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Blogging Customer relationships Getting new customers Influence Leadership Marketing Small Business

What your customers don’t know

One of the more dangerous things that can get stuck a writer’s head is the feeling (assumption) that everyone knows or has already read about what you’d like to write about. This usually happens because the writer is so familiar with the material, concept or admonition that they simply assume that everyone knows about it, or has heard it already.

The same thing happens when a business owner considers what to communicate to their prospects and clients.

I’ve heard it all before.

Ever been to an industry conference session where the speaker talked about a fundamental strategy or tactic that you’ve known (and hopefully practiced) for years (or decades)? If so, it might have bothered you that the speaker talked about it as if it was new information. It might also have made you feel as if you’d wasted your time in that session, and that everyone else in the room did too.

Did you think “Everybody knows that“?

Unless the audience was very carefully selected to eliminate all but the “newbies”, it’s a safe bet that the audience breaks down like this:

  • Some of the people in the room are so familiar with that strategy or knowledge that they could be called up to the stage to teach it at a moment’s notice.
  • Some of the people in the room learned that information for the first time.
  • Some of the people in the room had probably heard it before, perhaps decades ago, but forgot about it.
  • Some of the people in the room knew about this fundamental piece of knowledge but have since forgotten to implement it or stopped using it – probably for reasons that would be categorized as “we got busy” or “we forgot about it“.

Everybody knows that” simply isn’t true unless the audience is highly controlled.

Most of the time, there’s a good reason to cover foundational material. Even if the fundamentals of whatever you do haven’t changed, something about how they’re applied probably has changed. Even if they haven’t, a reminder about the things “everyone knows” is usually productive to some of your clientele.

If you first learned whatever you do for a living 10 or 20 years ago, some of the fundamentals have probably changed. There are some fields where this isn’t true, but that doesn’t mean that changes haven’t happened.

Your customers’ knowledge is no different

Your prospects and clients are all on a different place on their lifecycle as a prospect or client with you. This is one of the reasons why you may have read or heard from myself and others that you should segment your message.

When I say “your message”, I mean the things you talk about in your newsletters, emails, website, direct marketing, video, sales pitch and so on.

As an example, someone who has owned two Class A RVs is likely going to be interested in a different conversation than someone in the process of selecting their first bumper pull camper trailer.

Despite that, if you have regular communications of general information to your clients (and surely you do), fundamental topics like changes in waste disposal and easier ways to winterize are always going to be in context – assuming you send the winterizing information in the month or so before your clients’ first freeze.

The key to getting the right info to the right people is to segment the audience (and thus the information), while not forgetting fundamentals that everyone can use a refresher on now and then.

Segmenting fundamentals

So how would you segment the educational marketing messages you provide to clients and prospects? How about new prospects, new clients and old hands?

For prospects, a “How to buy” series of information is a highly useful, low pressure way to identify the differences between yourself and the rest of your market, without naming anyone. “This is what we do and this is why we feel it’s important, be sure and ask these questions” is a powerful way to set the tone for the purchase process.

For new clients, provide a jump start. This will also give them a “this is reality” view of what ownership is like that can defuse a naturally occurring case of buyer’s remorse.

For old hands, discuss the questions that cause you to say “Hang on, let me go ask someone in the back“.

Speaking of fundamentals, that’s what this was all about.

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Customer relationships Getting new customers Lead generation Marketing Small Business

The hardest part of helping businesses

There are a lot of rewards that come with helping businesses improve beyond what they expected, or even simply going a step or two beyond an artificial boundary the business owner thought was in front of them. It’s really a fun thing to watch someone latch on to a piece of advice and make 10 or 100 times what they invested in it.

That isn’t the whole story though. In addition to those to take advice and use it, there are some who ask for advice, pay for it, receive it and for whatever reason, never use it. Perhaps they decide that it isn’t for them or they decide not to do anything at all, or they decide they can’t do anything right now. Or they don’t decide to do something, which is also a decision.

There are some in my mentor group who tell me not to worry about those who decide to do nothing (I don’t), and others who suggest that I shouldn’t let it bother me (I do, a little).

Why the difference between worry and bother?

Ultimately I think it comes from the root of why people open businesses – other than independence and control over their income: people get something from helping other people.

The result is that when you do your best to help someone, it feels incomplete until they plug in and use that help to improve their situation.

Sometimes, they just aren’t ready to act, even if they were ready to buy. I know that seems to be a disconnect, but there are plenty of books and courses and such out there with the cello wrap still on them. As I hear it, buying the tool, assistance or advice releases the “I did something” endorphins, so many leave it at that.

