Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Watching Sales Increase by 150%

As people feel the full bite of the recession, the quest to survive puts more pressure on the need to find more and better clients. One key problem, poor sales performance, is simply more visible in difficult trading conditions.

CASE STUDY (Real Life – Accounting Firm: Jan - June 20XX)

The Background:
Profits and sales were slipping.
Using a number of fairly sophisticated marketing techniques, potential clients were invited to presentations, exhibitions, updates and seminars as opportunities for face-to-face contact. Yet sales conversion rates were disappointing. The practice was simply letting new business slide through its fingers.

The Problem:
Poor sales performance despite having a decent product.

The Reason:
Poorly trained staff and lousy systems.

The Solution:
A few simple changes that will have a massive impact on your bottom line.

It was identified that staff had been expertly trained on the technical side of their job but were lacking the more subtle inter-personal skills that are so important. Accountants are great at doing accounts but not so great at talking to potential clients about why they should be appointed.

Director level support brought the issue out into the open.

Your sales performance will improve if you focus on the following 'crunch questions':
  • Who is the ideal/target customer? What are their problems? Why do they buy your product?
  • Do you really understand what it is that the customer is buying? Are you selling the benefits rather than the features?
  • Why should people buy from you when they can buy from the competition
  • What makes you different from the rest?
  • How to start and finish a conversation?
  • Do you deliver a credible and compelling Audio Logo/Elevator Pitch/One-Minute Intro
  • Can/Do you ask for the business? Can you ask for referrals?
  • Are you able to close the sale?

For any sales professional this is the stuff that Session One from Day One of a Sales Course should cover (Spookily this is very similar to the programme we take business through on the Bright Marketing courses that I run for Barclays).

The reality was far from the truth.

Your sales people need to be taken through a process like the one outlined above. Add decent measurement systems to your soft skills (targets, some decent prospect data, metrics, and conversion ratios) and selling becomes a simple game: you know how many conversations create an appointment create a new client.

In the six months we worked with our client we saw their competitors going bust and the industry lose its confidence. However our client saw client sales rocket. Compare the numbers (which lose their formatting on most machines - sorry!)

6m to 31 Dec 20XX
  • Leads 300
  • Conversations 140
  • Proposals 50
  • New Clients 20

6m to 30 June 20XX

  • Leads 350
  • Conversations 180
  • Proposals 95
  • New Clients 50

Leaving out any complicated/sophisticated explanations, the incredible thing was that new clients had increased by a remarkable 150%.

What does this say to you?
Well, small changes in how you go about the sales process have a massive impact. Many trainers use Micky Mouse numbers to impress their audience but here is an example where the numbers speak for themselves. 


  • of course you can't write a blog entry like this without pointing out where people can find out how to get their own 150%...
  • The Directors' Centre - talk to The DC if you want these benefits
  • Read Grow Your Service Firm

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers - the story of success

Just finished 'Outliers - the story of success' by Malcolm Gladwell.

While writing the book, Gladwell noted that "the biggest misconception about success is that we do it solely on our smarts, ambition, hustle and hard work."

On page 285, he sums it all up:
“Superstar lawyers and math whizzes and software entrepreneurs appear at first blush to lie outside ordinary experience. But they don't. They are products of history and community, of opportunity and legacy. Their success is not exceptional or mysterious. It is grounded in a web of advantages and inheritances, some deserved, some not, some earned, some just plain lucky - but all critical to making them who they are. The outlier, in the end, is not an outlier at all.”

His style does meander even if he does use some interesting case studies and even if the conclusions are self-evident . Quite a 'nice' read but a bit disappointing. Maybe it was more auto-biographical and self-referencing than intended - it was his journey he was analysing. Gladwell has created his own brand and followers and it will be interesting to see where he goes from here.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Launching A Business With A Cause - Quick Update

Last year I reported about Launching A Business with a Cause and I thought that we should have a quick look to see what's happening to Madécasse, the business I featured. The answer is that they are still going strong as reported in the New York Times Tasteful Company/Madecasse:

"These days my favorite chocolate isn’t U.S.D.A. organic certified and it’s not Fair Trade or Rainforest Alliance stamped. It’s Madécasse, made from cacao grown in Madagascar’s naturally organic forests. It’s traded fairly and is environmentally friendly."

One rave review however does not make a business.

At the end of the day Madécasse may need to literally break into the Vanilla and/or Chocolate markets and that will cost money. As said before, success is not about having the best product. Marketing is not a battle for the product but a battle for the mind of the customer.

