World class sales strategies for small African businesses

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Note: this is the last post for 2020. Guide My Growth will be back in 2021 with more advice and insight for your small business in Africa. If there is a topic you want me to talk about, use the “Ask me now” buttons on this page to send me a message. I look forward to hearing from you! Merry Christmas & Happy New Year!

These strategies are used by some of the biggest and best companies in the world. Small African businesses can also use them to increase their sales.

Start by setting SMART goals for your sales

Your goal should not just be something like, “I want to increase my sales”. Why? Because unless you also have an action plan and monitor the results of your efforts, it will be very hard to see any improvement in your business.

For example: you might decide to set the following goal: achieve 60 000 USD in sales by December 31, 2021. If the average purchase value per customer is 50 USD, it means you will need to sell 1 200 products next year. Or: 100 products per month. When you break it down like this, you can measure your progress. If you only sell 50 products in January, you know you need to put in additional effort in February to reach your sales target.

Note: your goal should also be attainable and realistic. If your sales up to now have not passed 10 000 USD per year, you will need to have a very clear and strong strategy in place to reach 60 000 USD by the end of next year.

When you start monitoring your results, it will also tell you what is working and what is not working. For example: you may see very good results in a certain month after doing a particular marketing promotion. Maybe a contest on Facebook or a discount on a certain product. You can now repeat this at a later time to see if the effect is the same. If yes, then that promotion should absolutely be part of your marketing & sales strategy and you should also look for ways to build on it.

1. Always focus on the benefit for your customer

Be able to tell me clearly what challenge your product or service will help me solve. If I am your customer, please do not start by telling me all the features of the product, the different types of product you are selling, or even the price. Show me that you understand my situation, my problem.

If you do not fully understand why I am even considering your product or service, ask questions to find out. Why am I considering you instead of your competitor? What need do I believe this product will solve for me?

Learn about my needs and my problems, my wishes and desires. Then tell me how your product will help me get what I am looking for. Do this and your customers will keep returning to you.

2. Increase sales to become the market leader in a niche

Instead of trying to get all the customers in the city to come to you, try to identify a group of customers that share certain characteristics. Or that have similar problems. For example: you have a catering business and you know that every morning, huge numbers of people leave their house without taking breakfast. They include students, hustlers, government employees, NGO workers, and business people.

One option is for you to provide grab-the-go breakfast packages for office workers early in the morning. Another option is to see if you can get a contract with businesses in a particular part of town to supply breakfast or lunch packages.

If you want to add more value (and make more money), create a weekly menu that people can use to pre-order. Take orders by phone, Whatsapp, or even through on social media. The additional benefit is that you will be able to reduce your inventory by only offering weekly menus using ingredients that you can get at a good price.

3. Listen to what your customers are telling you

Are they complaining about other competitors? Are there things about your product that they do not like? Do they keep asking you the same questions over and over?

This is free and valuable information for any business owner. Your customers are telling you that – if you can provide this thing – they will buy it from you! So, look for ways to use this feedback to make more sales and grow your business.

Note: if you are not hearing this from your customers, ask them!

Ask them how your product could be improved. Ask them why they prefer certain kinds of products (or businesses). Ask them to tell you who they feel is the best business in town in your industry. (And when they answer you, ask them why).

4. Use referrals as a key strategy to increase sales

The customers who keep coming back to your business are satisfied with your business. Ask them to refer other people to your business and offer them a reward for doing so. That reward could be a discount for bringing somebody to your business *who also buys a minimum amount from you*.

Make sure the discount is interesting. And make sure it is not for free. Your customers should not get a discount just because they brought somebody to see you. Only give the discount if they bring somebody and that person buys a certain amount from you.

5. Increase sales through a customer loyalty programme

If you have customers that buy from you on a regular basis, consider introducing a customer loyalty programme. You can offer points for certain amounts of purchases. Customers can use these points to get certain products for free, to get discounts, or to get other kinds or rewards.

