Sales and Sales Management Blog

February 5, 2015

Objection? Buying Signal? Maybe Neither–Maybe You’re Being Put Under the Microscope

A few years ago I wrote an article titled “How to Take the Sting Out of the Price Question Early in the Sale.”  In the course of the article I argued that it is natural for a prospect to ask about price–and often to do so too early in the sale, before the seller has had an opportunity to create real value for the prospect—because price is one of the factors prospects use as they seek to qualify the seller and the purchasing opportunity.

In response to that article I received numerous emails and comments from salespeople and sales leaders that they had never thought about the idea that the prospect is qualifying them and their offering at the same time they are trying to qualify the prospect.

Yet the prospect’s qualifying the seller and the seller’s value/solution is the crux of the whole sales process.

We are all familiar with the concepts of qualifying the prospect, investigating needs, developing a solution and creating real value for the prospect, overcoming objections, and the other aspects of making a sale.  All of these concepts are views of the sales process from the seller’s perspective.  These are the constructs that we as sellers tend to concentrate on.

We then view the prospect’s questions as either worrisome objections that are nothing but a smokescreen or are out-n-out buying signals.  For many of us, the questions and actions of the prospect are either those of an enemy or those of someone telling us they are ready to buy.

What if neither of those choices is true?

What if all of those questions and the statements by the prospect, instead of being obstacles to our sale or indications of their desire to consummate the purchase, are simply questions and statements to help them qualify us and our offering? 

What if they are doing the same to us as we are doing to them?

If that is the case, then that means we’re neither dealing with an enemy to be overcome nor are we dealing with someone asking us to close them.  Instead we’re dealing with a human being who wants to know whether or not we’re trustworthy, whether or not our offering is appropriate for them, whether or not we’re wasting their time.

In other words, they are in the process of qualifying us just as much as we’re qualifying them.  When we qualify a prospect we ask questions and probe to discover who we’re dealing with and what we might be able to do for them.  When we’re asking questions we’re not trying to play the ‘gotcha’ game.  Most of us aren’t trying to trap them into a sale.  We’re honestly seeking information that allows us to know whether or not we are in front of a real prospect with a real need that we can help solve in a way that produces real value for them.

The prospect is going through the same process with us.  Whether they are conscious of it or not, they’re trying to determine whether or not we are someone they want to do business with, and then, whether or not our product/service/company presents any real solid worthwhile value for them.

The traditional terms sellers think in—overcoming objections, closing the sale, etc.—tend to set up an adversarial relationship where we are on the lookout for the dreaded objection and the opportunity to pounce with the closing question.

However, if we recognize that the sales process involves both parties qualifying one another and that the qualifying process involves the investigation and questioning of each party, we can relax and begin to address the prospect’s questions for what they really are—a legitimate desire to find out who we are and whether or not we are someone they want to work with.

Go forth and qualify—and let yourself be qualified.  It’s a whole lot more fun to sell when you’re working with a prospect to mutually qualify one another than it is to try to out fox and overcome an adversary.

 

January 27, 2015

Do You Talk To Your Prospects and Clients or Do You Talk At Them?

Knowledge should be one of the most powerful tools in our toolbox. 

Knowing how to use specialized industry vocabularies should also be one of our basic and power tools.

In reality, for many of us, knowledge and specialized lingo are powerful—in costing us business.

Naturally a great many new salespeople are tempted to try to impress prospects and clients by demonstrating their product knowledge and slinging their newly learned industry vocabulary around.  They tend to oversell, answer questions no prospect has ever had, dazzle with words the prospect and client may not be familiar with.  They talk about the fine points of their product or service; discuss how their service or product will impact ROI; how best to onboard new employees or products or services;  how their product or service creates a new paradigm to address the prospect’s issues or needs; and the list goes on.

Impact ROI?  I see, you mean whether or not it makes me more money than it costs.  Onboarding new employees or products or services?  I get it, you mean purchasing and integrating a new product or service or hiring and orienting a new employee.  Creating a new paradigm to address issues or needs?  You mean a different way of dealing with the problem, right? 

