your principle aim is to serve customers, not produce a gold encrusted employment or health and safety manual.
  3. Be appropriate. If you work in an industry that is potentially hazardous, then actually health and safety is the top priority. If you are selling cuddly toys over the internet, just make sure they don’t contain dangerous substances or harmful parts.
  4. Until you are cash positive, don’t worry about issues that can wait until tomorrow.
  5. Once you know that the business has a future and you can afford it, start employing the professionals to help.

When you’re starting off, anything that isn’t directly related to making sales or pushing the business forward is an irritant. But completely neglecting other issues can cause huge frustration when you are forced to comply; it can also substantially reduce the value of your business or may even cause its demise.
It’s different if you are well capitalised and have had previous business success. But if this is your first start up, then these tips are well worth a thought.

Chris Barling, Sellerdeck

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Too much salsa on my plate?

April 05, 2010 by www.inafishbowl.com

I was up until til 2:30am cooking to fulfil orders and make samples. I am feeling hyper and excited, with that butterflies-in-stomach feeling about what lies ahead and the opportunities that I have. I am equally overwhelmed about what to do next and I'm tired. Whatever I do, it means that I’m not doing something else that is equally important.

The bookkeeper came this morning and we are getting our new system in tip-top condition. It required my attention because we are changing to a new accounting system and I need to know how it works. So I couldn’t make the follow-up sales calls I needed to do, or pay the bills, or organise tasting sessions, etc. I also teach Spanish on a Wednesday and I haven’t prepared yet.

More orders are coming through, but I'm not able to cook tomorrow because I’m at a “Meet the Buyer” event. I hope the buyers do buy! So it looks like another 2:30am bed time tomorrow, as my kids are in a local panto and I won’t miss their debut!

Wish me luck, I’ll keep the coffee flowing...

You can find out more about Marcela on the new interactive business website www.inafishbowl.com

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What makes marketing activity effective?

March 29, 2010 by www.inafishbowl.com

I think that marketing is a really important key to opening up the sales door for my yummy sauces. I regularly do food tasting sessions at the shops where they sell my products.

It's time, however, to up my game and analyse the return on investment of all of my marketing activities. This is another tricky task for a novice like me: do I know how to measure the effectiveness of a marketing event and the get figures to quantify? Er, I think you know the answer.

Take last Saturday, for example. I had discussed the idea of having a Mariachi band at the Food Halls with Selfridges . It turned into reality on Sat 31 January and we had such a good time, which is clearly a good thing. These are some benefits from this tasting session:

  • The event was nicely publicised on the Selfridges website for three weeks and was advertised on their newsletter.
  • People tried the sauces, enjoyed the music and bought my products.
  • They took photos and videos which will hopefully remind them of the brand and create awareness. Does this = sales?

Two videos taken were particularly interesting:

  • one was for a blog for the daddydonkey website. They sell Mexican food from a van in London, have had some rave reviews and have lots of followers.
  • The other was taken by a man whose daughter the Mariachi band and I (!) sang a Mexican birthday song for. This will be posted on his blog.

This is where I reach my limits as I don't know how to quantify whether the event was good ROI. How do I measure this? It's not straightforward. On the day, we saw 300+ people and I will get the sales figures next week.

This is what we spent:

  • The Mariachi band fees.
  • The time of three adults, including me, my lovely husband and volunteer Rosie - thank you Rosie!
  • We paid for  four return train fares from Derby. The tickets were cheap as we used a family railway card (the kids came with us, which could've been a good plan but they were a real pain as they were tired from a busy week, but that's another matter!).
  • Samples, tortilla chips.
  • Subsistence costs: meal, drinks etc.

To summarise, I think that the event was worthwhile: we sold, created awareness, and have been/will be on other websites. However, this is only my gut feeling and I need to take the guesswork out of investing on marketing to focus my very limited resources wisely. Do leave me a comment if you have any suggestions.