If you’re thinking this is some sort of subliminal sales pitch, it isn’t. Still, it’s reasonable to wonder “What does this have to do with me and my business?

We’re getting there.

Where are they?

Hildy Gottlieb frequently talks about meeting people where they are. After all, you can’t meet them where they aren’t, right? Any well-trained salesperson will tell you the same thing – meet someone where they are, talk to that person, rather than talking to the person you want them to be. The same goes for writing.

When you lose a sale or when someone buys a product or service from you and then finds no use for it – despite an obvious need, that’s where the gap between “where your stuff is” and “where your clients are” will become obvious.

So how do you bridge the gap?

Today, you have a product or service (or both) that serves people that are in a certain place in their life, career or state of owning a business.

Think about where someone is when they are at the best possible place and time to buy. Can you identify the qualities, qualifications, situations and conditions in their life, career or business that are ideal when it comes to them making a decision to buy what you sell?

No, I mean where are they NOW?

Ok, so now you have a list of the situations, conditions and qualities that make it a no brainer (or at least ideal) for the right people to buy your stuff. Hopefully that’s where your marketing is focused.

Do you have enough these “ideal people” in your sales funnel / pipeline? Most people will say they don’t. They’s say this for any number of reasons, including that they simply want more leads than they have now because they have business and/or personal goals that require higher sales.

If you don’t have enough of those people, look at that timeline again. Glance to the left of ideal: the “not quite ready” portion of the timeline. What can you do to help people get from that part of the timeline to that optimum place you identified as perfect for your product / service?

Now help them.

The more people that you can help move along that timeline to “optimum” (whatever that means for you and them), the more people you’ll eventually have as “ideal” prospects. When they’re ready, they’ll already know you, since you helped them make the journey to “ideal”.

What can you do to help them make that journey?

Categories
Getting new customers Lead generation Sales Small Business

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?

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Employees Getting new customers Sales Small Business

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.

Categories
Automation Competition customer retention Getting new customers Management Small Business

A simple, high value tactic many miss

When people know that you help small businesses and you’ve had a newspaper column since 2007, everyone who has a bad (or even mildly annoying) experience at a business wants to tell you about their latest adventure in commerce.

Sometimes I hear about situations that really aren’t the fault of the business. Other times, the stories I hear make me wonder what the business owner(s), or their staff, is thinking. Of course, there are always two sides to any conflict, including the parts you never hear from either side.

Conflict isn’t number one

While you might think disagreements and conflicts are the number one think I hear about, that isn’t the case. Today’s topic isn’t really about conflict, but it can easily become a source of conflict if the affliction goes untreated.

The affliction? No follow up. Insufficient follow up often feels like no follow up. Prospects call or email and want to order something. Their call or email goes unanswered. They get frustrated. They call someone else in your market. You not only lose the sale, but you probably lose the possibility of ever having that person as a client.

Recently, I heard a story from someone who wanted to buy an item, called several vendors in that market, failed to get any follow up action or contacts by anyone in the market, then called a nationwide retailer with a local presence and didn’t even hear back from them. When they contacted the retailer, the retailer’s staff couldn’t provide any information about when the item would show up, much less if it was on its way. At this point, months have gone by without any progress, despite involving several vendors.

So, on a $500+ purchase, multiple vendors in the same market appear to be unwilling to do the work to close the sale. Normally, this situation would make me a bit suspicious of the would-be purchaser’s mood, but in this case, I know them well enough that this isn’t about the person wanting to buy.

Follow up. That’s all.

While this is a pretty unusual situation, the key for all of this is follow up. Return calls, emails, etc are a necessity to close a sale and keep a client. So why would vendors who routinely sell a $500-3000 item fail to do that? I can’t explain it. What I can do is tell you that this isn’t unusual. Lots of businesses fail to follow up enough, or fail to follow up at all.

Solo entrepreneurs fail to do it. Small companies fail to do it. Medium sized companies fail to do it. Large companies fail to do it. I can’t explain why, but I can tell you it is the number one source of frustration of the people I talk to. I hear it about salespeople, order departments, support and customer service as well as repair and service people.

Communicate. It’s that simple. It’s not a sign of weakness. It’s a sign you care about your business, much less about your clientele and their needs. It’s an incredibly easy and inexpensive way to make a client stick around and develop a loyalty to your business that’s incredibly hard to break. Think of it as an almost impregnable fence that your competition can’t get past to gain access to your customers. It’s not expensive or complicated.