This may be a traditional conundrum of just how much money will they need to make an impact on well developed markets. With chocolate they are competing against the big boys and in vanilla their product is competing with 'industrial' alternatives.

So how easy is it to be the next Green and Blacks/Ben & Jerry/Innocent Drinks 'successful' high-quality offering and what are the odds of breaking through?

Will the success of this business boil down to the depth of their pockets? Or the quality of how they market their product (= money, again)?

Is it possible that, ironically, the business's success may be more about their ability to raise capital than the quality of their product and ethics!

Friday, 25 September 2009

Compulsory Retirement Age - A Good Thing?

SW (a regular commenter to this blog) has suggested that we look at and discuss the BBC's UK Retirement Age Challenge Fails news piece.

SW asked "Robert, what is your opinion on the Federation of Small Businesses lobbying and supporting for the compulsory retirement age being kept at 65?"

(At least) Two things to discuss

1) Should the FSB hold such a view (to represent its members)?
2) Should there be compulsory retirement age at 65?

This really is a can of worms.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009


Consultancy, training and coaching fails on a regular basis. There's nothing wrong with the process - usually it is all good stuff. The problem is with the 'afters'. You should only participate in these activities for what happens afterwards - the change in behaviour or the results. The context here is the business.

Most interventions are all about the process and not about the results. And that's why they fail.

The key issue is around accountability. If you (as client) are not accountable, if you do not have to report back the results then the whole intervention process will probably collapse.

At the Directors' Centre, the accountability issue is pushed because the consultants know that without accountability then the client can avoid the 'action' piece. Not enough consultants, trainers, coaches, mentors, accountants etc make their clients accountable to them for results.

And so the client doesn't get the desired results. That's pretty poor!

Paul and the team in our consultancy group seem to have cracked the accountability conundrum. The result: clients have to deliver; they get results; everyone is happy.

The Directors' Centre - management consultancy (with accountability) for growing businesses

Sunday, 20 September 2009

And now I am getting hate mail

It seems that my ‘Beating The Credit Crunch’ ology is like marmite. People love it or hate it.

The messages are pretty straightforward. You shouldn’t even think about increasing sales until you have done the following:

- Put up your prices if you can

- Compete on everything but price

- Screw your suppliers feet to the ground

- Sort (or sack) under-performing customers, staff and suppliers

- Collect money 10 days quicker; spend it 10 days slower

There is no point getting more sales if you aren’t making money on the additional sales. Only once you have done the above (i.e. fix the financial model) should you even think about selling more.

Most people seem to ‘get’ what I am saying but there is a bunch of people who seem to miss the whole point. They describe me as callous, insensitive, cruel, mercenary, short-sighted, and selfish to use a few of the nicer words.

I will list the top few grumbles and my reply.

“It is impossible to put prices up in a recession. All your customers will go to the competition”
Answer: Only the people buying on price will leave but they tend to be the ones who are the hardest work that you would be happy to lose. We recently surveyed some 500 businesses that have put up their prices since autumn 08 – all felt that their businesses have benefited from the price increase (poor clients have left and profit per sale have gone up to outweigh any sales loss) .

“It is impossible to put prices up in my industry.”
Answer: Nonsense. Put the price increase into the contract, or do it annually, or do it based on raw material price increases, or repackage the product, or bundle products together, or do it by stealth. There is no shortage of ways to put up prices.

“You can’t go around sacking people yet expect
the rest to remain loyal.”
Answer: In the first instance you should only remove staff that are not pulling their weight or delivering the expected results.

“It is dumb to expect to be able to screw suppliers feet to the ground yet not get screwed yourself”
Answer: You should be selling on everything but price and you should be confident that your customers/clients understand this. As for your suppliers, while they would prefer to keep your business, there are plenty of others who may wish to win your business with low prices.

“It is dumb to expect to be able to get paid 10 days quicker yet pay 10 days slower. It is also immoral”
Answer: Most of us collect the money (that is owed to us) much too slowly; many of our suppliers don’t seem to be too bothered about how quickly we pay them.

Without making sweeping generalistions, I seem to have wound up a brigade of people who feel that their business deserves to do well because of their good intentions. These people hope to be able to survive by being nice.

I am afraid that nice is not enough, especially in these recessionary times. Like pulling off a plaster, the best way to make the decision is to brave up to it and get on and do it. Procrastination does not help anyone.

So, take a morning out with your key business partner or colleague, take a blank piece of paper and make the tough decisions that you will implement over the next two weeks. You will be amazed at how this decisiveness will give you the energy, focus and direction that might have been lacking of late. Go for it.

