Do your sales efforts have a smell or an aroma?

Sales is tough work. One of the things that makes it challenging is starting a conversation with someone you don’t know. This can be particularly difficult when they know you are primarily interested in selling them something. As Gitomer says, “People don’t like to be sold, but they love to buy.” Nowhere is that more evident than at a trade show, where people will avoid eye contact with anyone wearing a “sales hat”.

Even so, trade shows offer ideal opportunities to talk to (usually) vetted prospects, assuming you’re at the right show. These face to face opportunities provide an often-unparalleled chance to learn about your prospect. Body language & facial expressions help you determine if the questions you ask and the responses you provide are resonating with your prospect’s needs and wants. These physical cues are not evident during a phone call or email exchange.

Avoid the hat

In order to benefit from these valuable face to face conversations, you have to start them. Getting these conversations started requires you to engage with someone. This requires that the attendee accepts the engagement rather than ignoring you, looking away, staring at their feet or simply saying “Nope”. Trade show exhibitors try all sorts of tactics to provoke an interaction, including attractive women, giveaways (tchotchkes), and refreshments.

Giveaways are most common. Some lame, some extravagant, some in context with their business. There’s an opportunity here for much thought than you typically see. Common rubber footballs, pens, pads of paper, and so on – much of it never makes it home, much less back to the hotel or office. These giveaways are rarely thought through well enough that they are designed to make a connection to the product or service being sold. We’ll come back to that.

I don’t see too many so-called “booth babes” these days, but they do exist, particularly in the automotive industry. In 30+ years of trade show time, I have seen one coherent use of them – when costumed in a way that connected their presence perfectly into context with the product being sold. Interestingly, this involved costuming intended to appear as if it came from the movie “Edward Scissorhands”.

Refreshments are the other area (besides giveaways) where you see a broad latitude of items. Whether it’s numerous forms of candy, airline-esque bags of peanuts/pretzels, to more imaginative setups like serving locally-brewed root beer in boot-shaped shot glasses from a cowboy-themed booth at a trade show in Texas.

And then there are the booths that recognize Maslow’s hierarchy of needs – specifically giving away things that are all but irresistible. These are things, per Maslow, that tie back to the lower tiers of the hierarchy, delivering a feeling of safety / comfort and home. These are the booths with freshly cooked bacon (not kidding) or fresh from the oven chocolate chip cookies. The latter is what I’ve seen perform the best.

The aroma of warm chocolate chip cookies is incredibly disarming to most people. Even the folks who don’t want a cookie seem obligated to explain why – which starts the conversation. Stop long enough to have someone hand you a warm cookie and most will pause to take a bite or two, and feel enough obligation to answer a qualifying question or two. Before long, the conversation is started.

Remember the point of your “gimmick”

Lots of money gets spent on these things. Much of it is spent without much thought or planning, at least from my perspective. Never forget the primary reason why you’re exhibiting at a trade show and spending that money: To start the process of making a sale, or at least, to gather leads. A gimmick to get people to stop at your booth is solely to make it easier to start a conversation. Your booth and pre-show marketing ties into all of this and should contribute to the process of creating / provoking these conversations.

Years ago, I had a fishbowl in the booth. The fishbowl contained a number of our competitor’s hardware dongles. Providing the dongle to us was a requirement for new clients to get a cross-product discount by abandoning the competitor’s product for ours. A bowl full of dongles sent a powerful message and it prompts people to stop. It’s a curiosity. It creates a conversation.

What are you doing to create these conversations?

Nothing happens till you sell something

For two weeks now, I’ve been encouraging about to become newly unemployed CFalls folks to rise up, figure out the value they can deliver and start their own business. Now it’s time to sell something.

This might be the part you’ve been dreading. Sorry, but you need to get over it. Selling the right product to the right person so they can do what they need to do (or get what they want) is honorable work. That sour stomach you get about selling is because you’ve experienced so many bad salespeople inflicting the hard sell on someone who had no interest in their product. That’s not what you’re about to do.

