From initial funds to getting early customers to hiring the right people to legal matters and of course making the product/service better, there are so many challenges small business owners face on a daily basis. A strong sales function can ensure the business continues to grow and is able to address all these challenges. Getting the first set of customers, consistently acquiring new customers and increasing the group of loyal customers – these three areas are important parts of turning a product/service into a sustainable business with consistent revenue.
In my years as a sales leader, I have supported many businesses, small and large on how to build and maintain their sales engine. There has been some rich learning on this journey and also a lot of experimentation. I am honored to have the opportunity to share some of these with you through this blog series. With each post, I hope to cover one key element of sales in small businesses and I hope this sharing of experiences and insights helps you shape your sales function better.
“Experiments in Sales” is a 3-part series on my understanding of the sales process. Over these three write-ups I will cover topics such as acquiring customers, on boarding customers and engaging with them for a long-term relationship. So let’s get started!
This is the second post in the series titled ‘Experiments in Sales’.
I will start by articulating what on-boarding means the way I have understood and practiced it – onboarding (from a customer point of view) is the process through which the business works with the customer to ensure the product he/she has purchased ultimately helps to solve the need for which he/she bought it. For a business owner on the other hand, this onboarding process represents additional interactions with the customer which in turn represents an opportunity to sell more, renew the business, ask for leads etc.
A lot of successful small businesses do this quite naturally; take the example of when you’re eating in a restaurant. The friendly serving staff will come by the table to ask if we need anything or how the food is. This simple gesture is an example of opening up an onboarding process - he is giving the customer the opportunity to ask questions, give feedback and request additional services.
It is safe to assume that any business which takes this extra onboarding approach will in all probability be more successful than others that don’t. The businesses that do not focus on onboarding the customer may still make sales but there are some additional advantages that they are missing out on. Allow me to list down some of these.
Interacting with the customer post sale presents a good opportunity for additional sales.The simplest way to do this is to strike a conversation and offer a value add for a small additional price e.g. walk a customer through the haircut she is going to have and during that walk through, talk about a package deal to a customer who has come in for a shampoo and haircut and offer the deal which includes a blow-dry at a small additional price.
2) Ensuring customer renewals
Customers are looking to make their decision-making process easier every time. So if they liked a restaurant they ate in, kirana store they bought detergent from,chances are they will continue to come simply to avoid the hassle of having to search for another service provider from scratch. At the point of purchase for e.g. a smile and thank you from your end, invitation to come back anytime in case they have issues and a small post sale engagement like a free gift or a bulk discount – all this can ensure the customer keeps coming back and does not go to any other store.
3) Ensuring customer referrals
This usually applies after the customer has used the service i.e.after he finished the meal or wore the clothes he bought etc. You can ask for feedback and referrals as well. But sometimes, a customer is happy with the general experience they had with you while they are purchasing. E.g. if they like that you clearly explained the features and benefits, they will not mind sharing references with you. So you can ask for references during the sale as well.
We now know the advantages of a good onboarding process but the question now could be on how we can build this into our process as business owners –how do we ensure all the staff learns how to do this and how do we make it easy for them to include into their daily activities?
I can suggest a few ways to add simple activities for your sales staff to follow. Here are some of these:
1) Thank you video/email/card sent after the sale: Let’s say you make cloth bags and your customer just bought a shipment from you. You can take this opportunity to send a short WhatsApp video or send a handwritten note along with the shipment to tell the customer more about how the bags are made and how they can be maintained for a longer life. A small and simple intervention like this instantly connects the customer to you and he/she will understand that you are keenly interested in their experience. An email also works but in most cases, videos or handwritten cards are ideal. The #RestartIndia team works with small businesses to train business owners on how to make this kind of communication come to life. Be sure to contact them.
2) Experience walk through: If it is a product that has to be consumed physically like a meal at a restaurant or a beauty salon experience, you can simply engage with the customer as they are using the service and walk them through either interesting nuances of the experience or additional ways in which they can make the experience better. For e.g. you can strike up a conversation and suggest to a customer who is getting a haircut that they can take a look at your hair care products and get a free consult from you before they leave to get an idea of how to maintain this haircut. This could result in additional sales and will also establish you as an expert in the field in the eyes of the customer. These experience walk through while effective must be done carefully without coming across as pushy. Finding the right moment when the customer wants to listen is important.
3) Followup on experience/product: You can choose to follow up via WhatsApp or a polite phone call to ask how the experience with the product was and if they had any feedback. This simple step can create a world of opportunity for you as a small business – you can ask if they want to place more orders,would like to refer someone from their circles as a customer, would be interested in giving you a video testimonial and a lot more. It also creates a direct personal relationship with the customer which makes it easier to communicate further with them.
While these suggestions are simple and easy to follow, I would recommend sitting down with the team and brainstorming on your own about what are the kind of onboarding activities which may apply to you. You and your team would know your business and your customers better than anyone else and so you would all have an idea of how and when you can connect with the customer to onboard them successfully. This exercise will be very useful for you to identify the exact moments in your customer’s experience where you can connect with them and help.
Aparna Krishanan is a sales leader and advisor to small businesses and start-ups. Aparna has about 15 years of experience in sales, people management and start-up operations and has worked with MNCs and start-ups alike. She is passionate about planning and implementing new sales and business models and more importantly learning from these implementations to continuously improve. She believes learning is the most important element to focus on for an entrepreneur or professional rather than success and failure.