You can find out more about Marcela on the new interactive business website www.inafishbowl.com

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Advertising your business on a low budget

March 10, 2010 by Laura Morris

When starting a business it is difficult to put aside an amount for marketing and it’s hard to justify how much should be spent.

When I started my business Rentabuggy.co.uk in 2008 I spent a couple of thousand pounds on marketing within the first six months but was surprised to find that I didn’t get many results from it. Here are my top five tips for advertising on a low budget.

  1. Network. Networking is free and many businesses are becoming more involved. Networking is a great way to work with like minded businesses on a like for like basis. Shortly after setting up my own company, I set up another company with my business partner called Networking Mummies Dorset and we now have over 150 businesses involved. We share knowledge, advice and advertising and I now use this as my main stream for advertising my own business.
  2. Press release. If you have a newsworthy story involving your business then write a press release. Press releases are a great way to showcase some exciting information you may have with the media. Make a list of local newspapers, radio stations and magazines within your sector and email them. Always write the press release in the body of the email as well as attaching it as a document. For great tips on writing a press release check out www.mumsclub.co.uk.
  3. Reciprocal links. Research businesses on the internet that are in the same sector as you and email them to ask if they would like to do a ‘reciprocal’ link. This means you add a link to your website with their information and vice versa. This is a good way to try increasing traffic to your website.
  4. Facebook. Facebook was originally launched as a social media portal for friends to stay in touch but has since become a great way to advertise your business. Set up a fan page and invite all your friends. Hopefully, they will then request their friends to join and so on.
  5. Blog. Blogging is a great way to keep your customers updated with news, offers and more. You don’t have to be a great writer to write a blog and this can be kept simple. Linking with other companies will help your search engine results too.

Laura Morris, Rentabuggy.co.uk

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Marcela's story continues... Off to the bank

February 22, 2010 by www.inafishbowl.com

I had always thought that the word “entrepreneur” sounded so glamorous. The truth is that you are “it”, from key decision maker and strategist to garlic peeler. When people ask me what my position is in my company I laugh - I’m the CEO and the cleaner.

If you decide to start your own business without your finances completely sorted and you can’t afford staff, you are in for a difficult time trying to do everything. Even if you have a business plan that maps out incomings and outgoings, there is always that extra marketing opportunity that you don’t want to miss, or that packaging that you had to buy etc... spend, spend spend. I left my job early on in the planning of the business to throw myself fully into the project - maybe I should’ve been more patient and kept my salary for a bit longer.

Having said that, somebody said to me at the very beginning of my business journey that I should just go for it and borrow £100k from the bank. Thank goodness I didn’t do that. Yes, life would’ve been so much easier, I'd have a budget for machinery and packaging, maybe one or two part-time staff and a salary, but I wouldn’t have known how to spend it as well as I do now. Now, I have proved a concept, I understand which things worked or didn’t work and I know exactly what I need to do next. The only small detail missing is the cash itself.

So, this week has been about focusing on raising finances and boosting my sales. I'm looking after my key customers and revising my business plan so it reflects what I know now to allow me to get to the next stage. I’m off to the bank today and, hopefully, the bank manager will like it and believe that I can make it work. Hopefully I will be able to raise the finances and afford to pay a member of staff and the machinery I need. Feeling positive. I’m not superstitious.

You can find out more about Marcela on the new interactive business website www.inafishbowl.com

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Media interviews

February 16, 2010 by Paul Green

If your well-crafted and targeted press release hits the spot, soon you can expect journalists to contact you for more information or an interview. Usually, for newspapers and magazines, these take place over the phone in a few minutes.

Don’t panic – tough questioning by journalists is usually reserved for politicians. Instead, journalists will simply be seeking to add a little colour to the story by way of a few well-chosen quotes or sound bites.

Here are a few basic tips to ensure you come across well.

Be prepared. Re-read your press release (or story suggestion) and make sure you have swotted up on the subject. If you have a couple of updated or additional interesting facts to throw into the conversation – all well and good – but don’t go over the top, because the journalists will only be able to write about so much.

