Common wisdom dictates that to grow your business you need to get more customers or sell more to your existing customers.

Simple, except for a few key questions:

  1. How do I sell more to my existing customers?
  2. How do I find new customers?
  3. How do I know when I have to end a customer relationship?
  4. How do I make sure I grow my customer base relative to my ability to deliver?

This week we will delve into the first three issues in further detail, and next week consider the crucial issue of being able to deliver on your customers’ expectations. 

1. How do I sell more to my existing customers?

A further common wisdom dictates that it is 80% easier to sell to existing customers, so do whatever you have to, in order to deliver the very best product and service to them, every time.

Many customers only know about the products they have bought from you. Simply telling your customers about all the products in your range can bring in more business. Make sure your customer knows everything you offer.

Upsell at the right time

Cross-selling and up-selling is all about relevance. Look at what your customers have bought before and offer them other relevant goods and services that might be useful. They will see this as good customer care, rather than an intrusive sales pitch.

Ensure your pitches are perfectly timed

Timing is everything. Where possible, focus on cross-selling and up-selling at the point of sale when customers are ready to buy. Offering upgrades, special deals and free gifts (such as three for two) is a great way to convince customers to spend a little more.

How to approach existing customers

Never underestimate the importance of your existing satisfied customers. Again, it costs less to sell to them than it does to find new business. What's more, they are loyal, they tell you what you are doing right and wrong, they recommend you to their friends and, compared to new customers, they are less price-sensitive.

Selling to existing customers is quite different to approaching new prospects. You don't need to establish your reputation, skills or the quality of your products. The customer is already convinced. The fact that you're telling them about other useful products or services shows that you understand their needs and care about their satisfaction.

Your sales approach should reflect the fact that you already have a good relationship. Listen to your customers and let them give you feedback before you make your pitch. As long as you tell your customers about something that's appropriate to them, they will appreciate the offer. Keep a good relationship with your customers, stay in touch.

Don't assume your customers know your products as well as you do. Most people are focused on one thing when they make a purchase. Customers are often unaware of everything that a business can provide.

Take advantage of every customer touch point to show them what you can offer as part of your routine customer-care processes. You can also send newsletters and emails telling them about new products and special offers. After a sale, a courtesy call is a good opportunity to offer other goods and services. You can send reminders when services or check-ups are due. When shipping a product to a customer, include a flyer highlighting other items which they might be interested in.

How to cross-sell

Cross-selling is an established sales technique that works. In a chemist, you'll find mouthwash, dental floss and toothpaste next to the toothbrushes. On websites like Amazon, you'll find other recommendations next to the book you are buying.

Maximise the potential for cross-selling by positioning related items together, whether in your shop, on your website or in your brochure. Educate shoppers on the depth and variety of what your business offers. At the same time, ensure your employees are trained in cross-selling techniques, based on offering customers relevant products and services.

Incentives can be the best way to achieve extra sales and it's very effective to bundle together related products in a package deal. If you run a carpet-cleaning business, don't forget to mention that you clean curtains too. You can also use endorsement to make a sale - recommendations from experts or other customers can convince customers to add more products to their basket.

How to up-sell

Getting customers to buy a more expensive product can be difficult. However, by encouraging your customers to spend a little more, you can significantly boost your sales.

There are two main ways to up-sell. The first method involves an in-depth understanding of your customer's requirements. The second approach is based on incentives and rewards for spending more. If you can combine both, you have a good chance of successfully up-selling.

Take a car sales pitch, for example. A customer comes in and is sure about the model they want to buy. The sales person asks a series of questions to find out more about their requirements. Then they show the customer the original model and a more expensive model that gives them everything they want. The customer likes the more expensive car but is concerned about the price. The sales person offers a discount and the deal is sealed.

2. How do I find new customers?

Here are four simple ways to "buy" new customers:

Advertising. 

The key to advertising successfully is to generate promising leads in exchange for the money you spend. To do so, it helps to offer a message that not only hits on your target customers, but also showcases the value you can offer them. Mass media is expensive for a reason, simply due to the vast numbers of potential customers these media reach.