You can say ROI, onboarding, or paradigm, or you could just talk to your prospect.  Some say that if you want credibility with your prospects and clients you have to speak their language.  I don’t have a problem with that in the least—if you’re actually speaking your prospect’s language.  But how many prospects actually talk about onboarding a new product or service or creating a new paradigm to address an issue or problem?  And there’s certainly something to be said about just talking to the prospect in plain English.

And very often new sellers butcher their newly acquired vocabulary and confound and frustrate their prospects with their enthusiastic demonstration of their knowledge of the minutiae of their product or service.  Many lose more sales than they capture because of their lack of discipline and their need to impress.

Unfortunately I’ve noticed over the past three years that this desire to impress isn’t confined to new sellers.  I consistently run across experienced sellers who should know better that are making the same rookie mistakes.  The only real difference between these experienced sellers and new salespeople is experienced sellers tend to have a better grasp of the industry lingo.

In the current tough selling environment even experienced sellers are falling into the trap of trying to oversell and to impress with their knowledge and ‘deep’ understanding of the prospect’s issues.  We tend to pull out all the stops and often end up losing our discipline and the prospect’s attention.  We try to force the sale.

Rather than creating new clients, we end up alienating them. 

Whether you’re a relatively new seller bursting with enthusiasm and wanting to impress your prospects or an experienced seller feeling the pressure to produce, you need to step back and relax.  Giving in to the pressure to oversell and force the sale is self defeating.  Address your prospect’s needs and leave the unnecessary demonstration of knowledge and the impressive vocabulary at the office. 

November 5, 2012

We’re Sellers, We Are The Hollow Men

Filed under: business,Client Relationships,selling,small business,trust — Paul McCord @ 10:26 am
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We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats’ feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar

Shape without form, shade without colour,
Paralysed force, gesture without motion;

(from The Hollow Men by T.S. Eliot)

Over the past few months as we in the US have been in the middle of an election season I’ve read numerous articles from sales experts exhorting sellers to refrain from discussing politics with prospects and clients even if they have reason to believe the prospect or client has the same opinions as the seller or if the prospect or client initiates the conversation.

We are the Hollow Men.

Oh, Seller, they argue, to voice an opinion on such a touchy subject as politics or religion or various aspects of culture that might be controversial is to be avoided at all costs for voicing an opinion might cost a sale.

We are the Hollow Men.

By all means, they say, feel free to take sides with your favorite football or baseball team, go ahead and state your opinion of who should win American Idol, and don’t be afraid to take a strong stand on who the Bachelorette should pick.

We are the Hollow Men.

But when actual issues of life are presented, be nothingness, be hollow, be stuffed with straw, be nothing more than a chalk outline of a human drawn on the sidewalk.

We are the Hollow Men.

Should we initiate political or religious conversations?  Should we be starting conversations on controversial topics?  No.  But that doesn’t mean we avoid them when they come up. Rather we converse with our prospects and clients as humans, not as checkbooks.  Heaven forbid we even disagree with them at times as real humans are wont to do.

Again, Seller, they argue, don’t be seen as being political or religious.   Take all measures to not offend.  Take that political sticker off your car; get rid of that Knights of Columbus lapel pin; don’t listen to that radio station within hearing range of a prospect, God forbid you express an opinion on Social Medi that someone might actually see.  Be nothingness, be hollow, be a stuffed shell of a human—but at all costs don’t be honest.

We are the Hollow Men.

Then we tell our prospects and clients that we’re honest, trustworthy, transparent.

We are the Hollow Men.


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February 1, 2012

Killer Communication Strategy

So many prospects and clients to kill, so little time.  But don’t worry; salespeople all over the world are doing their damnedest to kill as many prospects and clients as possible every day.  Their weapon of choice?  Communication—or more specifically,  communication fraud.

