Posts Tagged ‘sales’

Is Your Business Ready for Emotion Reognition Software?

May 9, 2011

by Doug Smith, President, The Woodhaven Group, LLC

Every business owner is looking for the next marketing technology breakthrough that will bring more sales and cash flow into their business.

At one time that breakthrough was the advent of television.  Running spots on the evening news or prime time meant increased sales and more cash coming in to invest in new business ventures.

Then along came the computer with the opportunity to communicate the brand through optimized websites, email marketing, and social media.  The benefit of the internet has been the ability to track results and more effectively target the marketing message to a segmented audience.

Now, technology may be ready to go to the next step.

For years, companies like Sony and Google, universities like MIT, and even law enforcement groups like Homeland Security and Interpol have been experimenting with facial recognition software.

Different areas of the face can be monitored for a change in emotions from happiness to sadness to fear to many more feelings of the moment.  Based upon these behavioral responses marketing experts can do a better job of getting feedback from focus groups and individual customer interviews.

This technology may not be ready to use for the average business just yet.

But imagine the possibility of the future……….

A consumer’s web camera on their laptop is monitoring their current emotions as they search a topic on Google.  Based upon their emotion and historical response, ads could be populated in the sponsored ads section or in the display ad of a website.

I am sure the consumer advocates concerned with privacy will have something to say about this approach.

But the thought of increasing business cash flow from a more productive use of marketing is an intriguing thought to consider.

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Do Not Forget To Use a Call To Action When Running An Ad

May 8, 2011

by Doug Smith, President, The Woodhaven Group, LLC

Many companies forget that in marketing the key to increasing sales and business cash flow is an effective call to action, often times referred to as a CTA.

I have had many business owners and CEOs ask me why their advertising was not performing.  They had beautiful graphics or photos.  A great job was done of listing features and benefits.  Lots of money was spent on a beautiful logo.

But, what was missing?

Very simply, what was missing was a failure to include a call to action which is a reason for the prospect to act and take the next step in the buying cycle.

It may be saying “click here” on an e-commerce site but more often it is an offer the prospect cannot refuse. Here are a few examples that have worked for me:

  • Buy 2 get 1 free
  • Free shipping or delivery
  • 50% off the regular list price
  • A specific sale price also showing the regular price and the savings realized by the buyer
  • A free service such as free alterations with the purchase of a suit

There are 2 important tips to a winning call to action:

  1. The offer has to be real, legitimate and have a perceived value in the mind of the buyer.  Never inflate the regular comparable price just to make the offer look better.
  2. There has to be a deadline to act in order to create a sense of urgency.

Regardless of the marketing channel used, the next time your business runs an ad, in order to increase cash flow and sales, make sure to not forget an effective call to action.

Will Groupon Increase Business Cash Flow?

May 4, 2011

by Doug Smith, President, The Woodhaven Group, LLC

I have to admit that I have not used Groupon or the other coupon sites from a seller standpoint at this time.

But I am intrigued by the potential these sites have to offer.

I know there are businesses that love what coupon sites do to sales and return time and again to using Groupon and sites similar to it.

Having said that, here are a few questions an owner or CEO should ask themselves before taking the online coupon plunge:

  • Who is your customer?  What do they really want and expect from your company?  While everyone likes a deal, do they expect you to be selling your products or services at 50% off?  Are they more price driven or value driven?  Any new prospect you attract should be similar to your existing loyal customer.
  • What is the impact on your brand?  What message do you want prospects and customers to hear from you?  Is the coupon call-to-action aligned with the value proposition your company has invested time and money in developing?
  • What is the cost to acquire a new customer?  You should know this.  What % of the coupon users will return to buy the next time at full price?  Run scenarios to see if you like the cost of customer acquisition.
  • What is the profit per sale and are you comfortable with that?  Run the numbers on gross margin and overall cost of marketing.   If the coupon site takes 50% upfront, what will you be left with after the sale?  
  • What is the impact on your existing customer? Will they expect the same offer even if they do not act on the coupon?  If you offer them the same discount as the coupon, would they have purchased anyway but at full price?  Do their expectations of your company change going forward?

Those are just a few of many questions to consider prior to using the online coupon channel of marketing.

Lastly, I would talk to businesses similar to yours who have used Groupon and similar coupon sites.  Ask them what worked and what they would do differently.  The beauty of Groupon and others like it is that you can learn from the experiences of others.

What do you want to accomplish from using online coupons?

Profitably increasing your business cash flow should be at the top of your list.

