Eight ways to boost sales fast

As a recession looms, we look at some tactics that could help you ride out any storm

Christmas is long since gone and wasn’t a great time for many businesses. High street mainstays such as Marks & Spencer are feeling the pinch and figures from the British Retail Consortium (BRC) show that sales grew by just 0.3% – a measly figure for the festive season.

However, some firms outperformed the naysayers and doom merchants; Waitrose, for instance, posted a 4.1% jump, which shows that you can prosper in tough conditions. Here are eight quickfire ways to give your sales figures a shot in the arm:

1. Make special offers

The silly sales season is over for many, but that doesn’t mean you should stop making your customers offers they can’t refuse every now and then. Everyone loves a BOGOF (buy one get one free) and special offers are now common practice. However, it is essential that you understand fully what you are trying to improve. If it is profitability then you might be on to a loser as you are effectively halving your prices. But if it is revenue or footfall/page impressions then it might be a smart move. Limited time offers are key to success as you need to create a sense of urgency in your buyers.

You should not attempt to do the same offer everywhere. Instead, you must tailor your deal according to the outlet it is being sold in. “You might want to do a BOGOF in Asda as its customers are very much motivated by low prices,” says Marc Lawn a director at the Institute of Sales Promotion (ISP). “However, if you are also in Tesco then perhaps your promotion should be buy two and get £1 off.”

2. T ry giveaways

Women’s magazines often offer items such as free bags whereas gyms might offer items such as golf umbrellas to new members. But what you should be looking for is an item that is both very cheap to source and which fits in with the lifestyle of the people that you are trying to attract. You only have to look at how monied celebrities snatch at free clothes, fragrances, gadgets or politicians accept dubious holidays with rich magnates, to see that everyone loves something for nothing.

However, you need to be the one really gaining out of the deal, as you aren’t doing this just to be nice. Brad Rosser is the founder of property  firm Inside Track and a former right-hand man of Sir Richard Branson. He says he likes to add benefits when he will recoup that cost many times over through the overall deal. “For instance, if a client is buying two properties I would offer to give them VIP client status free for a year if they bought four houses,” says Rosser (pictured above).

3. Reward loyalty

Loyalty schemes are a great way to boost profitability as long as you recognise what is of value to your customer but not expensive for you. For instance, a coffee shop that sells its drinks at £2.50 probably has a very high margin on each cup. Therefore to offer a free cup for every 10 bought as Costa Coffee has done would cost the store very little but saves the customer £2.50. It would also be fairly easy for the company to predict how many free cups they are going to have to give away.

As Lawn says: “Loyalty schemes tend to work well where there is a relatively predictable pattern of behaviour from your consumer and especially if there is a high profit margin on the product that you sell.” This is why they are popular among groups such as car service companies as it is taken for granted that vehicles will require certain types of repairs and need to be serviced on a regular basis.

4. Use point systems

Points systems add another reason to buy from a retailer and Air Miles and Nectar are two of the best-known players attracting many retailers to their schemes. The value of points systems is that they offer a tantalizing benefit at the end of the buying period. Often this is something that normally a customer might not buy, could not afford or would simply love to get for ‘free’.

One company, Reward, offers such a scheme and is currently looking to add smaller retailers to its client list. Described as the ‘Air Miles of the terraces’ it enables football fans to subscribe an existing credit card which then accumulates points when it is used in selected retailers. The company also promotes its partners via the fan’s football clubs and through digital media. Founded by Gavin Dein, the £5m turnover business has schemes set up with several premiership teams such as Arsenal, Tottenham and Birmingham City and many clubs in the lower divisions.

“Because it is based on a credit card not a flash card we can tell a retailer how many of our members are already using their store beforehand. They can then measure the success of the scheme afterwards and decide if it’s a good idea,” explains Dein.

5. Offer free trials

You might have a great product but if people don’t understand it or aren’t sure of its value they won’t buy it. Peter Shaw, managing director of Brand Catalyst, offers part-time marketing services and consultancy to businesses. But it is a competitive field and such services are not generally cheap. Therefore in the past he has offered free ‘clinic’ sessions to firms for a day to bring in new business.

