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Thursday, February 09, 2012

I was at Venturefest Yorkshire yesterday and sat in on a session discussing the key findings from a recent Entrepreneurs' Survey.

Whilst the findings of the survey weren't exactly ground-breaking (top challenges were "cash flow and funding" and the need to generate greater sales) the discussion surrounding the survey was really interesting.

On the funding front, the room was surveyed with a quick show of hand of who had previously pitched for VC funding. Only 3 people put there hands up and, of those 2 had successfully raised funds through VC.

This corresponds with the survey data that said 81% of Entrepreneurs self-financed their business and only 1% raised finance through angel investors. Considering the event was heavily sponsored by Yorkshire Business Angels Association, that's an amazing number.

With regard to revenue and growth opportunities an upbeat 75% of the survey expected to achieve or exceed projected revenue growth. Growth strategies that came out of the survey included developing new products, technology and innovation (8%) and expansion into export markets (8%).

That last number could be a reflection on the type of businesses surveyed but it doesn't look great for UK plc in terms of export, which was a point picked up by one of the panel, Lara Morgan (founder and ex-CEO of Pacific Direct).

An interesting comment for me (which relates to the above growth strategy of product development) came from panelist Ed French, Investment Director for Finance Yorkshire. Ed made a point that many mid-sized companies often have a "product in the cupboard" that they fail to invest in bringing to market. He felt that the UK should be more like the US in this respect where there are far more spin-outs from business.

Key skills shortages that Entrepreneurs felt they needed to address were primarily in finance and sales & marketing, which really comes back to the key challenges identified in the survey.

Overall, whilst the finding may not be a big surprise, the panellist debate was excellent and Venturefest put on another event that just keeps getting better.

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Posted by: David Regler @ 1:53 pm |  0 comments  | Links to this post  

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Wednesday, February 01, 2012

To all those idealist who thought that social media has heralded a new age of selling.

No more spam, no more push marketing... yeah, right.

Yesterday I received 2 messages from advertisers straight into my inbox on LinkedIn. One was from HP and the other from Microsoft (not sure why I got them since I'm not in IT, but whatever).

They appeared in my inbox alongside other network messages. When I clicked on the link I'm sent to micro site on LinkedIn. Right at the bottom it tells me:
Why did I receive this message? This partner message was sent to you based on non-personal information, such as the title of your current position, your primary industry, or your region. Per our privacy policy, your name and e-mail address have not been disclosed
And there's an option to change my contact settings.

No more today so far, let's see what happens.

Now LinkedIn usually tests things in the background before launching and, when they do, there's little fanfare or announcement, they just slip in it.

But it looks like they're trying the equivalent of "promoted tweet" ie: good old fashioned direct marketing.

Personally, if it's relevant I don't really care but in this case it wasn't. Possibly because I have the word "technology" on my profile but that's it. Hardly targeted with laser precision.

And, even though I use LinkedIn every day, these 2 ads made up 22% of my inbox messages yesterday. Hmmm, wonder how long it is before those contact setting get changed?

On a similar note, there's been a round-robin style message going around Linkedin about the fact they've changed their privacy settings and can now use images and details of you in their advertising campaigns.

While I'm dreaming of my 5 minutes of fame on prime time TV, others are up in arms spreading the word that you need to change your settings to stop this happening.

Ah, social media.... it's so social.

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Thursday, January 05, 2012

Here's an interesting question to consider: "Where does the B2B sales model go from here?"

And, whilst I wonder whether the sales model example quoted in the article is really so different from other technology companies who sell through channel, it's still a good question to ask.

Without doubt, the traditional "sales force" has changed over the last 10 years.

The other day I dusted off an old classic book on the sales force written back in 2001 and was amazed how out of date it was.

No mention of e-commerce, inside sales, web-demos or conference calls.

No search. No social media.

It seemed as far removed from today as when I was a young gun laughing at the old sales pros  talking about the 2p's they kept in their Ford Granada's so they could call the office from a phone box once a day.

But, back to the question: "Where do we go from here".

For companies that are looking to increase revenue growth it's always useful to break down their business model and understand where is can be improved.

If you have a traditional B2B "direct" sales model, you can look at different channels, such as e-commerce or inside sales to improve efficiency. Pushing repeat orders through these channels enables you to reduce expensive field sales resource.

In addition, re-thinking the sales process can reduce costs through using technology to increase the effectiveness of your sales team which, in turn, increases profitability.

