Month: November 2015

Deliver What Your Customers Want

By Roy Chitwood, President, Max Sacks International

I recently had the daunting experience of calling my cellular telephone provider to upgrade my phone service. As anyone who has called a large corporation in the past five years or so can tell you, it was an arduous task. Just trying to choose the right option from the company’s lengthy, and at times, baffling touch-tone menu to talk with a live person was a challenge to say the least.

Needless to say, four telephone numbers, three departments and six disinterested and/or helpless representatives later, on my seventh call, I finally reached someone who was not only pleasant and knowledgeable but he was so happy to help me with what I needed that we laughed and joked throughout most of the transaction. By the end of the conversation, I had not only upgraded my telephone service, I had purchased a second cellular phone, a hands-free headset and a protective carrying case.

Embracing the opportunity to interact with customers, instead of hoping they’ll get lost or just give up in the maze of a cleverly-crafted touch-tone menu, is the single best way to show your customers you value their time, their needs and their business. Regardless of the product or service you sell we are all, ultimately, in the people business. As in any relationship, if a company is willing to talk with its customers and interact with them effectively, customer problems and complaints can be minimized and even eliminated in most cases. When customer needs are met, as in the story I just relayed, the possibility for future business is limitless.

As most of us know, a key influence on customers’ expectations is price. Customers commonly believe that the more they pay for a product or service, the better that product or service should be. Interestingly enough, however, they do not believe that a low price is a legitimate excuse for poor service and that should serve as a caution to those who deal with customers either before or after the purchase.

There is simply no excuse for providing poor customer service. Whether you’re selling fine luxury automobiles or toothbrushes, customers are looking to have their needs met, questions answered and concerns legitimized regardless of the market value of the product or service they’re purchasing. Customers want to be respected. If you want them to be repeat customers, respect, then, is what you must deliver.

There are other expectations that customers also have of your company. Firstly, customers expect your firm to be reliable. Will you be there for service, questions and concerns after the purchase? Will you be as attentive to their needs after their purchase as you were before it? If problems occur down the line or the item needs repair, will your company gloss over the work or will it do a thorough job of fixing the item the first time?

Firms must do more than meet customer expectations – to keep their customers happy, they must strive to exceed them. Doing so enhances the quality of their image and savvy companies know that they should do everything they can to capitalize on that good image. The best way to build that positive image is to be perceived by customers as reliable. It is not enough to simply provide a product or service in the marketplace today. Companies these days must be reliable simply in order to compete.

It’s possible that your advertising people may be geniuses at creating attention-getting, response-provoking ads that send customers clamoring to your door but what do you have to offer them that is tangible once they get there? If your advertising proclaims that your product is the best on the market and that service is your number one priority, you’d certainly better deliver on that promise. Nothing will damage your relationships with your customers and your public image worse than finding out that neither claim is true. Delivering on your promises, particularly those made in the arena of high-profile advertising, is essential in keeping your customers.

Responsiveness is also a significant customer expectation. If your customers only hear back from you when they want to make a new purchase or upgrade, they will quickly begin to question your commitment to them and thus, their loyalty and trust will wane. Service, then, must be consistent regardless of the request. When your customers experience a problem, they are looking for the same level of interest as when they bring you new business. In reality, every interaction with a customer is an opportunity to cultivate new business. Not responding to problems promptly can compromise or even forfeit a legitimate opportunity to retain a customer and even make a sale.

Customers are looking for empathy. Even if your company is the only game in town, customers do not deserve to hear ‘no’ just because they don’t realistically have any alternatives. Telephone companies, for example, who once had eminent domain over certain geographical areas have learned the hard way that years of poor service meant they lost thousands of customers once their areas were opened by law to competitors. It’s a mistake to assume that you don’t have to care about your customers because they have no other choice. Someday they will have choices – and they certainly won’t choose you.

Lastly, in conjunction with serving customers with empathy is demonstrating an understanding of their need for security and assurance. They want ongoing, personalized relationships with the same representatives – people whose names they know, people who remember them. They want a partner – someone who cares about them and who wants to provide them the best possible service regardless of the size of their purchase or frequency of business.

For many companies, this kind of attention to customer needs will require devoting far more time and effort than they are currently expending. Understanding and thus meeting the needs of customers means that you walk them through the process or explain the procedure at their pace, carefully clarifying everything along the way so that they have a full understanding of all aspects of their purchase. Teaching customers more about the product or service, listening to their concerns, and being sensitive to their expectations and needs will help endear them to your firm – and retain their future business.

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Process: Can Success Really Be Just Mechanical?

By Paul McCord, President, McCord Training

Today you hear some version of the same message almost everywhere you turn:

“What makes a company successful is process . . . . [successful companies] find a formula that works.”

“You simply cannot be successful in complex sales unless you have a solid process. A proven process is more important than anything and everything else.”