5 Signs Your Business is in Trouble

May 3, 2011

by Doug Smith, President, The Woodhaven Group, LLC

Here are 5 critical early stage signs that your company may be in trouble.  They all have to do with poor cash flow. If you are experiencing 1 or more of these,  as owner or CEO, you must act immediately:

  1. Vendors are reducing your credit limit:  This may be due to failure to pay on time, a poor credit report, reduction in the amount ordered or simply rumors about your company from other suppliers.  Are they asking for payment before they will ship the next order to you?
  2. Top people leaving for other companies:  When a company is in trouble the weakest performers will be the last to leave.  The top people will notice problems and find reasons to change companies.  Be concerned if this starts happening as the top people in your company will be talking to each other.
  3. Your accounts receivable balance is increasing:  This is the cash your company needs to live on.  If sales are not increasing but the accounts receivable balance is going up then you need to find out why and fix it.  Are there quality problems?  Are invoices not being mailed on time?  Do you have a couple large customers in financial trouble?  Is anyone assigned to work slow payers?
  4. Inventory and accounts payable are increasing but sales are down:  Is someone ordering inventory as if there is a big sales increase occurring?  Who is approving purchase orders?  Get with key suppliers and see if you can return inventory and get a credit off the next invoice.
  5. Gross margin is dropping:  This is cash not available for the company to use.  Is there a quality problem requiring replenishment of goods sold?  Was there a price increase from a supplier that was not passed on?  Is the sales department giving price breaks just to get orders?  Are competitors offering a better product and sales is cutting price to compete?

Management must maintain a dashboard of key indicators that are monitored daily or weekly.  This will allow the management team to identify problems early on and take action.

A Business Must Pry Loose Consumer Savings

August 4, 2010

by Doug Smith, President, The Woodhaven Group

It has been widely reported that businesses of all sizes have accumulated cash over the last year to reduce debt and have a cash flow cushion going forward.

Someone else is doing the same thing.

The consumer has decided that saving money is a good and needed strategy for themselves and their families.

The US government reported that consumers saved 6.4% of after tax income for the month of July.  This trend in increased savings has been happening now for a few months.  Compare this savings rate to 1%+ prior to the economic chaos that started in 2008.

Why is the consumer deciding to save more at this point in time?  Here are a few reasons as I see them:

  • It is no secret that consumers are trying to reduce any and all debt they have.
  • Uncertainty plays a major role in consumer psychology.  The consumer is telling themselves that caution is the best strategy and that means saving dollars until they can get a better “feel” on the future of the economy.
  • The consumer is becoming wiser.  Part of what got the consumer and the country into economic trouble was spending on unnecessary products and services as well as houses bigger than were needed.  You can add to that a few vacation homes.  Now the consumer is still spending, but it is on more necessities and less on “feel good” items with no lasting value. Some of the remaining dollars is going into savings.

In spite of this new pragmatic approach by the consumer, businesses still have to generate sales.  The consumer has not stopped buying. They are just buying less and being more cautious.  A company needs to capitalize on that mindset.  Here is how to do it:

  1. Know who your target customer is and channel your available marketing dollars at that customer.  As  a business, you do not have the luxury of using a shotgun approach.  That only wastes cash flow.
  2. Know which of your services or products is most desired at this time by your target customer.  Don’t make the mistake of emphasizing secondary products, styles, colors, sizes, or categories in your offering.  Lead with your strength.  Do research to find out what that is if necessary.
  3. The consumer right now appears to only be buying bargains.  So give them a bargain.  Find a way to promote your most wanted items to the target customer at a price point they cannot refuse. Then cross market and up sell to increase the average sale and bump up margin.
  4. Offer the best guarantee or warranty that you possibly can.  The consumer is not very trusting right now.  Let them know that once they finally decide to buy that they can have peace of mind that their purchase will not be a mistake.  Trust and credibility in the seller is currently an important part of the buyers decision-making strategy. 

The consumer has money to spend.  And they will spend it given a good reason to do so.

It is up to the owner or CEO to give the consumer a valid reason to dip into the increase in savings and spend it with your company.

Calculate Revenue Per Employee To Increase Productivity And Cash Flow

July 22, 2010

by Doug Smith, President, The Woodhaven Group

If your company is increasing productivity then chances are the cash flow  of your business is also improving.

That is a good thing.

But how do you know if the productivity of your business is showing improvement?

Is there a quick easy way for an owner or CEO to know if the efforts to improve productivity compared to other businesses is working?

Yes there is.  One quick metric that will give the owner a snapshot is Revenue per Employee.  It is simply total revenue or sales divided by the number of employees.  If your company can increase sales while staying at the same employee level then it tells you that  the combined efforts of all employees is having a positive impact on sales growth and probably on cash flow.