As I stated last week, the process is not easy. One of the things often used in the tech business that can make it easier is a process called “Lean Startup”. Lean Startup uses a process that is perfect for people starting out on their own – the use of the word “Lean” is intentional: This is not a process that requires that you order stationery and business cards, have a sign installed over your newly rented office and start pouring money into furniture, advertising, and so on.

Stay Hungry

The good news is that it takes advantage of things many hungry, underfunded entrepreneurs would do anyway: Spend as little as possible on stuff you don’t need, focus on a solution customers actually want, refine it quickly with multiple interviews / discussions with your prospective customers and swallow your pride long enough to ask for the sale.

If a “Startup Weekend” happens to pop up somewhere in the area in the meantime – take part in it. These events are often focused on technology-based ideas, but this is NOT a requirement and you don’t have to be a tech person to participate. The things you will learn by starting a business in 54 hours over a weekend will benefit you greatly, as will the relationships you build. The folks that often take part in these events are usually highly connected, entrepreneurial and happy to provide feedback on your idea and make introductions for you.

Nose to nose, toes to toes

Now is not the time to decide you need to take a college course, read the 27 books all entrepreneurs must read before starting a business, produce a detailed pro-forma for your banker, take a Udacity course on Lean Startup, etc. While the free Udacity course is good (for example) and the reading and pro-forma might serve you at some point – now is not the time for that.

Now is the time to get nose-to-nose, toes-to-toes with the people who you think are best suited to take advantage of what you want to do, discuss it with them and ask for the sale. Until you do that, get some feedback, ask for the sale, repeat (often) and start to get some feedback and reaction to your proposed offering,

It’s ok to tell them your business is new – they’ll probably figure that out anyway. They should quickly be able to figure out that you know your stuff based on how you position your offering and how you discuss how you intend to make it worth their investment.

Listen. Really listen.

One of the most valuable things you can hear during these conversations is “No, that’s not what I need.” You can either turn off and move on to the next person, or keep listening and keep asking questions. You know the process, product, solution you’re selling. It’s ok to ask them about the problems they’re having, what keeps them up at night, what makes them worry every day, and so on. If you ask the right questions and truly listen to what they’re telling you, you will find them making comments about things they invest time and money in to solve a problem. It might be a patch, but that’s ok.

They will spend time and money to get through something, solve something and/or perform a workaround simply to get some work done. Their workaround or process to get them by might seem crude or even ridiculous to you – that’s an indication that the problem is important enough for them to spend money on.

How can you make that better? Cheaper? Faster? More efficient? Safer? More dependable?

Sell that.

Fear and Limiting Thoughts

Limiting thoughts had my software company stuck on a sales plateau.

Everything else was going well. Clients loved our software and our support. We could count the number of refunds per year on one hand and still have fingers left over. I was fortunate to have a few minutes with a mentor to discuss the issue. I summarized the situation and asked for his suggestions. He zeroed in on my comment about being able to count the number of refunds on one hand and asked me what seemed like a rather disconnected question.

“What are you afraid of?”

The question surprised me, because I didn’t think I was afraid of much at the time. In the last few years, I’d bought the assets of a now-dead software company, left an exceptionally comfortable job, turned the product and client base around, moved the family and the business to Montana, hired people to grow the company, and the business continued to achieve what I expected of it… except for that rate of sales growth thing. There wasn’t much that I thought I couldn’t do, so I was a little surprised by the question.

He said “Look, you act like that number of refunds is a badge of honor, and it tells me is that you’re afraid to hear ‘No’, or ‘Sorry, this isn’t a good fit for my needs, I want my money back’ from a prospect. You need to go home and sell harder. Stop focusing on refunds.

He wasn’t suggesting that we become that high pressure sales company that no one wants to deal with. Instead, he was suggesting that we take steps to attract and sell to a broader range of people – without limiting ourselves only to those at the top of the ideal prospect list. In other words, we were (perhaps implicitly) trying to sell only to the best possible prospects because we knew they’d buy and never ask for a refund. In retrospect, it seems dumb, but businesses sometimes do dumb stuff that seems like the right thing to do at the time. Put another way, we were taking away prospect’s opportunity to succeed with our product at a time when they were barely beginning to realize what they really needed.

