Rude Prospect – Salesperson’s Lament

The prospect called the salesperson.  He needed a proposal for a custom item the salesperson sells.  The prospect said they were “in a real rush” and needed the information “yesterday.”

Naturally, the salesperson was excited.  She had been sending informative emails for months and following up with telephone calls, with the goal of getting an appointment to discuss the advantages and value of her product, but she had never been able to reach this prospect.  She kept leaving voice mail message after voice mail message to no avail and now, finally, she was excited to see that her persistence had paid off.  Now the prospect was calling her!  

She cleared her desk, met with associates, worked up a proposal in record time, and submitted it with an impressively low price, testimonials, photos, and data sheets that showed the superiority of her product, high level of service, and the specialized expertise of her company.  

The salesperson called the next day, and the next day, and then twice the following day, never getting the prospect, but leaving voice mail and e-mail messages each time… no response.

The salesperson told this all-too-common story over coffee.  “I worked hard to get that proposal out in a rush and followed-up the way I knew I should.”  She even sent a helium balloon in a box with a note, “This is a trial balloon”, hoping to get some response… any response… but no response came other than deathly silence. 

Maybe the prospect had an emergency, maybe he left the company, or maybe he was just “fishing” for a price to use in negotiating with a regular vendor.  There is a world of possibilities why there had been no response, but at that point, the salesperson didn’t know how much energy and time she should continue to invest in this prospect.

“I’m trying to do a great job and, while I want to make every sale possible, I know that I’ll lose some. But I hate not knowing if I am still in the running for the sale, being a pest, or having unrealistic expectations.  It’s so darn rude not to just let me know, even if he says that they changed their minds, I can at least quit spending time and energy on this and move on to something more productive, and all it would take is a few seconds of courtesy.  I would never be that rude to anyone.”

Let’s hope she remembers.

Question or comment to Larry:

Do You Give Good Telephone?

Has this happened to you lately?

You call a company you want to purchase something from or want to get some information from.   It rings.  It is answered.  The voice on the other end speaks with the same level of clarity and excitement last heard at the drive-up window of a fast food restaurant… “thanksforcallingxyzcompanythisisgeorgehowcanIbeofservicetoday?”

Or maybe the name of the company you called has been mysteriously shortened.  You thought you were calling Acme Widgets, Inc. but they answer “AWI” or even worse: “Widgets”?

Or, maybe the person answering the phone just bit into a crisp, crunchy apple?

Or, you get put on hold and no one checks in with you to see if you are still alive?

Your company’s telephone presence is just as important as your web presence, your logo, your signage, and your advertising.  It is an integral part of your marketing.  If a caller gets a bad first impression, all the other things you do to entice prospects and customers to call are wasted because, as the old saying goes, you only get one opportunity to make a good first impression.  The person who answers the phone can win or lose customers for life in just one quick moment if the caller is annoyed, treated rudely, or ignored.

Chances are that these lapses in good phone skills are happening at your company also.  If good telephone technique is important to your company, occasionally conduct a “Phone Audit.”  Call your company (or have someone else do it for you) and listen to the greeting, then call three competitors and see how you compare in clarity, attitude, personality, and helpfulness.

Even though a caller can’t see the person on the other end of the phone line, they can discern the person’s body language by hearing their voice.  That’s why a well-known telephone trainer suggests putting a mirror by the telephone and trains people to smile and look at themselves as they answer to give the caller an invisible smile with their greeting.  I’ve heard people scoff at this, but I’ve also heard that “an insincere smile beats a sincere frown every day.”

Please realize that the same personality issues translate into voice-mail answering messages and other mechanical communications, so they need to be monitored and audited for caller-friendliness also.

Callers can learn a lot in just a few seconds on the phone.  Make sure they learn the right things about your company so that first impression is a good one.