Why doesn’t follow up happen?

Follow up doesn’t fail to happen because the business owner or their staff don’t want to take care of their clientele. Most of them do care. Sometimes it isn’t obvious that follow up isn’t happening, or the owners and staff don’t realize that some of the most important follow up is letting their clients know what’s going on even when nothing has changed.

The most common reason that follow up doesn’t happen is that there’s no system to manage it. Without a system to make sure it happens, today’s daily chaos takes over and those follow up tasks are soon forgotten.

When I say “system”, I mean a mechanism that makes sure that you follow up with clients, whether or not the system consists of paper, technology or something else.

The key is that you put together something that you and the staff will actually use because “I need to remember to call Joe” isn’t a system for anything other than disappointing Joe.

 

Categories
attitude Customer relationships customer retention Getting new customers Improvement Leadership market research Setting Expectations Small Business

Desperate for business?

Recently, I drove past a local shop advertising everything they sell at 50% off. While I don’t like to assume, it’s hard not to wonder if such a radical price cut is anything else but a desperate move to make sales that aren’t happening for the “normal” reasons.

When an owner is desperate for business, (at least) two things often take place in an effort to turn things around:

First, an assumption is frequently made that price is the reason they aren’t selling as much as they need or want to sell. While that is possible, it’s a situation that is easy to research online, much less by listening and asking your clientele. You have to word these questions carefully, since the answer to “Would you like to pay less for what we sell?” will almost always be met with a “Yes!” If you haven’t done this work, then thinking that your sales problems are caused by prices that are too high is an unproven and dangerous assumption. Regarding the store in question… I’ve been in there and price is definitely not their problem.

Second, desperate circumstances manifest themselves in the behavior of sales and marketing. The most common symptom of this is focusing on “everyone with a heartbeat” rather than everyone whose heart beats faster when they see, talk about or think about what you sell.

The latter group is already bought in to the idea of what you sell, so they don’t have to be sold on the idea, but they will need a compelling reason to purchase this product/service from you, as opposed to someone else.

When you focus on everyone, many of them have yet to develop an interest in what you sell (if they ever will). Some portion of them still must be sold on the idea, much less the specific product/service you’re selling and then they must be sold on your ability to deliver it. Selling the idea is often the steepest part of the climb and requires the most energy. Unfortunately, the energy you expend trying to sell disinterested people in what you sell is wasted, leaving less energy for the prospects who actually care about your products and services.

So what’s a business owner to do when sales take a tumble? Ask a few questions.

How’s your value proposition?

Price often comes up first when value proposition is discussed. We’ve talked quite a bit about pricing in the past and the importance of not assuming that your prices have to drop simply because they’re higher than Amazon’s or Wal-Mart’s.

Thing is, pricing is just a part of the value proposition. The ability to provide immediate gratification, convenience, service, delivery, installation, faster delivery than anyone else, financing, access to product / service / industry experts, consulting and better-than-typical guarantees / warranty coverage all have value.

The difference in value prop between the vendor with the best price and the vendor who can roll out delivery, financing, on-site expertise, installation and follow that up with a fair price and solid warranty is massive.

These things take an investment in time, labor, materials and/or people. It’ll be tough to roll them out all at once. Talk to your ideal clients and find out which of these things are most important. Move on those things first. Keep the conversations going.

Why did they leave?

Everyone has clients who have left them, including me. One of the best things you can do for yourself, your business, your next client, and your existing clients is to ask the ones who left what made them unhappy enough to leave.

A few questions to get you started… How did we disappoint you? What promises did we break? What was the turning point for you that told you it was time to leave us and find another vendor? What product didn’t live up to our promises? How did we fail to meet your expectations? What told that you could no longer depend on us? Was price the reason you left? What would have kept you as a client even if our price was higher? What did we fail to offer you that you wanted or needed from us?

The key to all of this is that it isn’t about you. It’s about what they want and need from you. If stuff isn’t selling, there’s a reason. Cutting the price in half isn’t going to find it.

Categories
Corporate America Getting new customers Positioning Sales Setting Expectations Small Business

Selling to everyone

Selling isn’t about the shine; it’s about what happens when the shine has worn off.

Will your (or your clients’) management will think positively of you a year from now because of an investment you championed?

They’d better.

Sales calls: How they react

What’s your reaction when a salesperson calls?

Are there any salespeople who stand out from the crowd that you don’t want to talk to? If you’re a salesperson and you don’t get sales calls, ask around your company about the nature of the sales calls your management receives. You could learn a lot about the calls you make.

