Today’s Effort Determines Tomorrow’s Success

Many times towards the end of a year salespeople sort of “coast” their way towards the New Year.

In times of uncertainty many salespeople do the same thing, they take their foot off the gas and stop selling. It’s a mistake at the end of a year and it’s a mistake in these times of uncertainty.

“Sales” are different right now than they are in more normal times. But different does not mean impossible. “Sales” in their current state might also not mean making a sale. It may be, and likely is, more about being available to your customers. It most definitely is about staying in touch and keeping your lines of communication open.

Whatever secondary methods of communication you used to communicate with your customers prior to our current situation are now most likely your primary methods. By secondary I mean texts, email and phone calls. Your primary method was face-to-face and in most cases that’s not possible at the moment.

If you somehow can make face-to-face calls and both you and your customer are comfortable with it then I guess that’s fine….so long as it is SAFE FOR OTHERS AND IN NO VIOLATION OF CURRENT LOCAL, STATE, AND FEDERAL GUIDELINES.

How ever you do it, you must stay visible to your customers. You must remain a resource to whatever extent you can. You must remain willing to help. In fact, I’d recommend each communication include that very question; “How can I help?” Or “What can I do for you right now?”

Beyond some sort of personal contact with your customer there are many other sales activities you can undertake. Many many salespeople had things, productive things, that they were going to do “someday.” We’ll guess what, someday has arrived!

You know the stuff you were going to do “someday” but never had the time to do. Things likes reviewing notes from accounts that haven’t purchased from you in a long time, or maybe ever. While “someday” is still going on review those notes to determine what you will do differently to earn that customer’s business when personal selling becomes possible again.

Now is also a great time to prepare and practice responses to your most common objections. And by the way, the most professional and prosperous salespeople practice those responses out loud.

We should talk a bit about prospecting. I am not an expert like Mark Hunter @thesaleshunter is. But I’m thinking if you’re going to attempt to prospect right now you must tread very lightly. It just seems almost inappropriate to me. But like I said, others know far more about this topic in times like these than I do so I could of course be wrong…but I don’t think so.

That doesn’t mean however that you can’t prepare new prospecting materials. Prospecting emails, letters, leave behind materials and phone scripts. You can even practice your phone presentation so it doesn’t sound scripted. Just so you know, if you ever call me and it sounds like you’re reading a script, I will never buy from you. Most people are like me, they won’t either.

I have been in and around sales a very long time. I don’t believe we have ever experienced anything like this. With other major disruptions we have faced we could see or at least predict what the end might look like. Not so much this time.

Many things are unlikely to go back to exactly the way they were but it’s my guess that sooner rather than later sales will return to pretty much normal. What you do in these abnormal times will determine your level of success and how fast you’re personally back to normal when the “ab” in abnormal is gone.

Stay in the game and keep selling. Take the long view and realize your activities today will shape the curve of your personal comeback later. That is most certainly not the curve you want to flatten!

You Haven’t and You Won’t Because You Can’t

Almost every business professes at least the desire to provide the highest caliber of customer service possible.

They name their customer support departments things like customer “care.” They talk about improving the customer “experience” all while failing to invest in the people who might actually care for those customers. The people who work for that business that professes the desire to “care” for their customers.

If you’re running a business that professes the desire to provide your customers with excellent customer service then you need to know that if you’re not caring for your own employees then you can’t provide a high level of service to your customers.

And if you’re not currently providing your employees with the tools and training they need to take care of your customers then you won’t be providing a high level of customer service anytime soon.

You can’t provide a high level of customer service if your employees feel undervalued, under appreciated and unprepared for the task.

I maybe haven’t said this in like an hour so let me repeat it. 100% of your employees are people. By an amazing coincidence 100% of your customers are people too. If your employees are unhappy and feel unsupported then you can bet your last dollar that your customers will be too.

If that situation persists you’ll be down to that last dollar a lot sooner than you think.

You simply cannot create happy customers by placing them in contact with unhappy employees. The fastest way to create an unhappy employee is by trying to manage them instead of leading them.

When I ask the owner of a business about their people I listen for how they describe them. When I hear a bunch of buzzwords like “our team members” or our “guest support staff” or my personal favorite “customer experience managers” I start to be concerned.

What I’m hoping to hear is about the PEOPLE of the organization. A solid, firm unmistakable understanding that the people who are expected to create happy customers are human beings. Human beings who have stuff going on in their life outside of work. Human beings who have goals and hopes and dreams just like a real person.

Human beings who need to be led because trying to manage another human being causes nothing but problems for the manager trying to manage them. You have not and you will not have a fully productive and engaged human being working for you if you’re trying to manage them instead of lead them. Because you can’t manage a human being. It’s just not possible.

Stop trying to create a great customer service department and start creating a great customer service culture. That culture begins with happy, supported and valued employees. That culture is only possible if you lead your people rather than manage them.

I’ll write a lot in the coming weeks on the difference between managing people and leading them. In the meantime consider investing less in the latest “new thing” in customer service. Invest instead in your people because only people have the ability to truly care for another person…like your customers for instance.

