All posts by paulcharlesblog

Founded in 1999, Paul Charles & Associates helps people sell more and communicate better with customers, colleagues, teams and the marketplace. Customized programming includes consulting, training, coaching, support and facilitation services.

You “Gotta” Believe, Or Else…

Frank Edwin “Tug” McGraw Jr. was a Major League Baseball relief pitcher and the father of country music singer Tim McGraw.

He is likely best remembered for two things… recording the final out, via a strikeout, in the 1980 World Series, bringing the Philadelphia Phillies their first world championship… and his pithy quote referenced in the title above, “You Gotta Believe!”

Belief is a big factor in sales, sales management and, for that matter, any form of business or institutional leadership. We all must believe in ourselves, in our organizations, and that the job can be done.

Sales professionals must believe in the products and services they sell, and also that organizational leadership will support what they’re selling.

Sales managers and leaders must believe in the same things, and also in their team’s ability to do the job.

These beliefs are contagious.

But so too is the lack of belief!

Therefore, whether we are sales managers, team supervisors, group leaders, department heads or business owners, we should carefully question our dis-beliefs, because if we doubt our team’s ability to do the job; if we have second-thoughts about their dedication or loyalty to the cause; if we second-guess each move they make; if we have no faith in them, then it will show.

Even worse, it will show in their performance, because they will sense the doubt and become paralyzed by the fear of ridicule or worse; and it will filter-through to their families and friends, to our clients and prospects, and, ultimately, to the marketplace.

Our belief, or lack thereof, cannot be masked; so as leaders we might do well to consider our true beliefs and make a conscious effort to either develop an honest belief in our work force or develop a work force in-which we believe; and then we must find ways to express that belief each and every day.

The positive results might truly be surprising!

As the late Zig Ziglar once said, “A lot of people have gone further than they thought they could because someone else thought they could.”

It’s Not About Us & No One Really Needs a Shovel!

Too many selling presentations focus on “what we do or what we offer.”

In other words, if we’re not careful, our presentations are all about us. If we’re not careful, when presenting we focus on  the features of our products or the details of our services, as in:

“We offer the largest, most-advanced…”

“Our support services are the most comprehensive…”

“Our team has an average of over 5 years experience…”

“Our widget comes in six different styles and colors…”

“We provide the fastest turn-around in the industry…”

“Our software solution has the best interface…”

Consider how much more effective it could be if, instead, we make our customers or clients the stars of each presentation!

“Our clients enjoy an immediate surge in productivity, and at least a 5:1 R.O.I. in the first year alone…”

“Our customers increase up-time by 50% on average…”

“The average user of our services experiences a 20-30% boost in sales revenue…”

“On average, organizations using our approach have reduced workforce turnover by half, and have improved the customer experience as well…”

This perspective isn’t new, but it’s often forgotten.

Possibly this is because as our organizations introduce new products and services, or when they make improvements to what we sell, we find ourselves intrigued with the updated versions or the latest developments and, therefore, we are compelled to talk about these things.

But these new features, bells and whistles more often fail to WOW buyers, because buyers are most persuaded by what’s in it for them (W.I.I.F.T.)!

So, instead of telling others about what we do or what we’re offering, it is better to tell them about what they will get!

Tell them how they will benefit and they will become engaged!

Even better, they will want to know more! They will most likely place greater value on our solutions as well, which can help us build stronger value propositions, increase margins, reduce competition, and shorten selling cycles all at the same time!

Of course as simple as this may sound, we realize it’s not easy. The first step will involve a conscious effort to distinguish between features and benefits, and then to modify not only the way we think (i.e., think in terms of the customer and WIIFT) but also how we communicate.

A simple and easy way to get started might be to adopt the following phraseology:

“Because of [FEATURE], you get [ADVANTAGE], which means [BENEFIT]”

By applying this thought process before interacting with customers or prospects we can shift our thinking and, hopefully, our communication style, away from features/price and instead focus on benefits/value by stressing the “which means…” part of the equation.

As the saying goes, “No one ever really needs a shovel…”

(They just need a hole.)

“A” is for Attitude

Selling is a people business.

People buy from people, and most often, from people that they like. But what makes one sales rep more likable than the next? Surely all, or at least most sellers try to be likable!

Attitude makes the difference.

A positive attitude is not only easily recognizable, but it’s catchy.

Sellers who possess truly positive attitudes “assume the sale.” They honestly expect the best from customers and prospects, and they offer their personal best as well.

Positive people tend to react to things positively as well and, more importantly, tend to bring about positive reactions from others.

Possibly W.W. Ziege summed-it-up best when he said,  “Nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal. Nothing on earth can help the man with the wrong mental attitude.”

Which Half of Your Sales Management Effort is Working?

John Wanamaker once said, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is, I don’t know which half!”

This is, of course, the reason frequency is such an important element of marketing.

It is also an important element of selling and of sales management. We must be diligent in our efforts to maintain a proactive and persistent posture when selling, and we must do the same when engaged in sales management; which many believe is simply a “higher level of selling.”

The key reason for this fact is that we can never be sure about which component of our effort is going to be effective at any specific time.