With a few exceptions, here are the reasons why I react the way I do to your sales call:

  • I don’t know you, even though you act like I do.
  • I still have a bad feeling about our last deal and you act like that didn’t happen.
  • I don’t need anything right now, but I am willing to listen to new stuff – just in case – IF you make an appointment.
  • You don’t have an appointment. Message received = You don’t respect my schedule or my time.
  • I’m the wrong person or we’re have zero need.
  • Last time we talked, you gave a generic presentation suited to all businesses, rather than one fine tuned for my business needs.
  • Your last presentation was like drinking from a firehose.
  • The financials from our last discussion were generic and didn’t identify the payoff period.
  • Your assessment of labor cost savings (despite my objections/feedback) is inaccurate and/or you tend to ignore the additional costs incurred by implementing your solution, such as management costs.
  • You are out of touch with what’s going on with the product side of your business, such as open issues, deliverability delays, implementation costs / timelines.

Sales calls: How they want to react

What people would like to feel when you call is “This person is a champion for our company. They only call when there’s a likely win ready for me, or when I need to know about something new in the industry that might affect our business.

You get to that point in your clients’ minds in part by asking yourself questions like these:

Why am I qualified to propose these solutions?

Do I have testimonials not only for my solution and company, but for the job I’ve done helping my clients?

My prospect / client fits us well because…

We are a good fit for our prospect / client because…

Have you reviewed the alternatives to your solution? If so, what are the pros and cons of each and why is yours the best fit for us?

Is my company a market leader? Not just in revenue, but in vision.

Is my company cranking out the same old thing to milk their cash cow, or are we also thinking about what our clients upcoming needs and producing something to address them?

Can my solution, my company and my proposal help my clients solve problems without causing them to lose momentum?

Selling to everyone means selling to anyone

When you produce financials to sell your deal, you have to do the math and show your work, just like a high school test. Your proposal’s payback, implementation timeline and life cycle must reflect the client’s reality and your company’s ability to deliver.

The challenge is that every department views ROI differently. Today, you’re often selling to everyone in your client’s company.

A proposal citing the accounting and tax benefits will interest Accounting, but will resonate with Manufacturing / Shipping people who are concerned with process efficiency, throughput, MTBF and similar metrics?

Without buy in from everyone involved, your sale will be harder than it has to be.

Everyone involved“? The discussion that sells the CEO and CFO will differ from one that gets Manufacturing on board, much less the one that gives the warehouse manager the tools necessary to get their staff on board.

Why should you care about whether the warehouse is on board?

Because they can kill a purchase, even though you never hear it that way. No CEO will tell you that Margaret in Accounting killed the deal or that the guys in the shop / on the dock thought the solution made no sense.

A final question: “Have you produced in-context materials for the client’s departments that help the client’s management sell the proposal to each department on their own terms?

Categories
Competition Customer relationships customer retention Employees Getting new customers Leadership Marketing Positioning Sales Setting Expectations Small Business Word of mouth marketing

ROI: Why they don’t take your call

These days, it isn’t about the shine; it’s about what happens when the shine wears off.

Will your business owner clients think positively of you a year from now because of an investment you championed? They’d better. Without buy in from everyone involved, resistance is the best you can expect the next time you visit.

As for this time – If you can’t explain to a random person in the lunch room or the warehouse why their employer should buy your stuff, it’s going to get picked to shreds.

ROI and the Why-To-Buy

The key to being successful is establishing Why-to-Buy in the context of each involved group. The discussion that sells the owner will differ quite a bit from the one that gets the warehouse on board, much less the one that gives the warehouse manager the tools necessary to get their staff on board.

When new purchase discussions do get down to talking about numbers, the ROI discussed is sometimes legitimately unproven and is frequently presented in a way that makes ROI impossible to prove, much less disprove. That’s a fast track to a “no sale”.

What’s your reaction to sales calls?

Ask a few business owners about sales calls. You’ll get a common list of “Why I don’t want to talk to you, sales dude.

  • I don’t know you, even though you act like I do.
  • I still have a bad feeling about our last deal.
  • I don’t need anything right now, but I am willing to listen to new stuff just in case, but you need to make an appointment.
  • You have no appointment.
  • I’m the wrong person.

The last time I had an office on a public street, the front door had a sign that invited two types of salespeople in (Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts) and provided the rest with instructions and a number to call for an appointment.

