Monday, June 18, 2018

How to Generate Sales Leads in Your Small Business

Many successful small business owners are continuously looking to expand their customer base and grow their businesses. Business growth can be a difficult and long-term process, though. One of the foundational elements of growing a business is having access to a steady stream of sales leads. A lead is a person, or business if you have a company that sells to other businesses (B2B), that has an interest in the products or services you are selling.

Here are some tips for creating a system that will help you identify sales leads in your small business, and -- with the right focus and effort -- turn them into customers.

1. Identify Your Target Audience

The first step of lead generation is identifying your target audience. You can't successfully reach and sell to your ideal customer if you don't know exactly who that is, so it's important to research your audience and come up with a clear picture of who they are, where they live, what they like to do, how much money they make, what their lifestyle and personality is like, etc.

If you don't already have one, you should also create a comprehensive marketing plan as part of this step.

2. Pick Your Promotional Methods Wisely

In order to generate leads, you need a promotional plan that will get your products and services in front of members of your target audience. There are a number of ways you can promote your business, and again, you will want to use your marketing plan to identify the most effective methods for your business.

Some ideas include an informational website, a blog, social media, speaking engagements, industry events, current customer referrals, pay per click (PPC) advertising, and traditional advertising.

3. Create a Sales Funnel

Once you know who you are targeting and have determined how best to reach them, you need to have a plan for collecting contact information. The first part of the process involves funneling all prospects to a standard form or landing page that encourages them to share their contact information, generally in return for a free gift, a coupon, a sample or some other value-added incentive.

At this point, it is vital to have a customer relationship management (CRM) database that will help you keep track of potential customers through the process.

4. Use an Email Newsletter to Build Relationships

Now that you're in contact with prospects, it's time to cultivate those relationships so you can take them from the lead stage through a sale (and eventually a repeat sale!). One of the best ways to create consistent communication with your prospects is through an email newsletter.

This article on email marketing provides a number of tips to get you started. Make sure you are aware of and follow regulations that are a part of the CAN-SPAM Act.

5. Leverage Social Media to Connect and Engage

Social media provides a number of opportunities for small businesses to create conversations with prospective customers and generate new leads. You can create a Facebook page, Twitter profile, LinkedIn company page, Pinterest account or a YouTube page to attract and engage your audience, then funnel them through your process to become leads.

Plus, once you have leads in the system, you can use social media to talk to them and find out more about what they need and want. The more positive touch points a customer has with your business over time, the more likely he or she will be to trust your brand and eventually purchase from you.

Lead generation should be thought of as a long-term and continuous process. If you get an efficient system in place using the sales lead tips above, you can streamline the lead generation process and increase your opportunities for business growth.

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Saturday, June 16, 2018

Successful Sales Tips for Small Business Owners

Sales is an important part of every small business; it's also a common challenge for many small business owners. If sales is something you struggle with in your small business, it can be helpful to spend some time getting a better understanding of the sales process and fine-tuning your sales skills. With some practice, you can become a better salesperson, one who is not only more comfortable with the process but also more effective.

Here are some tips, tools, and advice to help you improve your sales skills so you can sell your products and services more effectively.

Understanding the Sales Cycle

The first step to becoming a more effective salesperson is refreshing your understanding of the sales cycle. It can become a lot more manageable and less overwhelming when you look at it like a standard process with recurring activities, instead of a leap into the unknown every time you begin the process. Get familiar with the seven stages of the sales cycle that go from prospecting to asking for referrals from the new customer, and begin to systemize the process.

Once you have a solid understanding of the sales cycle, it's time to make it shorter and more targeted. The last thing you want is a sales cycle that goes on and on without ever being able to close the deal. You can control the sales cycle by becoming more efficient at each step and adjusting the time accordingly. With practice, you can reduce the length of the sales cycle and close sales faster.

Creating the Perfect Elevator Pitch

An elevator pitch is a useful tool to have in sales and many other business situations. The more comfortable you are delivering a summary of who you are and what you do, the better you will be able to do it. And this applies to sales meetings, cold calls, and everyday networking.

Writing an elevator pitch may take a little time, but once you have the perfect pitch, you will be able to use it over and over again. Develop a pitch that works in any pre-sales or sales situation.

