Do you take orders, or make sales?
Perth innovation advisor Ken Green, of Business Foundations, says he is often asked if there is a common problem he sees when dealing with SMEs in WA.
His answer is both startling and simple: “A lack of ability to sell”.
“I think, especially in WA, firms have forgotten how to sell. A lot of them have never even had to – they just had to turn up.”
It’s a phenomena Diana Simich, who heads Perth-based coaching program Training for Growth, has noticed, too.
“It’s been an abundant economy for 10 years – people are order takers,” she says.
Now the economy has slowed, businesses need to learn how to actively pursue sales. And those who get on the front foot will reap the rewards.
Simich brings a different perspective to the WA economy, after riding out the GFC in New Zealand, which was rocked by the crisis.
“Builders were looking for handyman jobs. Industries were falling apart. It was dire.”
Simich, who was in sales at the time, said it forced her to re-evaluate her technique. “It was that period that taught me more than anything else about customer service, about sales and about giving value,” Simich says.
What she learned, she says, is that when times are tough, it’s not necessarily price-point but customer service that’s the key to making sales.
“It used to be that you could promise value and people would buy,” she says.
“Now we have to build trust and there are a lot more ‘touch points’ before people will buy.
“Before the internet, it was five touch points before people would buy. With the internet, it was five to 12 and around 2013/2014, it went up to 15 touch points.
“We are in a completely different business climate – it’s all about relationship building.”
And to build a relationship with customers, you need to take time to understand them.
The key, Simich says, is flipping the focus from selling to solving a problem – how can your product or service “help” each potential client: Is it cheaper? Better quality? Easier to access? More stylish?
To understand how it will help each client, you need to understand their individual pain points. SMEs in Perth have not traditionally spent money on sales training.
But Simich, who has been based in WA since 2010, says demand is growing as small operators look for an edge.
As well as upping your sales game, focusing on high-margin products or services is also an efficient way to drive growth.
To this end, niche products or services are ideal because they command premium prices and generate strong word-of-mouth.
“People are looking for specialists, not generalists, and they’re willing to pay more for a specialist. So, if you niche your products, you find that once you connect to one person, you find your tribe,” says Simich.
Also adding a premium product or service to your range – while it may seem counter–intuitive in a slowdown – can actually generate strong cash flow.
Business advisor Pauline Bright has learned this from personal experience when one client requested a full-day, one-on-one consultation, rather than her usual hour-long appointment.
“It’s a high-price item and it’s only for specific people,” Bright says.
“So you don’t sell a lot of them, but you make a lot of money very quickly to a customer that wants that particular service. Look at your premium customers and affluent customers.”