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Success Begins at the Top Line. 7 Steps to More Revenue.

How to make sustained revenue as a small business ownerRegardless of whether you’re an entrepreneur just starting out, or have been in business for years, your ultimate success will be dictated by how well you drive sales. Revenue is the top line of your P&L and for a good reason.

You have no business without it and the customers it represents. And beyond the initial revenue, it’s about building long-term relationships with clients, so they keep coming back and become a source of future income.

But revenue can be elusive and difficult to sustain without a disciplined approach to building a sales team, finding and cultivating prospects and converting them into long-term customers.

Over the years, in the companies, I’ve started and others that I’ve either managed or turned around, I’ve learned that there are seven critical steps to getting customers and driving revenue:

Hire/partner with the right people.

It all starts with people. From the first salesperson you hire, find the right fit and make sure they buy into how you want to sell. It’s more than just closing business. It’s about building relationships (see below), and that’s more than just making the sale.

Early on, before you bring on your staff, you might partner with a sales organization who sells into your industry sector, with non-competitive products, to represent you, be they distributor or sales agent. Whether in-house or outside reps, they are representing you and they have to have the same philosophy about sales and customers that you do. 

Know all that you can about a prospect…before you ever make contact.

This means you have to “do your homework!”  Your prospect list will always be limited or constrained, whether by relative size, geography, competition or other factors, like price or your particular product’s special focus. So, identify who your prospects are.

Before you or your sales people ever approach a prospect, whether via email, phone or, in person, at an event, do some research. Learn some key facts about them, like their relative size, markets they serve, products they offer and who their management team is.

A simple visit to their website could tell you most of it. Try to understand what your product might be able to do for them. And all this should be done before you EVER make contact.

Tailor every prospect communication.

Once you make contact, build on the information you’ve gathered with questions whose answers can help you learn even more about the prospect and their specific needs. In any follow-up communication, make every aspect of that communication about the prospect and their situation, not about your company or product. You’re starting to build a relationship, and that begins making it about them; learning as much you can, while making them feel like you care.

Lead with value not price.

When you finally get in front of them, further building on what you know about them, present your product and company as a value proposition, not a price proposition. What value do you bring and what’s in it for them? Downplay price until you’ve really established value; whether that takes one meeting or six! Selling is a process, not an event.

Give to get; don’t be afraid to sacrifice early margin.

It’s all about delivering value. To build a relationship, provide some giveaway that establishes your credibility. Maybe a white paper, maybe a free webinar.

Further, deliver value by providing a way for customers to test your product or use before they buy it. But make sure that in establishing your credibility you provide the vehicle for them to purchase.

For example, setting benchmarks for a test or use, and exceeding those benchmarks should be the basis for a sale. “If we provide “x” results then you’ll do “y” purchase.” And to get them as a long-term customer, don’t be afraid to sacrifice early margin, by discounting the first sale as you continue to deliver value.

If you continue to deliver value, you will more than make it up in follow-on business.

Proposals define the end, not the beginning.

Many entrepreneurs, especially those who don’t come from a sales discipline, sometimes think a proposal is the rocket fuel that propels a prospect to become a customer.

A proposal is not the beginning of the sales process, but the end game, because it describes the agreement in principle that you and the prospect have developed over the selling process and your value proposition for their company.

It’s the terms and conditions that describe the value that your product solution will be delivering, to address the prospect’s need(s) or solve the prospect’s problem(s). And the more you know about the prospect’s situation, the better you can tailor your solution and describe it in a proposal. Then you have the basis to close the sale.

Build a relationship, not a one-off sale.

No sale should stand alone. You’re building a relationship. Make customers feel important from when they are prospects, and that will pay dividends as you move through the selling process. Once you close the sale and they've become a customer, you have to continue to exceed their expectations.

Over-delivering is key to that, especially early in the relationship. It will solidify the relationship and it should and will provide you returns in future add-on business with this customer, and references and referrals to new prospective customers from them.

Success starts at the top line. But it’s a process, and it begins with who you have representing your company in a sales situation. It continues with how well you research and understand your prospects and how you can relate your value to their situation.

Then it’s up to you to deliver that value, sometimes even before there is any return. This builds the trust and comfort that will be necessary to close the sale and continues well beyond the sale, into a long-term customer relationship that drives long-term success. It starts with revenue!

"The Entrepreneur's Yoda" knows these things. He's been there. May success be with you!

How is your organization focused on driving top line success? Please share your thoughts in your comments. It can help another entrepreneur or small business owner.

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