As the article points out, you can also consider developing indirect channels to drive revenue.

Selling through partners, distributors and resellers are options that may be better suited to some of your products and services than others.

Sometimes it takes a new product/service proposition to open up revenue opportunities through different channels. An example would be a training provider that has a direct B2B sales model for it's in-house courses but now delivers e-learning solutions. The lower price point of e-learning may require a change in the sales model and could be more suited to an indirect sales channel.

The theme here is "change".

As the article points out, "the percentage of reps making quota has been stuck in the fifties (percentile range) for years" and the average Sales Director tenure is "as low as 19 months".

Either it's the people that are no good or something else needs to change to hit the numbers.

Sure, it could be a skills development issue. Or maybe improving the sales process. Or maybe the market's moved on and you're still trying the sell the way you always did.

Ah, wouldn't it be great if the worst problem you had in sales was where to find a phone box?

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Thursday, December 08, 2011

I don't know whether I'm just a grumpy 40-something or maybe I'm just having one of those "emperor's new clothes" moments but I'm starting to wonder about the direction of social media.

You see, like many others, I'm spending some of my time on twitter, LinkedIn groups, etc. I'm following people with similar interests, commenting on discussions, etc.

It's true, my involvement isn't full time since, like you, I'm also running my business and delivering projects for clients and trying to generate more revenue.

And, in my quest to find the next useful piece of information or discussion to tweet about and comment on all I'm seeing is more of the same.

LinkedIn discussions are often either the same questions asked in a different way or just a long running debate that's been added to over a 12 month period.

The latest "research" or report just seems to re-hash old statistics or spin someone else's report to create content.

After all, content is king and you need to feed the beast.

Plus, if you follow all the social media experts they'll keep telling you that this is the best way to convert business, drive sales, etc, etc... but very few give you concrete examples outside of a few huge brands or shoe-string niche consumer start-ups.

It's a bit like the myth that you lose 90% of your heat out your head. Totally debunked by scientists since the 80's but still everyone believes it. Maybe it's because it's got a statistic in it?

There are countless other examples where some study has been regurgitated over years to be held up as a truth that everyone just accepts. And I think there's a lot of that happening in social media.

Sometimes I get the feeling that on many LinkedIn groups (and to an extent on Twitter) there's this self-serving clique of people who simply retweet each other and start discussions just because they have to (it's in their social media plan).

I know... that's social media etiquette, of course. Which is maybe why I'm just being a grumpy middle aged man.

But, I think it's valid to question why you're doing something and also where it's going.

I read in a report (ironic, I know) that one hot area for new business ideas is in "filtering" social media content.

Wasn't that was social media was all about. Content gets filtered and recommended to you by people you trust?

But if everyone's playing the game of "must tweet 4 times a day" or "must produce an article every week" what's going to happen?

As I've posted about before, marketing does one thing really well - abuse a new channel until it gets saturated. Junk mail, cold calls, email, it's all been done before.

Even Twitter now has promoted tweets and accounts.

Well, it was fun while it lasted.

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Monday, December 05, 2011

It's that time of the year where everyone starts predicting the sales trends for 2012.

The latest article to catch my eye, Barrett's The 12 Sales Trends of 2012, has  the overall theme of "Adapt or Perish", which I think pretty much sums it up.

It's a lot like the theme I developed in this post last month.

Picking through the 12 sales trends covered most are part of the ongoing evolution (or should it be revolution) in sales that's been brought about by "search" and the internet. This has been the single most disruptive force in sales aver the last 10 years.

When I say disruptive, that's not a criticism, I'm talking in terms of how search has completely changing the B2B sales landscape.

It's what the article points to as "A seismic shift in the way we sell".
In the 21st century business is more about questions than answers; more about thinking than action; more about people than capital. 2012 is about getting your house in a new order because the world changes yet again and we need to change with it.
Transactional salespeople, or "order takers" have basically been replaced by ecommerce. Every aspect of sales has gone higher up the food chain, which is reflected in a number of the trends outlined including "the polarisation of buying and selling".

Your sales team today are no longer just "closers", they're facilitators.

Other trends look at improving efficiency of selling, through better CRM, targeting and segmentation and reducing expensive sales resources, such as "Field sales team numbers to halve".

It's now all about getting more from less, which is basically what every business needs to consider.

As the article concludes, "Buyers are in the driver’s seat"

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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

There was an amusing moment recently when I sat in on a board meeting at a young start up company.

