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The kind of salesperson they LOVE to hear from

Dynamic Serenity
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When you talk to your customers about their business, do they ever respond “Wow, I didn’t know that” or “Really?”

Does your sales and marketing process provoke your prospects with questions they have to think about?

Or does it simply say “Look at us! Look at us!”

Far fewer spend their energy and money educating their prospects / clients, much less showing that they did their homework about the prospect’s business.

Smart businesses do this to show their expertise in the clients’ market. They stand out because they care enough to do their homework.

Paying Attention

Years ago when business research usually required searching proprietary online systems, I flew off to a job interview. While preparing for the interview, I looked up this public company’s annual report. I found some troubling things that looked like they were bad but recoverable.

During the interview, I asked about their problems and their recovery strategy. The interviewer was the company’s finance VP. He was looking for a technology director to help turn their business around and was shocked that I knew of the problem, much less that I had marginally intelligent questions about it. More importantly, he was wowed because I had invested the time and effort to learn about their company before showing up for the interview.

Given the ease of information access these days, that sort of knowledge should be assumed of an interview candidate.

Do job candidates show this kind of interest and level of knowledge about your business when they join you for an interview? If they don’t, why would you hire them? If they don’t care enough to learn about your business before they get the job, will they care after they get the job?

Your prospects, much less your clients, might be asking that same question about your staff’s knowledge of their business, market and industry.

Why we “hate” salespeople

Even if you don’t have salespeople, whoever does “the sales job” has to have this homework done to have any credibility with customers and prospects.

Think about why you don’t want to deal with salespeople: “Can I help you?”

Of course, you have no idea if they’re capable of helping you. You usually don’t know if they’re the expert and you probably don’t recall being introduced to their expert the last time you had tough questions. Most salespeople are trained on their employer’s business processes, but not often about the customers who frequent that business, much less their needs. It’s usually not their fault. It’s a management/training choice.

That’s why your natural response to “Can I help you?” has become a reflex: “Just looking.”

It’s natural because we assume they won’t be of use to our evaluation/selection process and as a result, we figure they’re only asking because they’re on commission or are trained to engage every customer with the same robotic greeting (because someone thought it’d increase sales).

Commission or not, know your stuff

I really don’t care if they’re on commission or not if they’re knowledgeable. After all, I entered the business because I needed something. If they have someone who can actually help me by sharing their knowledge and asking smart questions, they’ll earn that commission.

The ones we don’t want to talk to act as order takers, work a self-service cash register can often perform. If the management of “order takers” hasn’t taught them the importance of this info, few of them will become effective salespeople.

If you’ve done your homework, you know things about your clients’ world that they simply don’t know. It isn’t because they’re dumber than you, it’s just that most of them are too embroiled in the day to day of their business to spend time on that stuff. The best ones spend time on it or have someone do it for them, but they’re rare – and they really appreciate expertise.

While they almost certainly know more about the day to day and technical aspects of their business than you do, prospects may not have done detailed research before a purchase, particularly if it isn’t specific to their expertise. They may not know new industry info that might generate interest in other things you offer.

The world needs better salespeople. If you employ them, educate them. If you’re in sales, do your homework.

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Are you a partner or just a vendor?

Get out! This is my garden!
Creative Commons License photo credit: foxypar4

Last week, we discussed a big reason why clients won’t take your advice.

Reader David was kind enough to share an experience about a fairly common situation:

Interesting concept but whenever I have tried to apply it (which has been many times before reading this post) I find the client still wont listen and will ignore my advice.

This leaves me with two options ignore them back and refuse to implement their bad ideas which means I lose what has become a frustrated client or do it their way and feel even more frustrated myself at the poor work I have had no choice but to do.

Business owners don’t wake up thinking “I’m going to buy some crap today” or “Let’s pay someone to do poor work and implement their bad ideas.”

So why won’t they listen?

Why they won’t

If you’re left with no alternative but to “ignore them back” or “implement their bad ideas”, it’s possible there are relationship problems.