Anticipate likely additional questions and have your responses prepared in advance. Practice your responses with someone you trust.

When doing the actual interview, use notes as a prompt. Don’t read verbatim from a script because it could be interpreted as lacking confidence or knowledge (or worse still – having something to hide). Be warm, human and friendly. If you don’t know the answer to a question, be honest enough to say so. If necessary, offer to find out the information and forward it on to the journalist as soon as you can.

Knowing what you are talking about will help you to sound more confident, which will make you come across as more credible. Avoid jargon at all times – it only confuses people. Use simple language to explain key points.

 

  • The first 500 Start Up Donut Blog readers can get a free copy of Paul Green’s book – PR Success Made Easyhere.

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How to make a profit in a week

January 25, 2010 by Emma Jones

A journalist calls to ask how long it takes to make a profit when starting out in business. ‘It depends on the business’ replies Emma Jones ‘but I’d say it’s perfectly possible to turn a profit within the week.’ Here’s the feature to discover if Emma got her facts right.

Let’s take a business
This feature will not apply to all businesses but let’s take the example of someone providing goods and services to consumers (a craft business) and someone offering professional services (a book-keeper.) This is how they each become profitable by week end.

Example 1: The craft business

Monday
Make item with cost of raw materials being £5.50.
Photograph item with family camera, ensuring professional/high quality presentation.

Tuesday
Upload profile and photo to 3 craft sites which levy a small charge (or free) for listing and exercise a sales commission. Sites such as:

  • Etsy.com – listing fee of 20 cents per item and 3.5% sales commission
  • MISI.co.uk – listing fee of 20p per item and 3% sales commission
  • Coriandr.com - listing fee of 20p per item and 2.5% sales commission

Wednesday
Promote product via Twitter and Facebook. Include a link to the shop so people can click and buy.
Send an email to friends and family (personal, as opposed to group email) to announce the product and, again, with a link.

Thursday
Upload pictures of your product to Flickr so the large audience there can see it too.
If you have a webcam, make a short recording of you making products and upload to YouTube.
Call local stores and boutiques to ask if they would consider selling your stock.

Friday
You’ve attracted interest and made a sale! Sales price is £25.99.

Cost of making sale:
Raw materials: £5.50
Listing fee: 20p
Sales commission: 78p
Marketing & promotion: zero cost but your time
Profit for the week: £19.51

Example 2: The book keeper

Monday
Start a blog using free blogging platforms such as blogger.com or wordpress.com – with helpful posts on book-keeping technique, this will help you be seen as an expert in your field.
Promote blog via Twitter.
Produce business cards. A pack of 50 cards can be bought for £12.99 from Moo.com.

Tuesday
Attend local networking event.
Post in online business forums with helpful book-keeping advice.

Wednesday
Approach small business sites with an article for them to upload that will interest & assist readers (include a link back to your blog so people can make contact).

Thursday
Call local accountancy practice to ask if they require outsourced book-keeping.

Friday
Secure first client! Contract to carry out book-keeping for local home business at rate of £50 per month.

Cost of making sale:
Business cards: £12.99
Promotion and networking: zero cost but your time
Profit in first month: £37.01

Doing the sums
The beauty of both of these examples is that all this promotion and sales generating activity can be done by ‘Working 5 to 9’ ie it’s possible to keep hold of the day job and build your business (and profit) by working nights and weekends.

The secret is in keeping costs low (by being home based and making the mot of free social media tools) and focusing on making that first sale. In which case, it’s perfectly possible to realise profit in just five days. What’s stopping you? Get that business started!

NB. This feature assumes access to a home PC/laptop therefore costs of IT equipment not included.

