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Pay Attention Now!! -Or Pay Another Way Later

Too often in the selling cycle, salespeople find themselves “back on their heels” trying to figure out what to do too late in the process. They are often scrambling to meet last minute demands by the customer or to pull together that “homerun presentation” that really delivers all of the main points.  Many times, the primary focus of the salesperson and his/her support team has been what they will present or say in their “moment of glory” in the boardroom.

It has been my experience that we, as salespeople, need to be 100% focused way back at the beginning stages of the sales process in order to get in the customers heart and headdeeper and more thoroughly.  We need to understand their business and their most compelling business needs of TODAY so that we can not only offer the most compelling and specific solution to meet their needs, but also (if we do it correctly), can possibly even help them write the specific parameters of the solution.  These will be the parameters that we deliver best AND that the competition will be judged by.

Here is my main point:  Many times, customers don’t know how to buy!  On top of that, they really never want to own your product or service in the first place. (Let’s face it…is your customer waking up today excited to see you in order to OWN more of your stuff?) What they DO want, however, is to be able to cure a pain or put peace of mind to a fear or to accomplish something that your product or service can assist with. In order to truly show our customer that we are the best solution, we need to understand what that somethingis—and often we need to help them understandwhat that is—before we begin to dump information on them about our proposed solution!

Salespeople and leaders often seek guidance and coaching from training firms and consultants regarding negotiation techniques, objection management strategies, and closing skills.  While all of these are crucially important skills to master, it is my belief that the need to employ these skills too often is based upon a lack of focus on the discovery process in the early stages of the customer’s “buying process.”  You see, we are often so focused on our selling process and our need to execute that processthat we do not pay enough attention to the customer’s need to buy –it is NOT because they want to own your product or service!

The clues as to how to OWN the account and make the competition irrelevant are found at the earlier stages of the sales cycle.  We teach that there are two main questions that we need to get CLEAR answers to early in the dialogue with the customer:

1-Can you help me understand what it is that youare trying to accomplish?

2-Can you help me understand why that is important to you?

Now, there are a couple of “catches” to this!  (You didn’t think it was THAT easy did you?) The first catch, again, is that many customers do not know the answer to these questions—at least the rightanswers.  In fact, the questions are written in a way that a conversation is the desired outcome. “Can you help me understand what you’re trying to accomplish?”…begs for an explanation whereas if we asked “What are you trying to accomplish?” we would simply get aninformationbased answer.  By asking it differently, we are looking deeper and trying to help the customer understand WHY they want to buy—to get a motivation-basedanswer.

The second “catch” to this approach is that prospective customers won’t always answer these questions the first time that you ask either because, as above, they have not really thought about it so they do not know the answer OR you may not have earned the right to get that answer just yet. Therefore, we need to be patient and focused in our approach to this.  We may need to prepare to ask these questions in several different ways at various times throughout the discovery phase of the sales process.

Finally, as it relates to these two questions, please notice that both questions are focused on the individual and their motives are.  Each decision maker or influencer in the buying process has their own specific motives as to how and why they will make their choice.  We need to understand earlier in the process what the motives are of each “player in the game” so that we can “write the playbook” accordingly.

Engage in this approach and you will find yourself in much more meaningful and fruitful dialogue early in the process which will communicate your professionalism and expertise better than all of your presentation slides could ever do.  The result will be an exceedingly high level of irrelevance that will be cast upon your competition!  They are focused on making a sale—YOU will be focused on creating a buyer!

Customer Service MAGIC!!!

Customer Service

Customer Service is a dying art!  The average attendee in my seminars, when asked, states that they have had mostly average experiences of customer service in the past month compared to a few horrible experiences and just one fantastic experience.  Tony Alessandra calls these Moments of Mediocrity, Moments of Misery, and Moments of Magic.  It has been my contention that every company has the ability to stand out by focusing on simply striving for the WOW experience that Alessandra calls a Moment of Magic.

Most of us feel that the customer service departments in our companies are responsible for this experience.  While I agree that the customer service professionals on your team do absolutely drive the customer experience, I would like to challenge those of us in the sales side of the business to take a closer look at our role in this process.

Let’s see if we can break down that M.A.G.I.C. into an easy-to-digest (and apply) acronym:

Managing Expectations

The sales process really “tees up” the customer service process by setting up the customer expectations.  Let’s face it; anyone can get anyone to buy anything by telling the buyer whatever they want to hear.  In fact, it is exactly this fact that has given salespeople bad reputations for years.  The true sales professional understands that they seek a customer for life (a client relationship) out of every transaction.  Just as with any relationship, there are expectations that both will have.  It is the salesperson’s job to discover the true expectations of the customer from the onset and to temper those according to true deliverables.  In addition, the sales professional must explain in detail to the customer the role that they must play in the relationship.  With properly discovered and mutually agreed upon expectations set in advance, the customer service experience has been properly arranged in advance so that the customer “knows what they are in for.”   At that point, it is up to the entire organization (every touch point) to EXCEED those expectations!