Industries differ in the Revenue per Employee calculation that is reported.  Software companies and oil companies can have a high Revenue per Employee while retailers may show a smaller Revenue per Employee.  J. Bryan Scott showed an interesting table right here of 100 companies and their Revenue per Employee totals.

For the owner, it is critical that you define what an employee is.  I have always liked to use full-time equivalents (FTE).  For example, 2 part-time 20 hour employees equal 1 full-time 40 hour employee.  I would define how many hours is a FTE and divide that into total hours  worked.  That is my number of employees.  I take the sales total and divide by the number of employees to get my Revenue per Employee.  Retailers are often a good example of why FTE needs to be used.  Some retailers choose to employ primarily part-time employees while others choose to employ primarily full-time.  Wal Mart probably has a low Revenue per Employee number if they don’t calculate using FTE.

The other caveat is to recognize when comparing to other companies that they may have a high percentage of their work done by outside contractors who are not employees.  As a result, the company will appear very productive because there would be a high Revenue per Employee reported.  I would imagine Microsoft and oil companies like BP or Shell that use a lot of outside contractors will have high Revenue per Employee calculations.  

When it is all said and done, the truest measurement of productivity using Revenue per Employee is to track the trend in your own company.  Is Revenue per Employee going up or down?  Take the best year of sales and profitability in the history of your company and use that year’s Revenue per Employee calculation as a baseline to compare to.  If I had a bad 2nd quarter, I would want to compare the Revenue per Employee back against that baseline year.  Then I would take action to get to my baseline for the next quarter.

If you have an industry association where everyone computes Revenue per Employee the same way, then that becomes a great way to measure how productive your company is.

As an annual goal for my company, I would always challenge my management team with an aggressive improvement in Revenue per Employee.  I know that if I hit the goal then I probably had a great year from a sales, profit and cash flow standpoint.

I would be interested to know if your company has had success using Revenue per Employee as a productivity calculation.

10 Creative Ideas To Increase Sales Now!

July 13, 2010

by Doug Smith, President, The Woodhaven Group

As a business owner or CEO you must create and maintain positive cash flow in your business.  It is your #1 priority.

Let’s be clear where that cash flow is not going to come from.  The amount of loans to small businesses fell in the 1rst quarter of 2010 compared to 2 years earlier.  Banks and other private lenders are being more choosy about who is getting any type of small business loan.  Regardless of good cash flow projections and collateral, some businesses still are not receiving the lines of credit needed to operate their businesses.

As an owner, I would not automatically assume funds will be available from my local lender.      

There is one solution that will work.  The small business owner must find ways to increase sales.  The smart owner has already cut expenses, gotten extended terms from suppliers and probably tapped into personal investments.  More sales will bring more of the business cash flow your company needs to survive and grow.

Your company will need to do creative and unique tactics to spring loose the purse strings of the consumer or business who is your customer.

Start doing these 10 things today to increase sales:

  1. Learn more about the needs and wants of your customer.  Find better solutions to their problems and market to that.  In one word, “listen” to the individual customer more than before.  You may find that there is a whole category of products or services your company should have been selling to him that will increase your sales.
  2. Monitor and use social media.  There are many ways to use social media to generate sales.  The overriding method is to use social media to build relationships with customers and noncustomers.  Monitor for  complaints about competitors and offer a solution.  Monitor for complaints about your own company and be there to take ownership of the problem.  Incorporate surveys, contests, and links to websites, including your own.  All of this can position your company as a credible source of information. The end result will be an opportunity to create a new customer.
  3. Use email marketing to strengthen customer relationships.  This is not an opportunity to just email blast special offers constantly.  Instead, use emails to target a message about the benefits of your product, new information on your industry, an interview with a local business leader or an update on coming events involving your company.  Email marketing is an inexpensive way to stay in touch with your customer.  A call to action can still be included to trigger additional purchases.
  4. Get lapsed customers reinstated.  If you sell to other businesses then call on the company.  If you sell to consumers then send a personalized letter to each customer with a special coupon.  Don’t let them forget about you.
  5. Offer extended terms.  Help your customer finance the purchase.  Chances are your customer needs your product.  Here is a way to show that you are there to help them.  Instead of normal 30 day terms, extend out to 60 or 90 days.  Of course, make sure this offer is to creditworthy customers.
  6. Offer an unusual promotion.  Check the gross margin of your most popular products and offer something different to pry loose the spending of your prospect.  It may be a discount, a free service with purchase or a bundling of products.
  7. Run a 3 day limited promotion.  Make it unadvertised and exclusive to your customer database.  Communicate this with an email and followup contact by phone or in person.
  8. Offer a special after hours private shopping event.  If you are a retailer, tie in with a local not for profit and include their database in the invitation list.  Have a portion of the proceeds go to the charity.  Include wine, music, and giveaways at the event.  This could easily be held on a Saturday or Sunday evening.
  9. Create a white paper.  Your prospects and customers are probably having cash flow issues also.  Offer tips on how to save cash.  This will work for both businesses and consumers.  They will appreciate the free advice and use their new-found cash to spend on your products or services.
  10. Ask for and get testimonials.  Then send them out with a promotion to both prospects and customers.  There is no method of advertising more effective than a third-party advocate.  By including existing customers it will reinforce that they made the right decision by buying from your company. 

