Categories
customer retention Sales

Maturity matters

Have you spent any time looking at the differences between your newest customers and the customers who have been with you for years or decades? I’m not speaking of age, but of their maturity.

Imagine asking your customers “Why did y0u buy from us vs every other option you had, including buying nothing?” A new customer is likely to say something like “you offer the options we needed at a reasonable price”, and / or that your reputation helped them make the choice.

The “old” ones

However, the customer you’ve had for decades might respond that “you were the only one who had the product / service at the time”. While it’s possible that you’re still the only supplier, it’s unlikely that is the situation today. So why are these long time customers still around?

If the product you provide has a recurring income component, or you sell something consumable that will be purchased repeatedly (food, a service, supplies, raw materials, etc), ask your long-time customers an additional question: “I get that we were the first – but you still use us. Why? What’s kept you from switching to another vendor?”

While it’s great that they’re still around, their continued use of your solutions is not likely because you were the first vendor they bought from. The reasons they stick around are the same reasons that you might be able to flip a customer from another vendor. These reasons are also important for customer retention, so listen closely. Ask why when you get an answer. Keep asking why, if it makes sense. Dig deep on these answers – “anyone” can close a sale. The key is closing them and keeping them.

They get started differently

Another difference you might notice between new and long time customers is their maturity as a user with your product / service. I don’t mean that they’re young or old. They might be new users, or they may be long-time users of a particular type of product, whether we’re talking about software, 3D printer resin, garlic, or fertilizer.

What I mean is that some of your customers are new or at least less experienced at using whatever you sell, and others are experts at using whatever you sell. The new customer might be experienced – having switched from another vendor. However, they could be inexperienced, having just gotten started with products / services like yours.

It’s important that you know which type of customer you’re dealing with. The onboarding with these two types of customers almost certainly needs to be different because of the difference in experience and skill / maturity with your product / service. The ability of the sales and support people assigned to these two groups needs to be considered – and you may need to break down the groups with more granularity beyond novice and experienced. A novice support or sales rep assigned to a very mature account might be a good learning opportunity for the rep, but it could be a disaster for customer retention unless you pair them with an experienced mentor for a while.

More than maturity

The differences between these two types of users include more than their product / service use maturity, but that maturity relates directly to the self-described needs of each group. Think about the questions and improvements you receive from customers with lower experience levels vs the requests from mature customers.

Power users tend to ask for more refined features. You have to be careful how you implement these requests. If your product / service becomes so hard to use that novice users get stuck, it can impede your growth. People will gravitate to solutions that are easy to use & simple to get started. Novice customers don’t want to get mired in a swamp, particularly with a new supplier or a new product / service. High maturity customers don’t want a product that’s too simple to serve their advanced needs. It’s a careful balancing act.

A Farewell

Columbia Falls started off the year with a tough loss – the passing of Karl Skindingsrude. It would be an understatement to say that Karl was an enthusiastic promoter of Columbia Falls, her people, and her businesses. It will be tough not seeing him emcee future Night of Lights and Heritage Days parades. Columbia Falls will certainly miss his smile, his enthusiasm, and his service as Columbia Falls’ friendly unofficial ambassador. For me, his passing served as a powerful reminder of where home is.

Photo by Jonathan Borba on Unsplash

Categories
Employee Training Sales

Give your sales team a chance

Late last week I attended a pre-sales webinar for a major SAAS vendor. As a prospect, I’m somewhere in the “lead curation” stage. I need to learn more about the tool and the company. The presenter is reading the slides. They’re clearly unfamiliar with the presentation notes. You can tell when someone is reading text they haven’t read before, much as you can tell when they aren’t familiar with the material. They sound exasperated about it all – and I suspect they’re right to feel that way. I wondered if the presenter had been “pushed out on stage”.

Sales preparation matters

I felt sorry for the presenter because it seemed as if they’d been allowed (or forced) to present without sufficient preparation. Everyone involved was affected by this. The company lost out because the quality of the presentation distracted from the product’s content. The value of the webinar to the attendees was reduced because the presenter was stumbling over their words and speaking in a manner that didn’t convey their (presumed) expertise. Hopefully there was a post-presentation review with the presenter so they could practice, get more familiar with the notes / slides, and take the bumps out of their next effort.

