There are lots of options available to increase sales, it's not a lack of solutions that's holding you back, the difficulty is choosing the right one at the right time. The chances are that if you’re a business owner you might recognise some of these mistakes. This post will explain why they happen and how to avoid them.
Business owners, CEOs and sales directors come to me when they want to increase sales. They want to know the best way to achieve their targets and which option will be the most reliable route to success.
I'm going to share with you the 7 most common things that they've tried already that either didn't work or didn't work well enough.
I’ve seen all these mistakes made first hand and helped put them right. I was able to do them partly because I’ve made all of them myself too, so I know exactly what it feels like to make them and what needs to be done to get back on track. All these approaches can work well when used at the right time and in the right way. I hope that by explaining them I can help you to avoid the mistakes.
Mistake 1: Outsource your business development
This is a common choice for companies that are headed up by a technical expert and have mainly grown through recommendations and referrals. If this sounds familiar you probably know that to grow to the next level you can't rely on the recommendations and referrals that got you this far. As you don't have much experience with managing a sales team and little or no sales training, outsourcing your sales and new business development makes a lot of sense.
The chances are that outsourcing already works for things like your accounting needs and managing your website, so it should do for your sales too. And it can, if you have a sales process that already works and can be carried out by people with little to no experience in your industry. However, if you're not in this position, outsourcing your sales is more likely to fail than succeed.
If you've grown on referral and recommendations the chances are that all your deals have been won through your obvious expertise in what you do. It's highly likely that your technical experts were responsible for winning your customers over. Rather than being convinced by your clear and simple value proposition, your customers probably chose you because you presented a very credible solution based on your past experience.
Unfortunately when you outsource your sales you’re changing to a different way of selling. The trouble is many businesses choosing this route don’t realise the change they’re making. Your new outsourced sales team will be wondering why they're making little progress as the company they're presenting has obvious expertise. However, it will be obvious to the recipient that the person they're speaking with has little to no experience and any success they do have will be purely down to a numbers game. While there’s plenty out there who will argue that sales is a numbers game, there’s no point in stacking the numbers against you.
Mistake 2: Hire another salesperson
Similar to outsourcing this approach makes sense in the right circumstances. If you have a well proven sales process and more opportunities than your current team can handle, hiring another sales person is a very logical choice.
However, if you’re not in this position it carries a lot of risk. If you have experience of hiring sales people you'll probably find that one in three tend to be great. The others will be average or worse. Added to that if you don't have a well proven sales process that a new sales person can follow and you can measure their performance easily, you'll be very reliant on their ability. If they don't have an existing pipeline to work on and they’re good, it'll take them around 12 months to build a decent pipeline to start hitting the targets you’ve set them.
More often than not I’ve seen this stage of building a pipeline of opportunities underestimated. Which then means that the business either gives up on sales too early or they stick with a poor performing sales person without being able to spot the signs that they're not performing in the role, neither of which gives a good return on investment.
Mistake 3: Redesign your website
It's likely that nearly all of your prospects will visit your website at some point in their journey with you, so when you're looking to increase sales it's a sensible choice to look at your website.
If your website is already generating enquiries and opportunities, identifying how to improve it can be a great way to increase enquiries and sales.
If you’re anything like many of the business owners I’ve worked with, at least one of your competitors will have recently updated their website and suddenly you’ll see everything that’s wrong with yours. This will mean that you’ll focus on all the things you don’t like about it, rather than what’s working and what isn’t.
We've redesigned customers websites and increased business as a result. Everytime that we have, we've also put a lot of work into copywriting, making sure the design communicates the value proposition, conversion rate optimisation and search engine optimisation. When all of these have been done in combination with a great design, enquiries and sales have shot up. However it’s no small job.
For every time we've delivered a website redesign that has increased business growth, we've been called in to fix one that hasn’t worked. The design of the websites we’ve been called in to fix usually look great, the trouble is that little to no thought has been put into all the other areas that make a website successful. In the worst cases I've seen beautiful new websites launched, that cause business to fall off a cliff because all the things that were working before have been removed from the site.