Think of it as the sales equivalent of “the teacher will appear when the student is ready“, yet the teacher is hiding.

Limiting thoughts = Focusing on the wrong thing

In part, we were focused on refunds because there was an investment in time to get these prospects rolled out and working (only to have them decide the software wasn’t for them). In part, it was an ego thing. Our retention rate year over year was in the 90+% range. Refunds were almost unheard of and we were too proud of that.

We started selling harder, looking for those people who were starting to realize they might need what we made, rather than limiting ourselves to the people who needed it or else simply so we could point to a lack of refunds.

That’s the real reason for this discussion: Identifying limiting thoughts that hurt your business.

We saw the refunds-per-year as something to minimize, not realizing what it was doing to our sales. You might have a similar limitation about sales bonuses, for example. Imagine that you pay a one percent bonus for every dollar over $75k in sales/month, and the average monthly sales your salespeople produce is $80k. Yet there’s this one “troublemaker” who always hits $130k, with regular jumps to $140k or $150k. Your bonus structure is capped at $120k and you refuse to pay bonuses for the amounts over $120k in an effort to keep costs down, or because the cap has “always been that way”. You think you’re saving money, but the reality is that you’re doing what I was: Losing sales due to an artificial limitation.

The salesperson who never sees a bonus on sales over $120k is going to stop working when they hit $120k, or take their sales skills where they are appreciated/paid for. How many dollar bills would you put into a machine that returns $100 each time you insert a dollar? I suspect your answer would be “As many as I can”, unless “saving money” is your limiting thought. Bonuses on sales work like that machine.

Is your business limited by fear-based artificial barriers you’ve created?

The sales prevention department

Have you ever encountered a “sales prevention department”? Let’s discuss how the sales prevention department’s role works and how you can look for ways to get rid of yours if you have one.

The tale of the register tape

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve watched the adventures of a GoToMeeting administrator. In one case, they were working with a sales person at a competitor to GoTo Meeting. I’ve been a GTM user for a long time, and in the last few months the quality and stability of the service has suffered a bit. I suspect it’s nothing terribly serious but it is a business distraction and it can impact sales if the timing of a stability problem is unfortunate. More on that in a moment.

GTM has a sales prevention department. Here’s how theirs works:

A GTM administrator manages an account with 12 seats of GoToMeeting. The admin’s company wants to add more seats. Can you login and simply add x seats to your license? No. Enter the sales prevention department. You have to call someone, wait for a call back and then deal with the potential of a sales pitch about things you may not want – all to add a few seats. This is a task that would have been completed in two minutes or less on a modern software as a service (SAAS) platform. Instead, it takes as long as a couple of days to complete this simple transaction.

For some services, a consult is necessary before a change of this nature. This isn’t one of them.

In this case, the sales prevention department is introducing unnecessary delays for the client, who only wants to give you more of their money and get more of their people working with your tools. Don’t make this difficult for your clients.

Who else has a sales prevention department?

In the time it took to deal with the process GTM places in front of their users, the GTM admin could have signed up for a competitor’s service and had a day left over…. unless it was with the competitor whose sales team I was dealing with on the GTM admin’s behalf.

The GTM competitor happens to be owned by a fairly large IP phone service that is currently receiving about $2500 a month in service fees from this company. This fact is ignored by the GTM competitor, which puts them at risk of losing not only the GTM-like business, but the IP phone service as well.

This competitor has a free, limited scope service that matches the free limited scope service GTM offers. Premium services (like recording a meeting) are critical to this evaluation, so I asked to have one account turned on for two weeks.

The answer? No, but we could come to your office and do a demo of the premium features.

At this point, the conversation is over. The GTM competitor has made it clear that they really don’t want the business. What they don’t seem to understand is that their handling of this $400 a month sales prospect threatens the $2500 monthly business they already have.

