Losing sight of the sale

Eyeing the prospective customer

I went to the local optician a couple of weeks ago. I had the usual eye test and photos taken of my retinas, and all was fine, except I needed to have my prescription changed. That would be the expensive bit.

Eye tests are cheap and cannot be profitable for an optician given the time they take. The value is selling the glasses or spectacles, and / or the contact lenses.

The local optician is a friendly place. We are greeted pleasantly, offered tea or coffee etc. and made to feel really welcome. I had my eye test and was ready to buy.

Customer in plain sight

I saw the lady who does the spectacle fitting and helps customers choose their frames. I knew I would have to shell out quite a lot of money with the list they had shown me. However, I will tell you a secret, though it may not be such a revelation if we have met. Anyway, here it is: I have quite a large head, which means I wear quite large sizes in hats and therefore in spectacle frame widths.

The lady could not find a frame in my size that I liked. In fact she had hardly any frames in my size. Now I would have thought that I could choose the style and she could order the frame and have the lenses fitted, but apparently not. She let me go without ordering and said she would check the other two shops they have for something suitable.

After ten days or so I popped back in the shop to see whether any suitable frames had been found. The lady knew roughly the style I had liked; that is inasmuch as one ever likes a new pair of specs. None had been found. I do not know if she had looked, but why not? After all I was a customer waiting to be reeled in for the sale.

Lack of vision

You will not be surprised to hear that rather than waste any more time I took my prescription to one of the larger chains of opticians and selected frames for them to fit with my new lenses. And do you know what? They cost 40% less than I had been prepared to pay at the local optician.

I often say that we need to make our clients and our potential customers feel wanted; to give them that warm feeling inside. I had that at my local optician, but they were not geared up to make the sale. It was not just a question of not being able to offer what I wanted and was willing to buy. They didn’t have what I actually needed.

How an earth can anyone run a business which takes great trouble identifying a need but then cannot deliver what the customer requires?

All small businesses need to deliver what they purport to offer, otherwise they will get a reputation as unreliable. The service needs to be seamless otherwise there will be tears and lost sales.

Does your business live up to your marketing promises? Does it do what it says on the tin?

Do you really have a business? Part 3

Holiday cottage

Putting all your eggs in too small a basket

Leisure renting is popular. Those who know me better are aware that I have an interest in let property. There is quite a boom in buy-to-let even in these difficult times. One of the most potentially profitable rental opportunities is what is known as “furnished holiday lettings”. In the UK that means renting out holiday cottages, houses, flats and apartments.

The minus side of letting holiday property is that the season may not be all that long. There is potential for a lot of money to be made in the high season through short-term lets. This should leave a tidy profit even allowing for periods off-season when the units might be empty, or let at a much lower rent usually to tenants staying longer.

Being the best

Of course the services provided must be excellent whether you do the work yourself, or employ an agency. The secret of making money from any holiday letting or indeed even from a guest house is location. The accommodation has to be in place where people would normally want to be , so near the sea or in picturesque countryside for walking. You get the picture.

If you don’t have a location like that you have to be very good at marketing and persuading customers of the merits of your local area. You also have to have very attractive and spacious accommodation. If you don’t, however much money you put in the business you will end up working for nothing.

Do your research

Ask yourself:

  • Is the accommodation large enough?
  • Will I get a good return on investment?
  • Am I in the right place?
  • If I am not in the “right place”, can I compensate through marketing an by being exceptional and different?

If you can plan for the worst and you would still make a profit, then think how much you can make if the worst never happens. Usually it doesn’t. Have you thought about being in the holiday business?

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Do you really have a business? Part 2

The country pub

Out in the country

Last time I discussed the problems for a catering-type business in town, in part limited by the premises and the high rents. At least if they had proper footfall they could make money with the right sort of products.

Some businesses which provide food or entertainment to the public may be considerably out of town. Life isn’t easy out there without good planning. Of course there are some excellent pubs serving fine food. You know them by their reputation and their marketing (you have to know they are there) and because you have been to sampled their excellent cuisine.

That is the point, though. They have to be really good to survive and to have the added attractions of a good chef. I cannot think of an established out-of-town public house which just serves alcohol plus peanuts and crisps. That model doesn’t work any more. The public is more keen to avoid drinking and driving than in the past, and attitudes and family values have changed. There is a need for places where you can take the kids or leave them with granny and granddad for an hour or so so that you can enjoy a pleasant dinner. Life is different.