Writing a Unique Selling Proposition

Another very useful tool in sales is your unique selling proposition (USP). A USP is a statement that outlines how your business, product or service is different from the competition. Your USP can become the cornerstone of your sales pitch that identifies your business as the better choice and explains why prospects should choose you over the competition.

Overcoming Sales Objections

One very common hurdle in the selling process is dealing with sales objections. To get past this challenge, you need a plan in place that helps you identify sales objections so you can build the right arguments to overcome them.

Although every sales process may be different, there are several common sales objections that you will see pop up over and over again. Using the right techniques to overcome them can help you close the sale.

Negotiating Successfully

Negotiation can be a key part the sales process, and the ability to negotiate effectively can be useful in many different business situations. When you are a good negotiator, you can avoid sales objections, make your prospects and customers feel like they have been heard, and close the sale with terms that work for everyone involved.

If you don't know how to negotiate, you may struggle with closing sales. Start with knowing what you want to get, tackle the easiest issues first, and keep compromise in mind and you are on your way to a great negotiation.

By understanding the sales process and practicing the areas where you struggle, you can become a better salesperson who not only has the ability to sell more of your products and services but do it with more confidence.​

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Thursday, June 14, 2018

Get the Right Answer from Analytics by Asking the Right Questions

For all the promise of meaningful positive change in the quality, effectiveness, and cost of healthcare that analytics can bring, there is a downside.

Analytics programs are only good at transforming data into information. It is up to you to make it actionable. For many users, reports selected by software developers and their authors may not fit your unique needs. Selecting what looks like the right report off a menu is far less important than asking the right question and using system capabilities to get the right answers.

The key to effectively using analytics is not to ask which, but, to ask why.

Here’s an example of asking the right question and getting a totally unexpected answer:

Chronic Back Pain Conundrum

Standard claims analytic reports showed that the top diagnosis—and cost—in our patient population is chronic back pain. It breeds co-morbidity like weeds in an unkempt lawn and costs compound as does misery and debilitation.

In a deeper dive, standard reports provided detailed information on who, what, where, and when.

The most important questions, which the report did not answer, are: How? and Why?

But it did provide a clue. A substantial number of patients had either undergone physical therapy or had seen a chiropractor, but not both.

The natural question: Was one more effective, or expensive, than the other?

The answer was a complete surprise, going against convention, expectation, and even published evidence-based medicine and health plan protocols.

A customized study of thousands of patients showed that it is less expensive for those chronic back pain sufferers to see a chiropractor than to undergo physical therapy. And, not by a little. By over $2,400 per year. Each.

Another study approach corroborated the result.

That answered the how.

The “why” took more legwork.

The Value of Caring

Why is a therapy based upon decades of medical convention and science so resoundingly outperformed by one historically on its fringe? Whether science or psychology, results are results.

But this outcome should not have been so unexpected. The chiropractic practice model is warm, welcoming, caring, and sincere, and patients respond by feeling—and doing—better.

Dozens of studies show that staff and physician attitude materially affect everything from procedural outcomes to patient engagement in their treatment.

So fundamentally, good experience equals positive attitude. Positive attitude equals positive results, even in cancer patients.

Process vs. Curiosity

We are all process-oriented by profession—physicians, clinicians and administrators alike.

We are also curious by nature, our curiosity stifled by burdensome regulations, protocols, conventions, conceptions, culture, bureaucrats, litigators, regulators, and behavioral mores thrust upon us by the nature of healthcare, which wants us to be regimented and in lockstep.

As Thomas Jefferson famously said, “A little rebellion now and then is a good thing.”

Rebel. Be curious. Explore. Make the world a better place.

Inquisitiveness rarely leads to inquisition. It does lead to progress.

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Wednesday, June 13, 2018

How to Write a Unique Selling Proposition (USP)

Four Steps to Help You Identify What Makes Your Business Unique

A unique selling proposition (USP), or unique selling position, is a statement that succinctly outlines how your business, product or service is different from that of your competition. It identifies what makes your business the better choice, and why your target clients should choose you over the competition.

