Know Your Customer?

I don’t think it was by chance that Arthur “Red” Motley’s well-known and frequently cited fifteen-word definition of the selling process begins with a reference to customers.

“Know your customer, know your product, call a lot of people, ask all to buy,” Motley said. Fifteen words that are as true today as they were back in the 1940’s when he was a nationally-acclaimed sales trainer and motivational speaker.

Certainly, knowing our customers is critical to long-term sales success; it is also a never-ending process, as customer knowledge should be accumulated during each and every sales call.

At the start, we get to know our customers by building relationships. These relationships are built with individuals and organizations, and are nurtured over time by learning their respective personalities, values, communication styles, interests, concerns, understandings, misunderstandings, evaluation protocols, policies and procedures; by learning about what’s important to them.

We get to know our customers better through comprehensive and on-going need assessment  identifying needs both recognized and unrecognized, short-term needs, emerging needs, longer-term objectives, priorities, changes, and related needs.

We get to know our customers more each time we deliver the solutions to their needs in the form of our products and services. If all goes well, this too is a never-ending process!

And we come to know our customers even more by following-up after-the-fact to ensure they are satisfied, and when we provide customer service and support.

In all of these instances the primary tools-of-the-trade are probing and listening, as we will never get to know our customers through sales presentations, advertisements, promotions or talking at them; and regardless of what type of business we’re in, knowing our customers, i.e., nurturing relationships and gauging on-going needs  requires more than a one-size-fits-all approach.

Here are five proven best practices:

Proactively work on customer relationships. Start by adding a “relationship component” to all pre-call plans and meeting agendas; incorporate specific actions, behaviors, questions, and comments. It’s important to remember that the strength of customer relationships plays a major role in their decision-making.

Never assume the customer knows everything necessary to make the right choice. While we might have a number of long-term clients who are familiar with what we do, there are still nuances that warrant our attention. The best practice is to always ask clarifying questions with respect to each situation, and to go the extra mile toward accurately assessing all the circumstances associated with each customer’s recognized and unrecognized needs.

An effective method for implementing this approach is to focus on what each customer is trying to accomplish rather than what they “think they need.” By asking open-ended questions that test customer requests or that relate to each customer’s overall objectives we should be able to assess all of their needs, which might include a service or specialized solution about which they were unaware.

The more we learn about our customers and their needs, the easier it becomes to structure the most appealing proposals. In many instances unanticipated issues with respect to company policies, affiliations, and buying practices might make a difference in how we configure our offer. In other cases, there might be personal needs to consider, such as a need to satisfy a demanding boss, a special need for responsiveness, or the need to feel more secure about our competitive position as a supplier.

Develop and use a consistent method (in writing) for uncovering these basic and not-so-basic needs. Not only is this a good way to ensure success, but also an effective way to help us pay closer attention to each customer rather than on whatever it might be that we intend to ask or say. In some cases, this extra focus will enable us to discover the little things that result in long-term customer loyalty.

Take an extra minute to double-check established needs, specifications and expectations. Sixty-seconds of prudence before order fulfillment can often save hours after-the-fact should there be extenuating circumstances or a misunderstanding about features, billing issues or other special requirements.

Diligent post-sale or post-delivery follow-up can help us avoid many unpleasant situations, and also helps us to send a strong implied message that says, “We care! We’re professional!”

True to his reputation for conciseness, Red Motley said quite a bit with only three words: Know your customer.

Selling Change

It’s all new!

The latest… new and improved!

It’s an updated, enhanced formula, just released!

Hot off the press, the newest style!

Less fat, more protein, superior quality, finer taste…

Easier to use, better, more comfortable, more efficient…

At one time or another all of these phrases have been used to sell products or services, and they all promote the same thing — change.

It would seem the marketplace must like change or marketers wouldn’t flaunt it; change, therefore, must be good — right?

What’s Good Can Be Bad — “If it ain’t broke…”
But of course change is not always perceived as being good.In their daily quest for new customers, sales people constantly struggle to overcome buyers’ comfort with the status-quo.  In organizations of all types people tend to look with fear, uncertainty, and doubt (the FUD factor!) at new policies and procedures, and look with deep concern at new compensation plans or updated benefits programs; and people at all levels regularly cringe at the suggestion that there might be a different or better way to do their jobs!

In the day-to-day real world, change most often promotes uncertainty, doubt, fear, resentment or loss, and this is not news.  The concept of “creative destruction” — an economic theory based on the premise that new ideas inevitably bring about the demise of older (more comfortable) ones — was popularized way back in the early nineteen hundreds by Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter.

Yet without change comes stagnation and potential loss. Current-day examples include Xerox in copiers or Polaroid in instant photography, each experiencing significant declines in market share and profits as competitors introduced new and improved, lower-cost alternatives.