For example: you could introduce a system of 1 point for every 1 USD equivalent of sales. Or even 5 USD. If a customer has 100 points, they can get a 10% discount on certain products. If they have 200 points, it gives them a 25% discount. Or, if they have 100 points, they can choose a certain product for free. It is up to you to determine how many points to give.

You can even use customer loyalty programme if you sell something like charcoal or gas. It works the same way. Keep score of the purchases (and points) and offer a discount when a certain number of points has been reached.

If you run your business by computer, setting up a customer loyalty system is easy. Create a worksheet in Excel and enter the names of your customers. Give each customer a separate customer ID to identify them. Then make sure to record their purchases and points correctly (give them receipts and keep a copy)!

6. Create a sense of urgency

Convince customers to buy more from you by creating a sense of urgency. For example, you could offer a 10-20% discount on few products that you know are in high demand, but the discount only lasts for 1 week.

After that 1 week, go back to your original price. This will encourage people to buy more from you during that particular time. You can also promote this on social media to increase the number of people that see it.

If you are going to increase your price next year, maybe because of a higher exchange rate, sourcing problems, or other reasons, make sure to tell your existing customers in advance. This will encourage them to buy more from you before the price increase.

7. Run contests

You can use contests to create “noise” about your company that will expand your brand. It is possible to do offline contests, but I personally think it is easier to do the contest online. You can use the following approach for a Facebook contest.

a. Determine what you want to achieve

For example: make 1 000 people hear about your business at the end of 1 month.

b. Determine your budget

How many prizes can you offer and how much can you afford for each prize? Note: the prize does not need to be a product, but it can also be a discount for products that you know people like.

c. Increase sales by basing the contest on your product or service

For example, if you sell agricultural goods, ask people to leave a comment about why one type of vegetable is better than the another. First prize could be a free basket of these types of vegetables.

If you provide electrical repair services, ask them to comment on what makes an electrician the best of the best. First prize could be a free checkup of the electrical wiring at their house and recommendations to improve. Note: this will also tell you what your customers value and you can use this to either improve your business or to do better marketing.

d. Set ground rules for the contest

For example: only one comment per person, the comment should not be longer than 10 words, and the contest will end at a certain date and time. If you want to use pictures or video of the winners for marketing purposes, include it in the conditions.

e. Run the contest on Facebook and select a winner

Make sure to take pictures of the winner when they receive their prize. You can even record them saying a few words about whether they liked the contest. Then use the pictures or video as additional promotion for your business. Either on Facebook or print it and place it in your business where customers will see it. Note: you can use the free version of Canva to design a beautiful contest flyer for Facebook that people will like to share.

8. Use discounts to increase sales at certain times of the year

During holidays, customers spend more money. Make use of discounts to encourage customers to buy more from you during this time. If possible, add something to your product or service that reflects the holiday. For example: if you are a bakery, you can offer a discount on Christmas cookies. If you are doing promotion on social media, create a promotional flyer that includes pictures of your cookies as well.

You can use any holiday in your country, major wins by national sports teams, your customer’s birthday, or even your own birthday as a reason for special promotions. You can even use election results (make sure to have products that will appeal to the winners as well as the losers).

9. Apply for local awards

It doesn’t matter how big or small the award is. Apply for any awards that you think you may be able to win. Use this to generate publicity for your business. People always like to be connected to winners and winning an award will help bring more people to your business.

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Key message

As a small African business, there is no 1 magic strategy that you can follow to increase sales. But you also do not need to have a PhD to learn how to do so. The key point is to find ways that you are different from your competitors. In which areas are you better than them? This is the strategy that many of the biggest companies in the world use to convince more and more customers to buy from them. Examples are Nike, iPhone, Mercedes Benz, McKinsey consulting.

Do not use lowest price. There will always be somebody who will charge lower prices and you will lose. Rather, consider things like quality, customer service, packaging, branding, and delivery times.

Focus on things that you can use to set yourself apart from the competition. Combine this with quality products or services and good customer service and you will see your sales start to increase.

How may I help?

What else can I help you with? Just click the button under this post to tell me, and I will answer your questions in future blog posts. Also, don’t forget to Like our Facebook page so you can join our discussions.

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