Use one or more of these ideas to pump up sales and increase cash flow.  Keep track of results and show your banker the action plan, goals, and the resulting increase in sales. 

You may see your banker wanting to make a loan to this well run growing business of yours.

6 Tough Love Cash Management Tips

July 10, 2010

by Doug Smith, President, The Woodhaven Group

Ok, so your business cash flow is in real trouble.

The expected sales increase you anticipated after changing the marketing strategy is not working. I mean it is really not working.

As a small business owner it seems like you are a quarterback operating the 2 minute offense just to get some cash in the door.

What can you do differently to bring in cash?

Well I have walked in your shoes.  It’s not a pretty situation to be in.  Here are tips you can start doing before the sun goes down tonight:

  1. Let everyone know there will be nothing purchased in the company without it first going on a purchase order.  Then you have to personally sign off on the purchase order before it is processed.  If that delays a purchase 24 hours so be it.  Then you as owner sign every check.  Do not delegate this.  By signing checks you will discover who has circumvented the new system.  You will find that unnecessary spending and over spending will stop when everyone knows there will be an audience with you.
  2. Have your management team identify such things as old equipment, old machinery, vehicles not being used, obsolete inventory, and even unused furniture.  Then sell it.  Have a board posted in your office with the items listed and post the money received as each item is sold.
  3. Eliminate all service and maintenance contracts and replace with an hourly fee for service performed.  If your company really needs to cut back temporarily on expenses to generate cash this will do it.  You can always reinstate the service contracts later.
  4. Generate an upfront down payment  on all sales (unless you are a retail store where you get the full amount at the point of sale).  The sales department will balk at this as they will be concerned that a down payment will kill the sale.  It won’t.  Change the commission structure to pay less if  no down payment is received.  The top sales people won’t miss a beat.  They will get the down payment and be an example for the others.
  5. Go to your landlord and negotiate a 10% or more reduction on rent.  In  return offer to extend the term of the lease.  Make sure there is a clause in your lease that allows you to sublet unused space.  
  6. If you own your property or own large equipment then do a sale and leaseback.  Even if you owe on loans, you will convert your equity position into cash.

As an owner of a small business, sleeping at night is a good thing.  Use these 6 tips and take some pressure off of your cash flow position and your nerves.

One Simple Low Cost Method To Increase Sales

July 1, 2010

by Doug Smith, President, The Woodhaven Group

If sales are down try this low-cost method to increase sales and instantly improve your business cash flow.  The best part is it takes zero advertising dollars.

Look back at the last 3 years and calculate the average revenue or sales per customer that was generated for a year.

Make a list of your top customers and rank them in order top to bottom by year to date volume and determine who is trending to hit or exceed the yearly average.

Now,  make a list of those customers that are trending below the average, set a specific goal per customer to close the gap and have the sales department assign these customers to the top sales people in your company.  Their mission is to move sales volume up on each of these customers so by year-end their volume is at the predetermined average.

Why would this approach work?

First, you have already invested dollars to get them as a customer so no new advertising is needed to get these sales.  Second, the customer likes your company and what you have to offer since they are purchasing from you.  They are just not buying enough.

Try the following steps to increase sales with these customers:

  1. It sounds crazy but ask them to buy more.  It could be that the sales department has just been taking orders and not trying to build the sale.  Tell the customer how much the company values them as a client and would like to do more business than they currently are doing.  Believe me, this will work by itself with some customers.
  2. Increase sales by identifying a product or service that they are not buying that would be a good fit for the customer.  This becomes new sales for your company and sales that should have been generated with this customer all along.
  3. Offer a rebate or some incentive if by the end of the year their total volume hits the target goal.  If you get pushback, tell them the goal is realistic and is just the average amount purchased by the typical customer of your company.
  4. Review the payment history of this account and if it has been good, inform them that as a valuable loyal customer their credit limit has been increased. Like many users of credit they may purchase up to their credit limit.

I would do all 4 of the above suggestions for each customer.