This is the sales prevention department at work.

Do you have one?

You might be wondering if you have a sales prevention department. The best way to learn that is to secret shop the sales line of your business. If you don’t have one, monitor the sales and support emails for a bit. Search them for terms like “upgrade”, “expand”, “merger” and “buyout”. The last two are possible signals that two companies have joined together and they are shopping how to supply your services to “both” companies.

You can also look at your orders for the last few months and randomly choose a few new clients, a few clients who changed the scope/size of their use of your products and services. Call them and ask to speak to whoever made the purchase. Ask them if it was easy to buy from your company. Was any part of this process difficult or frustrating? Do they have any suggestions to make the process easier?

Every time the sales prevention department takes root in your business, it hurts revenue and can cost you clients. People walk away because they don’t want to deal with a company that’s hard to work with. If it’s difficult right off the bat, that’s usually a sign of what’s to come.

Selling, marketing & Wyoming’s Cutt-Slam

Last week, I met a couple of old college buds in Southwest Wyoming’s Bridger-Teton range (near LaBarge) to take on Wyoming’s Cutt-Slam cutthroat fishing challenge.

This would not be easy. Four cutty subspecies in four different drainages – some of them in the tiniest of water (water shoes rather than waders), with two guys who are much more experienced than I am in the fine art of selling to fish.

This effort would be much like marketing and sales in a tough market with a prospect who knows exactly what they want and will accept nothing less. The parallels are fairly obvious: your message (fly), your presentation (cast) and your careful selection of the right prospect (in this trip, only four subspecies mattered).

Early on, unheard and unseen

For the better part of two days, I caught nothing. You would have thought I was making carpet cleaning offers to people with hardwood floors, or trying to sell family minivans to folks who live 20 miles off the highway on a rough dirt road.

At some point late on the afternoon of day two, one of the guys mentioned to me that the local hoppers were a good bit bigger than the flies I was using. Sending the wrong message (fly) to the wrong fish is no different than sending the wrong message to the wrong prospect (or sending any message to the disinterested).

So I changed my message.

Before long, the change in fly size improved my luck, at least until the last day. Ultimately, the Grey’s River contingent of Snake River Cutthroats never responded to my cold calls on that last day, perhaps due to an early morning downpour.

How’s your message working?

Obviously, the point of this story is to provoke you to take a look at the messages you’re sending and who you’re sending them to. For retailers, the most important sales and marketing period of your business year is ramping up. For those who serve tourists, what you do in the “off season” is as important. No matter what you sell, knowing that the message you send (even if you use “inbound” marketing) is being seen / heard by the right people and is context with their needs is critical.

Wrong message, wrong destination equals wasted money, time and effort. Even a little bit wrong is enough for someone (or a fish) to think “Oh, that’s not for me, I’m moving on.”

You’ve heard this before, but have you thought deeply about it? Think about the messages you get each day. How many of them truly grasp your interest? It doesn’t matter how clever or funny they are if they’re not about something you care about or are interested in. How many of these messages are about something you’re really interested in? How many of those convey a message that motivates you to actually take action?

That’s the critical eye you need to use when looking at each message you’re sending, whether sending a postcard or using the latest, greatest sophisticated inbound marketing tool.

When that fish fails to strike, you know why (sort of). It’s the wrong size, the wrong color, the wrong depth, the wrong time of year, etc. There are so many different ways to serve up the wrong fly – and it’s no different for what you use to communicate with prospects and clients.

Big (Fish) Data

Wyoming Game and Fish’s Cutt-Slam is, among other things, a combination of clever marketing and inexpensive data collection.

For the price of some record keeping, photography, a website, some color certificates (for participants who complete the Slam) and some cutthroat subspecies info, the Cutt-Slam provokes fly fishing enthusiasts to purchase licenses, eat and stay in Wyoming, fish the state’s southwestern waters and report details about the fish they caught, including date, location and a photo.

