Are you listening?

Do you ever get the feeling that you’re not being heard? It happened to me last week in a meeting with a potential supplier. I was discussing my needs but only being heard on a very superficial level, if at all. As a result what I was being offered was not what I needed and at times I felt talked down to. The problem was that my contact was not really listening.

Last night Ruth Whiteley was fired from The Apprentice largely because she talked too much. She didn’t sell because she was too busy talking and didn’t give her prospects chance to think or act. There’s a pattern here. The sad thing is that Ruth Whiteley is a sales trainer and my conversation was with a coach. Both should know that listening effectively is the most vital skill.

Listening is a vital component of selling

We learn when we listen

These days we’re all too busy trying to get our message out there. All too often we’re broadcasting rather than communicating. Be different. Stop and listen. Listen to the words as well as the music. Listen to what is being said, what is being withheld and what the speaker can’t find the words for. Ask questions to help the speaker to communicate with clarity, use encouraging body language and above all stop talking!

Effective listening leads to understanding, helps us to spot opportunities and creates empathy. Next time you’re having a conversation or in a meeting just be mindful of how much information you are really taking in. Are you fully engaged in listening or too busy thinking what to have for dinner, how to respond or making a judgment? I could go on but I want to hear what you think. Do you ever find yourself speaking because silence is uncomfortable? Have you been frustrated at not being heard?

A basic lesson in business from the Apprentice.

So the Apprentice is back on our TV screens and with it the usual lessons in how not do do business! The first episode saw the teams challenged to buy fish at Billingsgate market and to sell it at a profit, the group that made the biggest profit would win. This is a basic business principle that every would be entrepreneur should be able to master but one group failed miserably. I think there are three key lessons that every business owner needs to remember:

  • Buy at the right price
  • Control costs
  • Be where the customers are

Buy at the right price

We saw the losing team manager buy a significant amount of fish from the first supplier they spoke to at the price the vendor wanted to charge! We should always shop around or at least know the market rate and then haggle. If you know what others are charging for an equivalent product you have a good starting point for your negotiations.

Control costs

Having bought their fish at an inflated price our losers then went on to make the most enormous fishcakes ‘because that’s what the specification said’. This meant that they couldn’t keep their costs down to the level where they could make a profit. It’s a mistake I often see in start-up businesses. Every time you add a little extra this or that your profit margin is compromised unless there is scope to put up your prices to cover the additional costs.

Be where your customers are.

2015-07-21 21.49.11

There’s a time when people want to eat lunch and a time when it’s too late. Lunch has to be ready when your customers want to eat.

Probably the biggest mistake that our hapless losers made was taking too long to prepare their dishes so that they missed the lunchtime trade. You can’t make money when no-one wants to buy. Could you be guilty of taking too long to get to market with your idea because you want it to be perfect or because you aren’t prepared to invest in the help that will get your product or service out there? It’s an easy mistake to make but a good product delivered on time will make more money than a perfect product launched when the market has already been satisfied.

Did you spot any more lessons in this episode? Why not share them here?

I’m sure I’ll be returning to the Apprentice for more blog posts in the coming weeks that is if they don’t drive me to mad first!

Can you afford to alienate your customers and prospects?

In case you missed it we had a General Election here in the UK last week; the outcome was rather unexpected. Since the result was declared my social media channels have been full of rants from disappointed Labour voters.

This sign outside a Sussex business has been doing the rounds on Facebook.

This sign outside a Sussex business has been doing the rounds on Facebook.

I have seen posts describing Conservative voters as thick, cruel, unkind, self-centred,self-serving, stupid and more. Many of these posts are from people who run their own businesses. This photo has been shared widely. I am astounded! Can any business person afford to limit their potential clients to those sharing similar political views? I think not.

Now I absolutely respect an individual’s right to hold strong political views and to express those views and to get involved in party politics if so desired. However, I feel that it is unwise to mix business and politics, especially for owners of small businesses who rely on a personal relationship with their customers. However I don’t think there is any place for insulting people who may not vote in the same way as you do. In my view it’s a quick way to lose customers.

We have to remember that we have little control over social media or what Google shows our potential clients. We might restrict who has access to our social media accounts but we can’t control what those people share, retweet or quote. That rant might be the first thing that our dream target customer finds when checking us out on the Internet. That might be enough for them to dismiss us as someone they want to work with. So please, if you want to grow a business, think carefully about what you post in a public domain, think even more carefully about how you post it and before you click post or tweet just take one more look to be on the safe side.

Unique is an over used word!