Adapt or die

The carnage amongst pubs over the past decade had been appalling. So many have closed down altogether. Many landlords have found themselves unable to move fast enough or have been unable to get finance to make changes to their pub businesses before their dwindling trade left them with nowhere to go.

I try to help businesses that are in trouble and therefore have in recent years looked out for those that have County Court Judgements against them for debts unpaid. They are potential clients although many are bankrupt before you get to them. At one time three or four years ago about a third of all on the monthly lists were pubs and their owners.

The survivors amongst the country pubs are those who have turned themselves into good family restaurants and some are doing very well.

Implementing Plan B

We all have to change our businesses sometimes. If our model isn’t working any more, we have to get a new business plan; a real one and not one just to convince the bank about lending money, which we can hardly count on these days anyway.

Have you reinvented your business?

Photo courtesy of  Twin Peaks

Never assume

Happy customers

Once upon a time, my first job was with an international and mainly Far-Eastern bank. I wrote a nice letter of application in my best handwriting and was placed in the “Income Tax Department”. We only dealt with personal tax. Most of the bank customers we looked after had share portfolios, which were a lot more popular then than they are now.

I was taught the basics of dividend listing for tax returns. I remember with one of the early cases I was given I had compiled my dividend list in part from a book called Moody’s Dividends because some of the customer’s dividend vouchers were missing. I was quite proud of my initiative in looking up these dividends, having been shown how by another junior; the one next up the pecking order from me. I had replaced her as the tea-maker.

When I thought I had finished my dividend list I took my work to be checked by one of the more experienced clerks (remember we worked for a bank). I had to sit next to him while he went through my work.

His first question was “Why have you put in the list dividends for which you haven’t got vouchers?”

I said “I assumed they must have been paid” to which he responded “Never assume!”

Of course he was right. The shares might have been sold. Perhaps they were and there was a possible capital gain to declare. I should have asked questions. Of course that was my inexperience showing, but “Never assume” really should be our motto in business and maybe in our personal lives too.

  • Never assume our prospect knows what she wants
  • Never assume our prospect knows what we do and how we can help.
  • When we are working for our client, never assume any fact if there is any possibility we are wrong, for the job can then go wrong.
  • Never assume our client has told us everything. Ask those questions as I should gave done as a teenage junior.
  • Never assume our customer is happy with what we have done. Ask her if she is happy. Ask her if we could have done anything better.
  • Never assume our customer will keep coming back. Stay in touch with him. Make a telephone call if we have not heard from him for a while. Customer relationships are so important.
  • In fact, never assume.

That more experienced clerk who taught me a great lesson has been retired quite a while. I saw him at one of those staff reunions a few months back. Of course he doesn’t remember giving that lesson but I have never forgotten it. Facts are what we know. Everything else needs to be checked to ensure business runs smoothly, we make money, and customers keep coming back.

I try never to assume. Have you ever made an assumption which got you into trouble?

Shops and the personal touch


That friendly hardware store

Times are changing

There is no question that shopping has moved on in the last couple of decades. It has moved to out-of-town retail parks and it has moved on-line. As a result, many shop premises in the UK are empty, and the owners of those shops that remain are struggling with their businesses, just to keep afloat.

When town and village shopping areas on what used to be the main drag dwindle away, so does the sense of community. People always used to feel that they belonged in the area they lived; a sort of neighbourhood spirit. All that gets lost when shopping moves away. It even affects the other centres of gathering such as community centres, and the local pub is not what it was in terms of old-fashioned gatherings of friends.

Queen of Shops

Even Government has recognised that there is a social change as a result of the drift from the High Streets. We have had a very commendable report from Mary Portas, “Queen of Shops”, as to how to cut through the bureaucracy and red tape and also to change the thinking of the local authorities.

Even so, local shop owners need to think how to engage their customers so that they “belong”. It is all about getting a following, and in a way it is the same process as getting one on Twitter or Facebook. Businesses have to be interesting, and chatty, and when they discuss their products it needs to be in a friendly helpful way, with no blatant selling.

Getting personal

My own local village has two major supermarket companies who have small stores by their standard. It is not really fair to our local (franchise-owner) grocer, but that is life. However the four obviously successful shop businesses in our local community all have one things in common, and that is the personal touch.

A while back I mentioned our local Chinese takeaway.  Actually, we have two, but only one cooks your food to order in front of you. People love to watch.

