Do a survey
The first step towards diagnosing the problem of low sales is to ask questions. You have to speak to the appropriate people to find out what could be responsible for the low sales. There are two categories of people you should direct your questions to; your employees [internal survey] and your customers [external survey].
The best place to start is from your employees because they are the ones closest to the customers. Talk to them to find out what they have been noticing, ask them if the customers had been laying any complains, are there any issues or trend you need to be aware of, and are there any competitions nearby?
These and many more are possible questions you should ask your employees as regarding the customers. Don’t be a one-sided physician by focusing only on what your employees think about the customers; also find out if your employees are experiencing any challenges on the job. Their ability to meet the needs of the customers is directly linked to their own needs first being met. Meaning, the satisfaction of your customers, largely depends on the satisfaction of your employees. There is no two ways around it, if they are not satisfied, your customers won’t be satisfied, period.
So talk to your employees, find out what challenges they are facing on the job. If they lack certain skills, make sure you provide adequate training; if they are understaffed, make sure you take in more hands; if they feel they are underpaid, make sure you increase their pay; if they lack morale and are not motivated to work, make sure they are in positions and doing the work that they love. In summary, this is what you want to find out; are your workers effective and how efficient are your business operations?
It will not be easy having to call on all your employees one after the other asking these questions, that is why using a survey is very efficient. Simply come up with these questions as a printed questionnaire and send it across to them. Be sure to cover both sides of the coin, there side and their views about the customers.
Having conducted a survey internally, the second set of questions must be directed to the ones who suddenly stopped buying –the customers. This is often referred to as ‘customer satisfaction survey‘. The objective is to find out from the horse’s mouth what exactly is wrong with your business and the products/service you offer that has made them to reduce patronage.
Your concern is to uncover their level of loyalty to your business or brand. You want to know if they are still yours, going or gone. Depending on how well you have been meeting or exceeding their needs, will determine the quality and quantity of feedback you will get. One great way to increase their participation is to offer certain incentives or rewards for their time taken to answer the questionnaires.
As much as possible, make the questions a combination of both closed-ended questions and open-ended questions. This is not about you, it is all about them. So, be sure to highlight the key areas that are of paramount concern to them such as; product/service utility, customer service, order-to-delivery time, price, quality, packaging, communication and so on.
The second strategic action to take after doing a survey is to find out what is happening in your industry or niche. This is known as competitive analysis. You want to be sure your business is still relevant amongst its peers or has been left behind.
Are there any competitions just entering into your line of business? Are you up-to-date about current market and industry trends? Are there any major policies from the government affecting your industry? What are your competitions doing that you aren’t doing? Do you know why they are doing what they are doing? Does your business have any competitive edge compared to other businesses in your industry or niche? Is your perceived competitive edge still relevant?
Your objective is to uncover any major changes that are taking place within your industry and in your competitions businesses. You are not doing this because you want to simply duplicate these changes, you are doing them because you want to find out why and how they relate with the low sales you are experiencing. You must never forget to link all your findings back to your problem of low sales. Not everything that happens in your industry or competitions businesses is potentially capable of affecting your own sales. So always ask yourself this; “how is this finding affecting my business in terms of patronage?”
After the competition comes finding out the changes occurring in the larger environment such as; economic, cultural, religious, political, infrastructural, natural disaster, war, and other major societal changes that can potentially affect your business.
Environmental scanning will reveal much larger changes than competitive analysis. Perhaps a classical example is the current economic meltdown sweeping across the world. It is already obvious what the outcome will be; low patronage on the part of the customers as they have less purchasing power.
Scanning the environment reveals a general trend that affects everyone irrespective of the industry or niche they operate in. It is much broader than competitive analysis as it factors in other forces that can affect the sales of almost every business.
Another example is the ongoing electoral process going on in my country Nigeria. There seems to be an unspoken code that is making everyone hold back on making major capital expenses until after the election.
Following these 3 critical steps can help you better understand the reason why your business is experiencing low sales. Without taking these 3 steps, it is possible that the solution you seek to correct your problem of low sales is inappropriate for your peculiar situation.
By Liam Dawe