Monday, 24 March 2014

Guest post - Tools to support your sales activity

Although most people associate Microsoft Excel with accounts and financial planning, it is far more versatile than that, and it is ideal for keeping track of financial affairs. Sales is about money, and Excel is excel-lent (excuse the pun) for keeping track of money. Now even though you may know that, I would like to explain just how it can be useful in the 'sales' industry.

Now when it comes to sales, knowledge is key.

·         Where are the sales coming from?

·         What are our targets?

·         What have we already achieved?

·         What do we still need to do?

·         Are we on target?

All of these are questions that get asked, and if you're in sales, these are the questions you need to have answers for.
All too often you have good sales people who don't have a solid sales plan, or having a solid plan but not knowing all of the facts. Your sales will only hit their true potential if you (1) know all of the facts, (2) have a solid sales plan and (3) have talented sales staff.

Excel will allow you to achieve the first of those requirements, which will help with the second and encourage the third. Let me explain.

One of the strengths of Excel is to manipulate data into an understandable format. This means that it takes confusing data and lays it out in such a way that it makes sense and is useful. If you have a whole long list of sales that have come in, you may not be able to see vital information from that data. Look at the questions that I asked above, none of those questions are answered by a list of sales. Now Excel can take that list of your sales, and answer all of those questions, and all you have to do is 'feed' Excel the list.

No need to have someone looking over the list with a calculator, trying to establish what is required. Excel will take the list and pull out all of the information that you require to make the correct decisions. You will know all of the facts, you will be able to see what has happened, how it happened and even what is likely to happen. All vital to a sales team.

Excel will also be able to break down other information, like which marketing campaigns have worked. When entering your sales data, if you include details like how the work came in, Excel can give you reports on this too. This means that you could see which marketing ideas have been successful and which haven't. This will help you to achieve the second goal of coming up with a solid sales plan. The key to sales is being organised, you may not think so when you meet some salespeople, but behind them is usually an organised sales manager with a solid plan. Seeing as you need information to generate a plan, Excel is perfect as it gets you all the required information.

Now Excel can help with the third category too, but unfortunately most sales people won't use it. I worked as a sales rep for a few years, and I used Excel all of the time. I used it to assess data, as well as storing client data, and even planning my visitations! I found that if all of the data and information were stored in Excel, it meant that I didn't have to remember it all, it also meant that I could use that data to create reports that helped me to do my job better. Even if the salesperson doesn't use it, Excel was still vital in getting them all of the statistics and information in the first place, by taking care of the first two categories.

We all love to see graphs that go up; we all love to see positive forecasts and we all need targets. Excel is the key to taking your raw data, producing the vital information that you require, and presenting it in an easy-to-understand format. Unfortunately, when you open up a new blank Excel spreadsheet, it is of no use until someone creates the correct spreadsheet for you and your company. If you can't do it in-house, there are companies that will liaise with you and create something specifically for you. I for one love doing this, which is why I started Spreadsheet Solutions, so that I could help others experience the advantages of using Excel and so that sales people can focus on their customers.

Richard Sumner is the Managing Director of Spreadsheet Solutions

075 042 70579

Monday, 24 February 2014

That'll learn you

Self development, or "sharpening the saw" as famously termed by Stephen Covey, has long been something I value and invest in.  I left school with a handful of O-levels and worked for a year before entering military service. At the time, further and higher education did not hold the same appeal as getting a job and earning a wage.  It was later in my early twenties that I started to understand the opportunities that education offered, and the difference a tutor with true passion for their subject could make to the learning experience of their students.

Fast forward ten years and I held a fistful of qualifications including a degree, though I realised that the qualifications were a by product of the experience of building my knowledge and skills.  As individuals we learn and absorb information in various ways - I knew from a young age that video assisted my learning; having procrastinated my reading of To Kill a Mocking Bird, I must confess that I was aided in my preparation for an exam by watching the film adaptation featuring Gregory Peck.

 Reading is a daily habit for many of us and I have just completed (my first read through) of some 'must read' business books given to me as Christmas gifts.  I have also been exploring new (to me) network opportunities and attending some very interesting seminars and talks.  It was at such an event (on the future of leadership) that I was reminded that the best way to develop your learning of a subject is to teach it. 

