Many small business owners are also one-person bands. Sole proprietorships are the most common form of businesses in the United States, representing 73 percent of businesses and more than 23 million people. If you’re a small business owner who falls into this camp, or if you have only a few employees, you probably also wear many hats. You might be the janitor, the CEO, and the all-important sales person — even if you don’t have sales training or never thought you’d be in this position.

Sales are key to keeping your business strong. A lack of cash flow is the top reason why small businesses fail – it is the cause of 82 percent of small business failures. Here are the top five mistakes business owners make with sales and how to overcome them.

1. Failing to Define Your Target Customer

First things first: Do you even know who you’re selling to? Hopefully, you conducted market research before you launched to confirm there was a need for your product. Now you need to make sure you know who needs it.

If you don’t know how to define your target customer, you might be wasting time trying to sell to the wrong ones.

Solution: Create buyer personas

Buyer personas define your target buyers, identify their needs and interests, and provide details about their backgrounds.

You can use market research and insights from your current customer base to define them. You can also use a buyer persona template to plug in insights and get your personas.

2. Failing to Create a Customer Journey

Once you’ve defined your target customer, you need to qualify those you’re selling to. Out of your targets, which ones are ready to pull the trigger? They’re the ones you should focus on.

You need to know the customer’s pain points wherever they are in the customer journey. Your sales success will depend on meeting specific needs at specific times.

Solution: Track the customer journey

You need to design a sales process that tracks every stage of the customer journey, from awareness to consideration to decision. The customer journey will determine:

  • What information you provide when the buyer realizes they have a problem
  • How you communicate to target customers as they’re researching options
  • What value proposition you need to make to close the deal

The customer journey will look like a map, where you identify all the options customers have and directions they can take. Your business needs to plan how to address those options at each stage so leads stay in your sales funnel.

3. Not Getting Help

Your time is your most precious resource. It’s finite, and you can only do so much. Attempting to do it all yourself creates inefficiencies and missed opportunities.

Some business owners are so overwhelmed with day-to-day task management, they neglect to work on ways to generate new leads. Referrals are their only source of business, so they struggle to continue to grow the business. This can lead to burnout and frustration for the business owner.

Solution: Use sales automation

Sales lead generation and customer relationship management software, like HubSpot or Salesforce, provide you with details about your leads. You’ll know who your “hottest” leads are (i.e., closest to purchasing), so you can focus on closing them. You can engage them using tools like email and content marketing to deliver hyper-relevant information.

You should also follow up with “colder” leads who may not be quite ready to purchase. You can track these leads using sales automation, which will allow you to use content marketing and emails to provide these leads with helpful information that strengthens your relationship. This way, when they’re ready to buy, you’ll be top of mind.

4. Prioritizing Price Over Value

Whatever stage you are in your small business, if business is tight or slow, you might be tempted to degrade the value of your product to customers.

Maybe you waste time offering free trials that rarely have resulted in sales because they’re being offered to the wrong leads. Or you’ve given out so many freebie coupons that you’re losing money on your investment. Or your best customers will no longer pay full price because they’re holding out for the next deal.

Solution: Focus on value, not price

Instead of slashing prices to gain customers, you should be focused on attracting customers because your product offers the best value. Again, this goes back to matching up the right product with the right target buyer. If you’re selling to the wrong buyer, no discount will ever be good enough.

Conversely, if you focus on value and presenting why your product is a solution to pain points, there’s rarely a price that is too high for the target customer. The point is to sell your value, not your cheap pricing, which will only hurt you in the long run.

5. Not Investing in Marketing

Some small business owners view marketing as an unnecessary expense. They think there’s no way to track its effectiveness, so why bother investing?

But for small business owners, marketing and sales go hand-in-hand. Without marketing, it’s difficult to gain brand awareness. Building deeper relationships with current customers is harder. And you might even neglect customer service, since 74 percent of customers expect a response from businesses on marketing tools like social media within one hour, according to Convince & Convert.

Solution: Create a marketing budget

Marketing is an investment that drives sales over time. Your marketing initiatives should align with your customer journey. This means what you invest in marketing in the awareness and consideration stages can move leads along the sales funnel, so that they become customers.

Especially when you’re starting out, marketing is essential for business growth to build awareness and generate leads. Research what competitors and others in your industry typically spend on campaigns to get an idea of what you should spend for results.

Digital marketing enables you to measure your marketing campaigns. You can A/B test campaigns, tweak elements, and instantly evolve your campaigns to improve your ROI. Paid search, paid social media ads, social media marketing, and content marketing are a few channels to explore.

Whatever Background You Have, You Can Master Sales

Not everyone considers themselves a born salesperson. For business owners, sales may not be what they love about owning a business. But sales are the most important factor for keeping a business running. Sales enable you to keep working on your dream.

If you’re overwhelmed with sales, get organized with these steps:

  1. Define your target buyer
  2. Use sales automation
  3. Track the customer journey
  4. Focus on promoting value
  5. Invest in marketing

Looking to fuel growth by investing in some of these initiatives? Learn more to see if an expansion loan is right for your business.

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