What this provides to WY Game and Fish is a litany of data and evidence about the progress of their efforts to repopulate the state’s four cutthroat subspecies – without sending people out on the road.

It’s a smart way to get people to visit, fish and help you with your project’s data collection – all at the same time.

Likewise, it provides a lesson on creativity and thinking about how to do more than what you have to get done – and how to involve enthusiastic experts in a way that benefits them as well.

Playing sales games

I’ve in the market for a new-to-me rig. I don’t switch rigs very often, so it’s a slow process to make sure I buy it right.

I haven’t done this the normal way in over 20 years. Two of the last three were cars for new drivers, so they were cheap, cash purchases with no time for sales games. The other was through a dealer friend who had my search criteria and a “tell me when you find exactly what I want” deal on the table.

Things are different this time.

Dealer One

After a few weeks of searching lots and Craigslist, it became clear that I needed to widen my search, so yesterday I visited four big three Detroit car dealers.

During my first visit, I drove the lot. No one around on an early Saturday afternoon. Finally, I stopped and walked in the far end of the showroom, walked all the way to the other end while looking briefly at the cars there. Walked out the other end of the showroom without anyone looking up or saying anything. Walked around the lot a bit. Same thing. Got back in my rig, drove around the lot again, passed by a salesperson working with someone, interrupted him to have a very brief conversation, left the lot.

I wasn’t asked for contact info. I managed to walk the entire showroom and part of the lot without anyone asking if I needed help, directions or a smack in the head – much less taking my contact info.

Some people change vehicles every few years. If treated well, they’ll return to the same dealer repeatedly, perhaps for the rest of their life. One visit can result in six figures of sales and service over the next 20-30 years, unless you let them off the lot without engaging them.

Dealer Two and Three

At the next dealer, I drove the lot, stopping at a few places to check details. One salesperson was on the lot with a client, but no one else was in sight. I’ve driven this lot a number of times during business hours at different times of the day and on different days of the week. This was the first time I’d seen another person.

The other lot was much the same. Not a soul in sight in any of the half dozen visits to this lot – which tends to get the most visits because it’s the one closest to my house. Zero interaction with anyone. Ghost town.

Dealer Four

This one wasn’t a brand name lot, but I spotted something that looked like my target rig so I stopped. This time, someone came out of the building to meet and discuss what I was looking for. They didn’t have what I wanted, so they spent the next five minutes repeatedly trying to convince me that I didn’t really need what I’m looking for and to consider what’s sitting on the lot. Despite their inability to accept that I’m looking for what I’m looking for, they did take my name so they could call if they found a candidate vehicle.

Dealer Five

My last visit of the day was to the last remaining Detroit brand name. Drove the lot. A few families are walking the lot, and one has a salesperson with them. This dealer had a few possible matches online, so I stopped and went into the showroom after driving the lot. I walk from one end of the showroom to the other. I reverse and repeat the end-to-end walk. No one attempts to help, sell a car or kick me out.

Finally, I walk into the sales bullpen, after passing under the sign that says “No customers beyond this point“, and ask if anyone can help me. At this point, I’m thinking “this sign should be above the entrance to the lot”. There are three people in this room, yet none have come out to engage me, even after passing their glass-walled enclosure three times.

After entering the forbidden sales zone and asking for help, a guy asks what I want. He tries to sell me something else at twice the price, talks to me as if I’ve never bought a car, then disappears to check on that rig.

10 minutes later, he hasn’t returned. I walk to my car and leave the lot.

I don’t play sales games. We’ll talk more next time.

18 questions to increase sales

This week, I’ve been working on metrics because I can’t have my fingers in every pie at once – at least not once the number of pies grows beyond my ability to manage them all in my head at the same time. Even if you can do that, it’s very difficult to sense where changes are happening much less where trend directions are changing.

Some of this can be done by gut feel because you’re right in the middle of it, but sometimes gut feel will burn you because you filter what you’re experiencing through existing expectations. Thus the need for metrics – so that you don’t have to spin too many plates at once, assume too many things or make decisions based on too much gut feel.