In this increasingly competitive and crowded global market place it is tempting to claim our product or service is unique in order to stand out from the crowd, but is it true? The definition of ‘unique’ is ‘the only one of its kind’, ‘unlike anything else’, use the word to describe anything that doesn’t meet this definition and you are lying. Maybe lying is a harsh word but it could well be the way your audience perceives your claim and if they think you have lied with one word they may think that none of your claims are true.

There's not much to set this builder apart from the competition.

There’s not much to set this builder apart from the competition.

The trouble with the overuse of unique is that nobody really believes it any more so, to add credibility, the word has to be justified with an explanation.

Is Rosser Reeves to blame?

I believe that many business owners get hung up on the idea of the unique selling proposition (USP) invented by Rosser Reeves in the 1940s. Reeves applied the concept to advertising rather than to business as a whole. He believed that advertisements should sell and that to do so an advert needed to:

  • make a proposition to the reader: Buy this product for this benefit
  • the proposition should be distinguishable from competitors by being something that a competitor does not, or cannot, offer so therefore a unique offer
  • the offer needs to be strong enough to get people to take the action you want them to take i.e. buy, so should therefore sell

You can see therefore that it is the offer that has to be unique. This is a very different concept to thinking that your whole business or even one product or service has to be unique. Your product maybe very popular in the USA but you may be the only distributor in the UK which means that, whilst the product is not unique, you do have a unique selling proposition. You may not be the only pharmacist in town but you may be the only one open 24/7, therefore you have a unique offer.

The trick is to sell your unique offer without using the word

At least this builder is trying to find an angle.

At least this builder is trying to find an angle.

So try and find another way to describe what makes you, your product or service different. You could try an alternative word or phrase such as:

  • bespoke
  • original
  • rare
  • distinctive
  • exclusive
  • one-off
  • purpose built
  • personal
  • tailor made

Alternatively you could try to sum up your point of difference in a sentence or two of persuasive marketing copy. John Lewis sum up their offer in ‘Never knowingly undersold’, it’s immediately clear what is different about their business. Another good example would be Fedex’s ‘when it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight’, or Bose’s ‘better sound through research’. An old Timex slogan, ‘it takes a licking but still keeps on ticking’ describes the robustness of the watch in a few, well chosen words. Apple has built it’s business on the principle of ‘Think Different’ Another good old one was Opal Fruit’s ‘Made to make your mouth water’. None of these are incapable of imitation but they are so owned by the brands that any attempt to copy is likely to result in legal action.

How can you develop an offer which you can ‘own’; an offer that sets you apart from your competitors; an offer which appeals to your target market? How can you communicate this offer without using the word ‘unique’? This is a topic we’ll be developing in my Plan for Results programme which launches soon. Find out more here.

Glenda Shawley helps owners of small businesses understand what matters to their customers and then communicate this in a way that turns suspects into prospects, prospects into customers and customers into fans.

Getting your marketing communication read

I don’t have to tell you how we are bombarded with information these days. Emails, TV, the web, text messages, social media, blogs, print media, fliers, webinars, podcasts and more all competing for our attention. If your communication starts with your name, has a list of features and no captivating images then why should your target even look at it?

How will you capture attention?

Controversial advertisement

This image certainly attracted lots of attention!

The first thing that any marketing communication has to do is to capture the attention of its target audience. A strong image can help. How many times have you been motivated to read a begging letter by the image of the distended belly of a small child, the ruins of a war torn town, or the sad expression of a very elderly person? How many times has an image of a great plate of food, a stunning piece of jewellery or a sleek car caused you to click through to a website to find out more? The saying, ‘an image is worth a thousand words’ is very true.

Who needs an excuse for a celebration flier

This postcard worked well for one of my clients

That’s not to say that words don’t work either but it can be more of a challenge to say what you want to say succinctly. It’s not easy to identify your target audience and their problem in a few words for a headline but it can be done. For example, ‘Where will your next new customer come from?’ might capture the attention of a business owner wanting to grow her customer base. ‘Is her snoring keeping you awake at night?’ would probably make a sleep deprived partner to read on.

Combining an image and words can be very effective.

Can you make your target audience think and/or feel?

Buying decisions tend to be emotional however much we like to persuade ourselves that we’re being logical. Can you find a way to tap into your target’s emotions with your headline or your image? If you can create intrigue or raise curiosity your communications will get read. Could you do something with the following, (substitute your own pain/solution/target where appropriate)?