Clients typically ask for help because they lack the time, resources and/or experience to do important work. They want your answers to be exactly what they need, so if they aren’t taking your advice, you need to find out why.

Ask.

Four possibilities:

  • You lack some information that somehow causes your advice to be off target in their eyes. Why doesn’t matter. Dig deeper.
  • There’s an authority / credibility problem. Either you’ve damaged it or you’ve never established it.
  • They don’t trust you. They might think you’re just trying to sell them something. Trust and credibility are different. Credibility can convey enough trust to start a relationship, but trust must be earned and then repeatedly reinforced with each customer.
  • They need to be able to depend on you to help them analyze the situation and advise them. If they feel unable to depend on your advice, it will chip away at their trust in your abilities, even if your work is simply evaluating their plans. That’s dangerous territory.
Each of these are client relationship issues that can impact a project. However, I don’t think they’re causing what David described. That the client is “frustrated” is what concerns me.

Why they might

Be sure to discuss all possible options (and their outcome) with your customer. If you don’t, it may tell the client that you haven’t fully considered their situation.

If clients agree with your predicted outcome for each approach, they can select the desired outcome rather than “taking your advice” (or discarding it). They get to own the choice made with your help, setting you up to deliver great work to those predetermined expectations.

But what if their choice of outcome is “poor work”?  Does your ability to explain the undesirability of poor work’s outcome need some polish?

Do you regularly hear comments like “We hadn’t thought of that, good thing we asked for your help”? Are you working that hard? They need to see that you are a valued partner in their work, not simply their vendor.

Wordsmithing

“Take my advice” isn’t a one-way deliverable that says “Do this or else”. If you position your recommendations that way, you should expect pushback.

“Advice” is just a word. It isn’t “words from on high” or one-way, take it or leave it communication, so please don’t get tangled up in that because of the word I chose.

Whether you are putting out a fire or designing a long-term strategic plan by reverse engineering a desired state that will occur years in the future, it’s still “advice” for lack of a better term. The goal is to work together with your client as a valued partner to fulfill, if not exceed, their needs.

The obvious choice

You can only work with clients from a position of authority if you have earned that position. Again, I don’t mean “authority” as if you have a throne, but from a “that’s THE business to ask about this stuff in our market” perspective. In other words, the obvious choice.

Start earning that position right away. Do one thing every day to improve your credibility in your market. Write, speak and most of all – repeatedly deliver exactly what they need. It isn’t always what they think they want – but it’s your job to explain the difference.

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Business Resources Competition Corporate America customer retention Customer service Employees Leadership Positioning Sales Small Business Software business Strategy

Why clients don’t take your advice

One of the groups of software folks I work with has wisely decided not to support Windows Vista.

Vista was released in November 2006 and while old, it’s not quite half the age of the now-prehistoric Windows XP released in October 2001.

Yet plenty of people still use both. So why is it wise not to support Vista?

In this case, the products involved deal with a complex industry in an enterprise environment.

The software simplifies that industry – a pretty common task for vertical market software. They don’t support Windows Vista because there are a number of issues that are not easily resolvable without upgrading Windows itself – networking problems being one of them.

Enterprises and network problems do not mix well.

These things might not be apparent on the day the product is installed, but you know these problems will present themselves at a less than ideal time. At 4 pm Friday, it won’t matter that the OS is the problem when a pallet needs to go out the door and the software somehow prevents that shipment. It will only matter that the shipment can’t go out. Are they going to blame Microsoft or are they going to blame you?

So how do you sell what looks like a “might, maybe, shoulda coulda woulda“?

Step Back

People aren’t going to take perfectly valid advice when that advice appears to serve them no purpose.

Yet we regularly give it in our context rather than showing the customer the benefits in theirs. We don’t do this because we’re selfish (mostly) but because we tend to forget that our reasons, however valid, are often meaningless to the customer.

Really, it’s Sales 101.

This “you need to upgrade your Windows” conversation was going on with a now-cranky customer in a context that was not meaningful to them, so I was asked to help sell the idea.

