5 Sales Don’ts for Your Small Business

by Denise Hazime on December 20, 2013

When it comes to solving a complex problem or building a creative solution, sometimes it is more important to know what not to do rather than what to do.  When thinking about the best way to manage sales for your small business, we already know what the goal is--sell more of your product to more customers.  Knowing what not to do, however, can save you time, money, a bad reputation, and ultimately give you a good platform to build on. Avoiding the big mistakes can also be the key to surviving the harsh learning curve that new businesses often don’t overcome in their first year of operation.

Sales for a small business is more important than ever before.  In the internet age, consumers have many choices of whom to buy from, they have plenty of opportunity to shop around before ever leaving their home, and most importantly they have a chance to read other customers opinions of your product or service before deciding whether or not to even call or walk into your store.  Compare this to 50 years ago where your small business might be the only one in the area. People didn’t have the opportunity to shop around, in person customer service was the norm, and word of mouth was king.  No Walmarts or Amazons...quite different from today!

While competing head to head with Amazon, Costco, or Walmart can seem like a daunting task, all hope isn’t lost.  Many consumers prefer a personal connection and the convenience of buying local, and there are many instances where you can shine on value instead of price.  That being said, competition for consumer dollars in the internet age is fiercer than ever.  This competition also makes the margin of error for your small business lower as well. Hopefully these 5 points can provide some guidance on what how to approach clients and allow your business to grow into some thing much bigger in the future.

Don’t #1:  Don’t Ignore Your Customers

‘Don’t ignore your customers’ may sound silly, and like common sense to even the most daft of business owners.  Unfortunately when compared to some of the most successful companies in the world like Apple, Google, and Amazon, many small businesses do in fact ignore their customers.  At the beginning of the article we talked about how the internet has dramatically affected the way consumers buy.  What we should also talk about is that it should dramatically affect the way successful businesses sell.  In today’s market, does ignoring a customer mean not greeting them at the door?  Of course not.  The concept of attention goes way above and beyond what a conventional sale used to be.

The first thing to realize here is that increased competition for customers (thanks to companies such as Amazon) makes the customer more valuable than ever.  When you are fortunate enough for a potential customer to find you, make sure that they have the best possible experience they can with you.  If you’re not going out of your way to make them feel a connection with your business or service, getting all the information you can from them (in a polite way) so that you can learn to anticipate what they like and don’t like is important. Additionally it's important to find clever ways of getting referrals, or provide the best possible incentives to buy from you.

How can a cash-strapped small business owner accomplish all these things and compete with huge companies?  It’s not impossible, you just need to open your eyes and use the same technologies that they do. The good news is that many of these technologies are available to even a 1-person start up at very reasonable prices.  Some examples are using an efficient and reliable email and productivity platform like Google Apps.

At $5/user/month it’s hard not to justify having a world class email and productivity suite.  Another thing tool you can use to make the customer feel connected is a Customer Relationship Manager, or more commonly known as a CRM.  A simple website that describes what you offer and how to find you is a must. Like many of these technologies, a website need not be mysterious nor expensive.  For example, there are many good options that range from free to a one-time fee of $300 for a great, responsive, mobile device friendly website.  Listing your business on the major search engines such as Google, Bing, and Yahoo is absolutely necessary and easy to do yourself.  Setting up social sites such as Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, and Yelp are also easy and often free.  If you feel mystified and don’t know where to start, ask your kids or a niece or nephew for help--believe it or not they’ll probably know or figure out how to do it easily.  Don’t be intimidated!  Businesses like Google do a lot of work in order to make their technologies easy to use and accessible to everyone.  On a last note, be very wary of taking advice from anyone who can’t easily and clearly explain what these technologies are, how much they cost, or exactly what the final result will be--look for trusted providers in the space who have the blessing of the big companies you’re looking to work with like Google to be sure.

Don’t #2:  Don’t Be Lazy with Your Leads

Remind yourself of how the internet has dramatically changed the way people buy and sell.  With this in mind, how and when you respond to an incoming lead is more important than ever.  With the advent of television, social media, and mobile phones, I think we can all agree that the average consumer’s attention span has gotten shorter and shorter.

When a new lead comes in, you must not wait 2 days, 24 hours, or after dinner to respond.  Recent studies show that your closing percentages shoot way up if you can respond to a lead within an hour.  Closing percentages become incredible if you can respond in 5 minutes.  If you don’t have many leads then you probably don’t have an excuse to be casual with your response times.  If you are lucky enough to have too many leads, then you may be ready to hire additional sales reps.

Response times in the internet age are so important for two big reasons.  First they start the customer-focused relationship on the right foot.  The old adage ‘you only get one chance to make a first impression’ was never more true that it is in today’s sales environment.  An overstimulated and over-pitched consumer has to be pretty darn interested to pick up the phone, fill out a web form, or walk into a store.  Don’t waste that interest by being late to respond.  If you wait too long, chances are that the person who would have purchased from you no longer remembers being interested in your product or service, or worse yet, found someone else who did respond in a timely fashion to buy from.  Consumers are busy, and even if they haven’t bought anything from anyone yet, good luck in getting a hold of that person again.  On the flip side customers are impressed when a small business gets back to them quickly--it shows that you care and that you value their business.  You will often be thanked for getting back to them so quickly. That’s a great way to start a relationship with what could become a repeat client and a referral partner.