Metrics are questions, too

Metrics are a form of question.

For example, a common metric for businesses with a web site is “page views”. A page view metric asks the question “How many people saw a specific page this month?”. When all of those page view metrics are combined, it becomes the question “How many people saw our website?”

Website metrics are pretty common and easier to collect than metrics from other media – which are often on you and your team to collect. The work to do that might seem painful, but you can learn a lot from it.

How many people called about the radio special you advertised on KXXX? How many people visited the store and mentioned the radio special you ran on KXXX?

These things are important so that you know whether to invest in marketing that item on KXXX vs. marketing something else on KXXX, vs. marketing anything at all on KXXX.

You would do the same for anything else marketing on any media, otherwise you’ll have nothing other than gut feel to help you make these decisions. Traditional media doesn’t often provide these metrics, because they can’t. Radio, TV and print newspapers can’t do that because they usually aren’t contacted by prospects seeking whatever you advertised. It’s tough to know if you aren’t part of the transaction process.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t track them.

The right questions help increase sales

Coming up with the right question can be a lot harder than not having the answers.  You have to be careful to ask open-ended questions designed to tell you what you don’t know, rather than asking questions designed to confirm your assumptions.

Where is the profit in your business that you haven’t yet found?

For most people, the answer probably lies in your existing customer base. The next question I’d ask you is how many of your customers are buying 100% of what they should be/can be buying from you?

How can your current customers help you find that profit?

The natural follow to the previous question.

To rephrase it, what percent of your customers are giving you all the business they could? Who are those customers? What actions will be necessary to either sell to the ones who aren’t buying everything you make, or determine the ones who won’t buy?

Once you’ve identified the ones who won’t buy, it’d be good to identify why they won’t and correlate that (if possible) with where they came from as a lead. Are the leads who buy some buy not all (or who buy once but not ongoing) leads who came from a certain type of media or a certain type of marketing campaign?

Are the ones whose initial purchase is different than the ones who do keep buying – and buy it all? Can that be solved by pursuing slightly different leads, or by changing marketing or the product / service?

Finally, can / should that gap be fixed? Does it matter if this group of clients aren’t recurring buyers, or that they don’t buy everything you offer?

Are you communicating with customers optimally at all touch points?

Are there touch points you aren’t thinking of?

I was chatting on Facebook with a reader earlier this week who owns a locksmith business. After our conversation, I wondered if there was an opportunity to get involved in home and/or commercial property sales – ie: lock / key / lockset changes that might be warranted when a property changes hands.  It’s an opportunity to get a new client if there are enough buyers who want locks changed at purchase time.

Does your business have secondary transaction opportunities like that?

The care and feeding of leads

Last weekend, we did a little shopping for a “large recreational purchase”. We hadn’t shopped in this market before, so you wouldn’t have been surprised that I would have my radar fully unfurled to analyze all pieces of the process.

While I can’t say that I was blown away, I also wasn’t substantially disappointed. Let’s talk about the experience.

What happens to new leads?

We walked from the parking lot to the showroom without interruption, but in short order (less than a minute), someone at the reception desk (who was busy when we walked by) called out to us to see if she could provide some guidance. Perhaps we looked lost, but I got the idea that this was normal, whether the shopper is lost or not.

Yep, she could provide some guidance. She asked what we were looking for and a sales guy appeared pretty quickly. He engaged, asked good questions to find out what we were looking for and in what price range and then asked if it was ok to produce a plan for us.

“Produce a plan” in their lingo meant to enter a rough cut at our needs into their software, which would produce a list of their inventory items that matched our stated needs. This gave the guy what amounted to a shopping list (including lot locations of their best fit items in their inventory), which was designed to show us only what we fit while saving us a little time.

Given that their inventory is quite large and spread out all over creation, this seemed like a reasonable step. They clearly are not setup for self-shopping, and given the inventory and space you’d have to cover in order to do that, this is a good thing.

