Apple Automation Competition Customer service Employees Management podcast Retail Sales service Small Business Strategy Technology

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

iPod Touch Unlock
Creative Commons License photo credit: DeclanTM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are you ready to service the early adopters?

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

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

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

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

You don’t know what you’re missing

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

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

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

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

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

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

cerebral palsy Community Direct Marketing Marketing podcast Rotary Small Business Strategy

What’s easier? Selling Santa or a SUV?

reluctant santa dog
Creative Commons License photo credit: dickuhne

Yeah, I know. It’s been a quiet week so far.

On and off for the last 9 months, and intensely over the last 2, I’ve been quietly working on the marketing and other aspects of a new community event and related program here in Columbia Falls.

The event is called Brunch with Santa, which is a new annual event held by my Rotary Club.

Yes, you’re right. It’s hardly an original name or event. Google around, there’s 319,000 or so entries for Brunch with Santa and over a million for Breakfast with Santa.  So what.

A blatant rip off

Yep, it’s something I (ahem) borrowed from the Opelousas Cerebral Palsy Clinic’s Breakfast with Santa event (yes, there IS an address behind that link that will let you send them money, don’t be shy as every little bit helps).

Back to our regularly scheduled program…

Last Saturday, our Brunch went into the first stages of liftoff. As of this afternoon, I just about have a little time to exhale for a few. So let’s talk about it.

First, I suppose it might help to explain what this has to do with Business is Personal and making your small business better, stronger and more robust?

Everything, my friends. Every little thing.

That’s why we’re going to talk about it here.

Selling Santa is much easier than selling a SUV

But…he still has to be sold.

Fact is, the process required to promote a community event is no different than the process required to encourage people to buy those 10mpg SUVs sitting on your lot, the snow machines in your showroom, or the bags of kazoos hanging from the slatwall in your party store.

The process required – in this economy, scratch that, in ANY economy – to get people to give cash, food or goods and services for an event is no different than the process that is required to sell them a steak, an oil change or a $2500 mountain bike.

  • You have to get their attention so that you get a chance to get them interested.
  • You have to get them interested in order to get a chance to build a desire within them.
  • You have to build a desire within them in order to get a chance to get them to take action.
  • And you have to make it drop dead easy to take action.

Whether it’s making a cash donation, buying a ticket, donating 150 servings of Mexican food or offering a piece of framed fine art as a donation, if you don’t follow those 4 steps – not much is happening unless you’re incredibly lucky.

Sales don’t happen because of luck.

Sure, luck works sometimes. That “sometimes” thing is the problem. When exactly is “sometimes”? Can you schedule it? Can you afford to wait on luck to work? No, I didn’t think so. Me either.

Execution of the logical, tested process is what gets the job done the rest of the time.

Some might say it becomes even more important that you treat promotion of an event as a regular marketing task when that event is a fundraiser in a community being hammered with layoffs. Those layoffs directly impact not only those families, but every restaurant, service business and retail store in town.

Maybe it matters, maybe it doesn’t. Are you willing to risk it on a guess?

So what did I have to sell?

I have to sell a bunch of stuff. Santa kinda comes along for the ride, but he’s part of the sales team.

First I have to sell the donors on the idea. Giving cash. Giving food. Giving time. Giving merchandise and services. None of these things happen without transferring enthusiasm about the cause to them.

Second, I have to sell the event to those who might want to attend it. Got all this food and all this stuff, uh oh, I’d better get someone there to consume and buy it.

Third, I have to sell the media on the fact that this event is worth promoting.

Finally, I have to sell the event again in the last 48 hours before it occurs. Advance tickets are great, but not everyone lives under in that kind of schedule. Those living in the now or in “tomorrow morning is long term” mode need reminders, and they need them everywhere.

Again, the mechanics of the process are just like selling a truck, an oil change or an exotic potted plant. The primary difference is that you can stir some emotion a bit more easily with a cause.

That’s where the trap snaps shut. People get lazy and think the cause will magically make everything else happen.