Your USP can be an effective tool that helps you focus your marketing goals, and verify that every piece of marketing collateral you create successfully sets you apart from the competition. Your USP can also be an important part of your branding that makes your business memorable.

This four-step exercise will help you write a unique selling proposition for your company, new product or service.

Step 1: Go Back to the Basics

The first step of writing a USP requires that you take a step back and review some of the basics included in your mission statement, business plan, market analysis, and overall business goals.

Start by answering some preliminary questions that recap what your business is selling, who you're selling it to and why you're selling it.

For example, a company that sells moving boxes may compile and answer questions like this:

What products or services are you selling?
Boxes and moving supplies.
Who is your target audience?
Local homeowners who are moving, and don't have a lot of time to look for used boxes in order to pack.
What does your business do well?
We provide quick, responsive service while making the purchasing process easy for our customers.
What is your most important customer-focused business goal?
Helping our customers get the moving supplies they need quickly, easily and affordably.

Step 2: Solve a Problem

The next step is to clearly identify your target audience's problem and explain how your product or service solves that problem.

Our example company that sells moving boxes may identify the potential customer's problem as not being able to easily locate the proper containers when they are packing their belongings and preparing to move.

Step 3: Identify the Differentiators

This step focuses on identifying what it is about your solution to your customer's problem that is different, or better than, the solution your competition offers. The value you identify here will be one of the primary reasons why your customers will choose you instead of a competitor.

The potential differentiators of our moving supply company may be that they offer sturdier boxes, less expensive boxes, complete packing solutions, same-day delivery, or exceptional customer service.

Step 4: Make a Promise

This step combines the most important elements of the previous steps into a concise statement that embodies the value your company has to offer. Keep in mind that your USP essentially implies a promise, or a pledge, you are making to your customers.

The moving supply company, for example, may create a USP that says simply, "Sturdy Boxes in 24 Hours," aimed toward their overwhelmed customers who are getting ready to move, and quickly need boxes that won't collapse.

Once you have a working USP, it's always a good idea to sleep on it, run it by others in your company, or even create a focus group to measure the impact it has. It may take several tries, but once you hit the perfect USP, it can be an integral element of your marketing toolbox.

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Monday, June 11, 2018

12 Tips for Making Your Business Blog a Success

Content marketing can be a powerful tool for all types of small business owners, and a blog is one of the best ways to leverage content. The idea of starting a business blog from scratch may be a bit intimidating, but it doesn't have to be an overwhelming experience. The benefits of starting a business blog can make the process worthwhile. Here are 12 tips for getting started with a business blog and making it a success.

Post Consistently

There are no defined rules when it comes to posting frequency. Whether you post once a week or every day, the most important factor is that you blog on a consistent schedule. In order to establish a following, readers need to know when to expect new content.

Provide Relevant, Useful, and Valuable Information

The more useful the information you post, the more readers you will attract and the more likely they will become regular readers. Remember the old writing mantra: Show, don't tell. If, for example, you are promoting a particular business strategy, provide an example of how and why it was successful.

Ask for and Respond to Comments

Make a point to invite your readers to weigh in and share their opinions in your comments on every post. And when they do have something to say, acknowledge their comments, even when their viewpoint differs from your own.

Have a Focus, but Be Willing to Go Off-Topic

It's good to have a clear focus when it comes to your blogging topics, but too much of anything can be a turnoff. Be willing to introduce new topics or a new way to look at a common topic to add interest and increase engagement.

Make It Easy to Subscribe

If you want your readers to continue reading, put your subscription options in an easy-to-find place. You also can attract more subscribers by offering multiple options. Access to the RSS feed and a post-by-email option are popular choices.

Promote and Share What You Write

Don't expect your readers to catch every single post you write unless you're reminding them that your blog exists. Share links to your blog in social media, on your website, in your newsletters, and even in your email signature, and encourage people to click through.

Mix Up Your Format

If you typically write long all-text posts, try mixing in a few shorter posts or adding images to see if it changes your pageviews. You even can throw in an occasional video post to add a new level of interest.

Have a Point of View

Sometimes, all it takes is a little controversy to get your blog on the map. Don't be afraid to take a stand on a hot topic in your industry, and then encourage discussion in your comments.