While I’m not certain this was the presenter’s first time giving this presentation, we all have to have a first time. The importance of practice and presenting with others who can provide feedback is critical. As a manager / leader, you should be making sure that these practices happen, that constructive feedback loops exist, and that they are done in a way that helps everyone get better. These efforts benefit everyone involved, including the prospective customer.

We’ve all been injected into a situation on short notice. Thing is, we have to take it upon ourselves to make sure we’re well prepared. Perhaps the presenter was asked to do this at the last minute to replace someone who couldn’t be there, but that’s no excuse. It’s on management to make sure replacements are prepared to step in and keep things moving. Maybe your best presenter won’t be there, but you should be able to assure that a well-prepared presenter is available to represent the company. Likewise, it’s on professionals to be prepared for their time in the spotlight, particularly if they know that their responsibilities include taking on someone else’s role on short notice.

It’s just a neighbor calling.

A well-prepared salesperson from the webinar vendor called me a couple of weeks ago. They’re a Silicon Valley company, yet they chose to pretend they were from Somers. (For those reading this outside of Montana, Somers is a small lakeside town in NW Montana.)

The same thing happened a few weeks ago when I received a return call from an insurance guy in Nashville. Caller ID said he was calling from Billings (MT). Yes, this has been going on forever, but it puts your sales team at a terrible disadvantage. When I see a call coming from the Nashville area and I am expecting a return call from there (as I was this time), I’d pick up. If I’m not expecting a call from there, I’ll always let it go to voicemail because I handle almost all calls by appointment. When the insurance company called back, I ignored it because I wasn’t expecting a call from Billings. 

When I finally ended up speaking with the salesperson from Silicon Valley, I asked them point blank if they were from Somers. “No, I’m at the main office in San Jose.” Which of course prompted me to ask them why they fake their numbers and make it look like they’re from a place they’re unlikely to be from. He handwaved it off (nicely) by saying it’s just what the company does to try to get folks to pick up. What they don’t realize is that the reverse reaction is what they’re getting. In addition, the conversation starts with a topic like “Why are you faking who/where you are” rather than their product. 

Don’t set the tone for your interaction with a prospect with a lie. Prospects don’t need to be comforted by a local caller ID number, if that’s what you’re trying to do. It’s simply unbelievable that anyone thinks this is a good idea at time when robocalls are doing exactly the same thing. Is that the crowd you want to be associated with?

Photo by Epicurrence on Unsplash

Categories
Management market research Positioning Product management Sales Setting Expectations

Increase sales by making deployment easier

Everyone wants to sell more, yet few ask what impacts it the most: deployment. I had a long overdue conversation to catch up with Richard Tripp this week. His “POV method” is the best process I’ve seen for refining & re-prioritizing product focus. It’s based partly on finding out the number one outcome that the majority of your actual paying customers care about. Tripp calls this group of customers a company’s “center of success”. To my knowledge, use of his process has been limited to software companies – mostly SAAS companies. It struck me during a long drive yesterday that it could be used to improve the sales of any team. Teams with a deployed service or shipped product might gain the most.

Involve the whole team

The not-easily-impressed folks might think “Wooo, talking to customers – that’s a super new idea” and they’d be missing the point. Having been involved in many such efforts over the years – my experience is that the POV method is different & better.

It’s different in part because it isn’t about a group of VPs sitting around pontificating about things they’re disconnected from. Why disconnected? Because most VPs no longer spend time customers in the trenches. Even if you’re a owner/VP now, you weren’t always one, so you know what I mean. It’s better for the entire team to discuss progress together rather than in a series of silo’d departmental conversations. When everyone hears from everyone who has data / experiences to contribute, a much richer, more complete picture is the result.

One of the outcomes is the reduction of the pain and suffering required to adopt a product / service and substantially shrink / simplify the timeline from payment to “we’re getting the benefit we paid for”. I remember years ago watching the discovery process unfold during the early stages of a POV conversation about a group’s (non-SAAS) product.

During the discussion, a normally quiet member of the service / deployment team who spent all of their time with customers during the deployment process blurted out something like “Do you have any idea how frustrating our installs are and how long it takes our customers to go live with our software? At least three months!!

