5 Tips for Small Business Sales Success

Friday Apr 26th 2013 by Pedro Hernandez
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What's the secret to successful sales teams? SAP's global sales guru, Joe Fuster, shares his advice for startups and small shops with big ambitions.

Are you constantly falling short of your sales goals?

Assuming that you set your expectations realistically and gauged the market correctly, the trouble may not be your product or service, but rather in how you're approaching your sales opportunities.

Joe Fuster, senior vice president of global sales for SAP Cloud, has 25 years of experience in the software industry. He spent the last 15 specializing in marketing sales and service. Prior to working for business software giant SAP, he helped put startups such as Software Artistry -- since snapped up by IBM -- on the map. He even enjoyed a stint at the current darling of the software industry, Salesforce.com.

In an era of mega-corporations, it may seem like the odds are stacked against small business sales teams, however Fuster says that there are advantages. Over the years he's noticed that -- for startups or small organizations -- it's "very easy to focus on the customer."

Why? "Candidly, because there weren't a lot of them," adds Fuster. But few businesses prosper with just a handful of customers. Typically, the only way to grow your business is to attract more sales.

How you do accomplish that, deliver excellent sales experiences for your business and its customers and, at the same time, find new customers? Fuster fills us in.

The Path to Small Business Sales Success

1. Share best practices across the sales force

Picture the perfect sale, advises Fuster.  Ask yourself and your team, "If we had an ideal sales scenario, what would happen?" What steps would you take?

Write down those five to ten steps and "create the collateral for each step." During the process, keep your eyes on the finish line. Always ask, "What is the outcome supposed to look like?" This shifts perspectives and helps sales teams avoid getting hung up on the particulars of the process. It also allows the goal -- a successful sale and an excellent customer experience – to inform the process.

During training, remind account executives to "concentrate on the outcome" and not just the steps along the way. Don't worry, they'll present themselves. Drill it into their heads, it's worth it.

Finally, Fuster urges small business owners to "take advantage of how nimble you are." Your job is to help solve a problem for a customer in the form of a product or service. Use your lean-and-nimble business processes to help everyone involved reach a good outcome.

2. Farm additional deals from existing customers

Congratulations, you landed your first sale with a new customer. Now what? Don't wait around for repeat business. "Think about how a salesperson adds value," says Fuster. Effective ones "act as a general contractor."

If you're going through an extensive remodel, "you really [a contractor] to give you an update -- you're expecting that complete picture," says Fuster. Your customers expect the same, so take a proactive, "holistic point of view."

Instead of waiting for the next bulk order of a widget, see if any of your products or services can help solve a problem for your customers. Chances are, "people solved this problem before. "Solve it again, and drum up new business from old accounts.

More Small Business Sales Tips

3. Spot the best opportunities

Look for cool outcomes, suggests Fuster. "Who's using your products in an innovative way?" Evaluate deals beyond how much revenue they generated. Which customers are succeeding and in which industries? Do a little digging and find out why your product or service is doing really well in healthcare, for instance, and shift your strategy accordingly.

It goes back to maintaining that outward, customer focus. The same goes for your internal dynamics of your sales teams. "Rather than try to replicate your best salesperson" or "make everyone behave like that salesperson," maintain an external focus. "Look at your customer base, look at similar accounts," and find commonalities and opportunities.

"Get out of the dependency of hiring the eagles," adds Fuster. You're probably already sitting on a team of all-stars; they're just not focused on the right outcomes.

4. Communicate with customers effectively

There is no shortage of ways to engage with customers, but are you really getting through?

When approaching customers, "always come information-rich, in a mechanism that they want," says Fuster. If you're offering information or guidance, "think about how they want to consume it and then provide it," he adds. Over the phone or via a website, align your approach to their tastes.

Also, consider your role as a salesperson. A salesperson's goal should be to become a "trusted advisor," says Fuster. But who has that kind of time in today's hypercompetitive business environment?

It's a common misconception, says Fuster. "You think that to become a trusted advisor you have to be with the customer for a very long time."

In truth, it's all about "solving the customer's customer problem" and framing your communications along those lines. That's the "difference in mindset" between good salespeople and those that just push product. With a little preparation and being well-versed in the needs of your customers -- beyond stocking their storerooms or setting up their tech, that is -- you can become a trusted advisor in no time.

5. Love your software, but stay connected with your customers

Don't rest all of your hopes on customer relationship management (CRM) software. In Fuster's experience with past startups, "CRM-only solutions tend to handle about 20 percent of the lead-to-cash process," he says.

It's easy to get lulled into checking off requirements, working through task lists and losing sight of your customers needs as a result. "Lead-to-order is not the goal," for successful sales organizations, stresses Fuster. "The thing that they are after is the lifecycle."

Essentially, put as much consideration and effort into fostering an ongoing relationship with your customer as you did landing that first sale -- if not more. "Maintaining customer intimacy," is a challenge as small businesses grow bigger, admits Fuster, but it's one that's definitely worth tackling. Software, while indisputably powerful, isn't always the most intimate.

Seems a little odd for a sales executive at SAP to offer such insights, doesn't it?

Good vendors not only serve their customers, they also consider their customers' customers (a recurring theme) by offering solutions that cater to those needs and by helping them succeed.

If it's good enough for SAP…

Pedro Hernandez is a contributing editor at InfoStor and InternetNews.com. Follow him on Twitter @ecoINSITE.

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