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Every job is a sales job

One of the unsung business assets of the area where I live is a customer service training program called “Montana Superhost”.

In the old country, er I mean a few years ago, the program cost $15-25 per trainee. The last time I saw a course offered , it was *free*.

Why every session of this course isn’t overflowing with people is a mystery to me. People should be lined up out the door as if someone is giving away iPads or fresh crispy bacon or something.

Even if they do start charging a fee, you’d be nuts not to send your entire staff – and *especially* the newbies and temporary summer employees.

It only takes one

Yes, even your temporary summer employees. In fact, ESPECIALLY those folks.

It might seem like a waste to pay them for their time at Superhost training (yes, you should) and the course fee (if any)- but I suggest that it isn’t waste at all.

No matter what every tourist season customer spends at your business, all it takes is one untrained, unfriendly (and/or surly, uncaring etc) employee to prevent that customer and their family from returning.

But that isn’t the worst part.

The worst part is that they’ll tell 10 of their friends about the experience (market research has shown that bad experiences are related to 10 people, good experiences are related to 3).

It doesn’t take much study to see the value of this investment, especially for those businesses with a lot of first-time public-facing employees.

Old man take a look at me now

About six years ago, I sorta dragged my then-15 year old son to Superhost training one summer morning. My interest was in seeing what was being taught so I’d know whether to advise customers to send their people to take the course.

He came away with a few lessons that have repeatedly paid off in every job he’s held.

I think Superhost should be taught a few evenings a year at every high school.

While the course varies a little from year to year, I’ve found that the training is definitely worth the investment of time and money for every staffer you have.

With money tight this summer and your employees perhaps being a little older than normal due to employment levels, you might be tempted not to provide customer service training for your staff.

Don’t make that mistake. Your employees might be under a little more pressure than normal due to their employment situation. A spouse might be out of work. It’s easy to get distracted when things at home are tense.

Training of this nature goes a long way to assuring the kind of consistent customer experience that brings people back again and again, plus it makes your employees (permanent or not) more valuable to your business.

That’s a critical concept, because the impact of their job reaches far beyond what they might think.

A few years earlier…

Many years ago, I was sitting in a course when the group was asked about the impact of attitude on a customer’s experience.

Specifically, the question was about why it mattered what attitude someone uses when working with customers.

In an almost mockingly depressing Droopy Dog kind of tone, I said “Because every job is a sales job”.

The instructor detected the point of my tone and asked me to repeat myself.

This time, I said “Because every job is a sales job” in a freakishly effervescent, pleasant tone of voice – again with the intention of making the opposite end of same point.

Big

From the occasionally snarky customer service person having a bad day to the kindest delivery person, from the nicest hotel concierge to the annoying little computer tech support person with no patience for anyone who calls to report a bug, the interactions of any and all of these people has a substantial impact on your sales.

Bigger than you might realize. Big enough to run off every customer they work with, if left unchecked.

It’s not at all uncommon for staffers who don’t typically interact with the public, or don’t *want* to because they have work duties that require no customer interaction mixed with duties that do require regular customer interaction (bad combination for what should be obvious reasons).

Some of them don’t recognize that fact, because they haven’t been trained to recognize the value of their behavior to every customer whose paths they cross.

It’s your job to make sure they HAVE been trained…because their job IS a sales job, no matter what they do.

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Business culture Competition Corporate America Customer relationships customer retention Customer service Employees Marketing Public Relations Sales service Small Business Strategy

Thoughtful service makes them Remember the Alamo

How much is it worth to get recognized in public just for being thoughtful?

Hard to say. On the other hand, what’s it worth to know that a TV personality (or for that matter, *any* customer) will use your company’s service forever (or until you blow it)?

In my mind, a lot.

Since specifics are nice, consider that person might rent a car twice a year for just one day. I figure that might be $80-200 depending on the rental. Multiply that times 20, 30 or 40 years and it adds up.