My comment went something like this:

Vista “isn’t supported” because Vista’s frequently encountered problems will get blamed on us/our apps and we will be powerless to fix them.

He can use Vista but he needs to be aware that it has a number of issues that are systemic in nature. He may encounter problems that cannot be resolved without upgrading to Windows 7.

Is that the position he wants to be in on Friday afternoon with a shipment on the dock? Is that what he wants to defend to his manager after a shipment doesn’t go out on time?

Microsoft charges $199 for the Windows 7 upgrade. Is saving $199 now worth the possibility of having a late shipment at some random time in the future? That’s really what we’re talking about. We’re trying to save him the embarrassment and cost of a possible failure or shipment delay by encouraging him to upgrade now rather than when he is under time pressure.

What did I really say?

I put it in terms that the customer values: personal accountability and business failure.

One reason for suggesting this change is to prevent a failure that will cost the customer money, embarrassment and/or the loss of their customer.

While this failure might initially be blamed on the software vendor, it’ll eventually come to light that the cause was a “small decision” to skip a $199 Windows upgrade.

What if the delayed shipment is a critical time-sensitive pallet going out to the company’s best customer? If you’re Joe the dock guy, you don’t want Monday’s first management conversation to start with “Joe tried to save 199 bucks which ended up delaying a $45000 shipment to OurFaveBiz and now they’re ticked at us.”

Maybe Joe won’t care that he gets blamed, but right now almost everyone with a job wonders if they’ll have that job tomorrow. Making decisions in the best interest of the company is unlikely to make Joe a target.

What did I not say?

I didn’t pass along advice in a context that benefits the software company.

Upgrading everyone off of Vista provides a benefit to the software business by reducing support that is solely a function of using Vista. While that benefits the customer in a trickle-down sort of way, you really can’t sell that to the guy sitting at the warehouse logistics desk. He doesn’t have any reason to care about it.

What he cares about is shipping on time to the right place.

When selling your advice, be aware that your customers’ concerns aren’t much different than Joe’s. Speak to them.

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Business model Competition Positioning Pricing Small Business

All else is seldom equal

A question came in earlier this month… “How do I compete with businesses that can offer similar products/services at a lower cost?

The question is “Why are you depending on price to close your sales?”

It’s important to examine because *so many* people focus on it. In a weak economy, it’s natural for price pressures to be everywhere. Did you choose to compete on price, or did it sneak up on you?

If price is your edge, it should be an intentional, strategic choice. All else being equal, price will be the natural decision maker since buyer won’t have to sacrifice based on price.

The trouble is, all else is seldom equal.

Wiggling

In product sales, a competitor’s prices are usually lower because they sell more and can get better pricing from their suppliers. If supply costs are the issue, that’s something you can fix as your sales volume increases.

Until you get there, find some wiggle room. You may find that it makes price less important or even takes it off the table.

Wiggle?

There’s almost always some wiggle room in a price-sensitive situation for the underdog who is hungry enough to do more (ie: provide more value) than the “low price leader”. Remember, they’re the one totally focused on price and their entire business is built around it (think “WalMart”). Want to compete with WallyWorld on price? Only if you’re crazy.

Is price *really* the only way you compete with your competition? Not in my experience.

Whether you sell products or services, there are certainly those who shop solely on price, but there are always others who want more and don’t mind paying a little more for it.

Are there no other ways that you can add value to these products and services? Have you asked your customers?

Take some time to listen to your customers. I’m confident that if you listen, you’ll find a way to take the focus off price and put it on things that will matter a week or a month from now, when price is far less important.

Let’s talk about an example, something price sensitive and seemingly generic…like carpet cleaning.

Being seldom equal

I could call a dozen carpet cleaners who will do two bedrooms and a hall for $79 (or whatever). Maybe one or two of them would do a good enough job to earn a call back, even though I suspect all of them would do a good job when it came to cleaning the carpet.

