Sales cycle gives food for thought Small Business Enterprise

Wednesday, 01 February 2006


    Food is the most fundamental need for any creature. In the case of humans we have turned eating it into an art form through restaurants, cafes, bistros and takeaways.

    Food is the most fundamental need for any creature. In the case of humans we have turned eating it into an art form through restaurants, cafes, bistros and takeaways.

    So although food is a necessity, most of us when we are seeking sustenance are not content to just eat we are attracted towards eateries that have a particular attraction to our desires at the time. For example it may be we want something quick or we are looking for that candlelit dinner with the one we love.

    Some time ago I was explaining to a client (John) who was struggling to sell his product. I explained that the analogy of choosing a restaurant is the simplest and most appropriate to explain the sales and marketing cycle for an SME I know. He was a bit surprised with that analogy but after a few minutes of dialogue admitted it was very powerful in allowing him to make some decisions about his sales and marketing strategy. Let me cover what was said:

    "You want to go out for dinner with your wife and wish to have a good experience. You go to your local restaurant area and walk down the street until such time as you find a restaurant that matches your basic requirements. Then what do you do?"

    "Well" John said, "I have a look through the window of the restaurant and if I like the look of the inside and people are dining I will scan through the menu which is normally hanging in the window."

    "Then what?" I said.

    "If I am happy we will go inside and have dinner".

    Although it may not be obvious but the stages that John went through are typical and indicative of the early marketing and sales process. John had some preferences before he started his quest. However his judgment could be swayed by events that take place. For instance, if he is faced with two restaurants that meet his basic needs, one half full and the other empty, which one is he most likely to enter? When we are confronted with options we will look in the window to see if others are inside. Generally, we would view "more people the better". The menu then is used to confirm his initial reaction that this must be a good restaurant. If the menu creates a taste sensation in his mind then he will certainly open the door and expect a night to remember.

    Once inside the restaurant John will now take "ownership" of the decision to dine at that particular restaurant. Slight imperfections and disappointments at this stage will probably be overlooked. His tolerance is likely to be quite high. However as the night progresses each "negative" experience will accumulate within his mind and may eventually change his views on the restaurant. The quality of the food, the service, the politeness and speed of service are all important to his total experience. Sadly, many restaurants forget about "total experience" and instead work on the food or the wine list, allowing other experiences to fall below par. The real objective of the restaurateur is to get a good report from his clients so that they come back and more importantly tell others about "their good experience". Repeat business and good referrals are what separate successful restaurants from the 70 percent or so that fail every year.

    Turning our attention to the more general SME and how the analogy relates to them can be summarised as follows:

    1. When confronted with a choice then we choose based upon reputation, recommendation or experience. If, in the case of two restaurants, then we will resort to choosing the one that we believe has been chosen (or recommended) by other people. So unless we are particularly adventurous we will actively consider the restaurant that is busier. In the case of selling products then your reputation is very important. If you don't have a track record then you have to create one by "half-filing your restaurant". How you do that is up to you, however it is imperative for the successful SME to appear successful even before it starts trading.

    2. The restaurant menu is pure marketing. The way it is written and what it says in order to tantalise the memory and taste buds is essential. Likewise with the SME, the marketing material must provide the customer with the desire to "own" the product. Once the customer is hooked then "ownership" is the key. Like John above, once he entered the restaurant he took ownership for his decision and straight away the bar is lifted allowing for some small or moderate levels of disappointment.

    3. The product in the restaurant is the food. If the food meets the expectation of the customer as a result of the menu and/or through expectation, then it meets the basic need of the customer. However, if he is disappointed in any way the marketing and product are not in alignment and there is a mismatch leading to misrepresentation.

    4. Finally we have the service in the restaurant that is highlighted through the speed, capability and the attitude of the waiting staff. In the SME world this is the support offered a customer during and after delivery.

    5. Once a customer has made the commitment to buy then slight imperfections or minor issues will be overlooked, particularly if the service is very good. The decision to buy has raised the bar. It is unlikely that a small problem will change his mind about the decision he has made.

    So with our analogy we can demonstrate how a restaurant is like an SME sales cycle. It is quite amazing the impact that this analogy can have on the business strategy of an SME.

    Getting CEOs and sales directors to think like successful restaurateurs will really bring success to your business. So be careful with that chili sauce!


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