After all the discussions around the business proposition and how to leverage a recent launch event it suddenly became clear to everyone around the table that they actually had to start selling.

There was a lot of looking around at each other and the room fell silent.

I could almost hear the tumble weed blowing across...

The truth is that for start-ups and any small business - everyone does "sales".

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Thursday, November 24, 2011

Although I didn't realise it at the time, I took my first "consulting" role over 10 years ago when I joined a company to turnaround declining revenues within their service division.

What I thought was simply a sales management role was actually a challenging change management project as I had to increase revenues through transforming the structure of both the team and the service proposition.

The first thing I did when I started was really dig into the figures to see what was happening. Whilst everyone I spoke with thought that the problem was simply down to poor sales performance, in fact it actually due to the fundamental structure of the division and it's service offering.

Without going into the details, the service division was structured in such a way that it's people were compensated contrary to increasing revenue. Plus, instead of working in conjunction with the capital equipment division (which had traditionally sold the equipment maintained by the service division) they had completely opposed sales structures leading to new equipment being sold that was actually serviced by another company at a cheaper price than their own service division.

Believe me, you could not make it up.

Once this was realised, the changes I put in place quickly reversed revenues which had been declining for over 5 years.

Over the next 3 years, in a company that was struggling and constantly striving for performance gains post-MBO, I found myself sat around the boardroom with the CEO looking at other "projects" to generate sales growth and revenue improvement. The common theme was that these were all projects which aimed to unlock hidden revenue within the business.

Handing them to the Sales Director or one of their team wouldn't work. Either they were too close to the issue or they simply couldn't afford to turn their attention from hitting sales targets. What the CEO needed was a business consultant. In a larger corporate it would have been a business analyst or someone in the CEO's strategy team. But this was a 250 employee SME... so it was me.

Often the projects ran across different divisions, and required a more holistic approach unencumbered by company politics.

Examples of where hidden revenue can be found within a business include:
  • cross division offerings - you can unlock significant revenue opportunities by combining service offerings from two autonomous business units. One company I worked with had separate consumable and equipment divisions who never combined their offerings because of internal structures, leaving money on the table which their competitors exploited.
  • cross territory sales - a common problem in companies with fixed sales territories is that they're often not aligned with customer decision making. I worked with a company that had no-one looking at national accounts. The sales team were focused on their own little area meaning that they never looked for the larger opportunities. Salesperson X could be dealing with a division of a national company with offices around the UK but since they "weren't on his patch" they were left untouched. Wouldn't the salesperson just tell their colleagues to follow up these opportunities? Not when they're competing with each other for the president's club and holiday to Hawaii!
It's true that the problems of silo's usually occur within larger businesses (both the examples and the original company I mentioned were companies with between 220-500 employees) but there are also examples of hidden revenue within smaller businesses, which include:
  • Failing to cross-sell to existing customers - do they buy every product or service that you offer? Have you ever walked into a customer and seen or heard about a competitor's product or service. Did they say "I didn't know you did that"?
  • Not exploiting all opportunities within existing accounts - do you know which customers are part of larger groups? Are you in contact with all potential buyers within the same account? For example, if you sell training services and you only deal with HR what happens if the Sales Director buys a training programme elsewhere? Are you sure you will always be asked? Most decisions in larger companies involve more than one person, often 4 or 5; are you in contact with all of them? Do you even know them all?
  • Not catching up with dormant accounts - if you're a project based business, are you keeping up with every account? If your contacts move on, are you following them, and are you in front of their replacement? This is a common problem for business owners who are focused on delivery and let accounts go cold. It's not your customer's responsibility to tell you; it's no good moaning that old so-and-so never called you - you need to call them (or at least get one of your business development team to give them a regular nudge).
Consider everything within you business as an asset. That's your people, your existing customers, your lapsed customers, your prospect database, your accounts history... everything. Ask yourself, are you really leveraging every asset in your business?

If you look a little deeper, and often with a fresh, outsider's perspective, you may find that significant revenue opportunities are right in front of you.

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Key challenges for today's Entrepreneurs

Is LinkedIn rolling out social spam now?

Re-thinking the B2B sales model

Is social media now just a blur?

Sales Trends for 2012

So, who's doing "sales"?

Where's the hidden revenue in your business?

Does your business have an austerity plan for grow...

Outbound marketing is evil and useless

B2B lead generation survey on tactics and trends

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