Maybe your carpet cleaning skills are only 2% better than everyone else’s, or maybe they’re a little worse (yes, you need to work on that). It matters, but it isn’t necessarily what people highly value when they get this work done.

Your job is to be their carpet cleaner. The name that comes to mind when someone mentions a dirty carpet or that they need to get theirs done.

Not because you’re the one who happened to do it yesterday, but because you’re the only one they’d dream of calling after the way you handled it last time (and the time before, and the time before). You’re the one they talk about at church, in the aisle at the grocery store, at lunch the next day, on the golf course.

Your name comes up at all of those places because you did things no one else ever has and you did things in a way that no one else ever has. The next morning, they’re still reeling from the experience.

An experience? It can be. They may live in a tiny bungalow or a 12,000 square foot mansion. Either way, you can design and deliver a consistent end-to-end experience that they just can’t forget and can’t stop telling their friends about. Ask “What else can we do?”

Rethink your pricing

Despite improving what you deliver, it’s still worth putting thought into your pricing.

Companies often price their goods based on cost, the needs of their sales people, their catalog or their e-commerce store rather than in a way that attracts customers.

Your wholesale costs can’t be ignored, but you can restructure your pricing in conjunction with increased value and change the rules of the game.

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Business model Competition Creativity Improvement Leadership planning Positioning Small Business Software business strategic planning

What would happen if yours was perfect?

bzzzzzzz
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If your software business was â??perfectâ?, what would it look like?

What do I mean? Here are a few ideas to get you startedâ?¦

  • Whatâ??s your product line look like?
  • What services do you offer?
  • How big (or little) is your staff?
  • What benefits do you offer?
  • How much vacation do you enjoy per year?
  • What would your customers say about your company?
  • How many customers would you have?
  • What trade shows do you exhibit at?
  • Whatâ??s your position in the market?
  • What would happen when a support call came in?
  • What would happen when a bug was found?

Not in the software business? So what. Replace “software business” with whatever you do. Alter the question list to fit your business.

You might be thinking none of this could ever happen.

Or you could start with your answers and work backwards to figure out what it will take to get there. Take one step, then another.

If you don’t ask yourself the hard questions…who will?

PS: Are you really in the <whatever> business? A drill bit manufacturer doesn’t sell drill bits. Ultimately, they sell holes. A coffee shop sells comfort, even to take out customers. What do you really sell?

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What’s your plywood?

“When youâ??re a carpenter making a beautiful chest of drawers, youâ??re not going to use a piece of plywood on the back, even though it faces the wall and nobody will ever see it. Youâ??ll know itâ??s there, so youâ??re going to use a beautiful piece of wood on the back. For you to sleep well at night, the aesthetic, the quality, has to be carried all the way through.” – Steve Jobs

What’s your plywood?

PS: Thanks for raising the bar, Steve. Be well.

 

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attitude Business culture Competition Creativity Customer relationships customer retention Customer service Entrepreneurs Improvement Leadership Setting Expectations Small Business The Slight Edge

The Seeds of Legendary

Pete Townshend - THE WHO
Creative Commons License photo credit: flipkeat

I was reading AJ Leon’s blog this morning and thought that sipping a cuppa joe in Shakespeare’s hometown while gnawing on a “legendary brownie” sounds pretty good.

The term legendary struck me, as AJ probably meant it to. I don’t stumble across things of that quality every day, but I guess that’s the nature of legendary, isn’t it?

It got me to thinking about the products and services that I encounter and which among them are legendary.

Sometimes legendary just sits on the shelf and stares back at you – expecting you to recognize its stature without being told.

The Best Product Wins?

Some businesses act as if they were trained by this unseen, all-knowing old school mentor who believes that the best product wins.

This means that marketing, PR and any effort to become an authority in their market are things that only mediocre products require. The best should sell itself simply because it’s the best.

For that reason, the greatest product or service in the world may serve out its life in anonymous mediocrity.

Think about the businesses you visit regularly. Do any of them do something in a legendary manner? If so and they don’t make a fuss about it, maybe you should mention their amazingness to them and ask “Why the big secret?”