In seven years, one salesperson called that number to make an appointment. The rest wasted their time because they didn’t respect our time enough to make an appointment. You might think that an aggressive salesperson shouldn’t take no for an answer. When it concerned that office, that was the wrong choice.

Nice Presentation?

Another thing that I see and hear repeatedly is problems with a sales presentation.

These complaints include:

  • A one way conversation – like drinking from a firehose
  • Not customized based on knowledge of your needs
  • Generic financials that don’t identify a payoff period
  • Little consideration for your real situation
  • Inaccurate assessment of labor cost savings
  • Ignore additional costs and management requirements
  • Gaps between the presentation and delivered solution
  • Selling the invisible. Either things that don’t work or things that don’t yet exist – and won’t be delivered for months.

Consider whether your presentations exhibit any of these qualities.

What they want to experience

How would most business owners react when their favorite salesperson calls?

This person…

  • Only calls when there’s a win ready for the business owner to invest in.
  • Shows up with a checklist of qualifications that illustrate why the opportunity fits the business.
  • Shows up with testimonials from similar businesses – complete with contact information, so you’re welcome to call them.
  • Has clearly spent time thinking about why they and the opportunity fits the owner’s business.
  • Brings up alternatives and why they ruled them out.
  • Leads their market – not so much in sales as much as vision, crcitical because it carries with it influence and the reputation of a market leader.
  • Thinks about what challenges you face and what they can do to make it possible to overcome them.
  • Brings opportunities that you can implement  that without losing your existing momentum.

Getting buy-in

Think about how many times you’ve had to deal with the situations I described above – both good and bad. How many times have you done this to a prospect? How much trouble was it to make that deal happen, if it happened?

ROI grows as buy-in expands. Remember that everyone views ROI differently.  Next time, we’ll talk about strategies to involve everyone in that conversation so that the buy-in stretches from the main office to the warehouse dock.

When a business owner sees that sort of widespread buy-in, good outcomes are almost sure to follow.

Categories
customer retention Getting new customers Leadership Management Restaurants Retail Setting Expectations Small Business Word of mouth marketing

Earning Return Business, Part Four: Confidence

In our last three conversations about earning return business, we tap danced around something that is at the core of getting people to repeatedly come back to your business without a second thought of going somewhere else – Confidence.

Confidence is personal

As their confidence rises, people have this interesting way of insisting that others use their go-to business. You’ve probably had this happen to you. You’ll mention that you need a new dentist, or are going to buy a truck, put your family up at a local B & B, or want to get a fence built and someone you know will be positively rabid in their insistence that you use their favorite business for that purchase.

Some take it very personally. If you choose a business other than the one they recommended and have a less than ideal experience, you’re likely to hear about it until you share your good experience with their favorite vendor the next time you have that need.

This happens for several reasons:

  • They feel an obligation to you as a friend or family member and want you to have a good experience. In short, they want to do something nice for you.
  • They want that business to stick around, so the more people they send to the business, the better.
  • When a business knows you are sending them clients, they tend to treat you a little bit differently. We all enjoy that feeling of being treated a little bit special, much like the response Norm hears when he walks into Cheers.

Don’t underestimate that last one. Loyalty of this nature is easy to build with the right kind of attention and is invaluable.

Building loyalty with pizza

My wife and I often have a dinner date night on Friday and more often than not, we’ll find ourselves having pizza. There’s a lot of good pizza where we live, so the choice isn’t easy.

Despite all the great choices, we more often than not end up at a restaurant called “The Back Room”, mostly because of barkeep Zak. When Zak was young, he swam with our boys during summer swim league. Yet that history isn’t why we go there.

After a long work week, we usually sit in the TV lounge area at the end of the Back Room’s bar. Because we’ve been there enough times, Zak automatically brings us one of the rotators he’s sure we’ll like (and he takes the time to tell us about it) after ordering our favorite pizza (which isn’t on the menu) and salads – never forgetting our preferred substitutions from prior visits.

Zak has learned that we’re creatures of habit when we come to the Back Room and we’ve learned to have confidence that he will take care of us and remember what we like.

Earning return business via confidence

The more confidence clients have in you and your company’s ability to deliver what they want, when they want it, at the quality level they’ve paid for – the more likely it is they’ll keep coming back.

Confidence comes from a number of different places, but at its root, it’s about your clients’ peace of mind and friction-free experience.

Whether they’re  good or bad, I’ll bet you can think of little things that happened during recent interaction with businesses that affected your confidence in them. The trick is figuring out what those little things are for your business and your clientele.

