- The Washington Times - Monday, June 6, 2005

When sales start to slip at a small business, the solution is likely to involve more than coming up with a better pitch to customers. The problem could be a failure to keep developing new sources of revenue, or it could be a decline in your customer service or other operations.

Taking a look at all aspects of a company is the best way to get sales growing again.

“Oftentimes, sales of a small business started to fall off because they have been focusing on client service and haven’t been focusing on business development,” said Lisa Aldisert, president of Pharos Alliance, a New York consulting firm.

Business owners “can get sidetracked by operational issues, by human-resources issues, by problems with a particular client,” she said.

The answer in such cases is for business owners to delegate whatever tasks they can to employees or outside resources so they can focus on rebuilding revenue.

As business owners search for sales, it’s critical they seek not just any prospects, but regular customers likely to produce a steady stream of business.

It’s important to remember that many factors go into making a sale and keeping a customer, not just making a pitch. For example, there’s the product or service itself — have customers become dissatisfied with it? Is there a problem with customer service or with a member of the staff?

“Evaluate whether there is anything about your offering that needs to be fine-tuned or amended. Take a hard look as to whether your service has slipped or whether the quality of your product has become less than it’s been,” Miss Aldisert said.

You also should look at your competition. Are they providing better products or services? Are they beating your prices?

The best way to find out is to go back to customers who you haven’t heard from in a while and ask them what happened. There are two things to be gained from reconnecting with them: You can obtain some keenly needed marketing information, and you also might be able to get them to do business with you again.

For some business owners, the key to rebuilding revenue is to change their philosophy about sales. Instead of working to close an individual sale, they need to establish relationships with longer-term customers.

Business owners should ask themselves, “How do you generate a bunch of first-time buyers who become second-time buyers?” said Steven Little, a business consultant and author of “The 7 Irrefutable Rules of Small Business Growth.”

Many business owners don’t know what it takes to keep a customer, he said.

In many instances, it means focusing from the beginning on a customer’s ongoing needs. It also means staying in touch with customers to be sure they remain happy with your company. Again, that might mean delegating responsibilities to others.

Mr. Little said many business owners experience great sales growth in the early days of their enterprises, but over time those sales start to level off as customer relationships wane. Those are the companies that must change their approach.

“Could it be you had the easy stuff to get — you got the low-hanging fruit, the people open to suggestions?” Mr. Little asked. “You have to work harder to get to the next level.”

ASSOCIATED PRESS

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