I suspect you are like me, getting dozens of emails, phone calls, snail mail letters, and even face-to-face meetings with sellers who seem to have only one goal—waste as much of my time as possible.  They email and call wanting to know if I’m doing OK, or if I need anything, or if they can show me a new product or service without having the slightest idea if I could actually use it.  Some call to simply let me know they’re still around and want my business.

Many of these intrepid sellers have bombarded me with so much time wasting junk communication that they’ve taught me to completely ignore them.  When I see an email or letter from them or if I get a voice mail message from them I know that I need pay absolutely no attention to them.  Their time wasting communications have completely killed me off as a prospect—and, worse, I’ve even had some sellers kill me off as a client because of their insistence on trying to waste my time.

Sellers work hard to find and connect with quality prospects and then to win them as clients.  Why in the world would they want to then commit prospect and client genocide?

Obviously, their intent isn’t to become mass murderers, but that is the final result of many sellers’ communications.  Their killer communication strategy is to unintentionally kill off massive numbers of their prospects and clients by teaching them to ignore any of their communications. 

So many sellers think of communication as nothing that important.  Their object is to keep their name in front of the prospect or client and to that end they feel a need to contact the prospect or client even when they have nothing of import to communicate.  Actually and more correctly, they feel the need to draw attention to themselves even when they have nothing of value to communicate.  And even more correctly, they are just too damn lazy to find something of value to deliver to the prospect or client. 

In other words, their killer communication strategy is tell their prospects and clients in no uncertain terms that they just aren’t important enough for the seller to invest the time and energy necessary to add value for them.

Now that’s a killer communication strategy.

There is a very simple communication rule that I teach my clients:  every communication you have with a prospect or client is teaching them to either pay attention to you because you bring value to them or to ignore you because all you do is waste their time.  In other words, every communication you have with a prospect or client is teaching them that it’s worth taking your phone calls and reading your emails because they know you’re not going to waste their time–or you’re teaching them to avoid you because you have nothing of value for them. 

The next time you pick up the phone or write an email or want to schedule an appointment, ask yourself one simple question: “am I adding value to them or to just me?”  If your honest answer is that you’re only adding value for yourself, don’t make the call, don’t send the letter, don’t send the email until you have taken the time to make sure you’re adding as much or more value to them as you are for yourself.

January 30, 2012

Guest Article: Are You Client Focused or a Client Vulture?, by Charles H. Green

Filed under: Client Relationships,sales,selling,trust — Paul McCord @ 12:55 pm
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Much has been written about client focus. We hear about sophisticated clients who will leave if we don’t focus on their needs. We hear about the virtues of client loyalty, and the virtues of measurements like client profitability. The key to competitive success is to do a better job serving clients than the next guy. And so on.

But there’s a dark side to that theme. The reason to be so client-focused is almost always phrased in terms of the benefits to the seller. And that changes everything.

Client focus, as it is too often practiced in business today, is the focus of a vulture. It is all about the benefit to the firm—not to the client. When client benefits are discussed, they are as discussed as a means to the seller’s ends. Yes, we want to serve clients better—but for our sake, not theirs.

Should we be surprised, then, when clients become cynical, send out RFPs, and refer us to third-party buying agents? In our rush to dissect the client brain, we have forgotten that motives matter.

I’m not talking about ethics—I’m talking about the simple facts of trust. We trust those we believe to have our interests at heart, and we distrust those we believe to have their interests at heart. But we particularly distrust those who pretend to be the former, while behaving like the latter.

Sometimes it’s hard to see trust faults in our own business. By way of metaphor, consider an industry recently hard-hit by trust issues—pharmaceuticals. One of the drug manufacturers’ wounds is self-inflicted—the failed relationship between physicians and reps.

Doctors long relied on reps to keep them up to date on new drugs—an important and valuable advisory role. In recent years, the drug companies tried to increase reps’ sales effectiveness. They increased the number of reps per doctor, focusing on hiring young and attractive people. They introduced complex measurement systems to evaluate rep performance, and purchased sophisticated statistical data to calibrate the impact of rep visits on physician prescriptive behavior.

