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Sales Strategies Need Creativity

No matter how many dollars you want to commit to your marketing budget, if your campaign doesn’t have a creative strategy you may as well throw those dollars away.

Domini Stuart looks at creative strategies that have been profitable in numerous ways and have cost little or nothing in advertising.

How’s business? If you’re just ticking along or feel stuck in a rut, it’s time for a creative marketing strategy. The place to start might be with your attitude to sales, an area many business owners loathe.

"Selling isn’t natural, and it brings up a lot of fears," says Karen Andrews, director of Shine Training Services. "We help clients to understand that selling isn’t about putting the hard word on someone, it’s about helping them to solve a problem.

Active Image"A lot of people get fired up by a kind of nervous energy when they’re trying to sell. They start spouting on and on about themselves when they should really be focusing on how they can be of benefit to whoever they’re talking to. We use the example of going to the dentist with a toothache. You’re not going to be interested in the history of dentistry, you just want someone to take the pain away. It’s the same with potential customers. All they want to know is how your product or service can help them."

Take a more creative approach to hiring someone to do the selling for you, too. "Most people have no idea that there are different types of salespeople," says Andrews. "For instance, a business development manager will actively hunt for business, while an account manager will service an account but will rarely cold-call. Employing the wrong one can be a devastating waste of money, but it isn’t always easy to spot the difference. Professional help could be a really sound investment." Done well, cold-calling can be very valuable, but it isn’t necessarily a prerequisite for success. Repeat sales and referrals can be a very effective and cost-efficient way of building a business, yet many business owners are reluctant to ask for them, perhaps because they fear looking pushy or, worse still, desperate.

Andrews believes that people love to help. "I put a flyer in every invoice I send out telling clients I’m looking for more business," she says. "I say that I’ll reduce the invoice if they give me a referral, and many people do. I also get a lot of business through networking. And I believe that the smartest way to build a business is to develop relationships with people who have natural synergies so you can send customers to each other. Accountants and financial planners do it all the time. And I have a strong reciprocal relationship with a friend in PR/marketing. We give each other at least a couple of referrals a month."


Meaningful Messages

For many business owners, advertising means radio, TV, newspapers, magazines and perhaps direct mail. But the most obvious options are not always the best, or the most cost effective. One opportunity often overlooked is the time your callers are on hold. "Around 70 percent of callers are put on hold on any given day, and they wait an average of 43 seconds," says Adam Bowen, director of The On Hold Company. "That’s thousands of opportunities every year to get your message across to a completely captive audience. Instead of leaving your callers to listen to music or nothing at all, you can be up-selling, cross-promoting and educating them about what your business has to offer. We go to great lengths to tailor our on-hold message creations for businesses of all sizes.

Our mandate is to create messages that actually make money for our clients." As business growth specialist with Quantum, Peter Beveridge encourages his clients to think laterally. One client, a firm which supplies raw materials to the furniture fabrication industry, decided against spending money on glossy advertisements in favour of a series of seminars. "They used the seminars to position themselves as experts to their market," he says. "And now they’re working closely with the key influencers in the industry to establish an accreditation system. Their aim is to be recognised as leaders in the field, and this strategy is working very well for them." A seminar can also provide an opportunity to develop customer loyalty by adding value to the service you provide. Beveridge has seen an accounting firm turn their business around by using seminars to cross-sell relevant products, switching their focus from attracting new customers to retaining and building business with existing ones. He has also found that many successful businesses are creative in the way they distribute their product.

"It could be as simple as making better use of the internet," he says. "There are still business owners who don’t understand how effective a website can be, or who dismiss the idea as too expensive. This may be because they looked into it 10 years ago when you needed around $20,000 to get a website up and running, and they haven’t been back since. Nowadays you can do it for $1,000 and it can be set up so that you can keep the content up to date yourself."

Most business owners have heard that it’s more expensive to find a new customer than to retain an existing one. Yet, while many retailers will claim to have plenty of regular customers, they will often admit to knowing nothing about them. In other words, they have no other way to market to them. "There are ways for even a cash business to capture customer details," says Beveridge. "You could offer an extended warranty or entry into a competition, for example." Once you have the details, it pays to be vigilant about using them. "Email addresses are clearly best as communication costs you nothing," says Beveridge. "Otherwise, direct mail still works well when it’s done properly. Yes, people are inundated with junk mail, but there are creative ways to get your message read. If one mailing doesn’t work, try a different approach."

Knowing more about your customers also means identifying what they value most. "Getting new customers is just one of a number of profit drivers including increasing the buying lifetime, frequency of purchase, the value of each transaction or the profit margin per transaction," he says. "If your rate of converting leads to sales is low—for example, one conversion for every 10 inquiries—it would be a lot easier to double that rate by doing a bit of staff training than to double the number of inquiries." There’s also a tendency for business owners to forget what made them successful in the first place. "If customers came to you because they appreciate the wide range of goods you have on offer, culling that range will not be a sensible economy," says Beveridge. "Yet people often make decisions which are not based on customer feedback or market research."


Resourceful Marketing

Active ImageTerrill Riley-Gibson has worked what some might see as a retail miracle, selling exclusive items for the home and garden from a shop tucked away in a quiet Sydney suburb. In just two years of business, Balcony Living has become a successful destination store, and Riley-Gibson has won a swag of awards, culminating in the 2006 Champion of Champions New Business of the Year (New South Wales/ACT). Yet, apart from printing, she has spent no money on advertising or marketing.

Her resourceful approach was obvious even before the shop opened. "While we were renovating, I had no signage," she says. "I covered the window with bits of paper like bricks then gra
dually removed them one by one so people could start peeping in. We only put up the name in the last week, that really aroused curiosity." Riley-Gibson had been actively looking for a niche market when she noticed how many new developments there were in her local area, all with balconies. With such a clearly defined target market, it made sense to drop brochures into letterboxes. From the outset she was very strict with branding, ensuring that every communication is consistently clean and crisp and features her distinctive colours.

Every month she holds a free soiree in the store, inviting customers to meet a guest designer, florist or artist, or to preview a new product or range. Anyone who brings someone new is entered into a draw for an attractive door prize. She’s also meticulous about building her database of customer details. Subscribers receive a regular newsletter and each week she contacts 10 or 15 customers, sharing news and offering more of her personal service.

"Women like being treated like a princess, and many peoplewant to touch, feel and smell before they buy," Riley-Gibson says. "I provide a really special gift-wrapping service, and I’ll throw a little something extra in with a big sale. Because I live above the shop I can also walk the talk by showing customers how things look in my home. I’ll even let them take items home to see how they look in theirs. I have always known that this business needed to be driven by service, not by price."

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