“If you want to be successful, you must concentrate on developing an effective sales process that produces the results you want because that IS the secret of success.”

“Top producers have a repeatable process. Everyone else has only unfounded hope.”

All of the above were picked from things I have read in just the past week. And these are far from the only ones, I could go on and on with statements in the same vein from recent articles and forum discussions.

Process is the concept du jour.

Process=Success

No process=Fail

Everyone’s on the bandwagon promoting the current hot topic.

Now, don’t me wrong, I’m a firm believer in process. I have a process for almost everything I do and I’m a strong promoter of process. I’ve written numerous articles and two books that are centered on process. I firmly believe that a proven, effective, repeatable process is one of the foundations to a successful sales career or a successful business.

I don’t, however, think it is the most important ingredient or the one that determines whether or not one is successful.

Important, yes. Absolutely, positively, 100% critical? No, not really.

Success in sales or business is far more than simply turning the right mechanical knobs or punching the right buttons.

Don’t we wish it were that easy? Simply create a formula that seems to work and success is guaranteed.

We can all think of companies who have a formula that works and appears to be the cornerstone of their success. Let’s take three examples that we all know: McDonald’s, Disney, and Kentucky Fried Chicken. I’m taking these because they are familiar to everyone and the real reason for their success is easy to identify. We could take examples from any industry and any selling situation, but these three are very simple, straightforward examples of where the cornerstone of success for them lay. In each instance their business formula helped, but it wasn’t the thing that exploded these companies.

What made McDonald’s, McDonald’s? Was it Ronald or the Hamburglar? Not at all. Was it the machine like efficiency demanded of each franchise and the requirement that the food taste exactly the same no matter what franchise one visited? No, that came later.

McDonald’s success lay in the heart and soul of Ray Kroc. Kroc was a never tiring evangelist for McDonald’s. He lived and breathed McDonald’s. In a sense, Kroc forced McDonald’s success because he wouldn’t settle for anything less.

McDonald’s successful formula was built and perfected over time. Kroc’s drive and determination gave him the time needed to refine and improve the system that the original founders of the McDonald’s concept had begun to devise. It took Kroc three years and a bunch of money to develop his successful process—a process that is still being perfected today. If Ray Kroc hadn’t had the passion to demand success, there wouldn’t be a McDonald’s, at least not as we know it today.

In the same manner, Mickey, Minnie, and Pluto didn’t create Disney. Disney was more a creation of Walt Disney’s drive and passion than Mickey’s popularity. Long before Mickey was born, Walt had to overcome lost contracts, a former buyer of his cartoons stealing his entire staff of artists save one and his at that time one original cartoon character, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. Oswald might have been lucky, but Walt wasn’t. Most would have folded their tent and given up after having everything they’d built torn down—especially by someone they had worked with and trusted.

But like Kroc, Walt had passion and unlimited drive. He believed in himself and he believed that success was right around the corner—if he just continued to sell his passion. His dedication and drive paid off. Shortly after losing his staff and Oswald, he found Mickey. Although Mickey was a success, he still wasn’t the success formula that “made” Disney—Mickey gave Walt the money and time necessary to find his ultimate mega success formula which was turning cartoons into feature length animated movies and the spinoffs from them that continue to this day.

Likewise, Colonel Harland Sanders and Kentucky Fried Chicken’s success isn’t due to a business formula but rather to a man who believed so passionately in his product and his vision that retired and broke, he hit the road to sell his chicken formula to cafes and restaurants across the country—and his share if they used his secret recipe? A nickel for every chicken they sold using it. It’s hard to make a living at a nickel a chicken—even in 1955.

Process is a tool for a salesperson just as a paintbrush is a tool for an artist. Put a paintbrush in the hands of an artist with the passion and drive of a Leonardo and it becomes an instrument to create beauty; put it in the hands of someone one who is only looking to make a buck and it is nothing more than a tool used to paint a wall.

The same is true with sales. Put an effective process in the hands of someone with the passion and drive of Harland Sanders and it becomes an instrument for changing lives; put it in the hands of someone who is disconnected and only interested in making money and it becomes nothing more than a way to make a sale every once in awhile.

By all means, find a predictable and effective process; it will help you make sales. If you want success, you must marry that process to deep, heartfelt passion and drive because whether we like it or not, success isn’t mechanical; success is nothing more than the outward expression of one’s passion, drive, and vision.

How to Prevent Unpaid Consulting

By Jeff Thull, CEO, Prime Resource Group

If you’re in sales, you have probably encountered this scenario. You’re trying to convince a potential customer that your great products or services will solve their most pressing problems. To prove the point, you explain precisely how your solution will work. Mr. Potential Customer listens carefully, asks many questions and takes copious notes. Everything seems to be running smoothly. The customer nods and says all the right things and you leave convinced that the sale is in the bag. The problem is, when you call to close the sale, Mr. PC is nowhere to be found. Later, you hear that he has decided to buy from your top (and less expensive) competitor. Frustrated, you find yourself asking, “Where did I go wrong? Why didn’t I see it coming?” You realize, you’ve fallen prey to an all-too-common trap: unpaid consulting.