The product team’s reaction was shock and surprise, as you’d expect. Because management was part of the discussion, the project got immediate momentum. A substantial and cooperative joint effort between the product and the service departments to substantially pare down install / deployment challenges was the outcome – a small but high impact improvement.

Assembling a grill

Software deployment challenges are common, but deployment problems aren’t limited to software. The longer that the time-to-benefit period grows for any product or service, the easier it is for buyer’s remorse to take hold. If it takes 90 days to get your product or service producing, customers can lose sight of why they wanted the benefit.

It reminds me of buying a new grill, getting it home and putting it together.

If you’ve assembled a grill in the last 20 years, you know that the grill business needs some work. People buy a new grill because the old one finally rusted out, they need more capacity, or they’re having an event & need a bigger one. Most people don’t do this weeks in advance. They might buy the grill a day or two before the big event.

The likely result is one of those “It’s 10 pm on Christmas eve and I have toys to assemble” experiences. Instead of fitting together plastic parts, there’s sharp-edged sheet metal & screws that look alike but aren’t. Meanwhile, two people must hold the pieces in position so the third person can turn a few screws. Eventually, this pile of parts becomes something that will eventually cook a meal. Does it have to be this much trouble?

Imagine if the team(s) responsible for packaging, instructions, & parts watched consumers muddle through this process on a third floor apartment patio. Enlightenment is guaranteed. When a developer watches an end user use their software, it’s often painful because what seemed obvious almost never is.

Whether you make software, grills, or campers – your development, packaging, and deployment staff will learn important lessons simply by watching a few customers unpack, assemble, & deploy your product or service.

Photo by Matthieu Joannon on Unsplash

Categories
Employees Hiring Sales

Been ghosted or simply ignored?

Being ghosted describes a conversation where one of the participants simply stops communicating without saying “Bye”, etc. They simply go silent, or disappear. Amazingly, the place it’s easiest to find is during job hunting (or hunting for someone to fill a position).

Back in the age of the dinosaur (or at least the fax machine), it was common courtesy to tell a Human Resources person or recruiter that you were no longer interested in their position. Even if this happened by email, you did it. If they treated you well during the process, you might even tell them why you’re heading another direction.

Likewise, it was also common courtesy for a recruiter or Human Resources person to tell all their candidates that their position had either been filled or they’d closed the position for some other reason.

When a job candidate decides they don’t want or need your open position, many simply stop communicating with you. The same behavior has become common for recruiters and HR people when they lose interest in a candidate, fill a position, or decide not to hire. The ghosted party hears “radio silence“.

Rude, inconsiderate, selfish, stupid, etc.

I find this simply remarkable, not to mention rude, inconsiderate, selfish, stupid, lacking in vision … you get the idea.

You’ll hear excuses from both groups including these:

We don’t have time to connect with each candidate to tell them the position is filled.

I don’t have time to contact each recruiter / company to tell them I’ve taken another position or have lost interest in their opening.

Horse biscuits. Weak, lazy, excuses.

When ghosting is a good idea

Here’s where it might be a good idea for a recruiter / HR person to ghost someone:

If you never want to have a conversation with that candidate ever again, nor a business they might someday own, nor with anyone they know.

Why? Because many of them are going to tell all of their family, peers, and friends that they were ghosted – and who did it. You can presume that the reputation of your recruiting firm or your company are going to be stained by this behavior. In the meantime, unplug the resume scanner and start working with candidates like a real person – if you want to hire real people rather than the presentation version of someone.

Here’s where it might be a good idea to ghost a recruiter or HR person:

Never.

Even if they did things during the selection process that were illegal or stupid (ie: “Are you and your spouse planning to start a family?”), wave good bye. If you feel particularly gracious, tell them why. Remember, the person you’re dealing with might be forced to perform in that way. While it doesn’t mean it’s right, they may need that job for now. You never know where your paths might cross again in the future.

In the best of situations, if you explain why you don’t feel the position is a fit, at least they’ll know. Depending on what you tell them, you may find that they have another opening that makes more sense.

Why do they ghost you?

Sometimes, we get ghosted even if we didn’t seem to do anything wrong – or so we thought.

Does someone call & leave a message? Call them back. If you email them because you don’t like to talk on the phone – you’re asking to be ghosted.