50% of success is just showing up

Someone once said 50% of success is just showing up. Could be, but the other 50% is pretty tightly linked with actually doing something.

Details matter.

Next time, we’ll talk about those details, and more importantly, the reasons that drive them.

Amazon customer retention Customer service ECommerce Internet marketing Management Retail Sales Small Business

You have 2 choices: Listen or Die

cartoon like
Creative Commons License photo credit: strochka

Anyone who has listed items on eBay on a regular basis won’t find today’s guest post from Henry Blodget the least bit surprising. 

For years, eBay Power Sellers have been complaining about the company’s sales-unfriendly tactics and persistence in ignoring their feedback. 

The stories in the comments section of today’s guest post are not unusual.

This is what happens when you forget who the customer is, why they matter, ignore their feedback and treat them like an easily replaceable commodity.

Marketing Positioning Pricing Restaurants Retail Sales Small Business Strategy

The Wharton School agrees with me: Focus on upscale loyal clientele.

My regular email from the Wharton School of Business just arrived. Seems the folks at their recent Marketing Conference agree with what I’ve been suggesting here for some time. Maybe it’s worth trying…

Here’s a summary:

Chasing aspirational 16-year-olds and new money in emerging markets is “out,” while pampering the wealthiest and most loyal customers is “in,” according to luxury retailers at the recent Wharton Marketing Conference. Said one panelist: “The core for a luxury brand is a customer with very considerable wealth.”

Read the rest of the Wharton Marketing Conference story here.

Direct Marketing market research Marketing Montana podcast Sales Small Business Strategy Telemarketing

The ladies really dig my shiny new membership card

Got a pre-election call from the National Rifle Association (NRA) the other day. It’s that time of year – my phone has been ringing off the hook with election-related calls. Yep, it came on the famous 13 call day (15 as it turned out).

The call is made under the guise of checking how you’re going to vote, but the real reason for the call is to find new members.

Anyhow, I had some ulterior motives for letting him talk, so I gave the NRA guy a minute or so just to see what he had to say (usually the call center delay is all it takes to get me to hang up). After a bit of small talk to find out where I was on gun-related issues, he said something about joining and that “your benefits include a membership card…”

That’s what he STARTED with.

Now, if you’re trying to sell someone a membership to the NRA on a cold call, is that really how you want to start a call with me? Is that the best benefit they could come up with? I know better.

  • He didn’t ask if I hunt (I haven’t in probably 30 years – Ouch, that makes me OLD!). If the answer is yes, the natural follow would be to find out more about what I hunt for.
  • He didn’t ask if I target shoot (I do, occasionally).
  • He didn’t ask if I own any guns (I don’t, got rid of a .410 shotgun a few years ago cuz I wasn’t using it) and if so, what I own and what I use them for. This would easily allow the caller to extend the conversation with questions about the history of them, where I got them, how I like them etc. Why? To develop some rapport and common ground.
  • He didn’t ask what I knew about the NRA and proceed to figure out which benefits of being a member would be important and beneficial to me – and focus on them.

If you’re cold calling (and I hope you have other, far better ways to generate leads), you have to quickly develop some rapport. Of course, the first part of that cold call is no different than your situation in an elevator, a trade show booth or when someone asks “So, what do you do?” and you *know* they could benefit from what you do or sell.

Had he asked the right questions, he would have found that I was interested in blackpowder instructor courses – because the boys in my Scout troop want to start a blackpowder shooting program. That requires professionally trained leaders. He might also have found out that I might be interested in the other training and gun safety programs they have – and perhaps that I could use a few of their experts at Scouting events now and then.

But he was too interested in selling me that shiny new membership card.  On a day with 13+ electioneering calls, that isn’t going to get me excited about staying on the phone and whipping out my credit card.

No matter what started the conversation, develop rapport. Sell benefits that make sense based on what your rapport has taught you about your prospect.


Advertising Marketing Positioning Small Business

Do your sales materials give people brochure boredom?