I’d Drive Across Town For…

Which products/services are without peer? Which of them would you drive across town for? Which of them do you seek out or at least think about every time you’re in that part of town, the state or the country? Which product, service or business would you go out of your way to enjoy sharing with a friend?

A few that come to mind:

These things aren’t legendary because what they create is untouchable. Some are quite common, yet they deliver a step (or three) above anyone around them. Some are legendary because their creators form a great memory in the process of delivering them. Some are just incredibly consistent at touching all the bases and doing so in a manner that’s just right. Some are just great.

Being Legendary

Do you see any common behaviors or characteristics of those offering this level of quality? Success leaves clues.

To me, the folks that deliver legendary service offer consistency, little surprises, thoughtful, caring service. Not just nice, but more than you expect. Above and beyond.

More than that, they set expectations by sharing with you that you’re about to experience the extraordinary – and then they deliver that and more. Talk isn’t enough. Delivery is critical.

Muhammad Ali told you in advance, followed up in the ring, and as he stood over you….told you again while canaries circled your groggy head.

While you don’t have to deliver your message like Ali, you also shouldn’t miss the opportunity to better people’s lives in some way by helping them to see that that you have something amazing to offer.

It’s worth the effort, even for a legendary brownie.

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Business culture Creativity market research Marketing Positioning Small Business Strategy

Think Outside the Smores

Are you paying this much attention?

Are you putting this much thought into what your customers’ do with your product?

Are you then following it up by shipping what they need?

Yes, these stackers are a blatantly obvious invention to anyone who has made a smore at a campfire.

The important thing is that Kraft thought enough to make them.

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Be indispensable

Sossusvlei Landscape
Are you indispensable to your customers?

The question that you have to ask yourself – daily, rather than once – is “What can you do to make yourself indispensable to your customers?”

A few examples to get the juices flowing:

  • If you sell coffee, how can you help your customers wade through the coffee buzzword maze and enjoy *better* coffee? What’s fair trade? Is it really fair trade, or is it just another marketing buzzword?
  • If you sell cars, how can you help your customers make better decisions, get more from their investment, and save time and money on repairs? How can you help them remember to perform the regular maintenance that allows them to depend on their vehicle regardless of the weather?
  • If you repair lawn mowers, how can you help your customers get a better looking yard, without injury, cheaper, safer and faster? How can you save them time and money on upkeep and repairs? How can you help them remember to change their oil, sharpen their blades and make their mower perform better and longer?
  • If you help people deal with (and prevent) legal problems, how can you help your customers avoid rushing into your office with a problem that has to be solved NOW? Ounce of prevention, pound of cure kinda stuff. Be their lawyer every day or every week, just a little vs. being their rescue squad every 5 years.
  • If you treat people’s injuries and diseases, how can you help them be safer at home and at work? How can you help them by advising them on nutrition and other preventative care, without becoming a nag? Knowing that these things require lifestyle / habit changes, how can you help your customers/patients make that happen? How can you help your patients make sense of the constant flow of health, nutrition and prescription information placed in front of them each day? How can you help them prevent injuries and disease, rather than waiting until they occur so you can treat them?
  • If you sell building materials to professional contractors, how can you help them find more business so they can buy more building materials? Can you help keep them informed about industry promos, tax incentives and other things to help them be more competitive?
  • If you sell advertising (better sit down), how can you help your clients track the effectiveness of all their advertising? How can you help them calculate the ROI on the advertising? Not guesswork, but real numbers based on the foot/internet traffic, revenue and profit each advertising source generates. Who is indispensable, the ad salesperson or the ad salesperson who is also a partner in profitability?
  • If you sell computers, ANSWER YOUR PHONE. Those people on the other end of the phone who don’t know as much as you’ve forgotten about a computer are the ones with all the money. They’d like to give it to you, if only you’ll help them. Yes, to be indispensable in the computer business, quite often it’s as simple as answering your phone and helping them with their problem without being arrogant. In fact, just answering your phone will be a huge first step.