In other words, time spent coaching a Rep today may, in fact, pay off immediately or it may not pay off for a month or two; time spent presenting good reasons for a policy or procedure may not truly result in team buy-in on the spot, but might do so over time. Just like John Wanamaker, we just can’t be sure.

If we fail to interact with our customers, prospects or sales people with sufficient frequency, and if we fail to reaffirm the value associated with our products, services and our organizations, as well as our personal value, then we will most likely fail as sales people and sales managers.

This requires consistent, straightforward and strategic communication. Not only must we possess strong communication skills, but we must also (as the term implies) plan our approach. While many tend to think about communication in terms of “speaking,” the truly critical skills are:

  • Planning
  • Probing
  • Listening
  • Proactive style

As prudent sales managers, we must be aware of the critical role our communication plays in the day-to-day execution of our jobs, and the significant impact it has on the people we lead… how it can help us engage the team!

Thus the importance of the above-listed critical skills.

We should also be ever-aware of the importance of establishing and reaffirming our personal value — the value we provide to our sales team each and every day; the value we provide by helping them achieve success; the value we provide by helping them maintain focus on the right things; the value we provide by helping the close business; and the value we provide by continually reminding them that the job can be done and they can do it.

Customer Needs: One Size Does Not Fit All

Alec’s Shoes is one of New England’s most successful independent shoe stores, offering a great selection of athletic footwear, men’s and women’s casual and dress shoes, and a wide range of accessories.

But the store is known for much more than its inventory. In fact, it’s the exceptional customer service provided by the twenty-plus staff members that satisfies patrons and keeps them coming back time after time.

While this might seem like a simple approach, the store’s high level of customer service truly stands out. The floor reps are consultative, and focus on every aspect of how each pair of shoes will be used before making recommendations. They almost always offer each customer two to three choices, and customers who ask for size suggestions get both feet measured!

“Statistically, nearly twenty percent of American adults wear shoes that are the wrong size,” store owner John Koutsos explained. “And lots of people have two feet of different sizes. By measuring each customer’s actual size, both in length and width, and by considering the variation in size between their left and right foot as well as their hosiery preferences, we’re able to give them the best possible fit for both comfort and performance.”

Regardless of what type of business we’re in, gauging our customers’ and prospects’ needs requires more than a “one-size-fits-all” approach too. Here are a few proven best practices:

  • Never assume the customer knows everything necessary to make the right choice. Most know considerably less than we know about the products and services we provide; and while we may each have a number of “in-the-know” regular or long-term clients who are familiar with what we do, there are still application-related or other 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 situation and each customer’s needs.
  • Focus on what each customer or prospect is trying to accomplish rather than on what service or product type they are “looking for” or what they “think they need.” By asking open-ended questions that relate to each customer’s situation or how they plan to use our products and services, we should be able to assess all of their needs, which might include a basic or customized approach, various products, options and accessories, or possibly a specialized solution about which they were unaware.
  • Look beyond product and service needs for other hidden needs. The more we learn about our customers and prospects, the easier it becomes to structure the most appealing proposals. In many instances, there are issues with respect to company policies, structure, affiliations, specialties, and buying practices that might make a difference in how we’d like to 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 service response guarantees, or the need to feel secure about a supplier’s competitive position or reputation (an important issue to the buyer who has been “burned” in the past by a less-than-reputable competitor).
  • Develop a consistent method of uncovering these basic and not-so-basic needs. Creating a standard list of items to cover, questions to ask and options/benefits to present is one good way to develop a dependable and thorough approach. Many have also found that using this type of resource allows them to pay closer attention to each customer or prospect. In some cases, this extra focus will enable us to discover the “little things” that, when addressed, result in closing the sale or in a better customer experience (CX) and long-term customer loyalty.
  • Take an extra minute to double-check established needs, specifications and expectations. Sixty-seconds of prudence at the start can often save hours after-the-fact should there be extenuating circumstances or a misunderstanding about features, billing issues or other special requirements. A few final clarifying questions can even make the difference in getting the business, as most customers like to buy from those who show their interest and professionalism.

 

Find Out What’s On Their Minds…

The following reprint of today’s “makingthenumbers.com” sales tip is a solid testimonial to the importance of probing, trial closing, and listening within the sales process…

In most states you can turn right on a red traffic signal, but the law requires you to come to a full stop before you do.

In sales, it is vital that you work with a specific detailed pre-call objective so you know exactly where you are going (or want to go). Before you get into gear, come to a full stop!

Not just a “How you doin’ today?” or “How are things?”

That’s not a full stop.

You have to ask specifically, “Is your quarter coming in on schedule?” “How is the new production manager working out?” “Is the new product launch of your competitor having any real effect on your key customer?”

Then let them say what they want to say. Let them tell you what is on their mind. They might tell you some things that you can play to when it’s your turn in the barrel. They may tell you they are having a “bad hair day,” and in that case you might decide to cut them some slack, cut short your call, and sell in a future appointment as a professional courtesy.

One way or the other, test the water before you take the plunge.

Not only the temperature, hot or cold, but the depth and what’s on the bottom as well. Give them a break. They will give you the business in return.