Sensible steps all, it would seem: but they’ve produced negative results.

  • Less than one rep visit in 10 now results in a conversation with a physician, and lasts on average only 90 seconds;
  • Personal relationships have been reduced and curtailed; reps are valued only for the samples they leave, turning them into pill-pushers;
  • The doctors have little respect for the reps, which in turn is debilitating for the reps.

How did this happen? Each change in the system was motivated largely, if not entirely, by a desire to increase physician prescription-writing of drugs produced by the pharmaceutical company. That motivation was very clear to the doctors—and they saw no benefit evident to them. Like most clients, the doctors reacted negatively. A past trusted relationship was degraded because the seller was motivated only by the seller’s needs.

Relationships and Fake Trust

When client focus becomes a tool for seller profit improvement, clients notice and become cynical. Lately, the language of client focus is adopting the language of relationships, fostering yet another layer of cynicism.

Think of “relationship,” “loyalty,” and “trust.” All once had significant emotional connotations—for “loyalty,” think “semper fi” or “’til death do us part.” For “trust,” think the bonds of a handshake, or of fiduciary responsibilities.

Today, loyalty gets defined behaviorally as repeat purchasing behavior. “Client relationship management” software is sold on the basis of its ability to create client profitability analyses (to the software owner, that is, not to the client).

In the dating world, it’s considered forward to say you want a relationship on the first date—but in business, some firms have gone one better and built “relationship” into a marketing slogan before even meeting the client.

Relationship concepts have been hijacked in service to selfish motives. When a company’s ad copy says, “you care about your children; that’s why we here at XYZ corporation are doing blah blah blah” the company is not only lying, but lying baldly and shamelessly about their motives.
What is at stake here is no less than the meaning of words, and therefore the credibility and trust of the company saying them.

Being Truly Client-Focused

The most difficult act for us as sellers of professional services is to stop viewing everything from our own perspective. And it has to be a personal act—a self-willed, psychological belief or attitude.
The economics of trust-based selling™ rest on a paradox: if we do what is good for the consumer, we will eventually gain more than our proportionate share of business. It may not come from this transaction, in this quarter—or even from this client—but it will come. Nothing motivates repeat business or referrals better than a trust-based relationship with the provider.
If our motives for being trusted are not truly client-focused—then it all falls apart. This is the paradox. Great results come from client focus—but only if you stop doing client focus in order to achieve results for yourself.

In today’s business climate, “best practices” and financial analyses are defined in ever-smaller, ever-shorter, ever-narrower slices. They are often not “best,” but among the most insidious.
These practices are harmful because they blind us to opportunities to serve our clients.

In the perennial Christmas movie Miracle on 34th Street, Macy’s Santa Claus is nearly fired for recommending that a client go to competitor Gimbel’s for a particular product. That is, until Macy’s Chairman realizes the profound increase in client trust produced by Santa’s approach—having faith that doing right by the customer will end up helping Macy’s anyway.
Being truly client-focused means believing in the superiority of client relationship strategies over competitor-focused strategies; the medium- and long-term over successive short-terms; and truth-telling over spinning.

The good news is the field is wide open for firms willing to practice what everyone else only preaches—serving the client, believing that to do so will ultimately return more than the self-serving narrowly calculating strategies of the vulture can ever hope to do.

A truly client-focused relationship strategy built on trust is the best deal going. It is rare; most competitors are afraid to try it. It is powerful; ask any successful salesperson about the power of trust. And it is proven—just look at your own behavior as a buyer in relation to a seller you trust.

Trusting relationships have to start with the selling firm, not the client. Go ahead, take a risk. The ultimate paradox is, taking a risk ends up being the lowest risk. Being trusted is a very low-risk, high-return strategy.

