By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant
If you want to succeed in business, look no further than the advice of Mark Thompson.
He’s served at the executive level of Charles Schwab & Co. and collaborated with the likes of Warren Buffett, Steve Jobs, and Brian Tracy,. A widely sought speaker and author of many books, including Success Built to Last, Thompson often addresses sales and productivity issues. Thompson took a break from his busy schedule to speak with Home Business Magazine®.
Home Business Magazine (HBM): How can home business entrepreneurs increase sales with minimal overhead?
Mark Thompson (MT): Do you your homework on your customers, investing the time to learn what’s valuable to them and focus on creating that product or service in a way that it’s unique and special for the customers that you serve. When you have those kinds of relationships, there’s often less pressure on pricing and competition because they feel connected. You’ve taken their sp
ecial interests into account.
HBM: What are the most common misconceptions that home business owners have about achieving strong sales?
MT: It’s about knowledge, not money. It’s not advertising but going the extra mile to know what makes their products valuable to customers. [Large] businesses may say they have the advantage but they lose touch with what a home business person can do, which is to get a deeper understanding of what the individual customer wants. It’s all about customer intimacy.
HBM: Considering the sluggish state of the economy, is this the age of aggressive sales techniques or soft selling?
MT: I think that there’s a combination: persistence. It’s the age of the educational sale. Customers get abandoned. As a home business owner, you can reach out and touch them with knowledge, caring, and interest in what’s important to them. The way you treat the customer needs to add value. Know everything about your product you can. Be passionate. If you find it impossibly difficult to go deep about it, it’s probably the wrong product. You need to find another one. Given the deep discounts and tremendous competition, knowledge of the product and customer and caring will set you apart. These are the time we see companies gain the greatest market share, during tough times.
HBM: How can technology boost sales?
MT: More and more of the software and information technology tools that used to be the exclusive domain of big guys are now available on the web. It’s really important to keep a database to keep track of customers’ special needs so you’re smarter than the average call center. You can remember what the last transaction was and the names of their kids and spouse, if that’s necessary to the relationship. The access as a newsmaker has changed. Bloggers are making a market. Get up to speed on the social media. It’s hard to see if you’re a home business, but it’s democratizing. There’s more noise out there, but there’s also opportunity. Tweet and wiki in ways that enable you to communicate as an expert in your field.
HBM: What are the top hindrances to productivity, and how can home business entrepreneurs overcome them?
MT: Lack of focus. Set goals and schedule your day. Technology can also be a horrible time waster. You may need to answer e-mail for your products or services. But you need to partition your day for the most important, not the most urgent. Great leaders are very disciplined about how they spend their time. They focus on their outcomes and make sure their activities are focused on that. Focus on what matters during the day, which is hard when so many things are urgent. You can’t manage your business effectively until you manage your time. There’s no way to save time — you can only manage it.
HBM: How can successful home businesses thrive for the long haul?
MT: Whether a business or New Year’s resolution, most goals fail because people start looking at their wish lists at what they want to accomplish, but they don’t focus on what they are passionate about. Most great businesses don’t have sets of goals. Before you do that, be clear about what you’re willing to be an expert about. Is it the kind of thing you’ll be passionate about when you’re tired? Are you willing to do it even when you fail? Are you willing to bounce back? Is it something that when you do it you lose track of time? In some respects, passion is something you’re willing to do secretly for free. HBM
Deborah Jeanne Sergeant writes from her home in Wolcott, N.Y. Visit her online at www.skilledquill.net.