Now imagine that it happens because just one of your staff members is helpful, thoughtful and does something that really costs you *nothing*. The ROI on thoughtful is pretty good.

Christopher Elliott gave Alamo Rent-a-Car a great testimonial on a major media not long ago because someone at Alamo upgraded his car without him asking, for no cost, simply because of where he was going.

What was *that* testimonial worth? When I walk by Alamo this week in Kalispell, Las Vegas, Seattle and Salt Lake – you can bet I’ll remember it. I wonder how many other viewers will remember…

Quite a strategy that counter person had, thinking about their customers’ welfare and the experience they might have while using their company’s product.

Imagine if it had gone the other way. If he’d gotten stuck, been late, had car trouble that was no fault of the car or Alamo, but simply had troubles because he didn’t rent “enough” vehicle.

Which way do your people think while helping a customer? Is that what you’d want if your grandmother was your customer?

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attitude Business culture Business Resources Competition customer retention Customer service Employees Improvement Leadership Management planning Restaurants Retail Sales service Small Business Strategy The Slight Edge

Selling garbage and urine

Not long ago, we were talking about being “… only as good as your last transaction.”

I was chatting with someone on Twitter yesterday and mentioned that “every job is a sales job”, which provoked a response from someone in Missoula who asked: “Even the garbage man?”

Abso-flippin’-lutely.

Tomorrow morning, my trash gets picked up. Watch carefully for a sales guy.

Garbage man “A” accidentally knocks over your trash cans with the fender on his truck.  He jumps out of the cab, tosses out a few pieces of creative language about knocking the cans over, empties them into the truck, leaves the trash that fell out right there on the ground where it fell, tosses the cans back into the driveway with a rattle that would wake the dead.

Because it’s 6am, it seems as if he’s trying to make as much noise as possible. On that theme, he revs up his truck as he pulls away, riling up our annoying little white fluffy dog who barks at everyone as if they are Satan incarnate, meanwhile waking up the granddaughter.

Garbage man “B” also knocks over the cans, but unlike his competitor, he stops and picks up the spill, empties the cans, sets them quietly at the edge of the driveway and pulls away at a normal pace without making a fuss.

Obviously, the sales guy is garbage dude “B”.

Leaking more than antifreeze

You might be leaking sales.

This morning, I’m off to the radiator shop. You know, cuz I feel like it’s my duty to put the children of the automotive industry through graduate school. Arrgh.

Think about the public-facing staff at a radiator shop when I visit for the first time.

If I walk in and they are professionally-dressed, what’s my thought? I don’t expect the guys to be in $1000 suits, but I also don’t expect them to look like they haven’t showered in days and smell like a bottle of rum, much less yesterday’s hay hauling sweat.

In particular, since I’m the first appointment of the day, I expect a little more. Still, if the guy takes care of me and my rig and doesn’t force me to refinance the Stimulus bill, I’ll probably cut the guy some slack.

Even so, everything impacts the sale. The appearance of your staff, your place of business, parking lot, even the smell.

The smell?

Oo-ooo-that-smell (apologies to the boys from Alabama)

Sure. Imagine you’re walking into an extended care center. Maybe umpteen years from now, a relative simply can’t be cared for at home for some technical reason that is beyond your abilities.

When you walk into the first center, the halls are crowded with unattended residents in wheelchairs. There’s nothing going on anywhere.

As you turn down the hall where the bedrooms are, the smell of urine hits you like a Nolan Ryan bean ball. Blammo, right up side your head.

Smelling salts, anyone?

Meanwhile, the family member who raised you, nursed your wounds, listened to you whine as they dabbed that evil Mercurochrome on those wimpy little cuts on your knees is going to be sentenced to a place that smells like the floor of an airport restroom?

Nope.

Your next visit is totally different. While there isn’t a Nerf football game going on in the lobby, the place smells and looks pristine and the folks are active. Even the ones who aren’t so mobile are being read to or listening to music, etc.