One of the ways I find new clients in my local area is by picking up brochures I see when I’m in a place of business, or a grocery store, etc.

The other day I found one for a health-related business. The entire brochure seemed to be focused on discounts, discounts, discounts.

On the inside, a list of products and photos containing a bunch of medical lingo that most people aren’t going to bother reading. All the product info was clearly straight out of the catalog.

Yet this brochure was sitting at the “Place an order” window at a pharmacy inside a grocery store. Clearly, it was pointed at the consumer, not the trained health care professional.

So why did they include all that medical lingo? Zzzzzzzzz.

The one thing that was of use in the brochure was a section where they answered the obvious question: Why should someone buy this stuff from them?

Here’s a summary of the list:

  • We want to sell you the stuff you need at the best price.
  • We want you to have a choice of brands/products.
  • We carry all kinds of stuff at lower prices.
  • We are owned by someone who has been working in this field for 8 years. That one, with some work, was actually useful.
  • We deliver (again, useful and important).
  • We offer internet pricing but we’re a local business (good point, needs some work).
  • We can deal with your insurance company.

What in that list would make you change where you buy prescriptions, health care, equipment, insurance, or anything health related?

Their experience, which they didn’t elaborate on nearly enough, the delivery and the insurance.

Think about what your clients WANT, not just what they need.

What’s the biggest problem they are dealing with that you can solve? Is it front and center on your sales materials?

In the medical field, they want someone who knows their stuff. They want someone who will hand it to them on a silver platter. They’d be happy to never again have to deal with insurance forms. They want to deal with someone who treats them like a family member would. They want to be able to depend on you, even if they are cynical enough to expect that you won’t.

Even if you aren’t in medicine, most of these things apply (insurance being the one that probably doesn’t).

Are your sales materials leaving people with the right impression?

Competition customer retention Management Retail service Small Business

Are you getting paid?

One of the comments I’m hearing from business owners these days is that payments are slow in coming. 

While the last thing you might want to do is add more to your receivables, it might just be the thing that gets you an edge over your competition and gets more new customers in your door. 

One option: Offer financing. 

Obviously, you have to make sure the economics are right, particularly if you have cost of goods sold. If the economics work for you, offering a 3 payment, 90 days same as cash is a very effective way of making it easier to buy, no matter what business you’re in.

You might need to change the terms to fit your delivery schedule, the cost, and so on, but it’s worth examining. I’ve seen businesses mushroom in size simply by offering a small down and a monthly payment plan for services and non-tangible goods (software is a good example). 

This probably doesn’t help you if you sell coffee by the cup.

On the other hand, if you do catering jobs and you take reservations for events that are weeks away, take a credit card number and offer to divide the cost by the number of weeks between now and the event. Ring the card up weekly. 

Got an existing accounts receivable with a good client that’s due in one big piece? If it’s late, offer to let them split it into 2 or 3 payments, with payments coming every 2 weeks, 4 weeks or whatever makes sense.

Remember, you don’t have to offer this option to everyone. Perhaps only your best clients receive this benefit. As famous retailer Murray Raphael said, “Treat everyone the same (ie: really well), but reward them differently.”

Doing what makes sense to help your customers pay you (and they really do want to) beats not getting the business, not getting paid and perhaps most importantly, discounting your work and getting into a price battle. 

Be creative. Make it easy to buy, now more than ever.

Competition Customer service Marketing Media Small Business Strategy Word of mouth marketing

Small Business and “The Oprah Factor”

When marketing a product to women, there’s one thing you simply have to try to do if you want to hit a grand slam home run: Get yourself or your product on Oprah.

The reason is simple and I hope, obvious: Oprah’s viewers trust her.

They gain weight with her, they lose weight with her. They struggle with her as she tries to get that darned man of hers to commit. They cry when she tells a sad story about an audience member or a guest on the show. If they see her on the street, they act like they know her personally.

Why? That too is simple. She’s real.

She has built her show and many of the things she does in a way that makes you feel like she’s talking just to you. Everything about the show is carefully orchestrated to make sure you feel that way.