The cassette tape replaced the eight-track, but was then outdone by the compact disc, which was undercut by MP3 players… and the list can go on.

If we’re to learn from these examples, then we must accept the fact that change — either in the form of innovation, continuous improvement or both — is a critical component of growth and ongoing success. Without innovation and change we run the risk of losing our competitive position, or worse.

“Whatever made you successful in the past won’t in the future,” said the late Hewlett Packard CEO Lew Platt.

But if people tend to resist change as previously noted, how might managers or business owners best go about getting the team to accept it — to buy in? How can we help people more readily embrace improvement programs, try new protocols, accept new pricing models or generally believe in the up-side of change?

Simply stated, we must sell it!

Just like the sales and marketing experts who create the “new and improved” ad copy, slogans and selling presentations, we must sell the concept of change to our team members and sales force before trying to present or roll-out new policies, procedures, campaigns, programs or plans.

And just like any sales mission, this will require forethought and planning.

We might start by identifying how the team will benefit from a proposed change. What’s in it for them? What are the consequences of not changing? What will it cost? What opportunities might we lose?

What’s the competition doing?

The next step is to determine how to properly position a proposed change. Since we know there is a tendency toward defensiveness, it’s important to make people understand that they are not the problem.  In other words, a change in policy or approach need not mean that the team has been doing things the wrong way.  Rather, it means the world is changing and we must change too, lest we fall behind.

Finally, once the presentation is made and the new “whatever” is launched, there must be follow-up and assessment. Has everything worked as we’d hoped? Should we modify the new plan? Are there unforeseen consequences?  While we don’t want to send a message indicating we’re not resolved to the new program or approach, it is also a good idea to let everyone know we’re fair and open-minded — that at the end of the day we’re all on the same side.

Change may be unsettling, but without it our futures are at risk; and there are clearly ways to minimize the negative effects. It will require effort, planning and persistence, as behaviors and attitudes are not easily influenced.

Margaret Thatcher may have summed it up best when saying, “You may have to fight a battle more than once to win it!”

Sales Leadership

The culture of any given enterprise is most often a reflection of its leadership, and the sales force tends to mirror that culture when interacting with customers and prospects.

“I’ve never seen a company that was able to satisfy its customers that did not also satisfy its employees,” said Larry Bossidy former CEO Allied Signal, Inc. “Employees will treat your customers no better than you treat your employees.”

Others suggest that an organization tends to sell in a fashion that is directly related to how the organization buys — in other words, if the organization evaluates suppliers and makes buying decisions based primarily on price, then they also tend to sell at lower margins; and vice-versa.

Either way, as leaders, we have a profound impact on how our sales people interact with the marketplace each day, because the direct and implied messages they convey to our customers are based upon their impressions of our position on a range of issues — from how we evaluate and buy things, to how we talk about and treat customers.

Similarly, if the sales force is not enjoying high-levels of success in the marketplace, our cultural approach to improving their approach — i.e., building upon strengths versus focusing on weaknesses — can significantly impact their success or failure.

So what can we do to positively lead or impact the selling process?

Here are 5 steps you can take…

Read more…

The Engagement Surprise Continues for Many…!

In one of last year’s posts we discussed the “engagement surprise,” which was identified as the measurable return-on-investment (R.O.I.) that many organizations were recognizing from their engagement efforts.

In other words, engagement can be a profit center rather than a cost center.

However, as presented in a recent Engagement Strategies Media article, the approach must be “intentional.”

Not only must leaders be strategic in their approach to engagement, but they must also stay-the-course with the intention of building a culture of engagement within their organizations — a culture in which people are engaged, highly-motivated, and highly-productive.

This is no small feat… but the data is clear, the R.O.I. can be significant. Typical objectives associated with this formalized approach to engagement include:

  • Increasing sales or revenue.
  • Increasing customer engagement and referrals.
  • Engaging channel partners to provide more commitment to products and services.
  • Improved recruiting and hiring.
  • Engaging volunteers for not-for-profits.
  • Engaging employees to achieve organizational goals, more consistently support the brand, work more productively, and exhibit greater loyalty.
  • Engaging employees to place added focus on quality, safety, and wellness.

These results and many more have been documented time-and-time again by the Enterprise Engagement Alliancewhich was founded in 2008. They provide members and other interested parties with a wide-range of resources and data, much of which is available at no cost.

 

 

Remind Me?

How often should / must we remind our customers of the value we bring to the table?

Is a once-per-year reminder sufficient? How about twice per year? Three times?

Most people agree that, ideally, they’d like to “remind” their customers many more times each year; in fact, they say they’d like to keep a reminder of some sort in front of their customers as frequently as possible.