Make It Easy to Read

Use subheadings, bullets, and other formatting wherever appropriate to make it easier for your readers to skim and zero in on the information most important to them.

Self-Edit or Find a Proofreader

It can be difficult to catch errors as you write, so try writing your posts a day or two ahead and then coming back to read them again with fresh eyes. Or, if possible, ask a colleague to proof your posts for you to make sure they are error-free.

Share a Little Bit of You

Your business blog may be about business, but that doesn't mean there isn't a place to mention your personal life and experiences. Many times an anecdotal post can attract a new type of reader and give your consistent readers a peek at a new side of you.

It's a Marathon, Not a Sprint

It takes time for a business blog to build momentum, pull in readers, and create a loyal following. Be patient and try not to get discouraged if the progress seems sluggish. Slow, steady, and consistent wins the race when it comes to blogging.

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Saturday, June 9, 2018

10 Questions You Need to Answer to Create a Powerful Marketing Plan

A marketing plan is an essential marketing tool for every small business. To create an effective plan, you'll need to answer the following ten questions:

  • Marketing Strategy: How will your marketing plan support your business goals?
  • Mission Statement: What are you trying to accomplish, and why?
  • Target Market: Who are you trying to reach with your marketing activities?
  • Competitive Analysis: Who are you up against, and where do you rank?
  • Unique Selling Proposition: What makes your business unique?
  • Pricing Strategy: What will you charge, and why?
  • Promotional Plan: How will you reach your target market?
  • Marketing Budget: How much money will you spend, and on what?
  • Action List: What tasks do you need to complete to reach your marketing goals?
  • Metrics: How are you implementing, and where can you improve?

Here's how you can answer each of these ten critical questions.

01 Marketing Strategy: How will your marketing plan support your business goals?

Before you start developing your marketing plan, you need to have a very clear idea of what you want to accomplish. This is your marketing strategy, and it is directly related to your business goals and objectives. Your marketing strategy outlines what you want to do, and the rest of this marketing plan will provide details on how you will do it.

For example, let's say one of your business goals is to expand your brick-and-mortar retail store into an e-commerce website. Your marketing strategy for that goal could be to introduce your products to a new national market segment. You would then break down your strategy even further into short- and long-term objectives, while defining what your specific marketing message will be. Read more about how a marketing strategy and a marketing plan work together.

If you don't have specific business goals yet, walk through this business goal setting guide to get started. Also, make sure you are attaching a specific timeline to your goals (i.e., a 90-day plan). That will help you create a more targeted and realistic marketing plan.

02 Mission Statement: What are you trying to accomplish, and why?

Your mission statement answers the questions: What are you trying to do? Why you are doing it? You may have already created a mission statement as part of your business planning process. If so, you will want to add it to your marketing plan.

In your marketing plan, your mission statement is the foundation. Although it may not play a direct role in your marketing activities, your mission statement focuses on your business goals and helps you make sure that the marketing activities you conduct support the business's overall objectives. It's an effective tool to refer back to whenever you start to question if you are still on the right track.

03 Target Market: Who are you trying to reach with your marketing activities?

Your target market is the specific audience you want to reach with your products and services; the group you will be attempting to sell to. The more details you include as you answer this question, the more targeted your marketing plan will be.

  • Take time to conduct market research so you can identify:
  • Who makes up your target audience
  • Where you can find them
  • What they value as important
  • What they are worried about
  • What they need right now

It's helpful to create a sketch of the person or business that you would consider your "ideal customer." Not only can this help you identify specifics about them, but it can also help you personalize your marketing messaging.

04 Competitive Analysis: Who are you up against, and where do you rank?

One of the best ways to research your target market and prepare your own marketing activities is by looking at your competition. You should know who is out there selling something similar to what you are selling, especially if they are selling it to consumers that fit your ideal customer profile. Take a hard look at what they are doing right, and what they may be doing wrong.

One way to conduct a competitive analysis is with a SWOT analysis, which is a strategic tool that evaluates a company's strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Take time to measure the SWOT of your top competition as well as your own business to get a clear picture of your competition and how you measure up.

Conducting a thorough analysis of your competition will help you identify areas where you can beat the competition, fine-tune your niche market, and make sure you are prepared to address the challenge posed by your competition.