I have seen a similar process used effectively in real estate, but at that time, we were turned loose with a list of properties and placements on a map. The give them a map and turn them loose idea works for real estate as long as the prospect knows the areas covered by the map – since the prospective buyer would also know what neighborhoods or locations they aren’t interested in. Where possible, this info should be gathered before producing the map.

The idea in this case was to use the time to travel the lot, learn more about what we’re looking for and show us a few things that will help us determine what we really want, vs. what our newbie first-impression-driven wants might cover.

Talking to leads

As we progressed through the plan’s list of inventory to check out, the conversation was all about the salesperson’s experience with their purchases, questions about what we did and didn’t like about each inventory piece and some perhaps not so obvious tips about sizing, minor differences between each piece that could make a major difference in our experience and similar.

We discussed his background with the purchase we are looking at, and how he earns his customers for life – including the newsletter he mails to them each month. We’re talking about a newsletter with tips, a photo of his family, a recipe and news his clients need. A smart step that I rarely see.

As we reached the end of the plan, it was clear to us and to the sales guy what was going to work and what wasn’t. While we weren’t ready to nail down a purchase right that minute, he did ask – and as I told him, I would have been disappointed in his sales training and skills if he hadn’t.

You have to ask. You don’t have to be poster child of bad sales people, which he wasn’t.

Improvements when handling leads

While the sales process was not annoying (kudos for that), the lead handling process needs fixes.

  • No contact information was collected. Without contact information, they have no way to check in (without being pushy) and see how they can help us. Giving us a business card and a brochure isn’t enough.
  • We weren’t asked if we wanted to get his newsletter.
  • We weren’t asked why we stopped there instead of the litany of competition, or if this was our first visit to a store like theirs.
  • We weren’t provided any info to reinforce that we’d chosen the right dealer.

Leads must be nurtured and cared for by both your people and software systems.

The sales that hide from you

How do you know when a lead is no longer interested in buying? How do you know when they are ready to buy? What signals do you detect that signal a buy is imminent or that the prospect has at least decided but isn’t ready to order?

Certainly we know when they’re ready if they provide a purchase order number, or request an invoice, but there should be additional signals as well. You and your sales staff can probably identify these, but are they collected and acted upon systematically?

As with service follow ups we’ve discussed in the last couple of weeks, we often fail to connect with “stale” or inactive leads because, we simply don’t think about it, or we have no system for doing so.

Often, sales follow ups occur only because we’re desperate to close a sale or because our quota period ends soon and we aren’t quite at our quota. While those triggers might be important to you, your sales prospect follow up system should also trigger follow ups based on points in the sales process that are important to your prospects.

Typically, the only way to detect such triggers is monitoring and recording information that provokes a decision to buy (or not) by a prospect. How do you currently do that? What signals can you think of that have historically told you that someone is ready to buy, or that they are ready to take the next step in the process that typically results in a sale?

Why and when to follow up with prospects

What if your sales follow ups were strategic and more purposeful than “quota approaching” or “desperate for cashflow”? If they were, you would have a timeline of follow ups for each lead (or each type of lead) for your products, or for each product, as you have time to fine tune the process.

For example, if you know that prospects typically take 32 days to decide on a purchase in your market, you would follow up in the days just approaching the 32 day timeframe.

If you determine that that there are other signals that indicate decision making and you can detect those in a follow up, why wouldn’t you do that follow up? As with the support and service follow up, the reason is usually the lack of a system.

Nine word emails?

One of the tactics in common use is the nine word email – though this tool can be used in emails, calls or text messages.

The email, call or text message doesn’t have to be exactly nine words, but the key is to keep things very succinct and free of baggage.

A nine word email looks like this:

Carla,

Are you still looking for a fifth wheel camper?

Mark

The point is to engage, and re-kindle a conversation. People are busy. They forget. A nine word email can take care of those tasks.

Following up in the sales department

Your job is to remind them so you can check and see if they’re ready to buy. If they aren’t, but they’re still interested, then you can include (or re-include) them in your sales follow up system in case they aren’t already there.