Question or comment to Larry:

I’d Like to Welcome You to the Company

The new hire comes in for the first day on the job, palms a little sweaty with anticipation, resolved to do a great job, to make a difference, to prove that the company made a great hiring decision, and to make a great first impression to everyone in the company.  So, with a deep breath, she gets out of her car and walks briskly through the door.

Introductions are made.  Hands are shaken. Forms are filled out.  Manuals are distributed.  

No matter whether the new hire is a seasoned veteran or a part-time high-school student in their first job, this is a critical crossroads both for the new person and for the company.  In the first few hours, the newest hire intuits the culture of the company, meets the people she will be working with, and starts understanding her role and how she will be judged, and she starts judging the company, her manager(s), and her co-workers.

If the company is properly prepared, the new hire will be starting along the path of transformation from raw recruit into a productive member of the team.  If the company’s hiring and on-boarding process is really a process of “winging it”, the new employee will start being demotivated, losing enthusiasm and confidence by the minute, so don’t let de-motivation set in.

To start the new hire on the path to becoming a successful employee in the shortest amount of time, a successful orientation should be well organized and well-orchestrated to build confidence and competence in the new person.  When this period is over, new hires should understand the culture of the company, its competitive advantages, its position in the marketplace, the products and services the company sells (even if they are not in a marketing or selling position, and the way the company responds to clients, prospects, and the public.

In effect, the on-boarding process is marketing the standards of the company so that employees will be able to quickly grasp and understand their individual contribution to the company’s overall success.  The goal is to have this person, like all people in the company, be an integral part of the customer satisfaction team – no matter what their job description says.

An effective and organized orientation should emphasize the company’s focus on the satisfaction of the customer; otherwise, new staff ends up doing their job focused on their own agenda and satisfying the wrong person.  The on-boarding process is an internal marketing task and, if successful, will improve the performance of the company.

Hungry? It Might Be Twenty More Years

The customer leaves the supermarket with bags of groceries filled.  It would be ridiculous for the grocer to scratch that customer off the list of prospects and stop marketing to them.  That customer will need more food soon and the sales cycle starts over again.  

But few businesses sell products and services that everyone on the planet needsto use daily and purchase every few days.  Their marketing and sales model is different.  Very few businesses only sell their offerings in a “once and done” model also.  But it is shocking how many businesses appear to follow either that model or the “we did such a good job for us they will come back when they need our products or services again.”

The roofing company packs up and leaves.  The home has a new roof, one that will last for fifteen to twenty years.  The roofer can scratch that address off the list of prospects, or should they?

The manufacturer of corrugated boxes “high-fives” the salesperson as the truck packed with boxes heads to their customer, but can they afford to not follow up?

The jeweler sells an engagement ring and wedding band to a lovesick man, andhopefully, the ring is the beginning of a happy, long marriage.  If the jeweler markets to the happy couple, they will be back for anniversary rings and other expensive gifts.

That grocer has to market continuously to the same people because the prospect requires their products at least three times a day.  The roofer’s customers won’t be in the market for a long time, so the roofer should be marketing at a different pace. That customer will need more boxes soon, and the jeweler should send an anniversary card because there are many opportunities for future sales if they continue marketing to those customers.

In twelve years, the roofer could start sending an annual newsletter showing advances in roofing techniques and styles, just so the homeowner is aware of the company that did the last job.  In fifteen years they could do a “Free Inspection.”  In following years, the marketing effort should increase because that roof is going to need replacing soon.

Your product or service probably has a sales cycle somewhere between that of the grocery and the roofer.  Plot out a graph of the cycle.  Determine when the typical customer is going to need your product.  Plan a method of getting to them so they know who to turn to when the time is right.  If you don’t, it might be twenty years before you have another chance at them.

Question or comment to Larry:

Harvest is Over… Better Get the Ladder

When business is good and customers are eager to buy, it sure is a great time.  Business seems bountiful and everlasting.  You’re hot.  The phone is ringing, orders come through a cornucopia of the internet, customers stand in line… easy pickings… like harvest time in an orchard and all you have to do is just walk over to a tree and pluck another apple… one customer after another… you feel that you are a business genius.  Here’s some advice from someone who has been there: better enjoy it while it lasts.

