Most of our business advice columns are specific to a certain industry or category type. Businesses have become more “niche” over the past decade, and those individual nuances mean we have to accommodate different business types by imparting targeted information.  However, there are some universal truths in business.  One universal truth is: everyone is selling something.  It doesn’t matter if you are for profit or non-profit; everyone is trying to create an action, solicit resources or sell a good/service to someone.  The sales process is nuanced with modern technology and exotic business types, but the sales process still contains three basic parts: preparing the target market for the sale, closing the sale and reinforcing the action.  In layman’s terms, we say people must “sell them what you are going to sell them”, “sell them”, and then “sell them what you sold them”.

That third part of the sale, “sell them what you sold them”, is the portion of the process that most businesses have trouble with.  From service businesses, to restaurants, retailers and non-profits, reinforcing the sale to create a more consistent consumer environment gets overlooked.  And no, a “thanks; come back and see us” doesn’t suffice.

As we enter the forth quarter, service businesses get busy with end-of-year activities, retailers plan for holiday shoppers, restaurants pick up clientele from busy patrons and non-profits seek those ever important end-of-year “gifts”.  But, by taking a few extra moments to focus on the third portion of the sales process, you can enhance your end of year, and establish a culture that can succeed well beyond the next few months.  Here are some things to consider:

1.  Concentrate on “if, then” portion of potential future sales –  During the sales process, people are generally pretty good at identifying add on sales.  If you form a new business with an attorney, you might want to update your will.  If you review your investment accounts as a young family, you might want to talk about setting up college funds for your children.  If you buy a candle, you might want to buy a candle warmer.  If you buy a nice dinner, you may want an after dinner drink or dessert.  However, most businesses don’t apply this concept during the reinforcement stage of the sale.  By anticipating future needs based on current purchases and then highlighting ways that you can fulfill those needs, you are more likely to encourage future interactions.  So, if someone buys a used car from you, it’s good to highlight your ability to do oil changes at the close.  If someone buys new clothing because they “lost weight” you might let people know when the next season’s shipment is due to arrive.  You have a captive and receptive audience if you’ve made a sale.  Take the opportunity to make more future sales.

2.  Let people know what activities are happening soon in your business –  If your business has future events planned, new products arriving, extended hours on the way or is in the process of launching new social media projects- let people know!  Word of mouth advertising is still the most effective form, and words from your mouth equal advertising.  Have a list of things that you can talk to customers about that pertain to the near future plans for your business, and communicate that list to individuals as part of the sales process.

3.  Inform people of upcoming events in the community –  We talk a lot about “target markets.”  Well, if someone is utilizing your products or services, they probably fit your “target” mold.  The closer the target, the more likely you are to score a hit (sale).  Letting people know about events and/or activities in your immediate area that can bring consumers back to the proximity of your business could result in future sales.  Plus, imparting knowledge on consumers reinforces the “expert” service climate most businesses or organizations want to create.  Don’t know what’s going on in the community?  Find out about local events atwww.etownapp.com .

4.  Collect information –  One of the most valuable things a business can establish is a customer list.  Whether you are creating an individualized marketing plan or establishing a future “blue sky” asset, an accurate customer list gives you flexibility to reach out to the consuming public.  Asking for e-mails, social media “handles”, phone numbers and addresses allows a business to follow up in a more personal manner.  Don’t spam or harass, but if you can tell someone “this just came in and I instantly thought of you” or if you can follow up on a question a customer asked, you can establish consumer loyalty and future sales.  If you don’t have a way to contact a customer, future interactions are random and inconsistent.

5.  Use the person’s name –  Once you hear “thanks for stopping in” for the thousandth time it loses its meaning for the consumer and the business person.  If you don’t take the time to use someone’s name, subconsciously people may feel like you value them as a consumer but not as an individual.  Personalize your “bring back” statement by using a persons name and a unique phrase based upon your previous interaction.  One of the things that generally distinguishes small businesses from “the big guys” is personal service, so being impersonal isn’t really an option for successful entrepreneurs.

6.  Ask for feedback –  Each person you have a professional interaction with is a potential focus group.  Asking for consumers to give feedback lets them know you want to continually improve and that you value their input.  Following up afterwards letting a consumer know that you implemented one of their ideas can create long term loyalty.

7.  Pay a compliment beyond “thank you” –  You should show appreciation to people you interact with professionally, but the way you say “thank you” needs to vary or the statement loses meaning. Complimenting people on their “smart purchase”, “good eye”, their ability to plan for their family, how thoughtful they were, or any other unique compliment will stand out in a consumers mind because it’s different from what they normally hear.  Standing out (in a good way) within the mind of your consumer is important to create buzz and advocacy.

8.  Ask consumers to advocate (and give them a reason to) –  Consumers will often talk about friends or family members that would want or need your products or services.  After the sale, its smart to encourage the consumer to reach out to those people as advocates.  You can even supply something like a business card, coupon or gift certificate in anticipation of the consumer’s advocacy.  You talking about your business to the public is very important, but when you can get other people to recommend your business, those testimonials are generally more effective.

Take out some paper and physically write down a few thoughts on how you and your staff can alter the way you bring consumers back to your business or organization, then act on them.  It is easy to establish bad sales habits just because repetition is simpler than thinking about these issues critically.  But, if you can use your basic brain power to increase your sales, consumer contact, advocacy and patronage, why wouldn’t you?

Check out this article and MUCH more in this week’s Emporia Main Street E-newsletter!