Second, you’re competing with many businesses small and large who use technology to treat customers like the most valuable assets they are.  The best companies either respond right away in person or set up auto-reminders (through a CRM) to let the customer know that they received their request.  You can and should do the same thing.

Don’t #3:  Don’t Pitch Based on Price

This is possibly the biggest mistake small businesses make when selling to clients.  Competing on price when competing against companies with massive economies of scale like McDonalds, Walmart, Costco, or Amazon is a losing proposition.  It’s not likely that you’ll be able to match prices, but you can compete on value.  Consumers will pay more for a product or service when they perceive they are receiving more value for their money.  In other words, consumers buy when the pile of value exceeds the pile of money they will be spending.  Many examples exist of small businesses that became large businesses specifically because they didn’t compete on price, but rather value.  Find a thriving local business, and take a good look--it’s likely that they have found a way to communicate a great value rather than a cheaper price.

What would value selling look like in the real world?  Let’s take a restaurant.  If a small restaurant tries to compete with established fast food based on price, failure is almost certain.  But would someone pay more for food that is organic, freshly made, or locally sourced?  You bet, and customers do so every day.  Find ways to build your value so that the customer will justify buying from you and returning to buy from you.

Don’t #4:  Don’t Try to Be Everything to Everyone

If you are a small business, chances are that you have limited resources.  Don’t waste these resources trying to mimic very large or well established businesses.  You need to build your special value, your identity, and justify your prices.  You will not be able to do that by competing against Walmart on their own turf.  Think about what you do best and what you are passionate about.  Use technology to communicate your niche to customers. Instead of focusing on everyone who wants your generic product or service category, find and retain people who want your specific services.  If you can find one niche to be successful in, chances are you have laid a solid foundation to branch out and be successful in other niches.  A good example of this is Amazon, who started selling books and has now grown into one of the largest e-commerce sites in the world.

Don’t #5:  Don’t Chase Your Customers and Harangue Them to Open Their Wallets

People absolutely hate being pressured to buy, or to be asked to spend money.  Even if you manage to be successful in pressuring a customer to buy once, chances are slim that they will ever purchase from you again.  One-time customers become very expensive in the long run, and are definitely not a characteristic of a successful business.

If you have taken Don’t #2 to heart, chances are that you’re on top of your response times.  Don’t make the mistake or continually harassing your customers via phone or email with nothing but a request that they buy.  The other side of being good with response times is being good with your pitch and follow up.

The goal is not to sell a customer, but rather to help that customer buy.  There is a big difference in selling or closing a customer versus helping them make an educated buying decision that they will be happy about later.  Consumers hate being sold or closed and can smell a smarmy sales pitch a mile away.  Consumers buy most often when they perceive value (Don’t #3).  In other words, if you can partner with the customer to help them make an educated buying decision you will have earned their trust, respect, and hopefully a loyal client.

How do you follow up then, without being too pushy?  The first thing you need to practice is your pitch.  Build your pitch to explain your value in 30 seconds or less.  The customer clearly needs to know why they should purchase from you as opposed to your competition.  You are only going to get one shot at your initial pitch, so make sure it is good and something that the customer will resonate with and remember.  Train your sales people to represent the same to every customer that they talk to.

Next, just because you’re using technology like a CRM does not mean that you are using it correctly.  Don’t use a CRM to simply remind your customers to buy.  Take the long view of customers and do your best to create a relationship with them.  If they came in your store, entered a form on your website, and you pitched them but they did not buy, that is ok.  It does not mean that they do not like your product or service or will never buy from you.  Instead of calling or emailing repeatedly and lowering your price in hopes they will purchase, add value.  Give them a free sample.  Send them an informative article so they will learn something they did not know.  Become a resource to that customer.  If you give them value first and consistently, eventually they will purchase from you and keep buying from you, even if you cost a bit more than the competition.

Don’t Be Afraid to Get Started

Take heart, because even though not making the 5 big mistakes in sales seems like a daunting task, it makes sense when you shift your view to a consumer-centric one.  Remember that technology exists to help you accomplish many of the feats that larger companies use to focus on customers. Even if you can’t afford the technology that you need yet, the right mindset will put you on the path to succeed in winning customers.  Following your passion, while seeming counter-intuitive, will be the key to your success.  Hopefully you feel a bit less pressure knowing that you do not have to compete in every area of your industry, but rather be special in the facet that you have the most to offer in.  Once you have understood the importance of response times, just remember to constantly offer value to your customers whether that be in the form of samples, information, or other products that they might like or need.

Whenever you need encouragement remember that all big businesses started as small businesses, and many of the most successful businesses that seem invincible now started in somebody’s garage.

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Denise Hazime
VP of Alliances at UpCurve Cloud
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