Bonus method to increase sales:

After you have implemented the above program to increase sales with the “below average” volume customers, do the same steps with the “above average” volume customers.

The result will be a spike upward in the overall annual average revenue per customer.  This all happens without bringing on any new customers.  You are just maximizing the potential with your current customer database. 

Your business should see a jump in sales, cash flow, and profit.

I Quit. Oh No! That Was My Top Customer!

June 23, 2010

by Doug Smith, President, The Woodhaven Group

One of the great “moments of truth” in the history of a business comes when a long time loyal customer quits and decides to take their business to the competition.

It can be like a family member dying.

When this happens, the sales, profit, and business cash flow of the company can take a major hit.

It can and should be a shock to everyone in the company.  I hope it never happens to you.  However, if it does there are 2 basic questions that must be answered immediately:

  1. Why did the customer leave?
  2. How do we get the customer back?

Here are 5 thoughts and questions I have on addressing why a long time customer left:

  1. First, the owner or CEO should personally be the one to analyze what happened.  It is not acceptable to lose an important customer or client and the responsibility falls primarily on the shoulders of the person at the top of the organization.  As a leader, you cannot be in the business of losing your top customers.
  2. If this customer found a reason to leave then it should be assumed that your company might be on the verge of losing other customers due to something you are doing or not doing.  This customer is like the canary in the mine.
  3. The owner or CEO should visit the other owner or CEO and have a heart to heart talk.  Find out exactly what the problem was that caused this decision and ask where the breakdown was occurring.  Chances are it was not one reason only.  Often there was an ongoing issue that was communicated repeatedly to the company, and in the opinion of your client, the issue was ignored or not taken seriously.
  4. Initiate immediately a listening campaign with your other large customers. It should be assumed that if the competitor persuaded one important customer to change then they will leverage that decision to go after your other top accounts.  A senior manager needs to visit your customer’s top management and find out if there are any problems brewing.
  5. The management team should meet back at headquarters and compare notes from all the conversations.  Are there common threads that require an action plan be put in place?  Some issues that may be identified are:
  • Has the processes in place to do business with your company become too complicated?  Has it just become too difficult to do business with your company?  For example, think of a customer service problem where the customer has to speak to numerous people and no decision is made.  Is your company lacking one point of contact for a customer to go to that would simplify the process or has your company become loaded with territorial silos.
  • Are your employees just going through the motions?  Are they taking customers for granted?  Is there a morale problem that impacts the relationship with all customers?  If so, why is there a morale issue?
  • Is there a growing quality problem?  Do finished products have mistakes and have to be remade?  Are shipments not delivered completely?  Are deadlines not met?
  • Do you have competitors now offering the same product or service as your core product and selling it at a lower price?  Has the competitor re-engineered your product to deliver more benefits?  Even a #1 product in the marketplace has to keep evolving to stay ahead of the competition.  

There may be other problems but it is my guess that one or  more of the above will be the cause of your business divorce. 

So, how do you get the customer back?

The reality of the situation is that you may not be able to.  Chances are the other company struggled for a long  time to arrive at this decision and will probably stick with it.

Regardless, here is what I would do:

  • Chances are the problem stemmed from a series of people issues.  I would put in place one point of contact and that person would only be the owner or CEO.  No one else.  If this is the real problem, then this solution will communicate how seriously the owner considers the situation.  
  • Schedule weekly meetings chaired by the CEO to review the status of the account with your lost customer’s management team.
  • Revisit with the customer’s CEO or owner the reasons why they chose to do business with your company to begin with.  Psychologically this allows the customer to resell themselves on what they liked about your company.  It also shifts the conversation from a negative to a positive one.
  • Identify the #1 feature that the customer likes and consider offering it at no  charge or reduced cost for a period of time.  Possibly throw in extended terms.  If you think it is too costly to do this ask yourself the cost of acquiring the new customers needed to replace the volume of this one top revenue generator.
  • If the customer is still reluctant to change back, ask if your company could take a reduced position in serving them instead of losing 100% of the business.  There is a good chance this strategy will work.   

One benefit coming out of this is that the CEO of your company will get a clearer picture of what is working and not working in the company.  That is a positive thing.

The best way to prevent this loss from happening again is to be proactive by making sure your management team is taking the following 4 actions:

  1. Listening to your customers
  2. Managing with timely accurate metrics to find where the company is falling down
  3. Keeping your employees motivated and focused on the customer and not themselves
  4. Making sure your value proposition and core products are in tune with the wants and needs of your target customer as well as the marketplace. 

In my opinion, losing a top customer is a leadership issue.  Sales, cash flow, profit and net worth will suffer.

Don’t let it happen to you.