Charles H. Green is a speaker and executive educator on trust-based relationships and Trust-based Selling in complex businesses. He is author of Trust-based Selling (McGraw-Hill, 2005), and co-author of The Trusted Advisor (with David Maister and Rob Galford, Free Press, October 2000).  Visit his website

January 23, 2012

Dealing with Uncomfortable Questions from Prospects and Clients

Filed under: Client Relationships,Communication,politics — Paul McCord @ 12:20 pm
Tags: ,

Once again we are in the middle of the presidential political season.  For the next few months the Republicans will have center stage as candidates wrestle with one another to gain the Republican nomination to run for President.  Once that contest has been decided the focus will shift to a tussle between the Republican nominee and President Obama.

Whether we tend to be politically active or not, we will all have opinions about the candidates and issues involved in political combat this year.

We’ll also have some—hopefully just a very few–prospects and clients make comments about these people and issues or, worse, ask us directly about our opinions regarding them.

When these uncomfortable topics come up what should our response be?

As salespeople we spend a great deal of time trying to develop relationships built upon trust, honesty, and openness with our prospects and clients. We claim that we want to build relationships with our clients; we want to get to know them as people and not just as potential purchasers, and that we want to create friends, not just accounts.

Many of us go to great lengths to learn how to read body language, to communicate in a manner that caters to the prospect’s personality type, to read the unspoken signals the client sends through how they dress, how they decorate their office, what they drive, and what they do for recreation and relaxation. Our goal we say is to treat the prospect as a whole person.

Nevertheless, our holistic approach to sales is one sided. Most of us have been taught to avoid the social and political issues that could offend a prospect or client.  Let the conversation get close to the area of political or social opinion and all the sudden we’re no longer too anxious to build the relationship on honesty and openness. Rather than being open and honest when these subjects come up we try mightily to obfuscate or avoid.  The last thing we want is for our prospect or client to know where we actually stand on a candidate or issue.

Consequently we’ll spend the next few months doing a delicate dance of avoidance, trying to offend no one while insisting that we are open, honest, trustworthy individuals, intent only on meeting the prospect’s needs and becoming trusted advisors. We’ll try to build relationships based on getting to know our client while allowing them to get to know only what we have determined is safe for public consumption and that will allow them to get to know us only superficially. We’ll try to balance on the head of a pin, afraid that if we reveal ourselves as a politically or socially aware person we’ll offend, we’ll step on toes, we’ll lose a sale.

In my opinion–and experience–not only is this behavior disingenuous, but it is itself destructive. Prospects and clients expect each of us to have opinions and they are quite aware that those opinions may be counter to their own.

What are we communicating to prospects and clients when we try to sidestep discussion of the issues or candidates? Some will immediately assume we’re avoiding the issue because we hold opinions we believe are counter to theirs—so whether their assumption is correct or not, by avoiding the discussion we risk offending the prospect by unintentionally communicating a contrary opinion to theirs. A few may assume that we’re not informed well enough or care enough to have an opinion. Most will assume that we’re simply trying to play the game, trying to be ‘real’ as long as that reality doesn’t involve anything of substance in our personal lives.

Conventional wisdom has been to avoid political discussion at all costs. Conventional wisdom comes from a time when the emphasis wasn’t on building long-term, trust based relationships with prospects and clients.

I’m not advocating you initiate political and social discussion, but avoiding it isn’t going to advance the relationship either.

Seldom have I found discussing these issues to be, well, an issue. I have lost a few sales that I can trace to these types of discussions, but I can identify many more sales I’ve made where the sale had its roots in a willingness to answer questions—especially uncomfortable questions–honestly. 

As long as you are respectful of the prospects point of view, have reasoned arguments for your stance, and don’t engage in inflammatory or degrading language, there is no reason to fear alienating a prospect or client. In fact, if you can intelligently discuss the issues in light of how they may impact your prospect’s business, you may find that your discussion instead of being a potential minefield may be one of the most compelling reasons to do business with you.

Prospects and clients not only respect honesty, they also respect salespeople who understand their business and the future prospects for their business. By demonstrating an understanding of how political, economic and social issues may affect your prospect’s future, you demonstrate an intimate knowledge of their business—and prospects love to do business with people they trust and who really understand their problems, issues, and opportunities.