Unpaid consulting starts when we cross the line between diagnosing the problem and explaining the solution. When we start designing solutions, we start acting as unpaid consultants. In past decades, this was not a monumental issue. Generally, there was limited competition in complex sales. If you figured out the problem and designed a unique and valuable solution for a customer, the sale was almost guaranteed and the salesperson was rewarded for his consulting effort. Today, there is an ever-increasing proliferation of competitors in complex sales, and once a solution is designed; the customer can easily shop it to the competition.

Why the change? It is the outcome of the technology explosion our world has experienced in the past decade or so. Simply put, no matter how sophisticated your products and services are, chances are there are numerous competitors offering the same thing. And because geographic location is no longer a critical factor—due in large part to the advent of the Internet—a manufacturer in New York can easily access a supplier in Los Angeles (or in China for that matter) just as easily as it can the one across the street.

So, what’s a sales professional to do? In today’s complex business arena there are no simple “band-aid” solutions. What is required is a systemic approach to an environment characterized by long sales cycles, multiple decision-makers, and numerous perspectives that may cross national and cultural borders.

A system called Diagnostic Business Development provides a navigable path from the first step of identifying potential customers through the sale itself and onto expanding and retaining profitable customer relationships. These are the four phases in this system:

  • Discover: The sales professional researches, prepares and sets the stage for a compelling engagement and a continuing relationship based on trust and respect.
  • Diagnose: An in-depth determination of the existence, extent and financial impact of the customer’s current situation is pursued. Diagnosis is meant to maximize the customer’s objective awareness of their dissatisfaction and determine whether or not that dissatisfaction supports the salesperson’s offerings.
  • Design: The goal is to get the sales professional and customer working together to identify the optimal solution to the problems that were uncovered and quantified in the Diagnose phase—even if it involves alternative solutions offered by competitors. This phase is the “dress rehearsal” before the final presentation is made. It is here that many salespeople make the mistake of giving away valuable information and becoming an unpaid consultant.
  • Deliver: This phase begins with the presentation of a formal proposal and the customer’s subsequent formal acceptance of the solution. Implementation and support of the solution are next, followed by maintaining and growing the relationship with the customer.

    The process described in The Prime Solution is a 180 degree turn from conventional selling. To avoid the pitfalls of using outdated methods—pitfalls that include but are not limited to the unpaid consulting trap—consider the following suggestions:

    Prevent Premature Presentations. How can you present a solution to the customer’s problems before you clearly understand what those problems are—and more to the point, before the customer fully comprehends the problem and recognizes that you do too? While most salespeople devote the majority of their face-to-face time presenting and handling objections, the most successful salespeople spend the majority of their time collaborating with customers, diagnosing their situation, designing or creating a desired solution, and building their resolve to actively solve the problem.

    Don’t Lead The Witness. The traditional salesperson draws conclusions for the customer—often prematurely—and presents them to the customer before the customer is prepared to hear them. It is important that the customer discovers and takes ownership of the problem before deciding to seek a solution. If you move ahead of the customer, he or she is likely to interpret your actions as pushy or manipulative. This leads to a lack of trust, and creates a confrontational rather than cooperative atmosphere.

    No Pain, No Change, No Sale. Dissatisfaction is the most basic human motivator for change. It is the natural defense mechanism that tells people that if they don’t change and deal with a problem, they will face consequences. Change itself is painful. As a result, change will not occur until an individual or company recognizes that it would be more painful not to change. This is why it’s so critical to do a thorough diagnosis that uncovers the pain of the current situation, and the lack of the future outcome. As you know, nothing less will motivate the customer to change.

    Go For The “No.” One advantage of a thorough diagnosis is that it allows the salesperson to quickly identify the 20-30% of their prospects who have the immediate reason and resources to make a change. It is the difference between an intellectual conversation about a desirable future and an objective observation and measurement of real indicators of an unacceptable present. The traditional salesperson wastes time arm-wrestling with a prospect that has no pain and hopes to win the sale by sheer tenacity. This has its roots in the theory that the good salesperson never takes “no” for an answer and the salesperson’s view that “no” equates to personal failure. You should always be asking yourself, “Is there someplace better I could be?”

    Clearly, the role of the salesperson has changed dramatically. The often-ignored reality is that customers need outside expertise to help them understand the problems they face, design optimal solutions to those problems, and implement the solutions. It is up to you to provide the help your customers need. See yourself as a project manager for your customer’s decision. That is the secret behind succeeding at the complex sale.