Did they email to ask a question about your product? Email them a reply that fits their question. If you call them, “handwave” their question, then dive into your standard pitch, expect to be ghosted.

Solution: Return the communication using the medium they used unless they specifically ask for something different.

People do sometimes email or text and ask you to call. Maybe they remembered they want to talk to you and don’t want to forget to ask for a call, but can’t talk right then. They could be sitting at a long stop light and suddenly realize they need what you sell (so they quickly send a text before the light changes, asking you to call sometime).

When you first connect with a contact, ask them what their preferred method of communication is. If it’s by phone or text, ask them the best time of day. You want to ask for a phone appointment during that time, not when you feel like it, or when your tickler went off.

Photo by Stefano Pollio on Unsplash

Categories
Direct Marketing Internet marketing Marketing Sales Word of mouth marketing

No one needs salespeople anymore

Last week, a digital marketer on LinkedIn proposed that he didn’t see a need for companies to have a sales function anymore.

Their comment: I am not sure why you need a ‘Sales’ function anymore. What purpose does it serve in the near future and beyond? The only function of a Sales person is to build a relationship to tip the odds on your side by way of finding customers, building a pipeline, anticipating, building trust, cajoling, impressing and negotiating a favorable transaction. Except for the cajoling part, all the others can and are bring enabled through automated, intelligent systems. And if your product is really good… you really don’t need to cajole anyone. I for one believe the ‘Sales’ function will soon become a vanity function. From car sales to home sales to software sales. There is absolutely no need for a dedicated ‘sales’ person. Unless you feel insecure about what you offer to the market.

I showed this to a friend, who responded, “They’ve never worked in enterprise software before, I’d guess.” – which was my first thought as well. It goes deeper than that, however.

Cajoling?

Regarding “Is sales becoming a vanity function?“, let’s examine that. That’s an odd question. Does anyone you know fluff up their ego by hiring “extra” salespeople? I’d guess not. I suppose that it’s possible that someone somewhere brags about their massive sales team (as opposed to their team’s performance?). It’s possible the idea is that having a sales team raises the cachet of the firm. To me, they exist for a reason: not all products & services sell themselves.

You probably remember a time when you dealt with an ineffective or poorly focused salesperson. I suspect most people have also worked with outstanding salespeople. Their experience & ability to analyze a prospect’s situation add significant value to a relationship. That’s really the difference.

A website can easily provide features & benefits. A series of appropriately timed, in-context emails, surveys, video and other digital content can address objections, guide a prospect through a “funnel” and change context depending on the prospect’s reaction. Automation can discern when a person is ready to buy based solely on things like the use of singular vs. plural responses. You can digitally create something between the company & their prospect that feels like it might be a relationship.

But it isn’t really a relationship.

Some products and services can be sold with little more than a digital storefront and inbound marketing. Not all products and services fit that mold. Some are too complex for most customers to select & configure on their own. Sometimes there’s a highly detailed process to making that happen. Not every business works that way – but many do.

“My product is good enough…”

My product is good enough that I shouldn’t need salespeople. It’s so good, should sell itself.” A naive statement. You might also hear it as “My product is good enough that I shouldn’t need to market it.

How many times have you suggested to someone that they go to this restaurant or that – and the person you’re talking to has never heard of it? The same goes for a contractor, a movie, a band… it doesn’t matter.

Has every person you’ve ever made a recommendation to responded with something like “Already tried them, they’re great.” If not, why would you expect that the same reaction would occur when someone recommends what you do?

What happens in the meantime when no one is referring your work? Maybe the customers who refer you the most have been discouraged lately. Maybe they’ve gone hunting, fishing, or skiing. Are they overseas for a month? Does it make sense to sit around & let sales and marketing “take care of itself” while waiting for the typical volume of referrals you get when those customers return? Is that what your competitors are doing to get new business?

Some businesses are better than others at generating referrals & create a process that makes it easy. Certain types of work is easier to refer. There are other kinds of work that few are likely to crow about because of the reflection it makes on the referrer.

It’s great that you have a product that’s so good that it sells itself or markets itself (whatever that means to you). That doesn’t mean you should sit on your hands & wait for business to waltz in the door.

Good salespeople make it rain.