It isn’t “cheating”, it’s simply a choice in deciding how to communicate with your viewers. The same choice that Leno or Letterman make, but they make it differently. In her case, the conversation is personal. It’s as if she is sharing her story with each individual viewer. rather than standing on a podium speaking to a crowd.

That’s the kind of relationship you should have with your clients. It’s the kind of conversation you should be having with your clients and prospects.

Oprah would likely never send USPS Bulk Mail with an indicia. An envelope from her would be pretty, and have a flower stamp on it (or at least feminine) and would be hand addressed, even if it meant that grandmothers all over Chicago had been hired to hand address them (and yes, there are services that do that very thing).

Why? Because a friend would never send you a bulk mail piece with an indicia.

Likewise, Oprah would likely never send bulk email with “Dear special friend” in it. An email from her would probably be HTML (kinda hard to make text emails ladylike, don’t you think?) and would certainly be addressed directly to you by name. Without your first name, she might not send one at all.

Same reason: A friend would never send you bulk email addressed to “Dear Special Friend”.

That’s the same kind of consideration you should have for your prospects and clients. If you have to address a piece of mail – email or otherwise – as “Dear Special Friend”, should you even be sending it?

When Oprah recommends a sponsor’s product, they assume that she is using it at home (and she may tell them so). They trust her not to sell them an empty promise. When she points at a product on the shelf, it disappears from shelves all over the country. Do you generate that same level of trust with your clients?

Even if you sell custom truck bumpers or .50 caliber elephant rifles, you can learn from the way Oprah grooms her relationship with viewers.

How can you use the Oprah Factor to improve your relationship with your clients?

If a lifelong friend was your customer, how would you treat them when they came to your business? I don’t mean reminiscing about the college or high school years, I mean how would you speak to them? How would you care for them? How would you position your advice to them?

Management Marketing Sales Small Business Strategy

Tick, tick, tick. What are spare minutes costing your business?

So how much is each minute costing you? Now is not the time to be letting them slip away unused.

If you own an quick lube oil change store and it takes you 11 minutes on average to change the oil in each customer’s car, your store loses $39.95 every time there isn’t a car waiting to pull in behind the one that just pulled out.

Empty bays cost money. Can you put a finger on how many times a day there isn’t a car waiting to pull in?

Let’s say that your 2 bay quick lube changes 6 cars per hour on an average work day. If you just do regular changes with no upsells, that’s about $240 an hour in gross revenue. Not too bad I suppose, but what are you missing out on?

6 cars times 11 minutes = 66 minutes. That leaves 54 minutes that go unused that hour. $240 per hour is about $4 per minute, so that 54 unused minutes works out to about $216 in potentially lost revenue.

$216 per hour, that is. $1696 per 8 hour day. And that’s if you have just 2 bays.

  • In a 6 day week, that’s $10176.
  • In a 24 day work month, $40704.
  • In a year, over $488,000.

And then there are the additional sales possible on each vehicle from things like annual services (transmission or radiator flushes, air filters and the like). If on average, you manage just $1 per car in upsells, that adds $13284 to your annual revenue. Naturally, every dollar you raise that average results in an additional $13k per year.

On the other hand, increasing the number of cars per hour per bay by just ONE does EXACTLY the same thing, while adding another $639 in revenue per day. Do it for an entire year and see your bottom line increase by over $184,000.

By adding one more car, per bay, per hour. Doesn’t seem like much of a goal, does it?

And it isn’t just the quick lube shops:

  • Got a barber shop? Empty chairs have the same kind of cost.
  • Small engine mechanics on your staff? Unbilled time can’t be recovered.
  • Stylists in a floral shop? If they aren’t arranging….

The list goes on, no matter what you do.

Your marketing needs to be filling those chairs, mechanic hours, empty bays or whatever you can’t monetize once it is gone.

A day that might normally seem busy, when examined for unbilled time or unused equipment, suddenly seems a little empty when you realize each unused minute means a potential lost of $4, day in, day out.