Emma Jones is Founder of Emma Jones is Founder of Enterprise Nation and author of ‘Spare Room Start Up – how to start a business from home’ Her next book ‘Working 5 to 9 – how to start a business in your spare time’ will be published in May 2010

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10 tips for pulling a cracker of a Christmas online

September 18, 2009 by Chris Barling

Christmas underpins profitability for the whole year for most stores. When it comes to preparing for the Christmas season online, “the early bird catches the worm” as they say. Before you know it, the rush to service orders has replaced any consideration on how to optimise sales. Here are some seasonal tips from SellerDeck and some e-store owners to help you get ready.

Prepare marketing ideas early
Whatever your Christmas marketing plans, run some small-scale tests soon. Establish what works, and refine it. If search engines matter to you, optimise in plenty of time.

Keith Milsom at http://www.AnythingLeft-handed.co.uk advises, “We plan ahead for promo emails to various customer groups as they take a while to prepare. We also boost PR with a press release in September.”

Can you handle the extra traffic?
If there is anything worse than having no orders, it's having more than you can handle. This just produces dissatisfied customers.

The average etailer gets 30% more orders in November/December. Make sure you can cope with the increase. This includes web hosting, and extra staff for packing.

Bill Stevenson of www.spicesofindia.co.uk advises ordering extra stock and advertising for temporary staff in September. “Last December visitors fell, but conversion rates tripled. We ran out of many Christmas gift sets and could not get new stock. This year we will order a lot more.”

Sort your logistics
Make sure your logistics supplier can cope. To avoid missed deliveries, let customers select delivery to their work address.

Robert Johnston of www.gentlemans-shop.com adds, “We email customers their parcel tracking details and confirmation of delivery date. This dramatically reduces calls about deliveries.”

Seasonal promotions
“Don't be a bah-humbug! Decorate your site and get into the Christmas spirit,” says James Auckland at www.lunaspas.com.

Find creative ways to mark the season. Put gift ideas on your home page, and stock Christmas-themed items. Remember to change the pages on Boxing Day.

Last minute shoppers
Cite a final ordering date for Christmas delivery on every page - highlight when the deadline has passed. You’ll need different dates for home and overseas orders.

Drop customers a reminder email, e.g. must order by end of tomorrow for delivery outside Europe.

Customers in a rush
Most online shoppers are in a hurry, particularly at Christmas. Help them out with a search capability that can match by category and price. Text-based searching is no help when you want a gift for less than £10 for your eight-year-old niece.

Another aid for rushed buyers is a gift-wrapping service. It can also increase your margin.

Upsell to maximise the opportunity
Where gifts need additional items such as batteries, ensure they can be ordered together. Suggest similar gifts, and incentivise extra purchases with offers like 'buy two and get one free'.

Thank regulars
James Auckland again: “Thank your suppliers, as well as your regular customers.” Good supplier relationships can help resolve problems. Consider offering discount during January to suppliers and good customers.

Keep a sense of humour!
Robert Johnston once had an irate customer repeatedly phoning on Christmas Eve, “about the delivery of his father’s missing present. He accused me of ’ruining his Christmas‘. Just as we closed, he called to apologise. His sister had signed for the parcel, and dad’s present was already wrapped and under the tree.”

Advertise January sales
Plan your January sale early. It gives ‘value shoppers’ a chance to clear all that dead stock for you.

Finally, book a well-earned rest for February. You will probably need it. Just beware of tour-operators trying to up-sell you to something more expensive!

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Ten top ways to use telemarketing

July 31, 2009 by Andy Dickens

Most people mistakenly believe that using telemarketers is limited in use to cold calling sales activities. But telemarketing can turn be used to turn many opportunities into business, there a literally hundreds of ways to do this but these are our Top 10 ways to use telemarketing.

ONE: Appointment Setting

Appointment setting is, always has, and always will be, a primary way that companies generate new business. Organisations usually place a great deal of emphasis on appointment setting, and also a significant proportion of their budget. Why do they do this? Because there’s no more effective way to close a sale than a chance to sit down with a prospective client in a face-to-face meeting. Appointment setting is a cost effective and intelligent use of telemarketers to generate new business for your organisation.