Assessing Needs

The first and most vital conversations that are held with a customer are done so with the sales professional.  It is during these conversations that we are to gather information in addition to giving it.  We have defined the shortest course on selling for years as “Asking Questions and Listening.”  This process is not important only for the discovery of a potential customer’s hot buttons and motivators which will guide them towards a purchase from us, it also helps us assess their HVNs (Highest Value Needs) so that we may communicate them to our internal customer service teams.

Here is an idea:  Create a form that will allow your salespeople to capture some of the basic HVNs of your new customers.  On the form, simply list categories that are important for the smooth transition from the sales process to the service process.  In addition, capture the communication style of the customer and any pertinent information that will create a strong communication foundation for the service team.  What has been promised?  What does the customer expect?  Where are the potential “landmines that we need to avoid?”  How can we WOW them early in the relationship?  What do we need to know about them personally as well as professionally to best serve them?

Growth vs. Maintenance

There are two ways to look at every interaction that we have with prospects, customers, and clients.  We can simply strive to MAINTAIN our current status, relationship, or loyalty with these folks or we can strive to create GROWTH in these areas with every interaction.  From a sales perspective, it is my belief that there should never be such a thing as a MAINTENANCE call!  The purpose of front line sales reps is to GROW the customer relationship, GROW the trust that a customer has in you, GROW the value that the customers perceives in you, and to GROW their account within the organization, thus GROWING your company.  When your goal is simply to MAINTAIN, there is very little preparation necessary.  There is very little need for pre-call planning, practice, or customer focused thought.  Here’s a good drill: Write down the two words above (Growth and Maintenance).  Under each word, write down 10 things that you need to DO to either Maintain or Grow an account.  I bet the list is longer and requires more action under GROWTH!

Interest – Show one-before, during, and after the sale

As a sales professional, if you were to be judged and compensated on the overall length and value of your relationships with your customers and clients, I would bet that your actions would be more focused.  We are all guilty of “moving on” from a relationship in the mind of the customer.  The courting stage is full of surprise, passion, excitement, and over-the-top communication when we have the prospective customer in the pipeline.  Early into the customer phase, we will stay in touch, make the occasional call to see how everything is going with our product or service, and do some of the things necessary to grow the customer (one-time, price focused buyer) into a client (lifetime, value focused buyer).  However, it has been said that familiarity breeds contempt.  Too often, salespeople tend to lose interest in an account after a while and in doing so create the perception that they are taking the relationship for granted.  Although you may think this way, it is really not important what you think—the customer/client is the king.  Good drill here:  Identify your top 10 accounts right now.  Next, schedule a face to face meeting with each one of them within the next 60 days.  The purpose of that meeting is to reconnect; “to renew your vows,” and to get into their hearts by attempting to re-visit their business needs (they most likely have changed since you were dating.)

Communication

Perhaps one of the biggest reasons why customers get fed up and leave is a lack of true communication on the part of the company with whom they are doing business.  Of course, people don’t do business with companies—they do business with people.  Think about the world that we live in today.  Phones are answered by machines that guide us through a seemingly unending series of “press this” or “enter that” before we can get a chance to communicate.  Our email boxes are so loaded with spam that we have a tendency to DELETE courteous correspondence before it is read.  We are forcing our customers to websites to interact with us.  We are using “self-checkout” lines at grocery stores.  What in the world happened to good old-fashioned one-to-one communication?  When we survey customers as to what it is that they are looking for in the “service experience,” the answers rarely, if ever, mention cost effectiveness, efficiency, and electronically based communication.  Instead, they say they are looking for knowledgeable help, follow-through, basic courtesies, dedicated attention, feedback, empathy, and respect.  This begins with the sales professional.

As a salesperson, how can you create all of this and still be focused on getting new “fish in the boat?”  It’s not easy—especially on your own.  Don’t fall into the trap of keeping others in the company away from your accounts.  Furthermore, don’t micro-manage every detail of the customer’s interaction with your company.  Instead, create a team to deliver consistent Moments of Magic.