Photo by Max Rovensky on Unsplash

Categories
Direct Marketing Email marketing Marketing Sales

Make life easier on sales with time travel marketing

Ever have someone visit your store curious about buying a non-impulse item, get all their questions answered, only to have them turn around and leave without buying? Maybe they’re going out into the parking lot to check the Amazon price. Or maybe they simply drive off. Some might even order from Amazon while standing in your store. Most won’t. Even more mysteriously, the same person will return a few days (or hours) later and buy on the spot without asking a single question. Your sales team wonders what changed. If the buyer made the purchase from a different salesperson than the one who answered their questions, everyone else wonders what magic phrase the salesperson used to close the sale. In reality, they simply took the order and did no selling at all, at least for that person. Why does this happen?

I’m ready now.

Almost all of us have done this. We’re making a sizable and/or important purchase. We’ve done some research, made a few calls, searched a few websites and have more or less made a short list of what might work, what won’t, and why. But… we’re just not ready to pull the trigger. We have a few more questions (salespeople might call them objections) before we make a final decision. We go to the store, but not prepared to buy. We’re prepared to get answers. Two totally different intents.

On the other hand, the store’s sales team is prepared to sell. Sure, they’re prepared to answer questions, but really, they want to close a deal. We enter the store and even if the salesperson answers our questions perfectly, we leave. We say things like “Thanks, but I need to discuss this with my wife / husband / SO / dog / cat / boss, etc.” In some cases that might be true, but really, most need to convince themselves now that they have complete information.

Despite removing all those “Nope, this isn’t the right purchase” objections, they simply haven’t had enough time to sell themselves on the purchase. One of the things we sometimes forget when selling to people is the conversation already going on in their minds. They head to your store (or your website) to get answers, not to buy. At that time, they were not convinced to make the purchase, or at least not that particular purchase. Your staff or sales team answered all their questions and were trying to make the close, yet the person left without buying. You’re left wondering what you did wrong, what your salesperson missed, and maybe wondered if they used the “wrong close”. The salesperson probably did nothing wrong.

Time travel catches us as we think

Have you ever decided to buy a new home, looked for, and purchased one all in the same day? Probably not. You had to think about it, consider your options, weigh alternatives, gather information, and…. think about it even more. It’s no different with that car, rototiller, snowcat, four-wheeler, year of lawn service, or backhoe. This is the customer’s system for selling. It rarely matches up with store’s ideal system for selling (if they have one). Thing is, if you don’t have a system for selling, then you end up dealing with the customer’s system for buying.

People sell themselves to make sure they’re making the right decision. At that point, they’re *ready to buy* and move on. That’s why they often return & buy from the first salesperson who approaches them.

That’s where “time travel” marketing becomes important to the sales process. Marketing that considers the decision making process “goes back in time” from the upcoming visit to the store where you’d be answering questions but not making a sale. Ideally, it arrives in time to become a part of the buyer’s thought process. It answers questions before they get to your store, giving them time to consider their decision. Your materials (and your selling system) must consider the customer’s mindset and the conversation they’re having with themselves about that purchase. Knowing how your prospects make a purchase decision helps you create marketing materials that help people make a decision *before* they get to your store. It’s the same reason why pizza coupons tend to arrive on Thursday or Friday.

PS: Be sure to remind your customers that you can deliver *now*. Amazon can’t provide instant gratification like you can (at least not yet). Once we’ve made a decision, most of us want it now.

Photo by Louis Hansel on Unsplash

Categories
Employee Training Employees Sales

The role of a salesperson

I recently took a short business trip to Southern California. I conveniently missed out on the single digit and sub-zero temperatures and harsh winds that chilly Montana week. As if winter was following me, my hosts found ice on their lawn furniture one morning during my visit. While there, my host served a really nice Cabernet Sauvignon. When I got home, I called my local wine specialist to see if they could get it – it was that good. When the salesperson answered, I asked if they carried the particular winery and vintage of the Cab. They replied, “We don’t have that one, but we have plenty of other cabs.” I then said, “I understand, but right now, I’m looking for this specific one…” – and before I could finish my sentence to ask if they could custom order it – they hung up.