Friday, 18 September 2009



Business expert Robert Craven and his team at The Directors’ Centre are talking to over 2000 UK businesses about how to get more sales, profits and customers.

The half-day workshops, "Let’s Talk... More Profit" and "Let’s Talk… Bright Marketing" are based on his best-selling business books including "Kick-Start Your Business" and "Bright Marketing". They take place in 17 towns throughout the UK in October and November. The events are being run by Barclays Bank and demand for places is already high.

Robert and his fellow speakers, Kiki Maurey and Louise Nicolaou, will also use materials from his latest book "Beating The Credit Crunch" which will show how businesses have beaten the current economic downturn. The FT describes Craven as "the entrepreneurship guru".

Craven says, "The ‘Let’s Talk…’ workshops are a brilliant opportunity to step back, think about what you are trying to do and start to make decisions that will fundamentally improve the profitability of your business; in the current economic climate this is more important than ever."

Tickets should be £225, but are free to small businesses signing up through the Directors’ Centre website,

Ends 182 words


Robert Craven, MD, The Directors’ Centre

Robert Craven is one of the UK’s most sought-after business coaches and speakers on entrepreneurship and is author of the best-selling business books ‘Kick-Start Your Business’ (Virgin Business Guides) and ‘Bright Marketing - why should people bother to buy from you?’. His latest book is ‘Beating The Credit Crunch’.

As MD of The Directors’ Centre,, the consultancy for growing businesses, he works with ambitious directors to break through constraints on business growth. A serial entrepreneur, Robert has run restaurants, management training centres and a sound recording studio. Prior to creating The Directors’ Centre he was director of consultancy and training for growing businesses at Warwick Business School.

Photos available from 01225 851044.
"Let’s Talk… More Profit" and "Let’s Talk… Bright Marketing".

These half-day workshops are free to attend if delegates book via the website, where delegate testimonials can also be seen. Running in some 17 locations across the UK, the latest ‘tour’ starts in October and concludes in November. Tickets are available on a first-come first-served basis.

More details of venues and titles at

- The Directors' Centre, 1 The High Street, Woolley, Bath BA1 8AR
- Tel: 01225 851044

Monday, 14 September 2009

Post Offices As Business Hubs

Many years ago I ran a project entitled the 'Post Office of The Future' which focused on making the PO into the hub of the local business community... Actually it is plain common sense. But , I am afraid that I was way ahead of my time.

I am delighted to see that the same idea has now resurfaced. Hopefully the timing is right!

The article in brief:
"The future of hundreds of post offices around the country could be safeguarded by transforming them into small business hubs...

To protect the vital service that post offices offer many firms, the FSB said it believes the network needs to be remodelled as a series of small business hubs...

Under the FSB’s recommendations, a business desk would be set up at each post office with specially trained staff able to advise businesses on banking, government services, insurance and sending and receiving parcels...

Each branch would also offer dedicated advertising facilities to help small businesses reach other local businesses and potential customers...

There would be a range of financial services available, including business banking and, where possible, meeting room facilities for start-ups and micro businesses..."

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Corporate Myopia, Really

I am building up a portfolio of corporate myopia stories. The standard story goes as follows:

Robert Craven (RC): “Why do people buy your product?”
Corporate Client (CC): “Because we are the best.”
RC: “Really?”
CC: “Well, we are better than the competition.”
RC: “Really?”
CC: “Um and we are the only people to offer XYZ features”
RC: “And is that why people buy your product?”
CC: “Well we are competitive on price.”
RC: “And is that why people buy from you?”
“Um, it could be our brilliant marketing campaign…?
CC: “OK, why do they buy our product?”

What I find so scary is how fragile the arguments seem to be. And how can you create a marketing campaign or a sales activity or design a better service/product if you aren’t clear on what it is that the customer wants, needs and deserves to get.

So, my friend,
“Why do people buy your product?”

Your answer here: “___________________________________”

PS I ran a brief session for a roomful of marketers last night. Lovely people. Brilliant at their jobs (doing marketing) they struggled to tell each other (succinctly and in a compelling manner) what they actually did for their clients.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Banksy Unmasked

Another reason I hate the Daily Mail:

Today's paper spoils the secret of Banksy Graffiti Artist Banksy Unmasked - unless it is an early April Fool joke.

No longer a best-kept secret.


Did the secrecy make his work the all more fascinating? Was it all just a great marketing stunt? Shame, shame, shame.