Try it!
Just the preparation of a short training session is enough to get you thinking creatively about the material; the ways you will deliver the content; and the questions you may have to respond to.  Rather than wait for the opportunity to arise you could video yourself delivering a presentation; create a podcast or write a helpful blog post. 

You'll be amazed at how the process of sharing your knowledge embeds that learning and builds on your expertise - it might prompt you to do a bit of research to refresh your content or you may choose to weave in a case study or useful example to your presentation.  Currently I'm benefitting from preparing a sales presentation and negotiation course.

Learning is a lifetime activity and finding a subject you can passionately share and inspire in others is a gratifying reward, and if you are looking for your own inspiration, then check out some seminars and talks near you - with the right 'teacher' you'll be pleasantly surprised how much you can retain and hopefully share later with others.

P.S. If you are interested in discovering what I've been reading recently, drop me a line at

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Shoots of recovery - what's the outlook?

The green shoots of recovery - such a lovely phrase, and one spread across the news of late to herald a drop in unemployment and the IMF predicting a 2.4% growth for the UK economy; apparently  the highest of any major European economy.   Sounds reassuring and encouraging, yet I wonder what the true impact of this for businesses and I suspect that some will benefit sooner and greater than others. 
Well, I've recently (unscientifically) tested my suspicions when networking, and so far the feedback is mixed.  Some feel that staff development and training is still viewed as a discretionary spend by some businesses, and proposals issued during last year are still awaiting approval, and may not achieve this until Spring.  Other anecdotal feedback about the procurement of services and technology would suggest this is a higher priority for some companies, though one hopes they invest in some training to maximise its use. 
So what can you do to get your business ready for those opportunities?  Here are 3 thoughts:
1.       Dust off your sales and marketing plan - if you've been conducting less marketing over recent periods, the chances are your plan needs to be reviewed and activities critiqued to ensure they will support growth

2.       Let people know your still here - similar to the sales and marketing plan, your previous customers may have had less to spend in the last few years, and your interaction with them may have decreased to reflect this.  If they are ready to buy again, don't assume that you are the only supplier they will contact

3.       Meeting demand - you may have downsized your team or diverged into other product or services to keep the business going.  If your old customers do come back or buy more, are you able to increase productivity or service an increase in customers and their needs?  Evaluate theses scenarios in advance and know how you will sustainably deliver this

It's a concern that if Britain is split on the recovery, those businesses that are still bunkering down are likely to miss. You've seen the motorway signs "is your car prepared for winter?" - ask yourself is your business prepared for the opportunities of 2014? 
Here's to a great year.

John is a Director of Vector Resources Limited and helps businesses increase sales and improve sales performance.  Find out more at

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Best intentions - what will make you stay the course?

It's resolution time! Whether personal or business, now is the 'default' time to start a fresh and go for broke with a goal or challenge.  No doubt you've heard or seen many make a commitment to do something different - I know I have. I've suddenly been inundated with newsletters and blogs from a variety of sources. 

A number of you may be rethinking your sales and marketing strategy and what the perceived return on investment has been, or what it could be. There's a lot of buzz and activity, and then.......the day to day business takes priority and we drift back to business as usual,  and the goals we thought we'd set become blurred - welcome to February.

We start with the best intentions yet we occasionally lose focus  - it happens - just this afternoon on local radio Paul McKenna stated that 70% of new gym members stop going after 3 weeks, whilst their commitment to paying for the membership probably lasts a further 49!  Generally we are aware that we will embark on certain goals at this time of year and that our enthusiasm will wane in the coming weeks - yet every year we reset and make those well intended commitments again and again.

So, here are some tips to help you 'stay the course'

1.       Is your goal achievable for you and will you know when you have achieved it? 

Goals should be challenging and take us out of our comfort zones, however are you willing to commit to the activities you need to do to reach the goal?  If not, choose another goal

2.       Write it down - it's well proven that writing down a goal makes you more likely to work towards and achieve it.  Shirley Mansfield (CoachSME) has written a blog recently with a great example

3.       Tell others who can help you - whether it's your coach, a business buddy or perhaps your team.  Share your goals with those that can help you maintain focus and make you accountable - and return the favour by helping others be accountable to their goals too

4.       Celebrate milestones en route to your goal.  Sometimes we all need encouragement to keep going.  Think about football supporters - they cheer every interception, save and goal.  Don't leave it to the final whistle to recognise your achievements

Good luck and have a successful 2014.


