How Dubai SMEs can give their revenue a boost

Philippe Fanjere is the vice president for Europe, the Middle East and Africa for cloud start-up Maestrano, which provides an integrated marketplace dedicated to SMEs. Before joining the company in July, the 53-year-old Australian worked as a sales director for IBM. He also started up five tech companies before moving to Dubai six years ago, one of which, Adaptive Technology, he built up into a successful large company, that he sold in 2004. Mr Fanjere recently delivered a talk at Dubai Internet City’s Innovation Centre, In5, about how SMEs can boost their revenue by transforming their sales strategies. Here he expands on the advice he shared:

Is there a particular stage of the start-up process where new companies in Dubai tend to struggle?

Typically, start-ups in Dubai have good, solid business plans but fall short when they move into the operational side. They become so involved in it that they don’t get to step outside of that mindset to work on the business – they’re just working in the business. Most importantly, revenue expectations should not be left to chance. You have to have a sales practice that you build into a repeatable process to create revenue streams.

How should SMEs go about doing this?

There’s no silver bullet solution – we’re talking about dials and levers. The first step is to make sure you can articulate your company’s unique sales proposition (USP), something many SME founders know in their hearts but are unable to express. Sometimes a USP can be difficult to formulate. If your USP is, “we are the best provider of consultancy services in the UAE”, that’s not going to work because no one will believe it. But if it’s “we provide the fastest turnaround of audit reports of any company in the UAE” – that may be true, but you can’t use it if a competitor is also saying it. Your USP must be truly unique.

What’s the next step?

Once you can articulate your USP, make sure that all your employees know it. Potential customers should be thought about individually. Not all sales leads are equal. If you sell cars and trucks to farmers and also to other road users, those are two different types of customer. You cannot treat them the same. You have to think “who are my customers and how are they individually going to contribute to my sales target?” You need to know how to deal with them accordingly. Create scripts, checklists and templates for your sales staff, according to each type of customer and their needs, so you don’t out-of-the-box deal with everyone in the same way. Don’t have a standard thank you email, for example, that treats everyone the same.

What’s the critical question SMEs should be asking when it comes to sales?

Always make sure you’re working out how many inquiries turn into an opportunity for you to engage with customers properly and what percentage of those turn into actual sales. The answer probably depends on the nature of the business but if 20 per cent of inquiries turn into opportunities then that’s pretty good odds for a young SME. If you have that magic product that slides off the shelves then you don’t have to worry about this. But if your business involves interacting with potential customers, you need to keep track of how of those people turn into revenue. Large companies spend millions of dollars on complex business analysis tools to get to the bottom of this, but they still miss things.

What else should SMEs address?

It’s important to assess how many leads you would like to see generated from marketing versus from your sales team. This is often the elephant in the room that nobody wants to talk about. Everyone expects everyone else to do their job. Be clear about where the leads are going to come from and have a plan in place to address that.

What lesson have you learnt from your experience in sales?

Often if you don’t have a product to suit a particular customer there’s a tendency to try to twist the product to suit the customer’s need. That’s human nature. I’ve done it myself. Although generating revenue is key to any SME, it should not be achieved at any cost – there are times when it’s best to turn a customer down. Sometimes you’re better off saying to them, “look, another company has something that will suit you better”.

Once a sale goes through, how can you use the new customer to your advantage?

Interrogate them, but in a nice way. Find out why they picked you over the competition and you will learn something. You may be in a position to ask for referrals, which not many people do. Would your customer be happy to give a testimonial?

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