This leads us to a couple of critical questions:

  1. How often should we remind our customers of the value we provide?
  2. How should we do it?

Questions about the ideal contact frequency are among the most frequently-asked (see our previous post for some added perspective…) Generally speaking, sales calls and marketing messages become “over-done” when they fail to provide value to the customer or prospect.

This leads nicely to our second question how will we accomplish this value-added approach? Here are three simple and proven best-practices that can help:

Master the practice of pre-call planning. The most successful sales people plan their calls very carefully, based on research and record-keeping (i.e., effective use of a C.R.M. system), thus their calls tend to be more value-added. These sales people are able to accomplish more during each call and have a stronger impact on each customer or prospect. Even better, they use the written pre-call plan as a post-call review tool.

Questions are the answer. If we do plan our sales calls or presentations, many of us tend to focus on our “speaking points.” In other words, the things we plan to say.

When planning and executing sales contacts, it’s better to put an equal amount of focus and thought into the things we will ask.Asking the right questions is how we learn about our customers’ needs, interests, priorities and challenges; it is how we determine what to do and say next; it is how we solidify true selling relationships. As a rule-of-thumb, try to craft questions that focus on what people are trying to accomplish rather than on what they “think they need.”

In addition, a frequent by-product of asking good questions is enhanced listening. It’s much easier to listen if we stop talking! Good listening also sends a strong implied message to our customers: we care!

Develop a proactive style. This simply means that we end each interaction with a specifically-defined consequential next step a call to action in which we take the proactive position. This helps in several ways.

  • It sets the stage for a higher contact frequency
  • It shows the customer or prospect that we care and that we value their business
  • It often makes things easier for our customer, by helping them to get things done in a timely fashion
  • It shortens the selling cycle
  • It confirms our professionalism

 

Sales Call Frequency – How Often is Too Often?

customerservice2People often ask, “How many sales calls can we make on a prospect before going over the line?”

Here are a few guidelines…

First, consider the following facts, which we shared last year in a related article – studies show that approximately 80% of those involved in business development approach prospects two or three times and then give up.

Now, consider the importance of these National Sales Executive Association stats regarding the importance of following up:

  • 2% of sales are made on the 1st contact
  • 3% of sales are made on the 2nd contact
  • 5% of sales are made on the 3rd contact
  • 10% of sales are made on the 4th contact
  • 80% of sales are made after the 5th contact

Next, consider the fact that sheer “frequency” does not guarantee success. Each contact must be “value-added” in order to properly impact our target prospects. This requires research, planning and good communication (probing and listening) skills. In addition, if we make better calls (i.e., better quality), then we will accomplish more during each call and won’t need to make as many calls to each prospect!

Considering this information simultaneously, the best answer to the call frequency question is that we “cross the line” when our calls have no value for the prospect or customer.

The “Hard Part” of Business Development

hardworkWe all know that growing a business or sales territory is hard work. As noted in our previous post, a good start is to create an annualized business development plan. But simply crafting the plan isn’t enough! We must commit to the plan as well as to the proactive components of the plan — or as many people call them, the “hard part” of business development.

Honest Self Assessment
It’s important to realize that business development consists of both reactive and proactive elements.

Running advertisements, updating a web site, posting blog entries, distributing newsletters or attending networking events might all be parts of the plan, but once these action steps are taken we often find ourselves in a reactive position – that is, waiting for someone to call.

These reactive action steps are the “easy” components of business development. The more difficult aspects of business development include proactively working to make things happen. These more challenging activities include sending follow-up emails or letters in which we ask for or suggest next steps, leaving proactive voice-mail messages, making follow-up calls, and scheduling meetings.

Research, pre-call planning and some imaginative thinking are also part of the mix, but the “hard” part of business development is staying the course.

Statistics indicate that most things “happen” after someone (a seller) completes five or more contacts with a prospect. But most “sellers” make fewer than three approach calls – thus the challenge most of us face when trying to make things happen.

Setting goals and monitoring results are the best methods of ensuring success.

  • The first step is to identify the number of new customers or clients you’d like to add each month or each quarter
  • Using a reverse funnel approach, the next step is to estimate the number of appointments, lunches or meetings you’ll need to conduct in order to achieve the new customer goal
  • Step three is to determine the number of prospects you’ll need to contact (and how many times) in order to schedule the desired number of meetings
  • Now the real work begins… make the calls and measure the results

If appointments or meetings seem hard to come by, then review your metrics as well as your planning and messaging.

Growing a business or sales territory is not easy work. If you are able to achieve sufficient growth in a primarily reactive way – advertising, referrals, and so on – then you’re among the fortunate. For the rest of us, committing to proactive business development is the best approach.