The people who make all these things happen have sales jobs, whether they are changing Depends and cleaning up your grandmother, answering the phone with a snarl or counting back change at Pamida.

Active vs. Passive

Beyond the passive salespeople that we’ve just talked about, there are others. Some of them are almost invisible sometimes – until they interact with your clientele:

  • The shy, slightly geeky slide rule totin’ field engineer with the pocket protector with his name on it.
  • The mechanic who comes out of the bay to tell me the horrible, expensive news.
  • The bug killer guy who slides out from under your muddy crawl space to tell you about the yellow jacket infestation.
  • The young kid who takes you out to see the boat you just rented and teaches them how not to sink it or blow yourself up.

None of them are who you think of when you do sales training, but they should be.

They’re like the recon Marine patrol. Front and center, making a first impression.

Train em. Don’t expect to create a platoon of Zig Ziglar and Tom Hopkins clones.

Instead, expect results after arming your folks with the tools to produce them.

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attitude Business Resources Competition Customer relationships customer retention Education Employees Entrepreneurs Management Personal development Restaurants Retail Sales Small Business Strategy

Why are you leaving money on the table?

If you’ve ever coached a kid’s little league baseball team, you know that you might spend a lot of time at first reminding players to take the bat off of their shoulder.

When you stand up to bat, you just won’t be ready unless you’ve got the bat back and ready to take your cut.

Leaving it on your shoulder simply requires too much adjustment too fast if you are to hit a ball coming toward you.

Most young, inexperienced players can’t make it happen.

Not asking the right questions when in a sales situation is the same sort of thing.

Can you really afford to leave money on the table today?

I don’t mean be a hard sell pain in the butt.

Instead, be helpful. Inquisitive. Thorough.

If you really want to stretch… Pretend to be the least bit interested how the client is using your product / service, ask what they need, talk about what they really get out of your product / service, how they use it and so on.

Part of selling is helping the client figure out exactly what they want (and need).

I leave a hole and it goes unfilled.

Speaking of, I received a sales call last week.

The salesperson almost seemed embarrassed to call and sell their product. Maybe it was a rough day, I dunno.

The thing is, I’m already a customer and the next big thing is now available so I’m clearly vested in what they sell.

It’s not like I’m a cold prospect with no idea what they do/sell. They just need to figure out what my objections might be – if any – and close the sale of the big new thing.

Instead, they just ask for the sale as if they really don’t care one way or the other.

In response, I say something along the lines of “I’m not quite ready” (which is the truth). I pause and leave the opening, hoping they’ll step in.

The opportunity sits there and languishes on the bone. End of discussion, call over.

What should have happened?

  • “I’m sorry to hear that, but if you don’t mind, could I ask a few questions?”

Me: Yeah, sure.

  • “How are you using the products / services?”
  • “How can we help you get more out of our products / services?”
  • “Is there a problem with our products or services?”
  • “Is cash flow tight? A lot of folks are stretched a little thin right now, so we’re doing what we can to get our product / service into their hands so they can use it to make more. Perhaps our payment plan would help. Would you like to hear about it?”
  • “Is there some other reason why you prefer to wait? It’s OK if there is, I’d just like to know if we aren’t where you need us to be.”

Me: Yeah, blah, blah, blah.

  • “So if I fixed that situation, would you be ready to buy?”

Me: “Forced” to either say yes, giving them the opportunity to fix whatever that is, or reveal the real objection (or state another one, which starts the cycle over again).

All the while, the vendor is learning what drives my purchases with them and how they can help me get to where I want to be as it relates to their product. But it never happens.

I’m almost left wondering if my business matters to the vendor.

Put yourself in this vendor’s place.

Can you really afford to leave money on the table right now? I’m guessing most can’t.

Are you training your staff to ask the right questions? Are they being inquisitive? Caring? Curious?