“We sent out a mailshot to clients that we really wanted to work with and offered an advice clinic for a day either for free or at a very discounted price,” says Shaw. “It was lowering the threshold and we took them a long way down the process of what we do.” The move was successful and resulted in a contract which brought back the money invested in the day many times over.

Technology companies, which have often broken new ground, also use free trials to improve awareness and conduct product testing. Synchronica, a £1.2m turnover AIM-listed business, did this when it developed an online tool which allows a mobile phone to access business email without the need to make alterations to a company’s firewalls. The product became even more significant as Apple’s iPhone had just gone on sale and couldn’t connect with Microsoft Outlook. So the company launched a 60-day free trial and sent out a press release to attract attention.

“From that one press release we gained 15,000 users,” says CEO Carsten Brinkschulte. The release had sparked a considerable viral marketing surge and soon the company was in a very strong position to continue its project. It has now signed a licensing deal with SyncMyMail.com and has others in the pipeline.

“The free trial helped us with product testing and proved our idea worked,” says Brinkschulte. “We are now able to contact users on behalf of our partners and tell them where they can get the service. The deal wouldn’t have been possible without the free trial.”

6. Tie in with a major brand

Tying up with a company that has more reach, marketing muscle and brand awareness than you is a smart way to piggyback your way to success. Also, niche operators are sometimes very valuable to larger brands as they bring a level of innovation and attention to detail that some of the big companies might lack.

However, you need to get your pitch right and be able to demonstrate that a deal would be in their best interests as well as yours. There needs to be a clear overlap between your customers and theirs. For instance, if you were an expensive watch manufacturer then you might look to tie-up with the likes of Mercedes as you are both premium brands. Or if you ran a business that provides childcare then you should look at children’s brands.

As Lawn says: “Essentially, imagine you draw both of your customers as a Venn diagram then you should run a campaign where you have a cross-section.” Also, it pays to ensure that any other parties have already bought into your idea. “If you are going through a retail network then it helps to already have a level of buy-in with that store,” adds Lawn. “So if you make kitchen appliances and wanted to partner with a cabinet maker then it would be better to have established an agreement with, for instance, MFI.” You need to do your research and find the right partner and venue to do this but don’t underestimate yourself as small firms often have a lot to offer the big guns.

7. Sell vouchers

Vouchers are now a staple part of most major retail organisations and are understood by and popular with consumers. Essentially a gift item, they enable people to buy from you who normally wouldn’t. Record vouchers are, of course, one of the most well-known and effective vouchers for choosing lower value items such as CDs or DVDs for a friend or family member – decisions that could otherwise easily go wrong.

In order to get a voucher system up and running you should have them professionally designed and printed and watermarked to guard against fraud and train your staff in their use. It is essential that you keep track of the number of vouchers you issue and should treat each one as a sale. Rosser says that vouchers are very effective but warns they aren’t things to be given away.

“The danger for some entrepreneurs is that they give them away without expecting people to redeem them,” he says. “You have to make sure that you have enough stock to cope with demand.” It is a point that is valid for all special offers. In the early 1990s

Hoover launched a disastrous campaign where it promised free flights to customers that spent over £100. The company was inundated with requests, forcing it to renege, and ended up losing a reported £48m. Plan carefully!

8. Improve your team

Almost everyone can remember a time when they have received bad customer service that led them to go elsewhere. You need people who are motivated and believe in what you are doing and this should be demonstrable in the way they behave each day. Penny Ferguson, who runs a £1.5m turnover leadership and performance company, says your staff should treat your business as if it is their own home and customers like they are friends.

“If customers have a great experience how much more likely are they to come back?” she says. “It’s not about pricing and systems it’s about getting your staff to take 100% responsibility and ensure that customers have a great experience.”

However, Rosser advocates a more aggressive approach. “Sometimes you have to shake things up a bit,” he says. “I am not averse to bringing in new staff as sometimes people get complacent in their roles. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of churn in the sales department or even bringing in a new manager.”



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