  • What’s the solution to the never ending ‘to do’ list ?
  • How can you lose weight without being hungry?
  • Is it possible to get your new baby to sleep all night?
  • Where can you find a steady stream of customers ready to do business with you?
  • What would you do if your main fuse blew at 7.30p.m.?

You get the idea. Why not start looking for inspiration in the fliers that come through your door, the adverts you see on TV or in your newspaper? Many will be rubbish bit there’s a lesson in there too. If you are in the UK watch Comic Relief on Friday evening because they are bound to have many ideas you can adapt (and if you can’t watch read this article which reveals all!)

There are other ways to capture attention but they’re for another article…

What do you want to achieve?

Reviewing some marketing materials recently has made me aware of a fundamental problem many small business owners have and that is a lack of understanding of what they are trying to achieve. The lack of a clear objective leads to woolly and ineffective marketing and no compelling call to action.

Be specific

It’s tempting to try and throw in everything including the kitchen sink but if you do that your message will be unclear. So before you start to design your flier, brochure, advertisement or other marketing collateral take some time to think:

  • what do I want to promote?
  • who will be interested in this?
  • why will they be interested?
  • how will what I’m promoting help them?

Be specific. It’s unlikely that you will be able to promote everything you offer in one flier so really home in on what you are trying to achieve with your promotion. The clearer you are the more successful your promotion will be. It will help if you decide what you want a prospect to do when they have read your communication.

What action do you want your prospect to take?

Spell out what you want your prospect to do.

Spell out what you want your prospect to do.

If you know what action you want your prospect to take then you can structure your communication to achieve that outcome. Do you want someone to call you? Should they visit your website? Would you like them to book an event? Maybe you want them to download an e-book or to sign up for a newsletter?

Don’t be tempted to confuse your prospect by giving them options. Decide on one call to action and one only.

What is your relationship with your target?

In part your call to action will depend on your target customer and your relationship with them. An existing customer might well respond to ‘buy now’ but if this is the first encounter with your prospect they are much less likely to be ready to buy. In this instance you will want to be building trust and developing understanding so your call to action might be ‘visit our website’ or ‘request a brochure’, or ‘register for a free webinar’.

So put your thinking cap on and decide what call to action would get your prospects following your instructions. We can then look at how you structure your message to get them to do as they are bid, coming soon…

Glenda Shawley helps owners of small businesses understand what matters to their customers and then communicate this in a way that turns suspects into prospects, prospects into customers and customers into fans.

Join my conversation

I wish I had £1 for every time someone has told me that ‘marketing doesn’t work’, ‘fliers don’t work’, ‘advertising doesn’t work’, my profits would show a significant increase! What we’re talking about here falls into the category of ‘marketing communications’. The key word is ‘communication’. When marketing doesn’t work it is often because the content doesn’t communicate.

Features don’t sell.

A typical flier lists features but does not join a conversation.

A typical flier lists features but does not join a conversation.

Take a look at the fliers that come through your door, many of them will just list the features of a product or service, usually as bullet points. So a cleaner might list, vacuuming, dusting, ironing; a printer will list leaflets, business cards, letterheads; or a cafe could list breakfast, coffee, sandwiches. These might work if they land on the mat of a person who is looking for that precise service at that particular time but that rarely happens. Fliers like these don’t get the conversation in my head going.

Speak to me.

If you want your marketing to get a response from your prospect it needs to engage them in a kind of conversation, initially one they have with themselves. You need to spell out what your prospect has to gain from using your services. So the cleaner, rather than listing all the features of his service, might encourage me by talking about ‘come home to a sparkling clean house and enjoy your time off’; the printer might say, ‘give your prospects a business card that conveys the quality service that you provide’ and the cafe might describe, ‘fresh, healthy sandwiches to set you up for a productive afternoon’. Whilst none of these is perfect they will at least make me think how having a cleaner might enhance my life, or whether or not my business cards are making the right impression or how hungry I am!

Ask yourself why.

Before you start developing your marketing communication ask yourself why your prospect might want your product or service. So I might want a cleaner so I can have time for my family or my hobbies; I might want the ironing done because I’d rather be in the garden; I might want some fliers to convert prospects into customers; I might want breakfast to give me the energy to tackle my to do list or I might want to enjoy a coffee with a friend.

Make a list of as many reasons why your prospect might want each of your products or services as you can think of. Somewhere in that list will be the message that will resonate with your target. Once you know the message then you just have to find the words to communicate it. Easy! Well maybe not but that’s the topic for another post…

Glenda Shawley helps owners of small businesses understand what matters to their customers and then communicate this in a way that turns suspects into prospects, prospects into customers and customers into fans.