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It seems growth in the U.S. PR industry has slowed in the last two years. Worse, profitability appears to be declining as well, according to the Gould + Partners 2016 benchmarking survey.

PR is a tough business and many external factors have an impact on that line between failure and success. How can you ensure your profitability stays on the right side of the line? Yes, you need to keep a sharp eye on costs and beware the dangers of over-servicing, but a slight shift to more of a sales focus (hint, use your non-sales team) can help put your firm ahead of the curve.

On top of managing billable hours and utilization rates, what’s important to watch?

There are four factors that affect sales success and each one independently has an impact on revenue and profitability:

1. Increase the Number of Total Sales

This one is about marketing AND sales. How do you leverage your scarce resources to improve sales volumes consistently?

Increasing sales volume is quintessentially a numbers game; to have success you need more leads generated by marketing or the sheer sales persistence most PR firms don’t have.

What about marketing and selling to existing customers? When you’re looking at new business acquisition costs, winning new business from existing clients is, of course, significantly cheaper and much easier. And you can train your client facing team to initiate these sales. Now you have more opportunities and greater profitability.

2. Increase Average Sale Value

Opportunities for increased revenue growth abound when you apply some basic sales skills to any conversation with a client or a new prospect.

By taking the time to truly understand your customer’s needs you have the opportunity to craft the solution that is the most beneficial for your customer AND yields a greater return. It’s the difference between selling a hungry person a sandwich for lunch, or a full meal with a beverage and a dessert.

In this lunch scenario you’ve just increased your total sale by 30% simply by understanding your customer’s actual need, not what your customer has told you he needs. Now imagine how conversations with existing clients might go when this mindset is applied and your team know how to ask the right questions.

3. Increase Your Conversion Rates

You already know that conversions are happening all the time as a result of marketing and PR. Indeed, there are many mini conversions along the communications path that lead to the ultimate conversion – a sale. But what does that look like when you turn the focus towards your own firm?

When I talk about sales conversion rates, I mean the number of sales made from actual conversations with people. The sorts of conversations that can be influenced directly by your employees’ skills.

Increasing Your Sales Conversation Conversion Rate

Here’s where those of you who have embraced the mindset that selling is really about helping a customer solve a problem will rise to the top. Because this is where your ‘selling’ (listening and questioning) skills make the difference between a mediocre conversion rate and a very good conversion rate.

4. Decrease Sales Cycle Length

It’s surprising the number of people who seem to be unable to close sales to generate revenue for their businesses. And when margins are tight and ratios carefully controlled, spending time on deals that seem like great potential business only to have nothing come of them is tough to swallow.

When you think you have a sale in the bag, and then the days drag by. And then the weeks. What happened?

The reality is that sales cycle length is often out of your control. Business priorities change, employees move to other organizations, businesses are bought and sold. All of which impact potential purchasing. But all too often well-intentioned people let business fall through the cracks.

First, you need to have an understanding of your customer’s budget and purchasing cycle. But more critical is your follow up procedure. Which begins before you ask for the sale.

While you’re discovering what needs to happen for you to make the sale, you’ll be outlining your own procedures for implementation and onboarding. You and your prospect will both understand what you each need to do and when. These are the questions that can shorten the sales cycle.

And then, you’ll be following up. Multiple times. By phone. By email. In person, perhaps. Until you have a signed contract or a definitive ‘no’, your sales opportunity hasn’t gone away. And if you are diligent about this, you’ll find that your sales cycles will shorten.

Focus on The Numbers and Invest in Your People

You already know PR is not a glamorous game. Those who thrive and survive are the ones who do amazing work AND manage the numbers. Which becomes a little bit easier when you provide some basic sales skills to those on the front line.

Teach your people how to spot additional opportunities within existing accounts and how to ask the right sorts of questions. Support a culture of relationship development and consistent follow up. And keep your eye on your mini conversions. When you manage the four factors for sales success, you will find more success. 100%.

Kim Fredrich helps businesses grow sales revenues (and profit!) by helping ‘non-sales’ staff get comfortable with sales and selling. Her one-on-one sales coaching, consultancy and workshops focus on building relationships and having conversations with purpose. She has conducted workshops for Howard University’s In3 Incubator, Hera Hub and the Maryland Women’s Business Center in addition to her private clients.

Her enthusiasm about sales has proven to be infectious! Learn more at kimfredrich.com.