This small business owner wrote in about “having a really hard time ‘closing’ the sale”:
I recently started a [training] business…..I have reached out to just about 300 people in my network. Many are interested, but it's not the right time, or I follow up and they never respond. We have ROI data on this program and its effectiveness of increased focus, productivity, reduction of stress, etc. How do I close the deal?
There are multiple reasons why sales don’t close, so it can be particularly frustrating when you feel like you are working hard, you really believe in what you offer, and still you don’t land the customer. While I mostly write about traditional careers, this question could easily apply to the job seeker reaching out to 300 contacts or submitting 300 resumes and not landing a job. Furthermore, with even traditional employees pursuing temp jobs and side gigs, knowing how to close a sale is critical to small business owners and traditional employees alike .
Here are the reasons why your business is not generating sales:
1. The myth that a creative type of business doesn’t make money.I hate it when well-meaning friends and relatives slash people’s dreams of business success. Usually it’s by saying something like, “Why don’t you get a real job?”
While they may be worried about you, the reality is there’s more than one way to make money. Plenty of creatives make a lot of money. In fact, according to a survey by The Freelancers Union, most of the survey respondents reported earning more money than they did at their last job.
The key is you need to know how to run a business and market yourself. This is in addition to having a particular skill.
2. You are marketing, not selling.
Reaching out to a networking contact is a sales call when that contact has expressed a need and interest for what you are selling, and you actually discuss your offer, your pricing, next steps and/or other ways to move forward. If your networking meeting is to introduce what you offer or to reconnect in general, that’s a marketing call. Many small business owners are busy on social media, tweaking their website, writing blogs, and catching up over coffee – all of which is great for marketing and may lead to sales eventually -- but these activities aren’t directly generating sales.
The fix? Assess your meetings to date, and be honest about which ones were marketing and which ones were sales. Make sure that you are pitching for more dollars than your desired revenue target because you will not close all of your sales. If you typically land a third of your sales efforts and you want to hit $100,000 in revenues, then you need to pitch $300,000 in deals. Have you discussed $300,000 worth of work in your
3. You are targeting the wrong buyer.
Reaching out to 300 people sounds impressive but are all 300 people possible buyers for what you sell? In the case of a training business, you may be better off following up conscientiously with 30 people who are all HR professionals or business managers who need your type of training for their staff. Sure, you may talk to someone who is not a buyer but knows someone who could be, and that’s useful. But that’s not selling – that’s still marketing.
The fix? Review your contact list and make sure that you prioritize people with a need and interest in what you offer. Is the contact list you are using truly a sales pipeline or a collection of people you know overall?
4. The buyer is not the decision-maker.
When you whittle down your list to people with a need and interest in what you offer, this gets you closer to the sale but is still insufficient. Are the people you are targeting able to make a purchase decision? Maybe your close friend in HR organizes training, but it’s his colleague who authorizes the money to hire the trainer (that could be a more senior person in HR or the person who runs the particular department that will get the training). Your HR friend is still a useful contact because he can recommend you, but you still need to get to the actual decision-maker in order to close the sale.
The fix? When you have an interested prospect, confirm what else needs to happen in the purchase decision. Does your contact need to consult anyone else? Does your contact have budget authority?
5. There is no urgency to buy now.
You may connect with an interested prospect, and s/he may even have the budget to buy, but s/he has other priorities. Budget, time, and attention are limited resources. To close a sale, your offer needs to be a priority right now.
The fix? During your sales process, make sure you confirm deadlines and constraints your prospects are facing. Remind your prospects, not only of the value of your offer but why it is so critical now. Do you build urgency in how you make your offer? To make sure your marketing plan creates urgency in your business, read our blog post here.
6. There is a better alternative than your business.
Your prospect may need what your business offers right now, but s/he has choices in how to fill that need. There are other businesses who probably do what you do. Or the customer or organization might try to fill the need themselves (in this case, for example, a company might develop its own training curriculum).
The fix? Remember that your prospects have choices. There is the choice to do nothing (that’s where urgency comes in – see above point). There are also the choices to do it themselves or pick someone else. Have you not only sold your offering, but also sold yourself as the unique provider of choice?
7. The timing or circumstances aren’t right.
Let’s say you do everything right: you are actively asking for sales, not just marketing. You target the right buyers, and they have decision-making authority. You make the case for buying now and buying from you specifically. Prospects may still say No if it’s not the right time for them (e.g., there are other projects just launching) or if circumstances have changed since you spoke (e.g., revenues are down so budgets are frozen).
The fix? Sometimes a No can’t be turned around now, and your best move is to stay in touch and follow up regularly so you’re front of mind when timing or circumstances change back in your favor. Are you circling back to prospects who have declined? Are you keeping in touch with people who didn’t take a sales meeting before but might be ready now?
8. Don’t accept credit cards because of fees.
Even though we’re in the 21st century, business owners are still hesitant about accepting credit cards.
The first reason why business owners aren’t accepting credit cards is because of fees. Are they annoying? Yes. But they are also a necessary evil. Because, as one of my Twitter followers recently tweeted to me, “Ain’t nobody got time for checks.”
That Twitter follower is correct. People would rather pay with credit cards because of convenience. Therefore, it’s your job to offer multiple payment options to customers and clients. It’s also your job to find a payment processor with a decent fee structure and security features. Failing to do either of these results in lost revenue.
Keep in mind that the above are all reasons why a sales process may break down, despite your best efforts. However, you still need to confirm that you have a good offering and a good command of selling. Is your offer a good one -- i.e., fairly priced, helpful features, clear benefits? Do you know how to sell -- i.e., are you confident, articulate, persuasive?
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