TWO: Seminar Booking

In recent years, telemarketing has proven itself to bring exceptional results for those individuals and organisations that deliver seminars. It doesn’t matter how good your seminar is; if delegates aren’t booking you’re losing out. Using a telemarketing team to book your seminars means getting the good news out to people that could greatly benefit from attending your seminars.

Working from existing mailing lists or cold calling people with industry links to the seminar subject or topic is a great way to put a telemarketing team to work for your seminars.

THREE: The Follow Up

Using follow up calls is a powerful and effective way to make the most of your direct mail or email marketing. The recipient has already had the opportunity to consider your offer by mail and now telemarketing offers a renewed chance to capitalise on that offer for both parties.

Follow Up calls can also be made after literature or sales enquiries, chasing up interested parties and converting prospects that may have otherwise dithered undecidedly about purchasing your goods or services from a brochure. Follow up interest by using a dedicated telemarketing team to convert interest into action.

FOUR: Market Research

One of the truly time-tested uses of telemarketing is market research, often used for product review and customer feedback. However, these days it can be used to cover a full range of quantitative and qualitative data collection.

Using the latest integrated technology, telemarketing interviewers can handle everything from small executive level surveying to mass nationwide customer feedback questioning. Doing Market Research via the telephone is a highly cost effective method of conducting large-scale market research and can cover vast geographical locations from a single base. Of course, given the right permissions, data gleaned from your market research telemarketing can be used to target the prospects for your next telemarketing campaign.

FIVE: Customer Reactivation

Your organisation should keep a record of all current customers and all those people that were customers but are not actively buying from you. Telemarketing is an effective way to reconnect with and reactivate your dormant customer database and using data that you already have in your systems. By using telemarketing, your company can win you up to 50% of your past customers back!

SIX: Collections

Outstanding invoices and missed payments can really cripple a business and hinder a company’s progress and development. If you’re struggling to recoup outstanding sums, then telemarketing can be an effective method of collecting what’s owed to your company. Working from a list of your debtors, a tele-collections team can identify individuals or companies that owe your organisation money and ensure that you have the correct contact details for them. If you then wish to take a payment, these can be handled through an automated system or passed through to your own payment teams.

SEVEN: Selling Advertising Space

When you’ve got space to sell, you can’t rely on people just coming to you. You need a team of dedicated telemarketers that can directly sell your space to the people that need to advertise. This isn’t simply cold calling; it’s designing a campaign to target those businesses and individuals that might benefit most from the opportunity to use your advertising space. A team of experienced telemarketers can target likely clients and more effectively approach hundreds of potential clients, rapidly improving your chances of new business generation.

EIGHT: Database Cleansing

The information in your database is quickly out of date. By using telemarketers to work through your data, you can correct, delete or amend the details of your existing customers, leads or prospects. By making sure that your data is up to date and accurate, you can increase the rate at which your sales staff can make sales. Data cleansing may also be a legal requirement in various industry sectors, so it also keeps your nose clean with industry’s regulators. Make your existing data work for you by purging useless existing data.

NINE: Lead Generation

Using telemarketers to generate leads means increased sales revenue and greatly reduces the amount it costs to make a sale. When you use telemarketers to generate your leads, you free up your sales teams to do what their good at – which is making sales!

TEN: Selling to Existing Customers

Last, but certainly not least, telemarketing provides a successful route to improving sales by selling directly to those that are already using your products or services. Existing customers are much more easily converted because you don’t need to convince them of your expertise, reputation or benefits.

With an existing customer, you can use telemarketing to offer extended service, upgrades and further features on something they’ve already bought, or offer them a completely new product or service. If the existing customer is happy with what they bought from you in the past, the worst that can happen is that they will simply reject your new offer. But since they were willing to listen in the first place, it wasn’t a hardship and you can still call them again in the future with new offers.

Telemarketing offers organisations of all sizes the opportunity to expand and develop their customer base with reduce costs and impressive results.