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air travel airlines attitude Business culture Corporate America Customer relationships customer retention Customer service Education Employees Management Positioning Sales service Small Business Word of mouth marketing

Selling the unsellable

loaded for bear
Creative Commons License photo credit: striatic

Adelaide, a Charlotte ticket agent with Delta Airlines, had undoubtedly heard similar passenger comments hundreds if not thousands of times.

“$15 a bag and $40 for two? What’s with that?”

She handled it well, including laughing at the ( joking) speculation by other passengers that all the luggage fees go to her personally. Still, it was clear that she was handling it off the cuff.

But was she trained by Delta to discuss it in a way that would defuse the passenger’s annoyance and/or anger?

Did her employer offer training for handling the situation so that she would not to simply repeat the corporate mantra (whatever that might be), but actually engage in a meaningful conversation with her customer as they check in and deal with their bags?

It wasn’t clear that Delta had trained their staff – including Adelaide – to deal with that question and do so disarmingly.

Obviously, it’s an unpleasant position to place your public-facing staff, so why not arm them with the perfect response that disarms most clients?

Why not prepare them to handle the situation in a way that doesn’t leave everyone with a bad taste in their mouth?

Sometimes, even the things you don’t sell need to be sold.

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Marketing

Inherit the earth, inhale the opportunity

All around us, people are being laid off.

The companies in (and near) my little town in rural, northwest Montana – have seen more than 800 layoffs.

Thankfully (if there is a bright spot), not all of the 800 people laid off live here in our town of 4500 people – but it still affects everyone as it trickles through the town’s economy.

A local banker told me a few weeks ago, “You can see it on them when they come in…they’re wearing it”.

“It” being the weight of unemployment.

The bright spot

There is a bright spot to all of this. Our local community college has seen a massive peak in registrations.

“In times of change, learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.” –   Eric Hoffer

You know that a lot of the folks who are getting laid off are unprepared to move on. Not all of them, of course, but a substantial percentage.

As a business owner, you already know that you have to be careful who you hire in these situations. Many folks will bolt back to their former job as soon as it opens up – because you probably can’t pay them what a manufacturing job does, for example.

Scout motto – “Be prepared”

How are you preparing your staff and *your company* for the world that doesn’t yet exist?

You might think that you don’t care because tomorrow isn’t here, and those newfangled things won’t appear for a while.

Or you might be the town’s Yahoo and the new business in town just might be the Google that makes you irrelevant.  Heaven help you if that new business actually has some funding and isn’t bootstrapping like so many others.

It isn’t about Silicon Valley, Yahoo and Google. This conversation is just as applicable to them as it is to your dry cleaning store.

It isn’t just laid off employees that need to be learning. You likely recognize that they should have updated their skills BEFORE they found themselves in a position to be laid off.

Look in the mirror, cuz the same goes for you.

Your business needs to learn and grow as well if it is to inherit its rightful place as the dominant innovative business in your niche.

That has to happen before your Google arrives on the scene.

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Does your staff *really* know enough to sell your product, even to early adopters?

[audio:http://www.rescuemarketing.com/podcast/TrainingYourSalesStaff.mp3]
iPod Touch Unlock
Creative Commons License photo credit: DeclanTM

Yesterday, I was in a box store (cuz no one here in Columbia Falls carries the items I needed) and sauntered by an iPod Touch on a whim.

We’ve talked a few times about the productivity that some custom iPhone applications would have for your business. You might not know that there are no Montana cell carriers that can offer the iPhone (yet), so the iPod Touch is a reasonable alternative if cell-driven applications aren’t important to you. 

Ok, so maybe it wasn’t entirely a whim:)

As you might expect, a salesperson walked up to me and asked if I had any questions. Trouble was, I actually did:)

I suspect that I’m not your typical user of tools like this and I don’t think he was prepared for my not-too-mainstream questions. 