Because, after a while, the orchard is picked over.  Sometimes there is a drought.  Insects or disease or a frost attacks the crop.  Customers now are standing in line somewhere else for the next shiny thing.  The market swings in other directions away from you.  The easy pickings are long gone.  Customers have dwindled.  You are no longer a genius, what oh what to do?  Wringing your hands doesn’t help.

In the orchard, some starve because they can’t get to the harder-to-reach fruit, even standing on tippy-toe, sigh, and give up; survivors build ladders to climb higher.  In business, some give up and close shop.  Those who have the resources and the gumption to survive evolve by changing product, marketing harder and smarter, perhaps even changing their business model.  They change their offerings and bring out new, improved colors or sizes or capacities or groupings.  They take groups of products or services into and put them into different combinations or bundles with new pricing.  

Survivors have a way of going after an increasingly more elusive harvest.  They have larger crops in good times when the picking is easy and can sustain themselves when there is a drought or other calamities.  Whether the tool of survival is a ladder, a marketing plan, a customer retention plan, customer service training, sowing, fertilizing, weeding, pruning, and harvesting… it all needs to get done year after year.

Increase your reach now, plan your evolution when business is good, before the drought, before customers defect for the latest fashion, before the next shiny thing comes and replaces you in the marketplace, before something else gains favor.  Always be aware of events that arise and affect your market and circumstances beyond your control.  Keep your eyes and ears tuned to the changes happening around you and your business.  Do that and you will survive and prosper in good times and bad.

Question or comment to Larry:

Robots Don’t Win Oscars!

I recently published an article that stating that “marketing scripts” can be written to answer customer questions in an informative, concise, and friendly manner.  I got a number of responses from people telling me they hated the idea of using “scripts” to deliver information. 

When I inquired as to why they had a problem with scripts, the universal response was that they “didn’t want to sound like a robotic-sounding telemarketer reading a ‘canned’ spiel.”  

We’ve all heard “robots” trying to impress or sell and their stiff, badly practiced (or not practiced) monologues having the opposite effect, which turns off the listener.  The people who responded to my article are right.

I offer this counterpoint in response:

When you turn on your television to watch a drama or comedy show, do you feel like those actors are reading from a script?  No, they sound like they are talking naturally, yet we all know they are not just making it up or “winging it.”  They started with a script.  That script was written by a group of writers.  Then they memorized their lines, and once they learned the script, they practiced their lines over and over until it sounded like normal speech.  Then they practiced it with the other actors in the scene, and then they performed it in front of their director, who probably modified it several times to get it right, to ultimately sound like they were speaking in a manner appropriate to their scene.  Those actors certainly are not talking normally, it just sounds like it.

It’s the same way that a customer-friendly company gives information on the phone, in an office or showroom setting, or at a trade show.  There is a script created to answer, to inform, to extoll the virtues, and to ultimately to close the sale.  That script is honed and practiced until it is delivered naturally.  It sounds like natural speech, but it is the practiced answer to an inquiry.

A practiced, scripted answer delivered in a friendly manner will better inform customers and build their knowledge and the relationship.  So, start cataloging questions or inquiries and develop short scripts as the basis for standardized responses.  Practice them, think “Lights! Camera! Action!” and you will sound natural.  Think of making the sale as winning an Oscar (“I’d like to thank my writer, my director, my acting coach, and my supporting actors.”)  You’ll look great on the red carpet! 

Question or comment to Larry:

Get Asked “Dumb” Questions? Turn them into Opportunities!

I was in a bakery recently.  The phone rang.  The clerk answered.  There was a pause while the caller asked a question.  Then the clerk, took a deep breath, sighed, and in a voice that sounded like she was rolling her eyes while dripping derision at the same time said, “Yes, we do sell birthday cakes, this is a bakery.”

