Originally published March 19th, 2014 in The Henry County Local, a Landmark Newspaper.
I belong to a sales group that meets every month. Casual yet professional, we are a small group of business owners, with a team of facilitators, who discuss goals, growth problems, management issues; in short any and every issue that a small business owner might face. After all, it’s likely we share the same problems, and in fact we do despite vastly different industries. The best thing, for me, is that there is no need for the “sales front”, that face we all put on to show our prospects how important we are. When joining group, we specifically make the commitment to NOT prospect other group members.
Every time we meet, it is brought home to me how alike ALL small businesses really are. We face many of the same trials and tribulations, mostly having to do with sales. Medical practice, retail business, consultancy, service tech, it doesn’t matter…when you own a business it all comes down to sales. Even management decisions regarding personnel revolve around sales. Here’s some common pitfalls most business owners fall into.
Don’t be a technician.
Whatever your business type, to be successful, you can no longer afford to think solely like the “technician.” Many businesses are started because the owner is an excellent auto mechanic, or accountant, or what have you, and they are tired of their hard work going for the benefit of someone else when they believe they can “do it better” on their own. This may be true, but as a business owner, you can’t simply hang out a sign and expect customers to knock down your door. Not only do you now have management, strategic planning, and overhead responsibilities, you must also bring in all the new business that other people used to bring in for you when you were strictly a “technician”.
Know your audience.
Every person you talk to will be of a different background, with different interests and attitudes. Using technical jargon when pitching your newest mechanical “fix” to an engineer is great (though it can also show your ignorance if you aren’t as process knowledgeable as they!), but that same talk can sink your proposal before you get started when pitching the CFO. It is not a matter of talking “down” or “up”, but a matter of tailoring your own language to suit the person you are speaking with. Notice you aren’t tailoring your MESSAGE, merely how it’s conveyed. In order to do this, you need to know a little about your prospect first, and this requires asking questions, and listening, skills used far too little in my experience. Don’t preach, or speechify; ask questions and tailor your information to the needs of the person in front of you. It helps to do a little research first as well.
Make sure you are talking to the right person.
There is nothing more disheartening than crafting a perfectly tailored pitch to the wrong person. You spend weeks tracking down, getting an appointment with, and pitching the project manager, only to find you needed to be talking to the CFO all along. The point is, before you approach your customer, find out all you can about who will actually make the decision to buy your product or service, and then get access to them, whatever way you can. Tech people like to talk to tech people, finance people like to talk to the money people, we all like to talk to the “technicians” we feel association with, but unless they can approve your work, you’re talking to the wrong person. This is not always easy to know, and sometimes takes a little trial and error.
Whether you own your own business or work for someone else, the most important things you can do are the ones I mention above. Obviously, other things will come to mind as well, but it is clear that you must always keep in mind what your goals are, who your clients are, and getting to the right people to succeed.
Lance Minnis is Vice President of Commonwealth Financial Advisors, LLC, a Registered Investment Advisor. All opinions expressed are his, and do not constitute investment or financial advice. He can be reached at 502-423-7420.