Follow Paul on Twitter: @paul_mccord

October 7, 2011

A Simple Way to Distance Yourself From Your Competition

Every seller, no matter the product or service they sell, is looking for ways to demonstrate how they differ from their competition.  Most of us will go to great lengths to try to make our prospects and clients recognize how unique we are and how fortunate they are to be working with us.

In order to create that sought after difference we’ll talk up how great our customer service is, some will give out cute or useful freebies, others will bring in other vendors to help create the perfect comprehensive solution to their prospect’s or client’s issues.

Certainly we should be giving exceptional customer service.  The problem is every one of our competitors is claiming to have the best customer service also.

And by all means we should be doing everything in our power—including partnering with other vendors if necessary—to give the best and most comprehensive solution possible.  The problem is most of the time our prospects and clients don’t really grasp the true extent of our solution until after the product or service is delivered and has been in place for awhile.

But there is a much simpler way to not only demonstrate a real difference between yourself and your competition, but to give your client a very different experience than what your competition would give.  Furthermore, this strategy is so seldom used that it really stands out to the client.

What, pray tell, is the fabulous strategy that is simple yet can make such an impact on your client?

It is simply giving the client the purchasing experience they want rather than the one you think they want.

So simple, yet so few sellers do it because frankly they have no idea what their clients want to happen during the purchase because they simply don’t ask.

Yep, that’s it; couldn’t be simpler.

Most sellers mistakenly think they know what their clients want to happen during the course of the sale.  Ask a seller what their client wants and they’ll rattle off a number of things such as on time delivery, prompt service, a quality product at a fair price, a seller they can trust, and a number of other “expectations.”

These are so general that they are almost useless in defining what a client’s purchasing expectations are. 

What does “on time delivery” really mean?  Does it mean the same thing to each and every customer?

What does prompt service mean?  To one customer it may mean that a phone call is returned within 24 hours, to another it may mean the call should be returned within an hour.  To another client a phone call might be totally out of the question as they prefer to communicate only through email.

The fact is that no two of our clients have the same expectations but we treat them all the same because we assume we know what they want.

We never ask the most basic and simple customer service question—“What can we do to make this the exact purchasing experience you want?”

That question is asked so infrequently (some customers have never been asked that question) that many customers won’t know how to respond; they really won’t understand the question.

In that case you’ll have to ask some follow-up questions such as: “How do you prefer to be contacted, phone or email?”  “If something comes up and I really need to speak with you, is there an emergency number that I can reach you at?”  “Do you want me to keep you posted daily or weekly, or would you rather I only contact you if there is an issue or question that needs to be dealt with?”

Obviously the number and type of purchasing experience questions you need to ask will depend on the particular product or service being purchased. 

And a great side benefit is you can find out upfront if your client has an unrealistic expectation, and if they do, you can deal with it before it becomes an issue later in the sale.

If you want to really make a quick impact on a client and put yourself in a different category from your competition, quit forcing them to live through the purchasing experience you want to give them and begin giving them the purchasing experience they want.

It’s simple—just ask them, they’ll tell you—and then all you have to do is give them the exact experience they wan—and  that no one else can give them.  You’ll be a hero—and all you had to do was ask a few questions that you should have been asking every client anyway.

August 16, 2011

“Your Call Is Very Important to Us” and Other Lies

The automated call answering machine has certainly changed the nature of interacting with companies.  Whereas in the past when calling a company you might get a surly representative, now you often get an automated lie.

How often do you call a company and once given any option other than “sales” are immediately put on hold (funny how you can almost always get immediately through to the sales department isn’t it)?  If your calls are anything like mine, and I’m sure they are, you experience this on a far too regular basis. 

Once on hold you can predict with almost certainty what will come next—that all too familiar phrase, “Your call is very important to us.”  Of course after being on hold for a few minutes and having heard that message three or four times, you can’t help but think that your call is obviously not important enough to answer.

