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"I keep six honest serving men - They taught me all I know, Their names are what and why and when -- And how and where and who."
Six Honest Serving Men, Rudyard Kipling, 1903
As you and I know the secret to successful selling is to ask the right questions.
If we do this skilfully, we become seen as a problem solver and the dynamic or ‘power base’ shifts from a seller/buyer relationship into that of two equal partners. You are then not selling…you are simply helping the customer to buy.
In order to sell effectively we need to know what will make the customer buy from us. In order to do this we need to ask them….and listen wholly and exclusively to what they say!
A highly effective type of question is known as an ‘open question’. These are often prefaced by either ‘who?’, ‘what?’, ‘when?’, ‘why?’ ‘where?’ or ‘how?’.
These are all questions that will encourage the customer to talk about their current situation and needs. If we are listening attentively (and many sales people I work with do not!) then we are able to gather the right level of information and are able to tailor our ultimate presentation to show how we can meet their specific and stated requirements.
Here is a list of some of the possible questions:
‘Who’ questions • Who will be using the product? • Who will need to be trained to use the product? • Who will sign off the order?
‘What’ questions • What problem are you looking to solve? • What impact does this problem currently have? • What do you look for when you are buying new widgets? • What else?
‘When’ questions • When are you looking to introduce the new widget? • When would you need delivery? • When would you want the training programme to start?
‘Why’ questions • Why do you say that? • Why is that an issue for you? • Why do you need to change the process now? • Why do you think that?
‘Where’ questions • Where will the widgets make the biggest impact? • Where will you need the delivery to go to? • Where do you get your widgets from currently?
‘How’ questions • How can I help you solve that problem? • How quickly will you need the widgets? • How would that work in practice? • How will this change the way you currently work?
A word of caution here…in order to maintain rapport it is important to use open questions naturally and conversationally otherwise it could feel to the customer that they are being bombarded.
Likewise, if we can link our next question to the last customer answer we are more likely to demonstrate that we have actively listened to them, show understanding, and ultimately be more successful in matching the benefits of our proposal to what the customer is looking for.
This linking of questions takes time and lots of practice but is superbly effective.
It's not easy raising finance for any business right now, least of all a start up. Which is why it's worth taking a few moments to find out how Simon Woodroffe managed to finance Yo Sushi, when the banks were turning him down.
Has anyone else out there been creative with early stage funding for their business? Please share your story.
Penny Power, founder of Ecademy.com, explains why anyone starting up a new business should be active on social networks.
1. Think of a business name. If you need them, make sure that a suitable domain name is available (for emails and website). If you are struggling to find a name, think about using your own name – credibility is essential and your willingness to use your name will reassure potential customers. Alternatively, stick with the simplest explanation of your business that you can find. “My Bookkeeping Online” is a good example of this.
2. Set up a bank account – OK – I know I said easy but I may have stretched the truth slightly! I’m afraid not much is easy when it comes to banks. ALWAYS have a separate bank account, even for very small businesses. Using your existing personal bank should make things slightly easier.
3. Buy a wireless router and a laptop. It gives you the flexibility to work anywhere inside/ outside the house.
4. Hosting your email. Have a look at Google Apps. It is only £35 a year, and it enables you to use your business email address using the Google platform – I use it and I love it – it’s cheap, and of course, accessible from anywhere.
5. Commission a website – look for a company that will build it and “optimise” it for you at the same time. By optimise, I mean give it the best chance of appearing in the free searches in Google when someone searches for a product/service you sell.
6. Install a separate telephone line – or have a separate mobile. You cannot afford to be competing for a telephone line! You may also want to look at Skype – it’s incredibly cheap and the quality is pretty good now.
7. Consider getting a smart phone, particularly if you are out and about a lot. It is a great way of staying in touch with your email.
8. Use your personal car for business trips and reclaim 40p per mile. There is no value these days in having a company car, unless you need a commercial vehicle.
9. Think about your neighbours – if what you are doing is likely to disrupt them in anyway, speak to them about it early, and make arrangements to keep them happy.
10. Running a business from home can be disruptive for other members of the household. So, try and set things up so that home life and business life to function side by side. Both my wife and I regularly work from home, sometimes long into the evening. An example of one of our “rules” is that business calls are always made/taken outside the room we relax in – and it works very well.
Look out for my next blog post on setting up a business at home - regulatory.
If you're starting a business, or you've already started one, this is four minutes worth investing. The video below features some of this country's most successful entrepreneurs. Their words of wisdom could save you a lot of time and money - or even your business!
If you have an idea for a business and want to progress it, you are probably thinking in earnest about your business plan. If you are looking for outside finance, you are no doubt keen that the business plan will be a great marketing tool for your idea to banks or other investors.
Years ago, when private equity was still called venture capital, I was involved in funding start-ups. I would look through countless business plans, trying to sort the ‘possible’ from the ‘dream-on’ varieties, with a view to investing in the best. Some plans were back-of-the-envelope affairs, with enthusiasm but no financial viability analysis; some described in depth inventive products, but showed no realism with regard to cost of production; others assumed world domination in a few months.
But what really put me off was the business plan that plainly had been written by someone other than the people who were going to make the idea happen. However slick the document, with every possible detail carefully analysed in beautiful spreadsheets, if the words do not reflect the essence of the entrepreneur – his enthusiasm, her conviction the idea will succeed, their commitment to the project – then the proposal will lack that essential ingredient that is the reason for making an investment. The basis of our decisions was mimicry of estate agents’ ‘location, location, location’ replacing the key word with ‘management’. Yes, of course we wanted to see that the projections made sense, and that the amount of investment required was adequate and would be wisely spent; that there was indeed a market for the product or service, and that it would be sold appropriately. But the key was always: is this the right person to make the proposed business succeed?
So if you do use professionals to help compile your business plan, make sure that the final result is imbued with your DNA, and that it convinces the reader why you are the one to turn the plan into the success you describe.