I asked about syncing the iPod Touch’s contacts and calendars list with my Outlook. He wasn’t sure if that worked or not, but he thought it might. 

As you might imagine, I don’t spend $300 on “I think it might”. 

Next, I asked if it does do syncing with Outlook, does it require iTunes to make that sync happen.  He wasn’t sure. 

Note: I’ve since found out that both of those questions are true. It does sync to Outlook and it does use iTunes to make that happen.

Are you ready to service the early adopters?

The problem: If you’ve read Freakonomics or Crossing the Chasm (written for software companies, but applicable to all businesses IMO), you know that the early adopter types are instrumental in exposing new products like iPhones and iPods (and new services) to a much larger group of potential customers. 

If your staff isn’t prepared to deal with the not-always-mainstream questions that these early adopters have, it’s likely that they will lose the sale. 

These days, many people walk into the store with model numbers, prices and specs in their phone or on a note. They know what their choices are. Reviews and every other possible piece of info is available to them BEFORE they arrive at the store. 

What this means is that when the prospective buyer enters the store, it’s less about selling them the item and far more about helping them choose *which* item fits them best. 

You don’t know what you’re missing

The scary thing is that you’ll never know about the customers you lost because a question like this didn’t get answered.

All it takes to make this a really expensive problem for you is something like this:

One owner of a business (or the owner’s tech guru) walks into your store and asks the same type of questions (and perhaps more). You have no idea that their business has 100 salespeople and technicians in the field. You have no idea that they want to find out if the iPod Touch would work for their remote staff as a custom business application they’ve discussed for deployment on the iPod Touch or iPhone.

Depending on which model they were going to buy, that’s a $30,000 or $40,000 sale. 

This sort of thing happens far more often than you’d expect. 

Training your sales staff is expensive, but not training them is even more costly. Even if two or three of your staff are “ultra-trained” and can be the resource for the remaining staff, that would be an improvement.

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Competition Customer service ECommerce Employees Management Retail Sales Small Business Software Strategy systems Technology

Don’t make it hard for people to give you money

Emergencies of all forms seem to come at the worst possible times.

How your business manages day to day transactions quite often makes the emergency worse for your clients.

Bear with me, this story – and the lesson that goes with it – requires a bit of background discussion.

Last week was crazy for me. On Friday night, I drove my son to Plains for a swim meet. The next day, we had a baby shower to attend before taking off for a week of Scout camp early on Sunday morning.

The camp is located a few miles from Harvard Idaho, which isn’t what anyone would call a metropolis, and that’s a good thing. See, the more remote a Scout camp is, the better. If the internet doesnt work and cell phones get no signal, it makes for a better week of camp for everyone. And that’s one more reason why Inland Northwest Council’s Camp Grizzly shines.

However, this post isn’t about camp, it’s about an experience I had with Hy-Tek, Ltd., a (if not the) leading swim meet management software vendor, while I was at camp.

When I arrived in Plains for the swim meet, the guy in charge of the touchpad timing system for that team asked me to take a look at the system for them. Each of the teams in our league use a setup owned by the league, and each town has someone who gets to set it up and run it that weekend.

Out of 23 towns, there are 2 geeky people like me who are involved. Me and a guy about 400 miles east of here. Everyone else in the other 21 towns drew the short straw.

Here’s what happened: Recently, Hy-Tek required that we upgrade the meet management software due to a licensing conflict (another story for another time).

Unfortunately, I wasn’t involved in that transaction, which might possibly have avoided this. Turns out that the sales-prevention-department at Hy-Tek didn’t do their research when selling $7000+ worth of meet software to the 23 teams (who buy as a group).

They neglected to look at prior purchases by the same organization and observe that the league purchased a version of the meet software that supported the scoring console that drives the digital scoreboard and collects athlete swim times from the touchpads at the end of the lane.