If you’re looking for ideas on how to instill that peace of mind, here’s a few examples:

  • A Realtor who provides a refrigerator checklist to her clients to prove her mettle by listing in advance the things that she may have to handle for the clients during a home transaction. This sends the confidence-building message “they will not surprise us”.
  • A software company that documents the minute details of their in-house source management, build, testing and deployment process for their clients, raising confidence in the quality of releases that are publicly available to them.
  • Once a rarity, now many restaurants frame their city/county health inspection for all clients to see. Ever see a framed “C” or “D” grade?
  • “Pre-owned” certifications for cars that indicate what has been checked prior to putting the car on the market.
  • Banks that don’t have a deposit cutoff at 3:00 PM.

To a good business, these things seem obvious. No matter how obvious, the key is taking the next step.

How do you build your clients’ confidence?

Categories
Business culture Customer relationships Customer service Getting new customers Setting Expectations Small Business Word of mouth marketing

First impressions: Driven by mastery

Most likely you’ve heard the saying “A poor artisan blames their tools.

Despite the ROI of blame being zero (at best), this situation goes well beyond blame.

When you blame the tool, at least two situations can pop up:

  • Your current tools don’t produce the kind of benefits / outcome / work you need (even if they used to), and that suggests you need to choose another tool that will do the work.
  • Your comfort level with the existing tool may exceed your need (or desire) to select a better one, even though the better tool has substantial benefits to your business. A frequent obstacle is the inertia created by the anticipated learning curve of a new tool. Even the perception of that curve can prevent a tool switch capable of producing massive benefits.

However, there’s far more to mastery than your expertise with the tools used to create the services and products you deliver.

Beyond mastery of production

This experience includes the tools used to communicate with your client community, such as your accounting system, email list management (such as http://enews.aweber.com), webinar software, phone systems and redundancy management such as backup systems.

Low tech systems should also be a part of these discussions, as they’re as important as the others. Examples of low tech systems include office / shop / restroom cleaning, plumbing as well as trash and scrap disposal. Hazardous materials management (such as benzene containment) will also play a part in the equation for many service and manufacturing businesses.

Even if none of these systems touch the service or product your clients receive, they do form the foundation of your clients’ experience. How they interact with each other, as well as how they interact with your clientele, is critical to the first impression you make, much less the day to day experience you create.

Master your communications tools

Communications tools are a common stumbling point in this way. Consider the last few webinars or conference calls you’ve attended.

How many times have the organizers struggled with the webinar or phone software or hardware? Did it reach the point where it was a distraction that kept participants from accomplishing the meeting’s goals? Did it prevent effective communication in the meeting?

The frustration factor of these things wears on participants, particularly if they experience it repeatedly. The more organizers struggle with the technologies, the worse it gets.

A common factor in less-than-ideal group settings like webinars, call-in shows and conference calls is a lack of rehearsal by the presenters. When presenters read from a script or bullets they’ve never rehearsed, the mechanical / monotonous nature of reading text that the reader has not rehearsed reduces attendee comprehension.  If interaction is expected between presenters, an unrehearsed presentation’s conversation isn’t conversational, it’s mechanical.

Good speakers can ad-lib from bullets or scripted text, but if you haven’t practiced enough to make the ad-lib feel natural, it won’t be sound nearly as smooth as you’d like.

When a conversation loses this natural touch and goes mechanical, it leads listeners down the road to inattention and boredom.

Bark, meow, disconnect

When speakers confuse the mute button with the disconnect button on their phone, it produces a jarring experience. In some webinar software, it’s a challenge for the organizer to return to the call, and in some cases, the conference is terminated when the organizer disconnects. Are you ready to lose 1000 listeners because you clicked or touched the wrong button?

Less serious flubs like echo, feedback, cell phone rings and animal noises in the background not only distract the listener, but they speak to your attention to detail – prompting listeners to wonder where else your lack of attention will manifest itself.

Is it streamlined?

First impressions are rooted in streamlined interactions, a lack of jarring experiences and consistently well-met expectations.

How you achieve these things is not driven solely by product and service quality. Consistency in delivery, interaction, returns, accounting, conference calls, billing, refunds, follow ups and a litany of other minutiae (like spelling minutiae properly) contribute to the overall experience your clientele has, remembers and expects.

When great first impressions become a streamlined, consistent experience, it transforms referrals from “We use so-and-so” to “You’re totally crazy if you don’t use so-and-so. Don’t use anyone else!”

Isn’t that what you want?