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The top 10 disastrous mistakes that telemarketers make

June 23, 2009 by Andy Dickens

The phone rings. Your prospect is busy, but they lift the receiver, secretly hoping for an interesting opportunity to distract themselves from another daily task. As they answer, they hear a brief silence while the auto dialling system finds an available telemarketer to take the call. IF, and only IF you STILL have the prospect on the phone at this point - you must capture their attention, or risk wasting the chance to convert the captive listener.

At this point, 9 out 10 telemarketers make a mistake that lets the potential sale slip through their fingers. By making any one of the following TEN disastrous mistakes, you can squander important sales opportunities.

ONE: Failure to Introduce - You know the old adage ‘People Buy From People’. It’s vital to connect with the human being at the other end of the telephone, to communicate with them. If you begin your telemarketing call without properly introducing yourself, you will experience a long pause, followed by:

“Sorry! Who are you again?”

Having proven yourself incompetent of even the civilities of a basic conversation and being embarrassed by your mistake, you’re unlikely to turn the conversation around and sell the prospect anything at all.

TWO: Failure to Improvise – They say in the Military, that no battle plan outlives first encounter with the enemy. In other words, if you follow your pre-planned strategy, without being prepared to shift and adapt your tactics to your opponent’s manoeuvres, you’re dead meat.

The same goes for Telemarketing. You need the capacity to go with the flow of the conversation, rather than be restricted by a fixed script. The prospect may challenge you, they may attempt to distract and hinder you, you must be prepared to adjust your strategy and adapt your response likewise.

THREE: Pretending – One of the stupidest mistakes that a telemarketer can possibly make is to pretend to be someone they are not. They sometimes elevate their status or plainly lie about who they are and why they are calling. It may well work initially, you may get past the gatekeeper and you may even connect with the prospect. However, the moment that your prospect finds out the truth, your credibility will crumble and your chances of converting them into a sale will disappear.

FOUR: All Talk – Everyone has experienced the telemarketer that doesn’t even wait to hear if you are ‘Mr Jones’ before they begin force-feeding you their scripted rant. Does that technique EVER work? Telemarketing is not just talking, it’s also listening, and it’s communicating and connecting with a person. If the first time you give the prospect a chance to speak is after you’ve spent 30 seconds talking at them, consider the following words as the appropriate response from the prospect:

“No Thanks”

People like to believe that someone actually wants to hear their thoughts and find out how they feel. If you do all the talking, you’re simply cutting them out of a conversation that ends with the prospect making the desired decision.

FIVE: Getting Stumped – If you do not know all the possible objections to the prospect taking the desired action, you are not properly prepared to do your job.

Poor Telemarketers learn the top objections, but occasionally, a witty and observant prospect throws an objection or question at you that you’ve not covered in your weekly sales meetings. The weak telemarketer stumbles; they fumble the call, mumbling a feeble excuse. Another lead wasted. Preparation is everything; you can never do too much homework on the product or service that you are selling.

SIX: Cost Too Soon– A common mistake of the telemarketer is to start discussing price long before the prospect is ready to hear it. The greatest and most insurmountable objection is the cost.

If this topic is proposed too early, without the value being felt by the prospect, without the objections being fully and thoroughly dealt with, then you will scare away your potential sale talking about the cost too soon. It’s a matter of timing and it’s easy to make a mistake.

SEVEN: Missing the ‘Yes’ – Another common mistake of the incompetent telemarketer is a failure to engage the prospect in a positive chain of responses, in other words, having them say ‘Yes’.

The primary aim of the call is to set up that Yes Chain and make a sale. If you allow the prospect to set up a Chain of No, or you fail to stimulate the prospect to say Yes, you’ll struggle when the moment of decision arrives.

EIGHT: Fear of Asking The Big Question – If you’ve done your job well, if you know your business, you will not fear to ask for the sale. Professional telemarketers reach this point with the confidence of a job done well.