Business Development: A 5-Step Plan

businessdevelopment300Do you have an annualized business development plan?

If not, please read on… because having such a plan can make the difference between success and failure, or possibly between a good year and a great one!

First let’s define the terms. An annualized plan is simply a schedule of which activities will be done and at what time. Plotting this information by month allows you to take advantage of any seasonal opportunities, and also to determine overall time and cost commitments. Business development is a multi-faceted practice that keeps your business moving ahead. It consists of various components, including:

  • Promoting your organization to develop a presence in your marketplace
  • Identifying new business opportunities with known and unknown prospects
  • Generating new business from referral sources and prospects
  • Generating new or incremental business from clients
  • Business retention

A close review of this list reveals three very important facts.

First is the fact that our customers and clients are also prospects for new or incremental business.

Second, there is a big difference between “identifying” business opportunities and “generating” them. While the former might, at times, be easier to accomplish, both activities are essential. Successful business development, therefore, requires a combination of marketing and selling skills. Other requirements include time management, organizational skills and a positive attitude.

The third key fact, simply stated, is “one easy way to get business is to not lose business!” Customer retention is an important element of every business development plan, because any lost business must be made-up if we are to achieve our overall goal.

Simple 5-Step Approach
Here’s a simple and proven approach that might help you to make the most of your business development effort this year:

  1. Identify an annual total revenue goal that encompasses desired growth. Your business development effort is the means by which this growth will be achieved – it’s best to break it down into dollars as well as the approximate number of new customers required.
  2. Identify an annual budget – note that you don’t have to spend a lot. You can plan to make the biggest impact via word-of-mouth, much of which comes from networking, selling and asking for referrals.
  3. Identify the components of your plan based on the budget and goals – these might consist of:
    • Advertising or sponsorship
    • Networking
    • Social Media
    • E-marketing (e-mail campaigns, web-site optimization, etc)
    • Telemarketing (not cold-calls, but strategic follow-up to networking encounters, mail, email, etc.)
    • Entertaining (lunch meetings, client events, etc.)
    • Business development meetings/selling appointments
    • Business retention
  4. Create a annualized plan [get sample template: free download]
  5. Work the plan; measure progress and achievement for ongoing improvement

Planning and persistence are the critical elements of success
The plan must be well-organized, and your approach to implementing the plan equally well-organized and persistent. The plan won’t work if you quit or if you only execute a portion of it. As John Wanamaker once said, “Half the money I spend on advertising is a waste. The problem is I don’t know which half!”

It is also true that developing new business requires the development of new business relationships. This is a process rather than a one-time-event, and it takes time – some experts have even identified the “rule of seven,” which states you will, on average, need to interact with a prospect seven times before getting serious consideration; others say it happens between the fifth and twelfth contact. Whatever the actual number might be, only those who persistently maintain their effort will achieve optimum success.

The final consideration involves the regular measurement of achievement and ongoing improvement. Each “contact” must be planned and, based on your success or failure, these plans must be evaluated and continually enhanced. Each contact must be value-added and fresh – so there’s plenty of work ahead. But it will be worth it when you tally the numbers at the end of the year!

Sales Management & the Rear-view Mirror…

rearviewIn a recent LinkedIn Pulse article, sales behavior and productivity expert Robert Roseberry shared data indicating that over 40% of all sales people fail to hit their annual goal.

The three primary reasons given:

  1. Ineffective use of CRM systems
  2. Poorly trained sales managers
  3. Too much focus on trailing indicators

Balancing the Rear View Mirror
While we regularly encounter all three of the root causes, it is the third culprit that is the most prevalent.

Given the proliferation of “data” it is easy for managers and business leaders to focus on metrics. But managers who place all or too much focus on analyzing past performance and then initiating improvement plans after-the-fact miss the opportunity to salvage what otherwise might be a sub-standard month, quarter or year!

Circumstances and competitive offerings within the marketplace are constantly changing. While the practice of reviewing past performance and using the data as part of a performance improvement plan is necessary, this “rear-view-mirror” approach can be costly in terms of lost opportunities if it encompasses ones entire sales management approach.

Instead, sales leaders can be much more effective if the develop and implement a managerial process that incorporates real-time awareness of performance and a systematic means of impacting that performance “before” its’ too late!

Read more…

Are You Interested?

interested3Whether you are a sales professional, sales manager, business executive or business owner, becoming “interested” is an important component of driving your organization’s sales and business development effort.

While great amounts of emphasis are more commonly placed on striving to become “interesting” in our interaction with others — that is, we focus on our “speaking points” and things we might say.

Instead, consider the concept of becoming more “interested” and how it might influence the various people involved.

Read the full article…

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