Take television, for example. In general, TV will be your most expensive option. But targeting based on programming instead of channels or networks, that is, placing adverts on "Cooking with Joe" versus a campaign on a cooking network, offers a more specific outlet for your resources. Note that the production of the TV advert is expensive and you will need to have budget for the flighting of the advert. The norm in terms of production to media costs is 1:3 or in other words, for every One Rand spent on producing the advert you need to spend R3 on media costs to flight it. 

Radio also allows you to selectively target formats and programming. And even in large metro areas, you can often score inexpensive sponsorships of weather or traffic reports. And though newspaper subscribership has dwindled in recent years, depending on your market, they're still a worthy option for attracting new customers. If your target market is, say, people aged 55 or older, you may want to consider community papers or niche publications as older consumers still rely on them for information. But even older people are increasingly turning to the Web, making it a definite jumping off point for any advertising strategy. To tap into this medium, your first step is to establish a Web presence if you don't have one already. Then, depending on your target customer, consumers at large or other businesses, pick your Web channel. LinkedIn, for instance, is a mainstay among businesses, CEOs and other owners and entrepreneurs, while Facebook remains wildly popular among consumers.

Networking and referrals. 

Landing referrals from networking or past business associations isn't just a cheap way to pick up new business. It's also a way to pick up customers with the highest retention rates. What's more, referral customers tend to purchase more over time and in turn become a source of additional referrals.

How do you find referrals? Beyond having a product or service that's in demand, you must have a clear idea of who your "perfect" or "ideal" customer is. That way, you can communicate to others in your network what type of customer you're looking for. You can also focus your own products or services to meet the needs, wants or desires of that very specific profile.

Then, you need to ask for referrals from satisfied customers. Be sure to also find ways to continually thank your sources for their ongoing advocacy of your business.

Teaming up. 

Another way to leverage available resources is through what's known as a "host-beneficiary" arrangement. In this arrangement, another business with the same target customer will use their database to promote your business. They might attach a gift voucher or other discount offer for your products at the end of one of a newsletter or mailing. Examples of this include: a high-end hair salon and a high-end car dealership or an attorney and an accountant. To draw in another business, offer to pay for the business owner's mailing or email expenses, or offer the business owner commission on any sales.

Strategic Alliances. 

You might take that partnership a step further and form what's known in the industry as a strategic alliance. While a host beneficiary relationship is generally a one-time or short-term commitment, strategic alliances can sometimes last for many years. For instance, a Web designer and an ad agency might send each other referrals for clients who need added services. 

As long as there's continued value to the shared audience, strategic alliances produce streams of referral business, which is ultimately what will benefit you most over time.

3. How do I know when I have to end a customer relationship?

Take a time-out. 

Give yourself some time to think through your reasons. Evaluate whether the relationship is affected by short-term problems and whether these issues may subside with time.

Evaluate the reason for ending the relationship. 

Disliking the customer's opinion or personality is not a rational or smart reason for ending a relationship. Many businesses thrive on word of mouth and referral. Always set aside your personal opinions of a customer. However, if the customer is always late with payments or refuses to pay for services rendered, sustaining the relationship may hurt your business in the long term. Make sure your reasons for ending the relationship relate to the success of your business and not due to personal feelings or opinions. However, sometimes it is better not to associate with individuals who harbour racist or discriminatory opinions.

Set a neutral time and place to discuss your business relationship with the other person or group.

 Let the other party know that you want to sit down and rationally discuss your problems in search of a solution. Only end a business relationship as a last resort. In many cases, a lack of communication stands between two business parties. Sometimes, both parties need to voice their opinions. If there is no solution or if the damage to the relationship is irreparable, at least you've tried. If the other party is a client or customer, you owe it to your business to try to make the relationship work.

Discuss your reasons for ending the relationship with the client, customer or partner. 

Suggest ways to amicably part. For example, if you're ending a business relationship with a partner who owns a part of the business, offer to buy out his portion of the business. If you're ending a relationship with a client, suggest or refer him to another business better suited to his needs. Make clear your reasons for ending the relationship, but be professional and civil with the client or partner. If your business partner or client crossed the line, explain this to him, but retain your calmness. The aim is to carry on a productive conversation.