Then we have the bakery. That is quite a distinction from a bread shop, which just buys in its products. If you pass the bakery in the small hours (I don’t very often) you can see the bread being baked. All food shops of this sort probably need to buy in a certain amount, but if we can say that what we buy is locally produced that induces that sense of belonging. The bakery staff also recognise their customers and chat, again making a connection we don’t get in the supermarket.

In our village, we get the same experience in the fish-and-chip shop as in the bakery. The staff are friendly, and we can see our food being freshly cooked.

The fourth great business is the hardware store. One might expect they would struggle against the out-of-town retail and DIY outlets. Their secret is that their staff are so helpful. If you cannot see an item you want, they can usually find it somewhere. If not they can order it. If you need a special light bulb for your granny’s night light they will find it and fit it for you. They are more expensive than the big store in the shopping park, but you get great service, and save the cost of expensive fuel.

Old-fashioned value

What do all these businesses give you? That’s right: value for money, that feeling that they what they offer is worth paying for. They can charge more than the big outlets because they have to in order to be profitable, but they also have a loyal customer base. That is known as goodwill, and it is so important.

In a sense, these businesses over-deliver, or at least they appear to. That extra personal touch is so important in keeping the loyalties of all our customers, whether or not we are High Street businesses Those that run shops in the High Street or village street can still make it once again the Main Drag, but it will take that personal touch.

Do you remember to get personal in your business?


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Last chance to buy! Last chance to register!

English: Mike Michalowicz, Author of The Toile...

Mike Michalowicz, Author of The Toilet Paper Entrepreneur -(Photo credit: Wikipedia by Scott Bradley)

Do you get those annoying emails saying either of the above? How often can you remember having had a previous email offering you the same opportunity? You probably didn’t.

The sender is trying to make you think you are going to miss out on a special offer if you don’t get right in there now and sign up.

It is a good trick, and infuriating though it is, many of us can try that little trick in our marketing.

Here are some other handy tricks at least as good as that one, recommended by Mike Michalowicz and entitled 9 Slimy Sales Tricks That Work

Do you have a favourite little sales ploy?

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The Marketing Apple


Practical phone

Taking a bite

Some people get really upset about Apple, so much so that when a writer gives his take on why Apple is so successful in marketing their products, commenters immediately take it as a criticism or bashing of competitors and particularly one, which is dear old Microsoft.

Whether we agree with the writer that Apple do operate in a vacuum, there is no doubt that their marketing and image is extremely successful, such that the fashionistas in the tech-consumer world fall over themselves to buy the latest product. It doesn’t matter to these consumers whether they actually need the functions of the latest IPhone. They like to be seen with that latest gadget.

That fashion element drives the price too, so that Apple can make a tidy margin and a bigger profit on turnover than others who sell gadgets.

Practical wireless

I am not one of those consumers. I have an Android phone so that I can check my email and calendar and Facebook if I really want to. I can post to Twitter, but if I am honest I seldom “do” social media with my phone. That is because I have perfectly good computers which are more easily used for that purpose than a phone because I have “fat fingers”. But then I am the guy who when starting out in ham radio did not have the ability to build my own set but declined (and did not have the money) to buy a new “rig” as we call them. I bought an army surplus radio (19 Set) and adapted it for amateur radio use with a little help or at least advice from my friends.

So I admit I am the type who acquires the functionality I need. I “make do and mend”. It is great to take an apparently obsolete PC, load Linux and see it go with speed and more functionality than it ever had when it was new.

I would be that certain sort of client or customer who is practical. I would like to know how everything worked before I bought a product or service. To sell to me you would have to explain in every detail what I was buying and how it would benefit me.

Practical selling

Yet if I were an Apple fanatic I wouldn’t be bothered about the detail. I would be more interested in owning the latest whizzy gadget, being seen with it and showing it to my friends.

When we are prospecting for business or seeing a potential customer, we must remember there is more than one sort of buyer. We must adapt our sales technique to the person, whether it is the “mechanic” like me who needs to understand the fine detail, or the feel-good purchaser that has made Apple such a success.

I don’t buy Apple because their products don’t have a good fit with my business. I don’t knock them either. You have to admire their style as they appeal to their customers’ style. Are you an Apple person?


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Selling yourself short


At Greve de Lecq, Jersey


As I said the other day, restaurants so often show the best and worst examples of how to do business, all in an hour or so.