Using the acronym above, turn “inward” toward your support staff, your delivery staff, your installers, your customer service team, your help desk staff, and the accounts receivable staff for assistance.  First of all, set and manage their expectations of you and what it is that you can and will do with the customer on the front end and throughout the relationship.  Next, assess their needs.  What is it that they need from you in order to best deliver on your promises?  Next, look for ways to grow their knowledge of the customer, the sales process, and the service expectations of the customer.  In addition, try growing your knowledge of their position and what it is that they go through every day to meet your customers ever changing needs.  Next, show an interest in them.  As a salesperson, you try to spend time with top accounts in the interest of building a relationship.  Why?  So they continue to buy from you and never leave.  Create a plan to do the same with your inside team.  Spend time with them.  Show an interest in who they are and where it is that they come from.  Meet their families.  “DO” for them and they will line up to “DO” for you and your customers.  Finally, learn how to best communicate with them on a regular basis.  If you communicate with them via email only, you will eventually create a disconnection.  Try to develop the habit of the regular “team huddle.” Regular, value-add communication on the inside breaks down the walls and allows for creative juices to come up with the best ways to take care of your customers!

The profession of sales is for sales professionals but you need to know that, as a sales professional, the customer experience is something that demands your attention and commands your focus!  Sell Smart all the way through and you will find yourself with a never-ending stream of referrals and leads generated by over-the-top loyal fans on the outside (customers) as well as the inside of your business!

The Little Things Really DO Matter!

The Little Things Blog

There is a popular series of books that have been out a couple of years called “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff”.  When it comes to sales, I do not believe the teachings apply as well.  In fact, it is the small stuff the separates the winners from the average players.

So much is taught in sales about the “big parts of the game” such as the cold call, the pitch or presentation, the sales cycle, working a pipeline, overcoming objections, and closing.  And yet, with all of this knowledge and training, the majority of salespeople still have difficulty managing the entire process through to the finish line.

At the same time, you will find there is a small group of salespeople that focus on, what most would consider to be the small stuff.  What types of things are these?  Here are a list of a few of the little things that matter in the profession of sales:

1-They schedule prospecting time every day!  They realize that, no matter how hot and heavy everything happens to be in their pipeline today, it is the plowing (prospecting) at the top of the pipeline that opens it up for continued results.

2-They build and consistently use a referral generation process.  They know that the best source of new business comes from existing clients and that by leveraging their existing relationships, they actually create a small sales force of their own that “keeps the leads flowing in.”  They also realize that they need to 1) Ask for the referrals, 2) Earn the right to ask, 3) Make it easy to refer, 4)and say Thank You.

3-They use target and personal marketing campaigns.  They realize that, in business, it is not who you know, but rather who knows you that counts.  They create a systemized “touch campaign” that not only reaches out to identified key prospects before they call upon them, but also continues to “whisper in their customer’s ears” regularly.  The true pro realizes that value-add relationships develop loyalty from their customer base so they make sure that all of their touches are unique and value-add.

4-They Say Thank You—A Lot!  Top producers sometimes go back and revisit the tactics used years ago and “dust them off” for use today.  One such tactic is the use of Thank You Notes in the sales process. Too many salespeople rely on brief email notes and voice mail messages to express their gratitude for a sales appointment, a referral, a sale, or anything else.  Although Thank You Notes were very common years ago, they are only in the arsenals of those who wish to stand out today!  By the way, can you say Thank You too much to your customers?

5-They do what they say they are going to do.  Although this seems like a very logical, natural thing for all to follow, the sad truth is that we live in a world where the broken promise is the norm and the “under-whelmed” customer is most common.  True sales pros focus on “managing the expectations” of their customers and adding value in the customer’s eyes by OVER PERFORMING on expectations.

In the marketplace, I suggest that, as sales professionals, we need to make sure that we are focused on ALL of the things that are necessary for our success.  The little things are what separates us from the crowd.  The good news is that, with a little work, you will build the confidence in your “scoring zone” to consistently achieve greater sales results.  So…Sweat the Small Stuff!

 

The BEST Management Tool…

deadline
As you head into a new year, the time has come to re-visit your goals of 2015 and see how you did.  What was it that you wanted to accomplish?  Where was it that you wanted to go?  What was it that you wanted to do?  How much was it that you were going to make?  What changes did you commit to implementing in 2015?

Often, when working with some of our “coach clients” we tend to see similar goals set every year.  Some of these goals NEVER actually get hit, but continue to get set every year nonetheless.  I suggest that this year, we do something different!  I suggest that this year, we look at goal setting for 2016 as a new chance to accomplish things that we never have!

“The best management tool is a deadline!”

