5 ways to make landing customers easier (MoneyWatch)

When customers call for quotes, proposals, or simply to get more information, how well do you respond? Improving how you handle requests makes it much easier to turn potential customers into long-term customers of your small business.


Here are five practical ways to improve the speed and accuracy of your response:

Create templates for proposals and contracts. The longer it takes to create and develop a proposal, the less efficient and established your business appears. Develop a template that includes standard language, terms, specifications, and benefits. While each proposal will then be tailored to the individual needs of a potential customer, in most cases you'll already have the bulk of what you need to include in a proposal ready to go. That allows you to focus on making a proposal specific to each customer, not on creating a new proposal entirely. And of course the same holds true for contracts -- always be ready to strike when the sales iron is hot.

Create comprehensive pricing schedules. Pricing for some service businesses is at times a blend of science and art. That's especially true when a potential customer asks for services you don't normally provide. Develop as many scenarios as possible and develop solid pricing schemes for each. Responding to requests will be a lot easier, and more importantly you will be less likely to make off-the-cuff pricing decisions you might regret later.

Maintain a stock of samples, mock-ups, etc. Samples help establish credibility and provide the proof your pudding may need. Almost every type of business can create some type of sample or example. If you're a consultant, share a previous deliverable (with proprietary information stripped out, of course.) If you're an architect, have photos, blueprints, etc. on hand for easy distribution. The quicker you can respond to sample requests, the better you establish credibility and keep a potential sale moving forward. Try hard to never put yourself in the position of needing to say, "That's a reasonable request... give me some time to dig something up."

Create a list of references. References are like samples. Talk to a number of past clients ahead of time to get their permission to be contacted. (And always send them a note when you actually pass on their info.) Again, never put yourself in the position of having to say, "That's a reasonable request... let me see if I can line up a few people for you to talk to." Have a list available at all times. Saying, "References? Absolutely: Here is the contact info for several past clients" sends a powerful message.

Create responses to typical questions. You know all the answers, but it's likely your employees do not. While it's always appropriate for an employee to say, "I can't answer that question, so let me get you an answer," your business makes a much stronger impression when employees are able to answer common questions with confidence and authority. Create a FAQ list for internal use and update it regularly.

Read more from CBS NEWS: http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-505143_162-57351879/5-ways-to-make-landing-customers-easier/?tag=cbsnewsSectionsArea;cbsnewsSectionsArea.3.

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