Do You Hide Behind PowerPoint?

Before PowerPoint was PowerPoint it was called Presenter and available only on a Mac. The name changed in 1987 and soon after the software was acquired by some little outfit named Microsoft. 

 

Considering how the product is used today they should have kept the original name. Today way too many people try to let the software do the presenting for them. 

 

That was never the intent of the developers. Presenter and later, PowerPoint was designed as a visual aid. The key word there being “aid.” It was supposed to help a person make a better presentation; it was never intended to be the presentation. 

 

Too many speakers today forget the fact that their most important and impactful visual aid is themselves. What they say, and especially how they say it, should easily outperform even the most stunning PowerPoint slide. 

 

I know speaking if front of a group can be a scary thing to do. I also know that some presenters use PowerPoint as a crutch to lean on. Others use it as a shield to hide behind. Many speakers use slides as their presentation notes. 

 

None of those were the intended purpose of the original software. 

 

The original purpose was to have a tool to quickly develop slides that could be efficiently changed as data, statistics and other information changed. The slides could be used to show graphics and photos to make concepts simpler to understand than mere words ever could.

 

But even the best graphics cannot compare with the eye-to-eye impact even just a competent speaker can have when at center stage. No disembodied voice from the shadows will ever come close to matching a highly skilled presenter adapt at holding an audience’s attention.  

 

Slides have become so easy to prepare and so embedded in the average presentation that most people don’t invest the time and hard work required to think through what they want to say. Many people actually create their slides first and then determine what they want to say.

 

That’s why it’s common to see a speaker settle for a bunch of wordy slides. They are loaded with statistics most people don’t care about and lots of “cool” motion and even a few funny noises.

 

If you want to be a better speaker then you have to do more than read from the screen. You need to remember that with visuals less is more. You’ll need to make some tough decisions to weed out any slide that doesn’t add clarity to your message. Never add a slide that takes the spotlight off of you.

 

Odds are, you have invested a ton of time in developing your own competence on your subject. Never let that competence be overshadowed by a slide deck. Your physical presence, and how you say what you say will ultimately be what you’re judged on.

 

If you don’t believe that then let me ask you… have you ever said of a presentation, “well, the presentation and presenter were bad but the slides were awesome?” 

 

Yeah, I’ve never said that either. Let your slides be your helper. Let them help you clarify difficult concepts and complicated ideas. But never never let them be your entire presentation. 


Oh, and one more thing…if the first words out of your mouth when a slides pop up are “I know this is an eye chart but….” then get rid of the slide completely.

The People Business

I was very fortunate years ago to have a mentor who was also a great salesperson. Whenever someone asked him what business he was in he would answer “the people business.” 

My mentor’s name was Jack and for 40 years he owned a commercial heating and air conditioning company. When asked how he got “people business” out of heating and air conditioning he replied, “simple, my business is about helping other businesses and organizations provide a comfortable and productive working environment for their people.” 

Jack believed that every business and every product was in some way about helping people. He often said that if your product or service didn’t in some way benefit people then you wouldn’t be in business for very long. He taught me to never sell my product, he taught me to sell what it could do for the people who might buy it. 

The moment a business or it’s leadership lose sight of the fact that, regardless of what they sell, they are in the people business their potential for long-term success begins to decline.

If you’re in business, any business, then you are in the people business.

There should never be a policy, process, or procedure that is more important than people. Your people are your business, both the people who work for your business and the people who are served by your business.

Years ago the pilots of the now merged Northwest Airlines went on strike. It was very contentious and both sides, the airlines and the pilots union, starting running ads on local radio to “get their side of the story out.” Basically each side said the other were complete idiots. 

I wasn’t too sure about flying on an airline run by idiots but I was certain I didn’t what to fly on a plane piloted by someone considered to be an idiot by the very airline that hired them. I don’t really know much about the airline business but I do know some stuff about the people business. Something one of the striking pilots said during a radio interview has stuck with me to this day.

The pilot said the airlines whole problem was that they were trying to make customers happy while doing nothing to make their own people happy. He said he believed it impossible to have happy customers if the people tasked with making them happy were unhappy.

I doubt whether that was the airlines “whole problem” but it was absolutely one of the biggest. Northwest Airlines forgot that they were in the people business and they also forgot that their employees were people too.

I believe in measuring pretty much everything a business does, you need a yardstick to see progress and determine opportunities for improvement. However, when your metrics become more important than your customer…or your own people, then you have a problem. Metrics are a guide to success, they are not a bible for success. 

When people are involved in your business you will sometimes need to throw the numbers out to do the right thing and remember, people are always involved in your business.

Put people first and your business will last!

The Gift of Listen

As far back as I can remember there has been a saying that good salespeople have the gift of gab. 

For the last 30 years or so I’ve known that saying to be utterly false. Good salespeople, actually great salespeople, truly professional salespeople, don’t have the gift of gab, they have the gift of listen. 