One of the most overlooked areas in goal setting is attaching a time by which your goals go from paper to reality.  By first writing down your goals and then by attaching a date which they will be accomplished, you set a deadline for your success and thus necessitate that a plan of action be created in order for you to hit not only the goal, but also to hit the deadline!

If you truly want to make a difference this year in your career and/or your personal life, attach dates to all of your desired accomplishments.  Make sure that your goals are written down with a deadline and a game plan.  Get “a win or two” every month versus trying to accomplish them all by the end of 2016.

An amazing thing happens to you when you set a goal, plan your attack, attack your plan, and accomplish what it is that you wanted.  It will change your life forever.  In my opinion though, it all starts by giving yourself a deadline to your dreams. 

 

Show your best clients that they are special

Think about how the airlines treat you a little bit special if you fly with them all the time. It’s good for business, right?

So how do you show your best customers that you’d like to move them into the client bucket? How can you show them that they deserve a little special treatment?

Not that all the rest of your customers, the ones that aren’t in your client basket, should be treated like crap. It just means we move that up a notch. When they’re better customers, they move to clients.

So identify your top-tier clients. Identify them by profitability, or frequency of purchase, or after-sales service required, revenue, whatever it might be. And do some things to spend a little bit more time with them. Support some advisory councils, offer some incentive programs. Show some additional incentives, love trips or dinners or events.

Don’t worry about dropping prices for these people. If they buy more it tends to mean they’re getting more value from you.  Keep the margins where they are. Don’t drop price, add value instead.

Have some value-add training events. Go in and work with their staff, their people. Spend a few additional days with no strings attached. Have a client appreciation dinner. Give them a feeling of importance. That feeling of importance breeds a feeling of loyalty. The best way to get loyalty is to give it.

We’re looking to move people from customer to client so that our relationship with them is stronger, based on the value that we provide. And it really is about the way that they look at us in the end. But it starts with two things. It starts with the way that we look at ourselves and the moves we make.

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What does Valentine’s Day have to do with selling?

What’s the difference between a customer and a client? It’s all about the relationship.

Think about Valentine’s Day: Husbands and wives, boyfriends and girlfriends, even little kids at school are making an effort to let that significant other know that they are special. So what if you looked to one of your customers in the next few days, next few weeks, next few months and, in effect, said: “Be my Valentine? I want a better relationship with you.”

Why? Because the best sales people don’t necessarily find more customers all the time. They look to penetrate existing relationships. They look to go deeper and wider into the accounts where people are already “raising their hands.”

They look for instances when their customers are saying or indicating things like:

•    Yes, I like you.
•    I like your products.
•    I like your services.
•    I like your prices.
•    I like your process.
•    I like who you are.
•    I trust you.
•    I value you.

When your customers are saying these things, you can leverage that relationship to go deeper and provide more value. And to get new introductions to other people inside or outside of that organization who also value what you deliver. So you get more referrals —  and more ideal prospects.

Photo: Dave Parker, via Creative Commons 2.0

Leading your inside team

Your inside team – whether they are called ‘customer service’ or ‘inside sales’ — enables you to grease the wheels of your progress inside your organization.

You just get more done, so it makes sense to build your team. How? By building relationships inside, and making sure that positive customer interactions are the norm.

Here’s what you do: Make an itinerary and agenda of every single thing you need to do to get deeper into these relationships. Get to know your inside team better. Know their names. Know their families. Spend some time. Have lunch with them.

You have to be the captain of the team, the quarterback who is going to lead the quality of interactions with your customers. And to do that you have to take care of your team.

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Good enough is not good enough to keep customers coming back

A common misconception about customer service is that if you’ve got a good-enough product or good-enough service, that’s going to keep them coming back.

Wrong. Today your customers are seeking more. They’ve got options. They can go to the Internet and can find 20 places to get a good product and a good service. In fact, most companies are in the position of selling a commodity — basically the same product or service as the competition.

You can’t believe that, however. You’ve got to be passionate that your product is unique and the best. And it’s only unique and the best if it is in the eyes of the customer.

And you have the ability, the right, and the absolute mandate to create that perception. The experience and the relationship you create makes your product or service stronger. It’s what keeps them coming back. And it doesn’t just happen when you sell it. It happens over and over throughout the life of the relationship.

The first principle is that we are driving consumers to become clients – and there is a substantial difference between those two. Customers are one-time buyers. Clients are lifetime buyers. A customer is a transaction, a client is a relationship. If a customer is liked, then a client is loved. If a customer is a handshake, a client is a hug and a kiss.

Smart salespeople get that trust towards an organization begins with you. Selling is a transfer of trust. Today people are more aware of their options, so that trust has to be communicated on a regular basis.

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