John is a Director of Vector Resources Limited and helps businesses increase sales and improve sales performance.  Find out more at

Thursday, 19 December 2013

The season of giving

This week I co-hosted a workshop to help growing businesses get themselves and their customers motivated for the coming year, and it was insightful to hear how many people were motivated by helping others achieve more.  They recognised that by working with other business owners and assisting one another led to stronger relationships and opportunities than simply ploughing on in a belief that sharing would weaken their business.

This prompted me to think of when recently I worked with a number of business owners who were looking to reinforce or refresh their approach to sales and marketing. Each one has since sent me an update of how they are progressing with their actions and putting the suggestions and techniques I shared into practice, and I wish to share a couple of examples with you.

It was very rewarding to witness a 60 second pitch this week from a consultant who now shares what they offer confidently, proudly, and most importantly with clarity - we achieved the core message for this pitch within an hour, and he then practiced and refined the message until he owned it - I even received it as a video message the day after our session.

Sometimes we can increase the value of something we are already doing or planning to do - by making simple tactical changes.  Elliott owns and runs a clinic in north Kent offering osteopathy, sports massage and personal training.  When we met, Elliott already had a clear marketing plan, however he wanted to gain more referrals from his customers, yet like many was unsure of how he could confidently get his customers to take action. 
Elliott had already shared with me that he had ordered a small quantity of branded tops to thank loyal customers, and through our session Elliott chose to offer these instead as an incentive for customers to refer others.  Even better, and you can see it in the photographs, the customers are initiating the conversation thanks to his simple message displayed near the garment in the waiting area.

Growing businesses are a creative hive of ideas and plans to boost what they do and how they do it.  Be like Elliott - take practical action and take a further step towards success. 

I've really enjoyed seeing my customers continue to grow this year and I look forward to work with and helping many more with practical support in the coming year.

I wish you all a wonderful festive period and a successful 2014.


John is a Director of Vector Resources Limited and helps businesses increase sales and improve sales performance.  Find out more at


Friday, 6 December 2013

Exhibit with purpose - stand up and follow up

Is your business in the process of planning your sales and marketing activities for the coming year?  If so, there's a possibility that you will be considering exhibiting at conferences and expo's.  It might be that you exhibit every year, at the same events, without much thought.  Whatever your stage in this process, let me ask you to stop and consider these points.

·         If you choose to exhibit, what are your goals? 
I hope you have some, and I would certainly challenge you if you say it's to raise awareness.  Awareness of what? 
·         How will you measure this?
·         Any goals you set should generally be aimed at quality over quantity
o   Remember a bowlful of business cards are not necessarily qualified leads

·         How effective is your messaging going to be? 

Expo visitors and delegates may pass your stand in a few seconds and will rarely stop to read your banner if it has a four line paragraph and 15 products and services listed. 
·         Less is more 
·         Make your banner stand out with an appropriate visual or single line statement
o   And make sure your logo is not hidden down the bottom
·         If you've had a rebrand recently, make sure your materials reflect this and logos and style match
·         Think about your pitch - you've got 20 seconds to capture my attention.  Practice it and keep it consistent
o   A prize draw is a tool for engaging visitors, not the reason for you exhibiting

Who and how
The selection of the people representing your stand is crucial to its success.  All too often I see representatives sat behind a table more engaged with their Smartphone or tablet than the people around them. 
·         If your service/product is likely to attract technical questions, make sure you've a mix of sales people and technical people on stand 
·         Make sure your expectations of behaviours on stand are clear and understood
o   Arrive on stand before delegates enter expo
o   Whilst on stand no sitting down or overtly checking emails
o   Refrain from having personal drinks or food on display
o    If someone needs a break or some refreshments, ask them to go to the refreshment area - who knows they even get talking to a potential customer over a latte

 Extra opportunities
·         If you decide that you are going to exhibit, then plan and book ahead
o   You may get a discount for early booking, or a better choice of available stands
·         There may also be other opportunities that can be useful such as:
o   Speaker slots
o   Being part of a panel discussion
o   Though think carefully about the offer of any sponsorship opportunities, be clear about what you will get from any sponsorship - are you simply funding a drinks reception in a room with your banner in the corner?

Let me ask you a question - has a giveaway ever led you to contact a company or look at their website? 