Opportunity missed

While I appreciated the “we have plenty of other cabs” portion of the salesperson’s response, it’s a weak effort to fulfill the role of a salesperson: Help customers meet their goals / needs and if your goods / services fit those needs – sell them. If your products / services don’t fit their needs, think long term: Send them in the right direction so they still get some value from your employer. You might think that when Macy’s Santa in 1947’s “Miracle on 34th Street” sends customers to another store it’s simply sappy old movie scripting. Perhaps it is, yet it’s also exactly what’s customers want and appreciate.

Customers value when your experts share their expertise to help them solve a problem. It’s exactly why Ace Hardware has (and promotes) the presence of “helpful hardware” people in their stores. When we enter a wine store, we expect the employees to know more about their wine (if not most wine) than we do. If you’re a local restaurant’s sommelier that won’t be true, but most of us aren’t.

Why do we enter a particular type of business? We’re fond of the product / service. We’ve gained more expertise than most over time & enjoy sharing it. People come to experts because they don’t have the time and perhaps funds) to become one – or they need expert advice soon. We have a problem to solve or a need to fulfill. Most of us are happy to exchange payment for that expertise or purchase advice. That’s why I called the wine store.

The problem with the wine store call was the answer I didn’t receive, not the answer I received. I wasn’t asked if they could try to order it for me. They didn’t offer to check with their distributor and get back with me. They didn’t even finish the obvious part of “we have plenty of other cabs” with “such as this, this and this.” I called them because the store doesn’t have stock on their website (with or without pricing). Sidebar: At first, I thought it might be illegal to list wines on your website in MT, given our love/hate relationship with our sometimes inane alcoholic beverage laws. Nope. I eventually managed to find a Montana wine store who listed specific in-stock wines on their website.

Wanted: A well-trained salesperson.

These days, the difference between a great salesperson and a good one doesn’t really matter in most situations – including this one. It’s tough to hire great salespeople because they can work anywhere. In some environments, they’ll make more than the CEO / owner. At a retail store, a passable salesperson is one who knows the product. A good one knows the products (maybe loves the products too) and makes an effort to help the customer solve the problem that brought them to your store. This doesn’t happen simply by having people fill out a W-4.

It takes training. Not one day. Not a sheet of paper with a checklist, though that can serve as a cheat sheet in the early going. Hire people who like the game you’re playing, and like the people you’re playing it with. Make them more valuable to you by training them to be better salespeople of what you sell. They should know the goods and services better than most customers. They should know why people should choose this over that. Sure, they might move on someday. In the meantime, an untrained or under-trained salesperson reflects on you and your store, not on them. You know what breeds loyalty in your customers? Knowing that there will always be a considerate well-trained expert in your store.

Categories
Recurring Revenue Sales

Where subscribers hide: Pt 2

We talked last week about the benefit of being a little flexible with subscription offerings. The payoff is adding subscribers who might otherwise fall into the gaps between your offers. A key to increasing your subscribers are making it easy to buy. 

You want to make it super easy to buy. I mean E-A-S-Y. An example would help. Let’s talk about the wine store I mentioned last week. 

When resubscribing to the monthly wine selection, we had to re-enter every bit of personal info and card info. It’s tedious. It’s annoying when you know that info is already in their system. It isn’t E-A-S-Y.

How would you improve the process? Examine each step.

Re-entering the email address should have given us the opportunity to restart the subscription, or at least avoid re-entering a bunch of info. It’s possible the system was capable of this, but the salesperson pressed us to fill out the whole thing again. Thanks to a prompt on the screen, my wife asked about logging into an existing account in their system. She was told to ignore the prompt. Unfortunately, the CRM allowed her to create a new account with the same email address – without any warning like “we found an account for this email”.

Sidebar: Credit card data is very rarely stored locally in small retail these days, so re-entering that info isn’t terribly surprising. It should have been swiped or inserted into a chip reader – but that wasn’t an option. That there are still businesses taking cards without chip readers is disappointing – particularly given that this business has a reasonably new CRM / POS system. Security is important. Think about how you feel every time you hear of another credit card data breach. Now think about how you’d feel if the next breach happened at your business. Finally, consider how your customers would feel about you and your business after that event. 

The pause that refreshes 

One key to retaining subscribers is making it easy to resume. Resume? You can’t resume without the ability to pause. Few subscription plans have a pause button. 