You’ll never hear a truly professional salesperson say that they “talked” anyone into doing anything. The best salespeople actually listen far more than they talk. They  don’t want to sell people stuff that they don’t need. They want to help them buy products and services that help their customer receive a real benefit in return. 

Great salespeople ask great questions of their customers knowing full well that if they ask the right questions what follows are honest answers that will help them help their customer.

Once they ask great questions then they listen and they don’t just listen to respond, they listen to understand. They linger on the words of their customer until they fully understand the needs and wants of their customer. If for any reason they don’t fully understand they will ask more questions until they do. What they never do is guess. They don’t guess at what their customer might need or what they might want, they ask great questions and then they listen until they understand.

They listen as if that particular customer is the only customer in the world because they know that, in that moment, they are in fact the only customer that matters. 

If you want to know how you measure up to the best sales professionals in the world consider this: the best sales professionals listen more than twice as much as they talk. 70% of their interactions with a customer are invested in listening and only 30% are spent talking. For average salespeople those percentages are just about reversed. 

You will never learn how to help your customer by talking to them, talking just starts the communications process. Listening to your customer helps you learn how to help them, listening completes the communications process.

So… are you listening yet?

 

Price Without Quality

My grandfather owned a small grocery store back in the day when all grocery stores were small. His business survived long after the much bigger supermarkets came on the scene.

His successful business was built on one simply philosophy: price without quality is waste.

I’ve always kept that philosophy in mind whenever I was considering a major purchase. It was in mind a few weeks ago as my wife and I were looking for a new bed for our guest room. My always bargain hunting bride spotted a “going out of business” sale at a furniture store near our house.

We found a bed that suited our needs and began talking with the friendly salesperson. One of the first things he told us about was the 10 year warranty on the frame and springs. My hard to fool wife asked who would honor the warranty if the store was out of business. 

The salesperson assured us we didn’t really need a warranty anyway because the beds were so well made. He then told us to decide about the purchase soon because “when they are gone they are gone for good.” We told him we would let him know and he almost immediately said that if they ran out they could make more after all. 

We left. A salesperson who tells one lie will almost certainly tell another.

Price without quality is waste. 

It’s entirely possible that the bed was the best bed ever made but “quality” isn’t only about the product you buy, it’s about the person you buy it from and the company they represent. 

The product itself is at most a third to maybe half of what is known as the “value proposition.” Good salespeople have the ability to explain the full value proposition to their customers. The challenge is that there are not enough good salespeople to go around. So when we’re a buyer we usually have to figure out the real value proposition ourselves. 

When considering the real value of your next big purchase remember that there is more to value than meets the eye. Real value comes from the expertise of the person selling you the product and the company that supports your purchase decision in the event that something goes wrong. 

If the salesperson sells you a product that doesn’t meet your needs and there is no support after the sale then even the best price can quickly turn into a really bad deal.

Remember no price is a good price if the product doesn’t do want you need it to for as long as you expect it to do it. 

Said another way… price without quality is waste.

Don’t Close That Sale!

Salespeople need to sell, that much is certain. In business nothing much happens until somebody sells something. That’s one reason I have so much respect for professional salespeople, they are the engine that drives much of a company’s success.

Please note that I said I have much respect for PROFESSIONAL salespeople. The hacks out there who will do anything to separate a prospect from their money… not so much. 

If you’ve been is sales for any length of time you’ve likely heard the old axiom known as ABC or  “Always be closing.” That little sentiment has ruined many sales careers. I have a better one, it not only lengthens sales careers it tends to make them highly profitable as well. 

Here’s mine: NBC or NEVER be closing. That’s right, NEVER! In case you’re confused let me repeat that in a more succinct way… NEVER close a sale, never, never, never!

Salespeople who live with a goal of closing a sale, or closing business or closing a deal are looking at the sales process exactly the opposite of how their prospect looks at the buying process. 

Limited salespeople believe that when the prospect says yes the deal is done. The prospect believes that when they say yes the deal, and the relationship, is just beginning. 

The term “closing” is one of the most negative and limiting words in sales. It says something is over, done with, and it’s time to move on. If you’re purely a transactional salespeople who will never need or want a repeat customer then go ahead and close. 

If you’re a sales professional who wants a long-term career in sales, with lots of returning customers and golden referrals then don’t think of “closing” the sale. Think instead of “earning” the customer’s business and opening a new, mutually beneficial relationship. I absolutely want you to ask for the order but only after you’ve earned the right. You earn the right to ask for the order by determining how your product or service can help your prospect and then presenting a solution that makes sense to them.

That change in mindset will change the way you sell. It will change the way your prospect looks at you. It will change your outlook on what you do for a living. You’ll no longer have a sales “job” you’ll have a career in sales. 

You’ll no longer simply be chasing the deal, you’ll be searching for solutions that will help your prospects and customers reach their goals. You’ll enjoy what you do for a living far more than your “closing” colleagues.

Oh and one more thing… you’ll sell more and if you’re compensated on your results you’ll earn more money too!