On our recent trip away, my wife and I visited another bar-restaurant for lunch, looking for a snack to leave plenty of room for dinner later. My wife ordered squid and I ordered a steak sandwich. A steak sandwich is rather more than a snack you might think, but it was priced at £6.95 which is about US $11 at the time of writing. At that price I thought it would be only a small snack-sized sandwich, but when my dish arrived it consited of an absolutely enormous steak with fries, an excellent dressed salad and Dijon mustard, plus a long bread roll. The squid dish was of very generous proportion too.

The meal was delicious, but it was a really big meal. On those grounds I would absolutely recommend the restaurant, so please ask if you are going to Jersey. (Channel Islands, not USA).

Don’t be too cheap

So what is the problem? Well, none for me except I had no room left for dinner, but for a meal of that quality and size I would have paid twice as much, especially to eat it in that setting. The problem is that the restaurant owners are not valuing themselves and their business highly enough. At the price they sell their food, their margins surely cannot be great, yet they could make far greater profit selling quality food in good surroundings and still have very happy customers.

The race to the bottom and staying on top

In terms of competition so many businesses compete in the race to the bottom on price, when often if they checked properly, they are not comparing like with like. If you have a great product or service you really should sell it on its true value to the customer. You can make yourself more money which you deserve for your hard work, and if you feel really guilty about making a good profit (and no one should) you can reward your employees better too, so everyone will be happy.

Have you sold yourself short in the past?

Being too sure of yourself

Pieter Bruegel the Elder: The Seven Deadly Sin...

Pieter Bruegel the Elder: The Seven Deadly Sins or the Seven Vices - Pride (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We have worked hard to be where we are. We have tried to learn all the demands of the business we are in. We keep ourselves up to date with every bit of news in our industry, every change in the law which may affect us or our customers and every social media tip to advance our business and help those customers.

We might think we know it all, and (warning, cliché alert) we have got the tee-shirt. But we don’t know it all.

It is all to easy to tell our customers and clients what to do to fit in with us and what we think is right, but we need to listen to them first. Unless we listen, we don’t know what they have to tell us which ought to affect what we need to advise them about. For many small business service providers, listening to customers’ problems helps us know what they need, and therefore helps us make the sale.

Arrogance is a sin in business; a step beyond Pride, one of the Seven Deadly Sins. Humility when helping those who provide our business income is a handy virtue.

Have you been on the wrong end of someone else’s arrogance?

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Doorstep selling in the twenty-first century

A book worth reading

These days I mainly work from home though obviously I go out to visit clients and those who are providing me with support services to help me run my business. One of the hazards of being home-based is being “doorstepped” by people selling products and religion. I am not sure how well either tactic will have worked in the past, but it certainly doesn’t work with me. I probably haven’t given much thought as to whether I need whatever is being sold and even if I had I would want to shop around for the most suitable deal which might not necessarily be the cheapest.

When I started my own business for the first time I went on sales courses which involved learning the techniques of hard selling, getting prospects to sign up for business advice or whatever on the basis of a visit arranged by an appointment maker. I wasn’t very good at the hard sell, or maybe it was never going to work anyway because people are naturally resistant, as I would be when faced by a double-glazing salesperson I didn’t really want to see.

Whether or not the hard sell worked or still works for the sort of thing I do, I am very uncomfortable with it. I don’t like getting people out of their comfort-zone because that involves me getting out of my comfort-zone. And I only want to get out of my comfort-zone when doing something positive for my business by making a difficult but necessary choice which I can recognise. That might be buying-in marketing from an expert, or setting the legal dogs on a non-payer (fortunately rare).

I am not an expert in selling, but that is all right because my marketing brings me warm leads and referrals which are even better. Of course the referral business is a two-way street, but isn’t it great when you put together two people who need each other?

As we know that is the basis of selling really; having our prospects recognise that they have a need. I learned that partly for experience, but also from reading Zig Ziglar right after I found that the hard sell didn’t work for me. His folk wisdom of selling resonated much more with me.

In face-to-face meetings I rarely fail to close new business if I decide I want it and it is the right deal for the client. My new clients have identified their own needs and invited me to visit.

I have bought double glazing after seeing salespeople from three or four different companies. I had identified my own need and chose what I thought was the best product, which was not the cheapest deal offered.

I don’t think doorstep selling is very effective, whether physically on the doorstep or from other unsolicited calls. In difficult economic times I would have thought it of very little value. My concern is that it is only likely to succeed with those who are vulnerable such as the some elderly people and some more unsophisticated individuals. That makes it a rather unethical process. What do you think?