A limited number of subscription plans provide the ability to pause your subscription. In plans where there is a consumable and/or deliverable product, like wine plans or subscription boxes, having a pause button can prevent losing a subscriber. Once you lose one, getting them back is real work. 

As an example, Audible (the audio book division of Amazon) allows you to pause your subscription. Sometimes, life doesn’t let you consume all the audio that your subscription provides each month (sounds like wine, eh?). Even before Amazon bought them, Audible recognized this and allowed you to temporarily pause your account. They understand that life happens or that their plans may not fit every person’s consumption model all the time.  

Don’t sell junk subscriptions

While not every business can be focused on subscriptions as their primary revenue source / sales mechanism – quite a few can be. Even if you sell something that doesn’t lend itself to a subscription model, it’s pretty likely that there is some component of the business that is ideal for subscriptions.

Subscriptions are great for businesses for a number of reasons. One of the best reasons is that they fill in the dips caused by things like seasonal markets & unexpected dips in sales. They add a certainty component to cash flow that many businesses have never had.

I’ve never met anyone who didn’t like the idea of stable / consistent /  dependable / predictable cash flow. Most folks are keen to the idea of subscriptions when discussed in that context.

The thing is, they have to mean something to your customer. Watch a few commercials over the weekend and you’ll be inundated with offers for frivolous “monthly boxes of stuff”. Most of it is, quite frankly, crap no one needs. 

That’s what I mean by “don’t sell junk subscriptions”.  Sure, many of these companies are making big money selling them right now. Will they be around in five or ten years? Doubtful. Are they essential to their subscribers? No, they’re frivolous luxury purchases. They have many thousands of subscribers but their subscription base is fragile because of the nature of the product.

Make it meaningful & simplifying

Create your subscriptions from something your customers already need or want from you. A subscription should simplify their life, whether you sell to consumers or businesses. Sell them something they don’t want to forget, or that they should keep up with – but it’s tedious or a hassle to do so. It may not make sense for yours to be weekly, monthly, etc – but it may. Figure out what works and make becoming a subscriber a no-brainer purchase. 

Categories
Employee Training Recurring Revenue Sales

Where subscribers hide: Pt 1

Watching my wife shop / interact with salespeople is always a refresher course. Gaps in customer service & sales training / tactics always reveal themselves. This is the missing piece of “Secret Shopper” type services – no audio / video. The report is fine, but you don’t get to see and hear what happened – that’s where the gold lies. We’re going to go over an experience we had while shopping in a local retail business that has a subscription model. Yes, a local retail business (a wine store) with subscribers. All too rare, but I see more of them than I used to. Bear in mind that there have been wine subscriptions by mail / via internet for decades. 

My wife is an intermittent repeat shopper at this store. They have a good selection. The sales people know their wines – and at least one of them is a standout in that department. She’s the one who really knows their point of sale / CRM (customer relationship manager) system. Isn’t it interesting that the product expert also happens to be the CRM expert – and she isn’t the owner. She’s “just an employee”, right? 

Working with the expert

A couple of weeks ago, the Mrs. sent me to pick up a white wine to go with some smoked fish sent to us by a friend in Michigan. She didn’t remember the brand name, but she did say that it was the white she thought she’d bought most often. So, being the CRM nerd that I am, I asked the salesperson “My wife wants a white wine but I don’t know the name. Can you tell me which one she’s bought most often?

In some stores, I might get a shrug or a “We don’t collect that info.” In this store, I got exactly what I came for.

Turns out that I was fortunate to be working with the standout salesperson there. She knew their CRM like a pro. She quickly found my wife’s purchase history, identified the most frequently purchased item, grabbed a bottle, and I was out the door in less than five minutes. That’s my kind of shopping.

Not working with the expert

Yesterday, we went back to this store. The expert had moved out of state, apparently for a new opportunity. My wife asked basically the same question I had asked two weeks earlier. Our salesperson, who was in the store when I was there two weeks ago, didn’t know how to find purchase history.

A promo sheet at the checkout counter mentions their monthly subscription program. Two bottles, four bottles, etc. My wife was in the four a month program a year or so ago. She quit because bottles were piling up. Four a month is too many for her.

The selection in the four month program fits her tastes better than the two month program, so backing off to two per month didn’t work. The promo sheet prompted her to ask if she could get the four bottle program every other month. 