But inexperienced or incompetent telemarketers are often afraid of this moment. That’s patently ridiculous, if you’ve engaged the prospect in a Yes chain, if you’ve dissolved any objections, if you’ve helped them to imagine, consider and feel the value, all you need do now is ask.

The weak mistakenly make this part of the telemarketing conversation the most tense, uncomfortable moment for all concerned, seriously diminishing their chances of making the sale with yet another disastrous telemarketing mistake.

NINE: Eating ­– A telephone mouthpiece amplifies any sound that it picks up. This means if the telemarketer is chewing gum or eating, the prospect is treated to an audible irritation, projected straight into the brain through their ear. Not only is this a sign of gross professional incompetence, it’s rude. Plus, it’s very hard to make a sale with someone you’ve just irritated.

TEN: Time Wasters – This mistake refers to both the telemarketer and their prospect. Do not waste time on people who cannot buy. If you called a house and a ten-year-old child answered the phone, would you try to sell them something? Of course not! Don’t waste your time. Only connect with the decision makers. Otherwise, you’ll just be wasting your breath, and making another big mistake.

At Virtual Sales Limited, we ensure that all our staff are highly trained, so that they avoid any of the above mistakes, and represent your company on the telephone in a professional and credible way.

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Top Ten Tips For Getting Past The Gatekeeper

June 16, 2009 by Andy Dickens

If you are involved in the Telemarketing industry, you will undoubtedly be familiar with the term ‘The Gatekeeper'. This is the individual whose job it is to prevent people getting access to the Decision-Maker. Typically, this is a personal assistant or a secretary, but in some companies, it is even the receptionist or switchboard operator.

Here are ten top tips for getting past the Gatekeeper:

TIP 1: THE GATEKEEPER IS NOT THE ENEMY

Whoever is acting as the Gatekeeper between you and the Decision-Maker (DM) is just doing their job.  Part of that job is managing demands on the DM's time.  Seeing the Gatekeeper as the enemy creates a self-imposed psychological barrier that it will be difficult, if not impossible to remove.

TIP 2: SOUND SENIOR

Management never gets treated the same as the workers.  If someone believes that you are important, they will treat you differently.  Using a relaxed and calm voice, speak slowly and articulately and don't divulge more than is necessary.  During the opening seconds of your conversation, if the Gatekeeper senses that you are their senior, they will not risk offending you by probing too deeply.

TIP 3: THE GATEKEEPER IS A WEALTH OF KNOWLEDGE

Remember that whilst the Gatekeeper's role is to restrict interruptions to the DM's daily routine, they do know a great deal of important information about the DM and the business.  Use this opportunity to check that the person that you want to speak to IS the decision-maker.  Check your facts with them.   Ask simple, non-intrusive open questions to try to build up a picture of both the Gatekeeper and the Decision-Maker.

TIP 4: DON'T SELL TO THE GATEKEEPER

The Gatekeeper has several distinct ‘powers'.  One of them is the power to connect you with the right person.  However, they do not hold any decision-making powers. When the Gatekeeper asks ‘Can I tell him/her what it's regarding?' - do not try to pitch your product or service to the Gatekeeper. Firstly, it will waste your time.  Second,  it will irritate them because they will just be waiting for an opportunity to tell you that they cannot help you.  No matter how desperate to connect with the DM you are, do not sell to the Gatekeeper.

TIP 5: ENGAGE DON'T EVADE

Don't be awkward, don't try to sneak past the Gatekeeper, the chances are you'll get cut off at the knees.  Actively engage with the Gatekeeper.  Don't get too personal, don't pry, but you can gently probe.  If you can't get through to the DM, engage the Gatekeeper so that they have a positive and friendly attitude towards you when you call again.  You're unlikely to become best friends, but building a relationship and a rapport with them will help them want to help you.

TIP 6: EASY DOES IT

If you are nervous, stressed or tense, you will transfer those feelings to your voice, your behaviour and choice of words.  All of these will make an impact on how the Gatekeeper perceives you and therefore how they receive your request for access or information.  Take some deep slow quiet breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth to put yourself at ease.  When the Gatekeeper answers, smile and confidently greet them with energy and ease.