Competition Customer service ECommerce Employees Management Restaurants Retail Sales Small Business

Beating the franchises and box stores: Are you making it easy to buy?

If you’re competing with a franchise or a box store like Starbucks, WalMart, Costco, Best Buy or similar, one of the best ways to stand out from them is to combat one of their biggest failings: They make it extremely difficult to buy in an environment that built to offer the illusion of easy shopping.

It’s particularly true for higher priced items, or items that require some level of technical knowledge and enthusiasm, such as – but not limited to – handheld HD video recorders, digital SLRs or computers.

Of course, they make it easy for the local computer or video store to differentiate in 100 different ways as long as it isn’t price. Local stores can’t often compete with national box stores and mail order houses on price, so they have to find other ways to do so.

Think about the purchasing environment in these box stores. Despite what they try to make you think, it isn’t laid out to optimize sales. Instead, it’s designed to reduce employee staffing requirements and minimize losses. Sounds kinda like a Presidential campaign:)

Want some evidence?

  • Selling computers: Computers are all password protected so you can’t begin to see how well they work, much less if they are suitable for the job.
  • Selling video and digital cameras: Video and digital SLR cameras are cabled to the countertop.
  • Selling video and digital cameras: There’s nothing to photograph, other than a bunch of gear under lovely fluorescent lights.
  • Selling video and digital cameras: There’s rarely anyone there who knows a Fstop from a Fbomb.
  • Finally, there’s no one who is truly a specialist on the gear they sell, and only a few people who have a smattering of knowledge – if you’re lucky (and if they work that day).

All those things are fine if you have done a pile of research and know exactly what you want. To be sure, many people do just that because they’ve gotten used to the lack of support/help at these stores.

Have you ever asked a question in a franchise or big box retail store and found that the store’s expert on that topic (if they had one) knew less than you did?

Of course, they might just order online rather than waste 30 minutes and $10 worth of gas to drive to the box store. If they do that, you know where they’re going – the cheapest place they can find online that has a reasonably dependable reputation.

Why? Because the stores have already forced them to do all the heavy lifting. After all that, they’re tired.

But there are others out there who want a resource. Need some advice. Want to try the gear out before they buy it, just to make sure.

If this is the best method for selling things and creating a relationship with a customer that lasts and lasts, why don’t you see the following?

  • A car dealer who allows test drives as long as you don’t leave the parking lot.
  • A jeweler who won’t let the lady try on that big engagement ring.
  • A Chanel store that has no tester bottles.
  • A camera store that leaves the gear locked in the glass case and expects you to make a buying decision by ogling it through the glass.
  • A grocery store that doesn’t allow you to thump a melon.
  • A florist that doesn’t let you smell the flowers.
  • A bookstore that doesn’t let you browse or sit and read a book.
  • A software company that doesn’t offer a downloadable demo or trial version.
  • A coffee shop that smells like candles.
  • A hardware store that keeps tools and other trinkets locked up like cigarettes at the grocery store (while you do see this at Home Depot, you don’t at Ace).

Yet that’s exactly the kinds of things that many stores do.

They put up a glass wall between the customer and the merchandise. That wall makes it hard to buy unless you know exactly, precisely what you want. They force you to be the expert, offering little or no expertise for prospective buyers seeking advice in their store.

Now think about how some other big retailers who make it easy to get in the mood to buy. Apple stores. Barnes and Noble. Talbots. Nordstrom. Some locally owned stores have picked up on it, but many have not.

Maybe you don’t have a brick and mortar store, but instead have an online store. That doesn’t mean you don’t have similar issues challenging you.

Ever been in an online shopping cart that just makes you want to scream? Sure you have. Now think about the last experience that was so simple and pleasant that you were tempted to buy more.

Whether that experience was online or in a brick and mortar retail store, the rarity of that experience sticks with someone. If they don’t have that experience with your business, they’re going to encounter it somewhere else.

When they do, guess who they aren’t going to visit again?