Our first contact with the company is a lie.  Nice going company.

Oh, but that is hardly the only lie we so often encounter before we even speak to a company representative.  Many times that initial lie assuring us our call is very important is followed up with another standard lie–that the company is currently experiencing unusually high call volume.  With many companies you’ll hear this message every time you call–no matter the time of day or night or the day of the week the call is made.

So our first contact with the company is greeted with two lies before we even speak with a human.

Do you feel wanted and appreciated yet?  Do you feel that your business is important and valued?  Do you feel that you are anything more to the company than a checking account?

And once we reach a human what happens?

In many cases the same type of standardized lie continues.

Have a complaint?  “We’ll investigate and get back to you.”  Often nothing but a stall hoping you’ll just go away.

Want to speak to a manager?  “I’m sorry, he/she is unavailable but if you’ll give me the details of what this is about I’ll have him/her return your call as soon as possible.”  Many times this is nothing but an attempt to keep you from speaking to a manager or is designed to give the manager the call details so they can decide whether they want to return your call or not.

My personal favorite, when asking for the name of a manager, an address to send a complaint to, or a phone number to the corporate office the response is, “I’m sorry, we are not allowed to give out that information.”  This may not be a lie—it may simply be company policy not to have actual lowly customers bothering those important people in the company who are far too busy and too important to be bothered with customers.

Of course it isn’t a lie every time we encounter these statements, but many times, probably more often than we care to know, these are simply lies designed to get rid of us or to block us from getting the resolution we desire.

It has gotten to the point that most of us expect to encounter some or all of this BS from many of the major companies we deal with.  We have come to accept the idea that many companies couldn’t care less about their customers despite their protestations and claims to the contrary.

I’m concerned that I’m noticing many of these same tactics that allow major companies to save big dollars by purposely under staffing or avoiding customer service issues being adopted by more and more small companies.

Large companies may be able to survive and even thrive based on sheer size and marketing ability, but small companies cannot afford to alienate and drive away their customer base.

Although virtually all of us will put up with automated answering machines, most of us prefer to speak to a human.  Few of us are willing to accept the impersonal and often downright rude behavior we get from major companies when dealing with smaller companies.  Many times we have chosen a small company specifically because we expect more personal and professional treatment.

Small can outwork, outperform, outsell, and out service big—but not by mimicking the most egregious mistakes and outrageous behavior large companies commit.

Many customers will stay on hold for 10, 20, even 30 minutes waiting to speak to someone at a big company while few would ever consider doing so when calling a small company.

Some will accept the response that the individual can’t give out the name of a manager or the address of the office when dealing with a major company but would never put up with that when dealing with a small company.

Many customers will resign themselves to having to invest large amounts of time and energy to resolve an issue with a large company but expect—demand—immediate resolution when dealing with a small company.

Selling small’s biggest asset is its ability to connect with prospects and clients on a truly personal level.  That is something that is very difficult for large companies to do because they usually have so many points within the company that touch the customer that it is very difficult to keep all of those touch points personal and in alignment with customer wants and needs. 

Add that difficulty with the large company’s desire to keep costs to a minimum by maintaining insufficient staff levels and you have a great opportunity for a small company to compete very successfully—as long as that small company avoids those large company mistakes and issues.

Personal relationships and service sells, and mega-company indifference is a perfect weak spot for small companies to capitalize on.

Are you taking advantage of the lies and indifference of your big competitors? 

Or are you one of the growing numbers of small companies mimicking those lies and the indifference, trying to cut a couple bucks of costs? If you are, you’re giving up one of your major advantages over your big competitors—and you probably won’t have to worry about saving those couple of bucks very long because your big competitors will drive you out of business.

Embrace your big advantage—your ability to get personal, to react quickly, to make the customer experience one they enjoy instead of one they just have to put up with.