Bottom line, that means that when I got to Plains, they couldn’t get the meet software to talk to the timing console, the touchpads or the scoreboard. So I dig around a little and find that the licenses sold to each team did not include the ability to use the scoring console – something that should have been part of the sales script / checklist or whatever when any of this software is sold.

At 11pm on Friday night, this isn’t going to get fixed.

I call Hy-Tek on Saturday morning and get voice mail for someone’s cell phone.

Not long after leaving my message, a friendly guy named Bob calls back (Hy-Tek’s support Bob is universally appreciated from what I hear) and tells me that he cant fix it and I have to deal with sales because he isn’t allow to use the software that creates the license file that resolves the problem, much less take our money.

So we use manual timers for this meet, which isn’t the end of the world.

I tell my MotoQ to remind me on Monday morning (when I will be at camp, where there is no cell service) to call the swim league big cheese, explain the situation and then call Hy-Tek sales and get this resolved.

So Monday comes and I manage to drive 30 minutes to find about half a bar of cell service and reach the swim guy, who isn’t home and thus doesnt have the info for the sales call in front of him. We decide to talk on Tuesday so he can get the info from his home and then I can call Hy-Tek.

My call on Tuesday goes off as planned (after another 30 minute drive to get cell service) and shortly after gathering the necessary info, I reach someone in Hy-Tek sales.

I explain the situation and almost get the impression that I am interrupting someone’s day. But we move on, because I have to get this done and return to camp (thankfully, I have 2 other adults in camp to help the boys in my absence).

After explaining the situation to the salesperson, I am told that I should go online to order the upgrade. Isn’t that what a toll-free sales number is for?

Sales 101 – When a customer tries to hand you money for something they clearly want or need, do not tell them to go somewhere else.

I explain that I am in the middle of rural Idaho, have no internet access (not even with my phone, which is rapidly burning battery talk time due to the analog connection) and cannot do so. She tells me they are not setup to take phone orders.

Say what?

Anyhow, she says that she can take my order by entering it for me on their website (credit card merchants everywhere are cringing by now) as I read it over the phone. As I have no choice, we do that and the order is placed.

When delivery is discussed, I ask for email delivery of the license file (which is small enough to email) due to the urgency of getting this fix to the team hosting the meet next weekend, particularly given my limited ability to call/no ability to email this week.

I am told company policy forbids it because teams change computer people and coaches too often and they would have to re-email the software. Even downloading it from a secured area on the site is too much trouble, apparently.

Is it 1988 or 2008? Hmm.

IE: they wont allow email delivery of license files because they dont like issuing license files too often and more likely, because there is no process for doing so – since there are never emergencies in the swimming business, I suppose.

I begin to wonder to myself if they dont like taking money, but I know better than that:) I should note that I’ve been the swim team’s geek for 8 years and will be for at least 3 more. That is of no concern to the salesperson, because her hands are tied by company policy.

Clearly, there is no process in place to email this small file in an emergency.

If there isn’t a process, so be it, but blaming this on the *standard behavior of clients* is dumb.

Thankfully, the CD goes out as promised, gets picked up by the right person and installs without incident, all without me being around:) This is a good thing, since I arrived at the meet at 130am between days 1 and 2 of the meet.

So why this long, wordy bluster?

Simply to ask you to re-examine a few things:

  • Take a look at how you are setup to accelerate the delivery of your product in the event of a client emergency. Is your sales and support staff trained and enabled to make things work for the client, or simply hamstrung by policy and process issues, and thus forced to make your clients sit around and wait?
  • As you know, I’ll be the first to suggest automating what can be, but make sure that your processes allow for emergencies.
  • Take a look at how your sales and support team communicate company policies (smart ones and dumb ones) to your clients. It isn’t their fault your policies and processes are what they are, but they have to communicate and implement them, presumably without torquing your clients.
  • Check your sales process and make sure that your salespeople are not sending clients somewhere else to complete a sale. Obviously, creating work for clients when they are handing you money is not wise.