Small Business

The Measure of the Year So Far


By Michelle Nichols It's halfway through 2002. Have you met 50% of your annual sales goals? True, goal-setting in December, 2001, only three months after the September 11 massacres, was more difficult than usual. There was a lot of uncertainty -- and yes, fear -- in the air. Regardless of how far you have progressed toward your goals today, here are some thoughts to make the year's second half even more successful.

Let's start with your annual sales goal, which you probably calibrated in terms of total-dollar sales. That's good because it's easy to measure progress against something so specific. It's not a good idea, however, to make this your only goal, since it overlooks some other, crucial factors. As they say in the news business, you need to know the story behind the numbers. Here's quick guide:

In addition to the dollar total of sales, the acquisition of new accounts is another goal to review, because each additional customer builds your business base. Even if you could maintain a perfect relationship with every existing account, things like mergers, downsizing, relocations, and bankruptcy can still cost you clients. It's not fair, I know, but life often isn't. So be prepared for shrinkage in your customer base and make it a point to add new accounts every year, whether you think you need them or not.

The goal of picking up a specific number of new accounts each year helps keep you focused. And remember, no matter where you find new accounts, they are more than fresh opportunities in themselves -- they are also new sources of referrals that will extend your base even further.

SCHMOOZING TRUMPS LOOSING. If you sell something with a long lead time, like complex computer systems or construction projects, you may want to consider what I call activity goals. Long gaps between purchase orders and delivery are no excuse for not getting out there, because activity generates future sales. This is also a way to make sure you're still working as hard as you should be, even if the industry you service has been clobbered by the current economy and the only thing you feel like doing is licking your wounds.

Cold calls, presentations, lunches, golf outings -- it doesn't matter if they produce no immediate returns. They will do so eventually, so get busy and stay that way.

The best way to attain profit goals is to set an average-sales targets for established customers. Granted, there's less of an adrenaline rush than when you snag a new account. But there's more profit, and that generates its own unique buzz. Existing accounts are more lucrative because you already have the facts. You already know, for example, that your current clients pay their bills, so there's less risk. And they also demand less of your resources. For starters, you can be pretty sure you won't be asked the same basic questions all over again.

Do you have a goal to increase customer satisfaction? Let me put it this way: Would you put a bumper sticker on your car that says "I Love My Customers," and do so in the sure knowledge that you wouldn't be stretching the truth? Let me stress that I'm talking about love, not like, because, if a customer spends money with you, he wants you to think he's great.

CREDITS AND DEBITS. Someone once explained to me that business is like a bank account. When a vendor does a good job, it's a deposit. When a vendor makes a mistake, it's a withdrawal. Do you have large balances of goodwill with all of your customers? You sure better hope so!

Here's another good question: If you had a party for your customer "fan club," how many people would show up? Now that I mention it, why don't you throw a party for your customers? Maybe have an interesting speaker or demonstration. And while you're at it, encourage guests to invite friends who might be interested in what you sell. Remember, let your customers know you love them!

Your marketing goals also need a midyear checkup. It's not hard to spend half your year's budget on marketing. (If it is, let me know. I have readers who can help deplete the surplus.) The trick is to maximize the impact of every dollar.

First, you must measure the effectiveness of your marketing effort. If you have one program that lags the pack, now's the time to be bold and eliminate it. I know that sounds drastic, but if you transfer the money and effort to the marketing strategy that has proven most effective, you can heighten impact without boosting your budget. That should translate to additional sales.

MEETING AND GREETING. Don't forget to include networking efforts in your goal review. But beware: These days, there are so many groups devoted to this, that, and the other things, you could spend every meal exchanging business cards and meeting new faces. Now's the time to evaluate the networks with which you are already involved and evaluate the personal and professional worth of each. Put a few of your regular neworking groups -- the less productive ones -- on hold for a spell, and you'll make room in your schedule for exploring the possibilities of new ones.

A midyear check up is a very good idea, especially after all the turmoil our economy has endured. But before you consider the job complete, step back and imagine what the big picture will look like 10 years, even 20 years, down the road. Where do you want to be by then? Is what you doing today helping to attain those distant objectives? If not, adjust your goals, the strategy for reaching them, or both. Happy Selling! Michelle Nichols is a Sales consultant, trainer, and speaker based in Houston. She welcomes your questions and comments and can be reached at michelle.nichols@savvyselling.biz


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