05 Unique Selling Proposition: What makes your business unique?

Once you know what you're up against in the market, you need to identify the approach that will set you apart from everyone else. What makes your business, products and services unique and desirable to your target market?

A unique selling proposition (USP) is a statement that outlines how your business, products or services are different from your competition. It identifies what makes your business the better choice, and why your target clients should choose you over the competition.

Use this unique selling proposition tutorial to craft a USP for your business.

06 Pricing Strategy: What will you charge, and why?

If you have a traditional business plan, then you have already spent a great deal of time researching the best price point for your products and services. Now, it's time to relate that pricing information to your marketing activities.

One of the most important factors to evaluate is how you will work your pricing strategy into your marketing message. In most cases, you want to be able to support the price points you have chosen by providing your customers with a clear idea of the value and benefits they will get in return. A high value proposition is often the factor that leads a customer to the decision to purchase.

If you haven't identified your pricing perspective yet, review this pricing strategy primer to explore the different approaches and consider how they may relate to your business.

07 Promotional Plan: How will you reach your target market?

As a key element of the marketing mix, your promotional plan covers all of the communication that will take place with the consumer. Essentially, your promotional plan answers the question: How will you get the word out about your unique selling proposition to your target market?

Your promotional plan should combine a variety of marketing activities and may include:
  • Advertising
  • Packaging
  • Public relations
  • Direct sales
  • Internet marketing
  • Sales promotions
  • Marketing materials
  • Other publicity efforts

While you don't want to throw too many variations into your promotional plan in the beginning, you should start by selecting 3-5 specific activities that will help you execute the marketing strategy that you outlined in the first step.

For example, if one of your goals is to provide five free initial consultations within three months, then your promotional plan may include focusing on targeted leads through a cold calling campaign, a social media outreach plan and a direct mail campaign.

This step should be completed at the same time as the next step since your budget will impact what activities you can include on your plan.

08 Marketing Budget: How much money will you spend, and on what?

As you outline a promotional plan, you will need to have a budget in place so you can determine which activities you can afford while staying within your budget. Unfortunately, most new small businesses have a limited budget when it comes to marketing, so creating a promotional plan that works with the funds you have available is vital.

You may have an annual marketing budget, but it will also be necessary to break it down into separate monthly budgets so you can track results and modify the promotional plan to focus on the activities that provide you with the biggest return on investment.

To get you started, here is a marketing budget template from, and another template from Microsoft Office.

09 Action List: What tasks do you need to complete to reach your marketing goals?

Outlining exactly what you need to do and when you need to do it is an important part of your marketing plan. This will become your task list that guides you through every one of your promotional activities. Your action steps will help you stay on track so you can make consistent progress, without having to regroup and recreate the wheel every time you're ready to take a step.

To create your marketing plan action list, you will follow the same process you use when you manage your regular daily tasks: You will take the end goal, and break it down into a series of single-step tasks that will lead you to achieving your goal.

For example, if one of the activities outlined in your promotional plan is to launch a direct mail campaign, your first few action steps may look like this:
  • Determine your budget for the campaign
  • Clarify your objective of the campaign
  • Determine the type of direct mail you will send
  • Hire a designer or firm to create your collateral
  • Write (or hire out) the copy for the direct mail piece
  • Clarify the call to action
  • Have a draft of the direct mail piece created

Your action list can take a number of different forms, as long as it is created in a way that supports progress. Each action item should also include a due date that works with the timeline you created for your marketing plan. And typically, the smaller the steps, the easier it will be for you to complete tasks and build momentum.

10 Metrics: What results have you achieved, and where can you improve?

All of this work you've put into creating a marketing plan for your small business will go out the window if you can't track and measure the results of your activities. This step will allow you to take your marketing plan from a one-time, static document and turn it into a breathing blueprint that will grow and develop with your business.

The way you track and measure your results will depend on the type of marketing tactics you engage in. For example, online marketing can be tracked using analytics and other Internet-based metrics, while tracking offline marketing methods will require a more manual approach.

In general, the more standardized your system for tracking, the more relevant your results will be ... and the more successful you will become at tailoring your marketing activities to focus on the areas where you will have the most success.

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