How often does a prospect ask a question at your business where the answer should be clearly evident… in other words, a “dumb question”?  It may seem like a dumb question to you, but it really is an opportunity.  It is an opportunity to improve and clarify the way your company communicates.  It is also an opportunity to add a pointed sales message to the answer or to answer with a question that engages the caller.  Imagine how much more likely the bakery would be to make a sale if the clerk had answered, “Yes, we bake delicious and beautiful birthday cakes; everything from fun, decorated cupcakes to triple layer double-fudge chocolate with sprinkles on top and we always have at least twenty sample cakes on display.  What are you looking for?”

  • They ask the Realtor.  “Do you sell homes in the north side of town?” 
  • They ask the Printer.  “Will you fold and collate my printing?”
  • They ask the Banker.  “Do you have safety deposit boxes for rent?”

What do they ask when they call your business?  Perhaps, instead of answering the question with a derisive tone and roll of the eyes, you can turn that question into an opportunity.  Take a look at your communication efforts and think of forward-moving, sales-making responses to the opportunities that arise.  Create some “stock” responses that better explain and differentiate your products and services and engage the prospects in a discussion that will have a much higher percentage of making a sale than, “Yes, we do sell birthday cakes, this is a bakery.”  If your customers or prospects don’t know the services or products you offer, you should be getting the word out better, not only in your advertising, but in all possible devices for communicating.

As a project for the next few weeks, list every “dumb” question asked of your business.  Then review possible answers and create talking points to explain, differentiate, and entice those who ask into becoming customers.  Have everyone who could be on the receiving end of these questions practice their responses instead of making callers feel foolish for asking.  

Question or comment to Larry:

Make them Lick their Lips and Buy More!

Two couples are in a nice restaurant.  Dinner is over.  The dishes have been cleared.  It’s time to linger and talk over coffee and, here it comes, a lesson in effective add-on-sales that most businesses can use to increase sales volume and profits.  Here comes the dessert tray.

The tray is filled with five beautiful, delectable,calorie-laden, high-profit-margin, tempting confections.  The waiter points out each item using mouth-watering descriptive adjectives and that sly smile that says, “you know you shouldn’t have it, but you know you want it and, what the heck you can return to healthy eating tomorrow.”  For a moment you weaken consider the tempting joys of indulgence.

Do you want or need more food?  NO!  Does your diet allow it?  NO!  Do you crave it?  YES!

Dessert is a high-profit “add-on” sale.  Properly presented and described, many restaurants can increase their average sale by 5% to 15%.  Ok, your company doesn’t sell tempting double fudge chocolate cake to tempt your customers, but my challenge to you this week is to consider what “add-on offering” you can temptingly present to entice your customers to crave it and thereby increase your sales and profits.  

A version of that dessert tray that fits your business should be part of the sales system.  To get your customers to buy off your “dessert tray”, you have to design a tempting presentation filled with benefits, topped with yummy value-added features.

What can you put on your dessert tray?

  • If you sell something with mechanical or electrical components you can sell an extended warranty, accessories or a bundled accessory package, or a maintenance inspection and service package.
  • If you sell clothing or shoes you can sell a second, similar item at a substantial savings (I just purchased a package of four pairs of socks and… guess what?  I could get a second set for 25% off.)
  • If you sell a service, you can sell a follow-up service at a savings – a carpet cleaner offers a second cleaning of the same spaces for a substantial savingsif it is done within the same year.  Fastidious homeowners and customers with pets take advantage of this offer.

Describe your “dessert” and present it right.  They’ll lick their lips and go off their diets (budgets) to get something they might need or want which will save them money, have a higher level of joy, or a better customer experience.  Ask the waiter to bring two forks!

Question or comment to Larry:

The Incongruity Police are Watching

The dictionary defines congruity as meaning: agreement, harmony, or fitness.

That definition can also be used to define the ideal business, one where all parts of the business are in agreement, harmony, and / or fitness.