Grow Revenue Wtih Strategic Customer Service

There are many components to business development, and many ways to grow revenue; and strategic customer service is definitely one of the often-overlooked pieces of the puzzle

When asked, most people say they do their best to provide good customer service. However, the methods vary significantly and tend to be inconsistent. To maximize the effectiveness of your team’s customer service effort, it’s best to develop and implement a measurable, strategic approach that leverages your organization’s unique benefits and that can become both consistent and cultural.

Simple & Strategic
Creating a plan, setting goals, enhancing communication and monitoring results are the key elements of the process. Here are some specific ideas on how you might get started:

  • The first step is to learn three key things about your customers what they like, what they don’t like and how they feel about your organization
  • Next, identify your organization’s unique offerings from a products and services perspective (what you offer/do) as well as a brand or cultural perspective (how you offer/do it)
  • Note the alignment between these first two items, and then determine the things associated with your brand, culture and unique offerings that your customers value the most the real benefits
  • Develop a communication style that expresses these benefits in terms that are relevant to your customers (rather than to you and your staff), and create a proactive, systematic way of staying in contact with your customers
  • Define action steps that exemplify and reinforce your group’s brand and culture keep in mind, in most cases an organization’s most distinguishable assets are people
  • Create and implement a system in which your organization consistently executes the action steps and communicates in the style noted above Monitor and measure results… continually discuss and refine the process regularly include this topic on staff meeting and sales meeting agendas; find a tool (such as NPS) to continually gather relevant customer feedback, and make use of it when making decisions

Growing a business is not easy work, but it can become easier if we delight, engage, and retain our customers.

Possibly Matthew Tashjian, a Senior VP at Merrill Lynch in Hartford, CT sums it up best as he often says, “One way to make money is to not lose any!”

CX: Realities & Piftfalls

People readily acknowledge that an organization must provide “good” customer experience (CX) in order to maintain their competitive position.

In support of this perspective, here are some interesting statistics that can help quantify the value of allocating time and resources to the customer experience and to effective customer service:

  • 80-90 percent of service problems are leadership related (Deming, Juran, and Crosby)
  • Fewer than half of US executives know who their most loyal customers are (Acxiom & Loyalty 360)
  • A 5% increase in customer retention increases a company’s profits by 25% to 95%, and a 10% increase in customer retention levels result in a 30% increase in the value of the company. (Bain & Co)
  • Consumers who have stated that they have a strong relationship with a single brand, over 64% said it was because they had a “shared value” with the brand in question (Harvard Business Review)
  • 70% of buying experiences are based on how the customer feels they are being treated.(McKinsey)
  • It is 6-7 times more costly to attract a new customer than it is to retain an existing customer. (White House Office of Consumer Affairs)
  • 55% of customers would pay extra to guarantee better service (Defaqto research)
  • A 2% increase in customer retention has the same effect as decreasing costs by 10% (Leading on the Edge of Chaos, Emmet Murphy & Mark Murphy)
  • 96% of unhappy customers don’t complain, however 91% of those will simply leave and never come back (1Financial Training services)
  • 83% of consumers require some degree of customer support while making an online purchase. (eConsultancy)
  • 45% of US consumers will abandon an online transaction if their questions or concerns are not addressed quickly. (Forrester)

Common Pitfalls

Beware… while many have recognized the above-listed realities, they have also failed to make effective transitions that truly improve the customer experience or retention levels.

According to a recent McKinsey article, some of the most common pitfalls associated with ineffective customer experience transformations are:

  1. Lack of vision. “Many managers enter a transformation with no real vision for the organization’s future state,” the article explains. “Instead, they have a general desire to improve the customer experience and rush into action very quickly, before defining a more specific vision. Targets are often vague, devoid of aspiration, and lacking in specificity…”
  2. No top-level commitment. If the transformation effort doesn’t become a top priority for the CEO and the executive team, it will likely lose momentum or stall completely as other “priorities” arise, or when various stakeholders resist the “extra work,” or when general apathy materializes.
  3. Failure to quantify potential gains. Without a clear expectation of the anticipated return-on-investment, it can be difficult to secure sufficient resources or the necessary budget.
  4. Misaligned goals. Referenced as “heedlessness” by McKinsey, launching a customer-experience transformations based on assumptions about what matters most to customers can result in little-or-no gain and lots of frustration. “Some organizations set out to boil the ocean,” the article states. Similarly, and despite good intentions, trying to transform all parts of the business at once will seldom result in success.

Thought on the Value of Failure…

Thomas J. Watson built a worldwide industry during his 42 years at IBM, where he served as CEO and Chairman. He was a pioneer in the development of accounting and computing equipment used today by business, government, science and industry.

Starting out as a bookkeeper at age 18, he went on to sell sewing machines and musical instruments, and then joined National Cash Register (NCR) as a salesman.

Eventually Watson worked his way up to general sales manager at NCR, inspiring the sales force with the motto, “THINK,” which later became a widely known symbol of IBM.

Watson developed IBM’s management style and corporate culture from his training at NCR, and turned the company into a highly-effective selling organization. To the surprise of many, one of his most famous sayings was, “If you want to increase your success rate, double your failure rate.”