The task takes fine tuning and care. Your attempts to check in can be perceived as badgering (you’ve been there) or worse. Be sure that your attempts are well-timed, not too frequent and about their needs, not yours.

One frequent mistake I see is follow ups whose topic is the end of the month, end of the quarter or the end of a sales contest or quota period. While those things might be important to you – there’s not a single reason for your client to care about these things. Sure, prospects are sometimes aware that end of month and end of quarter timeframes often yield better deals, but if they’re at that point, you should already have signals that they’re about to buy. Make sure the follow up is about them, not you.

Learning and testing the timing of your sales follow up is critical. What timing is most critical when a follow up results in a sale? What are the next two or three critical points? What additional information do they need to decide to buy, even if they buy from someone else? After the sale, which follow up is most effective at preventing refunds?

Everyone can sell – and they should

This past weekend, the Mrs and I went out looking for a gym. It turned into a lesson in sales and sales prevention.

We had three options: A family-oriented place near our grandkids’ house, a place within walking distance and a place within a few minutes drive, even during our very brief rush hour (which is more like rush-a-few-minutes).

Family friendly

We were greeted at the door, offered a tour to show us the facility and explain how things work, particularly for members who want to involve young kids. When the tour was done, our guide returned us to the front desk crew who greeted us. They answered a few more questions, gave us paperwork and told us what to do next to join.

While it wasn’t clear that the staff had any sales training, it was obvious they had a process in place to help prospective members learn about the facility and the programs they offer. They responded to our unscheduled arrival without difficulty and accepted this work as part of their job.

Drivable

We were greeted nicely as at the family place. The front desk staffer offered to give us a guided tour or said we could look around on our own. We chose to fly solo. When we returned to the front desk, the staffer made sure we understood what made them different from the other clubs in the area, and let us know that there was no signup fee through the end of the month, and did so without making a sales pitch. After getting a few more answers, we moved on.

At this facility, it was unclear if the staffer had been trained sales-wise, but it was obvious they had a process in place to help prospective members learn about the facility and the programs they offer. Likewise, it was clear the front desk staffer accepted this as part of their job. Like the family place, he responded to our unscheduled arrival without difficulty, as if there was a process and some prior training to deal with the needs of prospective members and their questions. It was clear that he accepted this as part of his job. Of all the places we visited, this one left us with the best end-to-end impression.

Walkable

We then stopped at the place that’s a few minutes walk from our home. Proximity is a big deal to us these days. We often walk to dinner, local craft breweries and other activities because these things are fairly close and easily walkable.

We walked into the club and told the young man at the front desk that it was our first time there, mentioned that we were considering joining and asked if we could look around. His response was that there was no membership staff available (midday on Saturday) and said “I’m just the front desk guy.” He seemed a bit uncomfortable with being asked to show us around and/or answer questions. He made it clear that he wasn’t allowed to leave the front desk, so we asked if we could look around on our own and see how well their club fit our needs.

He said “Would you like to buy a day pass?“, so I reiterated that we just wanted to look around for a few minutes and check the place out. He replied that we couldn’t do that. He wasn’t rude, yet he seemed fearful of doing something wrong and appeared to threaten his comfort zone. It made me wonder about his managers and how they treat him.

Nights and weekends matter

The people who work off shifts and weekends are an important part of your sales team. Everyone can sell if they are trained to be helpful. Don’t scare them, prepare them.

The cost of not preparing them

Do the math: Lost sales / year x monthly fee x average-months-of-membership (which each facility should know), then compound that week-in, week-out.

If you lose one $70/month family membership sale per weekend and you retain members for two years, that’s a loss of $87,360. One lost sale per week for 52 weeks, times the lost revenue of $70 for 24 months.

If you retain members for five years, losing one sale per weekend balloons the revenue loss of $218,400. That’s one lost sale / week for 52 weeks, x the lost revenue of $70 / month for 60 months.

Sales training matters – for everyone.