July 21, 2011

Questioning the Value of Questions in the Sales Process

I had the honor yesterday of participating in a roundtable discussion organized and presented by Focus.com about the use of questions in the sales process. Moderated by Andy Rudin of Outside Technologies, the panel consisted of some outstanding sales minds:  Dave Brock of Partners in Excellence, Jack Malcolm of Falcon Performance Group, Dan Waldschmidt of Waldschmidt/Arp, and finally, myself, of course.

Our discussion addressed some of the most fundamental myths and misconceptions sellers have about the use of questions in sales.  In fact, we deconstructed the whole idea of questioning as the central aspect of selling.

By all means, all involved agreed that questions are an essential and important aspect of information gathering and rapport building.  Questions help open prospects up so we can uncover new information and help get to core issues and concerns.  Questions can help focus both ourselves and our prospects to dig deeper and look more closely at what’s really going on in a company.

But in the end, questions are only a tool.  They aren’t the be all and end all of our interaction with prospects and clients.

The problem is that some sellers have walked away from their training on questioning feeling that questions are the secret key to success or that in order to be effective sellers they must be ever conscious of asking the “right” question or the “right” kind of question.

That’s simply bull.

Our object with a prospect or client isn’t to ask questions, even though as mentioned above, questions are tremendous tools.  Our object with prospects and clients has to be to communicate—to connect with them in a meaningful way that helps us understand who they are as well as their problems, needs, and wants.

Communication demands far more than an ability to ask questions.  It requires that, as Dan Waldschmidt pointed out, we care—that we care about the prospect, about the issues, about our reasons for doing what we do, about who we are and who we’re dealing with.

Communication demands that we connect on both an intellectual and emotional level.  Communication demands that we go beyond the gathering of information and actually touch the other person’s humanity (as well as our own).

Yes, we did talk about questions and their importance.  But in the end, it was about one human connecting with another, not about how to ask the perfect question.

The real question ends up being why are you asking questions?  Is it to connect and build a bridge to help solve issues for a fellow human—or to get into someone’s wallet?  That, sellers, is the first question that must be answered.

June 22, 2011

Get Rid of Your Seagulls Before They Devour You

Filed under: business,Client Relationships,small business,success — Paul McCord @ 10:34 am
Tags: , ,

My wife Debbie and I have an 18 month old grandson, Colton.  Knowing that we’ll soon be watching animated movies with him, we’ve been catching up on them every chance we get.  Not having watched them much in the last twenty years or so, I’m amazed at how many there are—and how good some of them are.

In Finding Nemo, as the action progresses toward Sydney Harbor, we witness a large group of Seagulls fighting for food.  The Seagulls know only one word which they repeat incessantly—“mine.”  Their dialog is a constant stream of “Mine, mine, mine, mine,” as they try to grab and fight for whatever food there might be.  And they’re not the least bit inhibited in how they go about getting it; nor are they concerned about how their actions might be impacting those around them.  Their only concern is for themselves and what’s in it for them.

Do they remind you of anyone?

If you said some salespeople, you’d be right, of course. 

But those aren’t the ones I’m thinking of.

Instead, I’m thinking of a group—hopefully a small group—that virtually every seller in the world knows all too well—some of their prospects, customers, and clients.

We all have them in our pipeline and in our client database.  They bleed us dry with their constant cry of “mine, mine, mine,’ with unreasonable demands and never-ending attempts to get lower and still lower prices.

This small set of prospects and clients take up far more time and energy than they are worth.  Yet most of us dutifully take care of them, even when we know it is to the determent of our other prospects and clients.

What should we be doing with this flock of self-centered Seagulls?

Get rid of them.  Turn them loose and let them suck the blood out of your competition.

There is no rule that says you can’t get rid of prospects and clients.  It’s your sales business; you can keep or get rid of anyone you like, and you must do some culling in order to maintain a healthy business.

If you have Seagulls as clients, get rid of them.  If when you prospect you come across a Seagull, eliminate them from your prospecting list

We all want and need sales, but prospects and clients who only know the word “mine” aren’t going to do anything for you except ultimately cost you business and money.  Shoo them away before they devour you.

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