At a major exhibition recently, it was quite refreshing to see limited giveaways being used - rather than witnessing the 'hello and grab' scenario of the delegate on a free stationary top-up trip. 
·         If you do feel the need to have giveaways, get creative - consider the longevity of the product and its active use/placement by the recipient
·         Pens are cheap, but not when bought in their '000s and they often end up in a desk draw
·         If your prospective companies are large corporates avoid giving away USB sticks, as their IT policies will generally prohibit their use

Be a delegate
·         Make time to visit a similar style expo to observe the various stands and help refine what may work or improve your stand
·         These insights will save you time and money, making your stand all the more successful
·         Speak to the stand representatives and listen to the way they engage you and others - are they asking you open questions (and qualifying you as a potential lead)
o   A good representative will be doing this, and if the stand is busy they will have a technique for politely concluding your conversation so that they can focus on the next visitor - this is where the business card prize draw can be a useful tool

Follow up
Following up potential leads after the exhibition is the most important part of the activity yet so often overlooked. 
·         When you identify your goals you should be planning and agreeing how the follow up process will work and who will do it, and when
·         Follow up communications should happen within a week of the event, and not end with one email for qualified leads
·         Sift qualified leads during or at the end of the exhibition, with additional notes if a more in-depth conversation has happened
o   This is particularly important if the people following up the leads were not at the exhibition or on stand all of the time
·         Prepare your emails and block out time for follow up calling in advance
·         Send an email follow up even to the card in the bucket that you didn't qualify, and may have only been after the bottle of bubbly - you never know, and the 'cost' of the email is inexpensive

In the past year I have attended over 6 expos and my card has been requested by many a stand rep, however I have only ever received a handful of follow up emails, and one phone call. 

In effect many businesses have wasted the biggest opportunity, which was to start a communication thread with me - I may not be their customer today, however......

·         Plan early
o   Challenge yourselves on why you are exhibiting (is it habit)
o   Select a stand location where there will be natural footfall
o   Consider that you may gain more/achieve your goals by attending as a delegate
·         Agree and capture what will be the follow up process
·         Decide who will represent your stand
o   Are they articulate and confident at interacting with strangers?
·         Stand visuals - are they current and fit for purpose?
·         Giveaways - can you be creative or could your money be spent on other things such as a better stand position?
·         Explore add on opportunities
·         Review your results against your goals and have an open discussion about the amount of success of exhibiting
·         And if you lack the resources/skills to exhibit and/or follow up , consider using an outsourced sales provider

      John is the Director, of Vector Resources Limited, who help growing businesses increase sales and improve sales performance.  Find out more about outsourced sales and sales management at

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Outsource this!

Its presence blossomed in the late 1980's and early 1990's, yet outsourcing has been around for centuries in various guises, and it continues to be a growth sector for some specialism's.  Mercenaries are a historic and extreme example of how an outsourced resource provided an entity (country; group) with the skills, capacity and capabilities to achieve their vision and goals (war, battle, and invasion).  Though fortunately these days outsourcing applies more to business orientated functions.
Numerous businesses have used (in whole or part) outsourced support and front line services, and doing so can be hugely beneficial to the owner of a growing business.  Accessing the skills and resources needed, without carrying the full time salary and management costs, can be very appealing and make economic sense.  Many of us will be familiar with printing, legal and catering as outsourced services, and during the past decade we have seen a greater presence of HR, marketing, IT and virtual assistants also becoming effective outsourced functions.

Business owners are increasingly seeing the benefits (beyond just the cost savings) of using an outsourcing provider.  Generally these providers will be keeping themselves abreast of the latest trends and market conditions, and have a wealth of experience and knowledge, sometimes beyond that expected of a similar role if they had been the employee.  They are connected to other businesses and may be in a position to connect you with potential customers, partners and suppliers.

Outsourcing can be adaptable to your needs whether that's cost, skills, frequency or volume.  This empowers businesses to gear up quicker, free up internal resources, and test new products and markets.  However the appetite to the use of outsourced services can vary.  Using an outsourced printer or accountant seems quite common place, yet hesitation can creep in when considering the use of an outsourced sales or HR provider.

The benefits should outweigh the cost of any hesitation and as you are the customer, rather than the employer, it gives you greater flexibility (within the agreement or contractual terms) to work with the provider to focus on what matters most to you and your business. 
You are in control.

John is the Director, of Vector Resources Limited, who help growing businesses increase sales and improve sales performance.  Find out more about outsourced sales and sales management at