TIP 7: DON'T SCRIPT, PLAN.

Unless you are a particularly good actor, don't use a script on the Gatekeeper.  They are likely to hear the scripted tone in your voice.  Instead, plan how you will approach them; what approaches you might take depending upon the range of responses that they might make.  Plan your responses to key objections but leave yourself room by improvising the dialogue.

TIP 8: WHAT'S YOUR TRANSITIVE VERB?

Do you know that whilst you are speaking to the Gatekeeper, you are consciously or unconsciously employing a transitive verb to do something to them? A transitive verb is, if you don't know, a verb that can be done to someone else such as ‘I CHARM You, I AMUSE You, I PRESS You'.  In Oral Communications, verbs are used as tactics to get results from other people.  It's essential that you be in control of the tactics that you are playing.  Think about what tactics you will play throughout your PLAN.

TIP 9: IS SHE EXPECTING YOUR CALL?

This is largely irrelevant because you want to speak to the DM nonetheless.  However, in order to bypass the Gatekeeper, use the DM's first name only.  Ask ‘Can I speak to Jenny please?', it sounds like a personal call. Remember your goal is not to inform the Gatekeeper; your goal is to bypass them to get to the DM.  Next, they might ask ‘Is she expecting your call?'. Simply and easily reply ‘Yes, I sent him some information through from our Head Office, we need to discuss it before close of business today'.

TIP 10: THE LAST BEST SOLUTION

It's not the best solution, and this tip often splits Telemarketers down the middle. You can always ask if you can be put through to the DM's voicemail.  Just like in a sales environment, quickly point out a benefit for the Gatekeeper of doing this.   If they say that the DM is ‘out to lunch' or ‘in a meeting' and you've already called several times, point out that you've already taken up a lot of their time and ask if they can put your through to voicemail to save bothering them further. Of course, Marketing is a personal art and what works for one, will not necessarily work for another.  These Top Ten Tips should be the starting place for developing your own personal method of bypassing the Gatekeeper, rather than seeing them as cast iron instructions to be rigidly followed.

Cold-calling: a competitive edge for SMEs

January 28, 2008 by Andy Coughlin

Things are stacked against smaller enterprises in so many ways when it comes to winning business. Getting that all-important first customer, having the financial muscle to fulfil sizeable orders and being 'allowed' to bid are all factors that SMEs face or have faced.  

It's crucial to focus on the areas of strength within a business. There are many and maybe we can discuss others in future posts. But for today, I wanted to raise the question of cold-calling: often a necessary evil. I'm lucky because my calls get screened by colleagues, but occasionally a salesperson gets through and I sometimes accept that the caller is simply doing their job, so I take the call and listen. 'Listen' being the operative word, because invariably these callers talk at me with little consideration for me the person on the other end of the line.

They tend to all make the same mistakes. My name is on a list of thousands, and the caller is just working down the list. Twenty seconds earlier they did not know I existed, and now they are trying to sell me corporate hospitality at Wimbledon.  They don't know what we do as a business. And they don't have the most basic grasp of whether I have any requirements or even whether I can spare a couple of minutes to hear what they have to say.  And when a stranger asks 'How are you?', you know it is a tele-sales person.

How can this help a small business? Of course, some SMEs need to do cold-calling. But they are probably not doing it in call-centres. And they are probably not selling hotel rooms today and IT solutions tomorrow. So they should know their products inside out. They should also have some personal experience of how people use, or benefit from their products. And in small teams, perhaps even with the owner/manager or MD sitting with them, can prepare their calls, discuss and agree the sort of questions that should determine whether the prospect might be interested.  Some call centres work on a numbers game. Bash the calls out and the sales will come in eventually.  But SMEs can offer something in the way they sell that mirrors what they hope to deliver - a more personal service.

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