If I didn’t mention the business you’re in, use these things as inspiration to do what makes your business indispensable to your customers. Please don’t make the mistake of thinking that because your specific type of business wasn’t mentioned, it won’t work for you. Likewise, if you’re thinking to yourself that “my business is different, it won’t work for me”, you’re right. If you don’t do these things – they won’t work for you.

The goal in doing all of these things is to position yourself and your business as the only place that your clients will consider doing business. Arrive at that position by doing this kind of stuff and both your checkbook and your customers will thank you.

Take care of them like no one else is willing to.

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Amazon attitude Competition Marketing Positioning Pricing Small Business Strategy

Paper. Ink. Electrons. Winston Churchill. Charles Manson.

grulla
Creative Commons License photo credit: kekremsi

Recently, the New York Times published a story about changing prices for books in print and how those prices compare to prices for electronic books.

In particular, the story focused on comparison pricing occurring at Amazon.com for books published both in paperback and for the Kindle, a very popular eBook reader manufactured and sold by Amazon.

The story teaches a very valuable lesson. It starts by quoting customers who automatically assume a lower manufacturing cost for an electronic book, since the incremental cost of producing extra copies appears to be (or close to) zero.

Customers, unaccustomed to seeing a digital edition more expensive than the hardcover, howled at the price discrepancy, and promptly voiced their outrage with negative comments and one-star reviews on Amazon. â??Really, James Patterson?â? wrote one reader from Elgin, Ill. â??Why would it possibly cost more for a digital download than printed and bound ink on paper?â?

Nowhere

Nowhere does anyone say anything about the fact that the reader gets the same VALUE from both books.

Nowhere does anyone say anything about the fact that the reader can read the Kindle version on their PC, Jerry’s iPad, Dad’s Blackberry, Joe’s iPhone, Sandy’s iPod Touch or their brother’s Mac.

Nowhere does it talk about the ability to share comments/annotations, read a page on one device and find it in that same place when they start reading the next time on a totally different device.

For that matter, nowhere does anyone note that the value of the book has nothing to do with the cost of ink, paper, binding or electrons.

Neither should the author of a book, regardless of the means used to deliver it.

Oh the cost of it all

Yes, I realize that the printed book seems like it ought to cost more.

After all, someone had to put it in a box, put it on a truck and deliver it to the local bookstore. There’s the cost of the driver, the truck, the fuel, the paper, the ink, the brick and mortar that built the store and so on.

The difference to most is that people typically don’t see the costs invested to deliver the electronic form, all they see is that 1 copy costs no more than 2 copies because it’s just another download.

When people howl about the price of an electronic book, no one considers the amount (much less the cost) of research and development necessary to design the Kindle device and have it manufactured and shipped to the U.S.

They don’t marvel at the costs of the servers and software to support the book’s transport to a wide range of devices and software viewers.

They don’t consider the boardroom and engineering efforts to work out deals with cellular carriers so that the device can download newly purchased books and sync anywhere in the world without so much as a login.

But none of that matters. It’s great evidence. Great talking points.

But it doesn’t matter one bit.

What matters

The value of the content inside the book is what matters.

What if you opened that book and in two hours of reading learned something that changed your life, changed your business or cured a problem you’ve had for years?

Is the allegedly zero incremental cost of that electronic book in any way relative to the value you received from it? No way.

Are professional baseball bats priced like a 2×4? Are a PGA champion’s golf clubs priced like stainless steel and graphite you might find in an auto parts store? Of course not.

So why is it so easy to assume that a printed book is worth more than an electronic version?

Because no one put any effort into convincing you that the electrons (or the paper and ink) don’t even begin to set the value.

98 cents

Your body is worth about 98 cents in “ingredients”.

Going by that measure, Winston Churchill and Einstein are each the equivalent in value of mass murderer Charles Manson.

I don’t think so.

Never let your products/services get to the point where the value you deliver is calculated primarily by the container it’s delivered in and/or the material it’s made of.