Mistake 4: Rebrand or update your brand
For similar reasons to the website redesign you may choose to rebrand or update your brand to increase your sales. Done properly a rebrand can make a huge difference to sales. When a business has a high performing pipeline and finds that their brand is limiting their sales growth, a rebrand can be exactly what is needed. However if your pipeline isn't already generating a consistent flow of new business is it really your brand that is holding you back?
If you ask the opinion of a designer or creative agency they will of course say that your brand can be improved and they're probably right. However, if you don't have a well designed new business pipeline it's much more likely that it's your pipeline, or lack of one, that's holding you back.
Mistake 5: Invest in a marketing automation system like Hubspot
Software services are regularly sold as the silver bullet to solve all problems. Marketing automation and CRM systems like Hubspot are no different. The benefits they provide in terms of organisation and efficiency gains can make a huge difference to your marketing and sales efficiency.
Where they really come into their own is when they are applied to a well designed pipeline. The trouble comes when the pipeline doesn’t really exist. It’s a bit like buying a train without having a track to run it on. The software in itself will do little unless it is used properly. It may serve to highlight that you have a problem, but it won’t fix it directly. To get the results you want from it you’ll need to apply it to a well defined pipeline and use the software to scale that pipeline, by reducing manual work and making it easier to follow best practices.
Mistake 6: Invest in telemarketing
Telemarketing can work well to get you in front of your ideal prospects. However, it shares many of the challenges of outsourcing your sales. If you have a very well defined target audience with a strong value proposition for that audience and you're looking to scale up your contact with that audience, telemarketing can be the perfect solution. However, if you don't, any investment in telemarketing is likely to fail.
That’s because you’re trying to scale something that isn’t already working. When you go to a telemarketing agency they’ll promise to get you appointments and if you choose the right one, they will get you appointments. Many will even be paid by appointments booked, so you will only pay if you get what you want. The trouble is if you don’t have a proven pipeline, you’ll end up wasting a lot of time having appointments that end up going nowhere. It’ll feel good being busy in the short term, but when those appointments don’t turn into the business you’re looking for things will start to feel very different.
Mistake 7: Spend more on Google Adwords
Google Adwords is a great way to increase enquiries and sales fast. You can get in front of people in the market for what you sell, by advertising on the keywords they’re searching on.
When you have Google Adwords working and performing well for your business, increasing your spend can be a very effective way to increase enquiries and sales. When managed correctly an increase in spend may even lower your cost per enquiry and cost per customer. However, if it's not well managed it may just result in higher costs without the corresponding uplift in sales.
The results are even worse if you don’t have the pipeline in place to convert those enquiries at a decent rate. Google Adwords is competitive and your enquiries are likely to be expensive, if you’re not converting them the cost per new customer will be eye watering.
Added to that, it usually takes 3 months to get a Google Adwords campaign bedded in and performing well. I’ve seen so many business pull out of Google Adwords too early, because they haven’t understood this and don’t have a well proven pipeline to work the enquiries that are generated.
The other downside to Adwords is that the cost pretty much always goes up. So, if you’re not consistently improving your conversion rates your cost per customer will keep increasing over time. With an annual inflation rate at 5% or more, you’ll want your pipeline conversion rate to be improving by at least that to keep your costs even.
Bonus mistake: Try to do it all themselves
I had to include this. If you’ve tried outsourcing and made mistakes, you might assume it was the fault of the people doing the work. It’s a natural conclusion that the answer to solving this is to learn to do it yourself.
On the surface this makes sense. If you understand how to do something yourself, you can then manage it better. The trouble is if it isn’t your talent, you’ll probably waste a lot of time that you could have invested better elsewhere. At some point in your journey you’ll realise that this isn’t what you want to do, all day, everyday, and you’ll start to look around to get someone else to do it instead.
How can you avoid making these mistakes?
All of these approaches can work well if you have a well designed high performing marketing and sales pipeline. Without it, you'll be relying on luck for any of these approaches to work and deliver the sales growth you're looking for.
I recommend that before you start trying to grow your sales you make sure you have a well designed marketing and sales pipeline in place. As soon as you have this in place, you’ll easily spot the opportunities to improve it and by doing it this way around you’ll avoid all the mistakes that I’ve listed above.
Get your Pipeline Scorecard, to see where you can improve your pipeline.