Sometimes your sales are going through the roof and then suddenly they come to a halt, the work disappears and you must scramble to start your marketing cycle from scratch again. This economic roller coaster ride is all too common for small business owners.
Landing one or two very large clients can provide consistent work and cash flow but presents a potential danger, too. Putting all your eggs in one basket and focusing on these, while failing to prospect for new clients, isn’t always wise.
The roller coaster problem is compounded by the fact that small business owners are often required to wear many different hats at the same time: meeting deadlines, addressing client concerns or employee demands, and dealing with cash-flow issues. On top of this, there are personal and family matters, which can be inescapable when working from a home office.
When you’re busy and the business is humming along nicely, it’s easy to neglect the very thing that got the sales going in the first place. Then, when sales drop off, panic sets in again. How can you turn this feast-or-famine cycle into a smooth, stress-free ride?
The Solution: Seven Steps to Keeping Your Sales Pipeline Filled and Flowing
Picture your sales cycle as a funnel, wide at the top and narrow at the bottom. You need to keep as many prospective clients as possible entering the top of your funnel, then filtering down to your required number of new clients and signed contracts coming from the bottom. The idea is to always keep a constant stream of prospects entering your funnel.
Step One: Decide How Many New Customers or Sales You Need Each Month
What number would be ideal? What is the minimum number of clients (and sales revenue) you can get by with? How many is too many, and could strain your resources and compromise your service?
Be crystal clear about who you are marketing to. If you haven’t done so already, create a profile of your ideal customer.
Step Two: Understand Your Sales Cycle
How many initial prospects do you need to contact in order to make a presentation? How many presentations do you need to make to gain one new client? What is your closing ratio? It boils down to a numbers game.
Step Three: Select Activities to Meet Your Prospects
Based on the number of initial contacts that you need to make, how many networking events will you need to attend, flyers will you need to mail, calls will you have to make?
What sort of prospect-generating activities will work best for you, fit your personality and put you in front of your target clients?
Remember: When you’ve made these contacts, stay in touch with them, nurture them and keep your name in front of them.
Step Four: Your Sales-Cycle Timing
In order to plan and predict cash flow, you need to understand the timing of your sales cycle. What is the average length of time from the initial contact to closing the sale and signing the contract or selling your product?
Step Five: Your Marketing Budget
Establish a marketing budget. Be aware of the cost in time as well as dollars. A series of print ads in the local newspaper or trade journal may cost thousands of dollars, but take very little of your time; whereas attending networking events is relatively inexpensive, but will take many hours of your time. Don’t forget to compare the cost of gaining a new customer versus the cost of marketing to existing customers.
Step Six: Decide on Your Marketing Strategy
Select marketing activities that fit your budget, your available time and your personality. Consistency is key — make marketing activities part of your daily routine!
Be selective You can’t do everything, so choose a few activities that will work well for you.
Be realistic: Choose activities that you will do without procrastinating. Know yourself, and if you have issues that may sabotage your plan, you have two options:
a) Get help and change
b) Hire someone else to do it
Be creative: Don’t just stick with what is familiar or comfortable. Try something different — think outside the box. Choose more than one marketing approach.
Study other companies that are marketing successfully, talk to those responsible and find out what they’re doing, and how and why it’s working well for them.
Step Seven: Track Your Progress Regularly
Evaluate how well your plan is working. Find out which marketing methods are the most effective and are producing the best return on your dollar and time. Keep a log in a simple spreadsheet and track everything.
After analyzing their marketing results, a maid service discovered that their expensive display ad in the Yellow Pages generated inquiries only during the peak season, when they were already working at maximum capacity. However, less-expensive, but attractive door hangers with a discount coupon produced long term clients in just the right neighborhoods, enabling their teams to be more efficient.
The Bottom Line: Balance and Consistency
Your current customers need your attention too. Servicing them is a priority. However, you can never afford to “put marketing on the back burner for now,” which can be especially tempting if you don’t enjoy marketing. With limited time available, you must become as well organized, efficient and resourceful as possible. Use technology to your advantage; create and maintain a good database to communicate with customers and prospects. Employ the best possible contact management software for a business of your type and size.
Never buy into the misconception that you only need to market during slow times. No matter how busy you are, continue marketing. To stay ahead in business and avoid stressful cash flow ups and downs, marketing activities must become a regular part of your week. Set up your marketing plan, faithfully follow it, and enjoy a smooth, hassle-free ride!