The response: “No.”

There are plenty of possible answers to that – and most of them are questions. “No” ends the sales conversation. 

The owner questions

The owner overheard the conversation from the backroom. He steps out asks why the four per month every other month works better than the two per month. The point of curiosity is obvious – it’s the same number of bottles. She explained that high tannin wines make her feel bad, so she likes the four-per-month subscription’s selections. 

The owner says “We can handle that. Let us know when you pick up your monthly selection. We’ll be happy to swap out wines that’ll bother you.” He continues, saying that they can do an every other month plan, but will need to look into the details to make sure she isn’t charged every month.

This flexibility matters because it gets them a subscriber. She liked the previous plan she was on, but it wasn’t clear there were substitution options. Result: She cancelled. There was no follow up to ask why. Knowing why helps you keep more subscribers longer and learn about gaps in your plans.

Obvious reminder: Subscribers are sales you make every month, often with little sales / marketing effort. You have to fulfill well, regardless of tannin, to keep them. More next week. 

Categories
Employees Sales

Sell. Don’t simply take orders

For many businesses, the best month or two of the year ended late last week. For others, it starts next week. Your “big month or so” might be some other time. The real question is, will you sell, or will you only take orders?

This year, many businesses and their teams chose to take orders. You probably experienced this personally at least once this year. Anyone can take orders. Maybe they’ll need a form, a point of sale system or a yellow pad combined with some guidance from the customer, but ANYONE can take orders.

Does “anyone” work for you? Or does your sales team have industry expertise? My guess is that the latter is true.

Taking orders

The last time I was in what should have been a consultative sale, rather than speaking to someone with industry expertise, I was given to an administrative assistant who appeared to have little domain knowledge. The admin was following a computer form to sell me what I appeared to need. I’m OK with that when there’s no choice or when the sale is doesn’t involve financial risk, safety, or similarly serious matters.

Even when those things are involved, it’s OK to start the process with an admin and a computer screen when there’s follow up by someone with industry expertise. Unfortunately, there was no follow up by anyone in their office to be sure that I got not only what I wanted – but also what I needed.

Customers buy stuff.

Sell

When financial risk or safety is involved, someone has to be there to consider what carnage might be introduced into your clients’ lives. Don’t make your clients do your job. I would be far less concerned about the admin-driven sales process if follow up occurred. In this case, the downside risk is awful, annoying, inconvenient and time-consuming. They know this.

Despite this, I wasn’t asked about a four dollar a month option that would manage much of that risk. This is why follow up occurs. While it will almost certainly increase your upside, it will also show your clientele that you’re taking care of them.

You can show the team what taking orders feels like, then show them what selling feels like. Ever talked with a bad (or perhaps poorly trained) life insurance salesperson? Ever talked with a good one? The difference is amazing.

If there’s any sort of consultative selling process in your line of work, the difference probably feels amazing to your customers. It doesn’t matter what business you’re in.

For example, go to WallyWorld to consider buying a power tool. Got questions? What will happen? Now go to Ace or the Depot on a Saturday mid-morning. I suspect you’ll find the experience differs.

Customers often buy solely based on price. Clients tend to buy based on the expertise of those caring for them. Sure, they might run to WallyWorld for a commodity, but when domain knowledge is essential – they’ll come to the expert.

Clients are taken care of.

Review their work

If you do have an admin or inexperienced salesperson take care of the initial sale, review what they sold to your client.

Not simply now and then. Review EVERY sale.

If you have to contact the client to fix or complete the sale, be sure to include the person who made the initial sale. Call or email. Ask questions. Make sure they got what they wanted. Ask questions to make sure they got what they needed. Do you need to suggest any changes based on your experience, or what you know about me? Do you have questions that aren’t part of the form the admin uses? Perhaps that form is issues by your national provider and you need to apply some local knowledge to properly configure a purchase.

If the admin or inexperienced person did everything right – tell the client and tell whoever made the sale. Both need confidence in your team members with less experience.

If it didn’t go well, it identifies an opportunity to review your process and improve the sales materials your team uses, even if that means yours are over and above what the national dealer provides for you (or perhaps forces on you).

This coming year, decide to sell. Anyone can take orders. Remember: Customers buy stuff. Clients are taken care of. There’s a big difference.