In that ideal business, all facets of the business fit together.  Each part (department / function / activity / etc.) should complement the other, and together they all work to build the total.  That means marketing makes the promises, production / fulfillment keeps those promises, and the administration manages it all.  For example, if the marketing department was designing a promotion, all elements – the message, the paper, logo, the typeface, the look, feel, and texture – should be congruent to maximize the effectiveness of the message.  To illustrate my point, one would choose different fonts to publicize a circus versus a mortuary.

Professionally produced marketing and advertising are usually congruent, but do-it-yourselfers often try to stretch their budget, and the result is often incongruity.

Last week, I pretended I was the “Incongruity Police” and found the following:

  • A hair salon advertising expensive spa treatments and other luxuries by using an ugly, hand-drawn, off-center “magic marker” sign in the window.  The sign promises luxury and beauty, but it is so incongruent that I wonder if anyone has bought the service.  The Incongruity Police have issued a violation!
  • An investment advisor sent invitations to a seminar with inserted hand-cut coupons that looked like an eight-year-old had cut them out.  The coupons looked so cheap and uninviting that one would wonder about the quality of his financial advice.  The Incongruity Police have issued a violation!
  • A car dealer uses exactly the same photos in advertisements week after week… for months.  Anybody reading those ads would question why those cars haven’t sold or whether those particular vehicles were ever in the dealer’s inventory to begin with.  The Incongruity Police have issued a violation!
  • A manufacturing company makes a high quality, durable, useful, productive product, but their parts department ships the parts in three days while their competition will ship the same day the customer places an order (if ordered by2 pm).  The Incongruity Police have issued a violation!
  • A home cleaning company has vehicles with their tagline painted on them advertising that “We’ll Leave Your Home Spotless”. Yet, those vehicles are filthy, and you don’t want to look at the inside with fast food wrappers strewn about.  The Incongruity Police have issued a violation!

Remember the “Incongruity Police” are watching.

Question or comment to Larry:

You Can’t Sell Snow Shovels in May!

It’s Spring!  The birds are chirping, daffodils and other bulbs are exploding out of the formerly frozen earth, snow shovels and snow throwers have wended their way to the back of the storage area, and thought of warm, sunny breezes have replaced memories of snowmen and snowballs.

The biblical passage (and the song that honors it) says, “There’s a time for every purpose under Heaven.”  Our lives are defined by these “times for every purpose”.  The earth revolves, and the seasons change in cycles as our lives change through school years, birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, the annual report, the tax season, the baseball season, etc.

No matter what you sell, there are busy and slow seasons.  Knowing the sales cycles of your products and services translates into promoting at the most opportune times – when your marketplace needs (or wants) it.  We get hungry three times a day, the average roof lasts 15 to 20 years, the average male head requires a haircut every month, the average household moves every 5 to 7 years, grass grows faster in Spring than in Fall.  

While it is possible to sell snow shovels in May, many more will sell with the first snowfall of season and, if promoted properly (in a First Snowfall sale for instance), lots of ice melter, windshield scrapers, and lock de-icer will sell in large quantities also because of a rapidly expanding (but temporary) market.

Obviously now it’s time to promote products and services that have a 2nd Quarter demand, but… have you properly prepared?  Sadly, many businesses are playing catch-up… the Spring Trade Show or Tulip Festival or Mother’s Day are around the corner, and I know that many businesses are scrambling to have their marketing, advertising, and inventory ready for the influx of customers who want what they sell.  Sadly, many have missed the season.  Yes, they will get a spike in sales volume, but because they haven’t worked on this season months ago, sales will not be nearly as good as possible.  And there are people who are thinking, “I’ll do it better next year.”

Whatever the product or service, your customers go through cycles of desires and needs.  Marketing to take advantage of these cycles takes planning and discipline but can pay off with a better return on the budget and increased sales.  Plan ahead to promote your products in volume when your customers need or want them.

Question or comment to Larry: