Category Archives: Sales

keep in touch

Business is an ever-changing and an increasingly difficult endeavor.  What were good and preferable business practices 20 years ago either no longer apply or are actually detrimental.  All of us have to keep our eyes open and try to notice the latest trends and keep up with the new opportunities presented by modern technology.

The fundamentals however still apply.  Some business practices will always be there no matter how much the world changes.  One of these practices is maintaining the lines of communications with your client not only open but fresh.

By open I mean that before, during, and after a project your client should be able to get a hold of the sales team, the production team, and the management.

Before the project begins when the sales team is the point of contact the client should feel comfortable to ask all relevant questions and get answers if not instantaneously then extremely quickly.  This is achieved by having a sales staff that is fully conversant with the products and services being offered and if they cannot answer a question then the production team should be available to answer these questions.

During the project the client needs to be able to maintain a constant flow of communication with the production team.  The management staff needs to be in the conversation in case problems arise or if the client wants to alter the parameters of the project.

After the project the sales team resumes communications with the client.  Firstly they need to assess if the client’s experience with the process was satisfactory or whether some aspects need improvement.  Next the sales team needs to begin broaching the subject of future or follow on projects.  This is the best time to do this with a satisfied client.

Keeping these lines of communications open and making sure that the client has the best possible experience possible will go a long way in turning a new client into an old and repeat customer.  This will help expand and solidify your core business base.

The car buying experience throughout my life

This last week I purchased a new car.  Although there was nothing technically wrong with my old 2006 Dodge Charger, time had passed as had the miles and little by little the resale value of my car was diminishing.  The leather interior had not weathered the elements too well and was cracking and the paint although not bad had seen better days.

My faithful old steed

My faithful old steed

So I looked online for about 2 months and last week I came upon an offer I could not pass up and that I knew was not likely to be repeated so after much hemming and hawing I finally went ahead and did it.


The new warhorse

The new warhorse

Basically it’s an updated version of the same but it’s all the extras and new features that cinched the deal.  I am quite satisfied that it will give me several years of faithful service.

Shiny new toys

Shiny new toys

I haven’t always been this deliberate in my purchasing process.  I suppose my experiences mirror that of the typical American car consumer.  Although to be honest with the way car prices are headed I may be among the last generations to think of purchasing a car as a given rather than the exception.

Growing up, a car seemed to almost be a given.  You “would” get a car.  Something on 4 wheels that rolls.  Your financial situation may not be great but you would get something.

My first car was six years old, a hatchback, and had over 60000 miles on it but I adored it because it was mine and mine alone and I could command it to take me wherever I wanted.  Such a sense of power for someone so young.  Never mind that it looked like a humpbacked monstrosity.  To me it was a formula 1 racer.  I couldn’t wait to give the salesman my money and he knew it.  No haggling, no back and forth.  If he would have wanted to, he could have skinned me like a catfish, but the amount in question ($1200) wasn’t too much to bother with so I didn’t get fleeced that badly.

I couldn’t say the same for my 3rd car.  I leased an Isuzu rodeo.  Leasing is probably the biggest waste of money ever invented in the realm of car financing.  A true waste of money. At the end of the lease you have nothing to show for the years of payments that you’ve made.  Never again.

I’ve matured somewhat in my last 2 cars and have done extensive upfront research before I even stepped into a showroom.  I’ve wrestled salesmen, finance managers, and evaluators to get the best deals for the new car and for my trade-in that is possible.  Most importantly I’ve learned to minimize the importance of the extras.

Things like new electronics, leather seats, are nice but the really important details about a car are in the financing documents, the warranty, and the insurance.  Set aside all those other considerations and focus on these three aspects of the purchasing process.  If they don’t make sense then walk away from the deal.  Go back and find another car you want.

It’s no good owning a car you can’t drive because you’re too scared that you might hit something or that empties your wallet as you drive it.

What’s more I think that if you take these factors into consideration that you will make a choice that is more reflective of the real you and will complement your personality better.

the right sales pitch

Whether you work in retail level sales or make multi-million dollar pitches you have one thing in common with every door to door salesman, car stereo salesman, used car salesman, real estate agent, or girl scout peddling cookies door to door; you have to convince someone else to buy something from you.

Somehow and in someway you have to convince another person to spend some of their hard-earned capital and invest in your product or service or, if you think about it in you.

One of the challenges of modern sales is crafting a pitch that will be appropriate to your audience.  In the past I figured a one size fits all approach would work best.  My approach would be to write or present as much technical information about the product or service as I could remember.  To essentially cover my bases and give them all they could ever want to know and hopefully the product or service would sell itself.

This did not turn out to be the best approach.  I mean think about it.  Who wants to hear all the dull technical minutiae?  That’s right!  Technical guys.  The ones paid to know all the nuts and bolts of the operation.  They not only wouldn’t mind hearing this stuff, they would insist upon it.  They are the ones that will talk your ears off about all the little details.

Middle managers and creative types on the other hand don’t really want to get all of that.  They want to know that the “thing” will work for them.  Oh sure, they will have some questions or they may bring in some experts with their own questions but their main focus is accomplishing their goals.

Then of course you have the boss level event.  The CEO, or the President, or whatever that person’s title is. This individual’s time is at a premium.  They definitely don’t have the time for the full dog and pony act and they don’t haggle about pricing.

Your presentation has to be short and to the point.  You also have to discuss the appropriate topic.  Talk about the challenges to their business, about possible opportunities for both firms to work together, make an abstract of how cooperation between both business could be beneficial.

Every once in a while you do get the boss that wants to know those technical details or wants to talk shop so be ready for that but most of the time those bosses are late to their next meeting and can’t spare the time.  They will most likely turn you over to someone else in the company if they’re interested.

If you think about it, every sales person out there will run into one of these type of clients in their working life.  Being prepared with the appropriate response level will help get you to close deals more often and even if you don’t close today, that potential customer will have a much more favorable impression of your sales abilities and will remember that in the future.

Empathy in business

The cold season struck my house and I was at a local pharmacy picking up some cold medicine.  I picked up what I needed and headed to the checkout line.

Up ahead of me in the checkout line was someone who had worse problems.  A guy wearing construction gear was buying some gauze and tape.  He had his bloody arm up in the air.  He got to the front of the line and the checkout clerk started asking him if he would like to fill out an application to get a pharmacy loyalty card.  Poor guy is bleeding and wants to buy his stuff and tape himself up but this clerk wants to talk about filling out forms.  Was this clerk blind?  Could she not see that saving a couple of cents on his purchase wasn’t the guy’s prime concern right now?  Couldn’t she intuit the poor man’s situation and help him get on his way?

Unfortunately this is not something rare or just limited to checkout clerks.  Too often when talking with business professionals, with contractors, with other salesmen I get the same type of treatment.  People just going through the motions of doing their job and not really getting a feel for the other person’s situation.

We’ve instituted procedures, scripts, and ways of doing our jobs that take out most human thought and decision-making out of the process and taken the individual out of the equation.  Why have people if you’re just going to make them act like robots?

On the other hand I’ve been mildly amused and somewhat taken aback whenever I get praise from a client or potential client for “listening” and tailoring solutions to meet their needs.  I’ve always been somewhat shocked by this and thought to myself that I hadn’t really done anything special.  As it turns out maybe I had done something special without knowing it.

As I see it if you are in a position where you meet the public in any fashion whether you’re a salesman for a company, or a technician or even just a checkout clerk, part of your job description is to interact with the public and engage in an interactive give and take that actively tries to meet the client’s expectations.  You don’t just read from a prepared set of responses or follow set procedures.  You need to think, react, and maybe be a little proactive and actually think through a situation.

Does SPAM still work?

I’ve been online now for over a quarter century.  I was there when the vote was taken to allow commercial traffic onto the internet.  I even remember some of the early and primitive websites that first popped up and nowadays would hardly qualify as a website.

All through this time I had email accounts and for a good portion of that time I’ve had to deal with SPAM.  That unwanted and now largely ignored mass communication method made possible by the ability of the internet to send “free” and “unlimited” numbers of electronic mail messages to recipients all around the world.

This form of advertising is now on the decline but still serious and pervasive enough to bother a great number of people all around the world.  Most countries now have anti-spamming legislation which makes this type of communication increasingly the purview of criminals seeking to infect the computers of unwary people with malware or peddling illegal items.

I should say however that some countries do still allow spam and that some forms of emails that are annoying may be thought of as spam even though they are not technically spam.  It is this category that I want to discuss.

Why do business people, rational people I’m sure, think that this shotgun approach to advertising will work?  Sending out untargeted, unwanted, and somewhat random emails out into a general population that most certainly did not ask for this sort of attention is prone to incur the wrath of the recipient.  So why do it?

I think it is fairly clear that the general population has gained a level of technical sophistication in the last decade.  Certainly the terms: virus, spam, and scam, are not unknown to most people.  I have to imagine that most people will react negatively to the arrival of such emails to their inbox.  So with that thought in mind, is it really a worthwhile exercise to engage in this practice anymore?

I mean at best most people will do what I do, which is ignore these emails completely.  Those people who are really annoyed may take hostile action such as tracking down those responsible and reporting those responsible to their internet providers.

Further in the last few years online advertising has embraced social media and grown in sophistication that allows advertisers to more selectively target their message to the “right” audience.

So with so much going against it and with much better ways to spend their advertising dollars, why do people still persist in this practice?

rhythms of business

Every aspect of life has rhythms and cycles that are evident if you think about them.  Even business has these cycles that run throughout the year and throughout the life cycle of a project.  The savvy individual will learn to follow and interpret these signs much like a hunter seek out and follow a herd of animals looking to pick off their own fair share.

This time of year is my favorite for more reasons than the cooling weather and colorful leaves.  End of the year budget spending.  That special moment when a department or project has excess funds and needs to spend them before the fiscal year ends.  Pet projects and extras are purchased and possible future work is arranged.  It’s something that comes round every year round this time.  Sales folk like me wait with bated breath hoping some big corporations have something left over.

Timing is crucial.  You don’t want to start pestering too early and become a nuisance but it is crucial that you are among the first to approach them. Keeping your ear to the ground and communicating with their personnel is vital.  Not just to see what projects are going that directly affect you but other projects that they are doing.  Maybe you can suggest some solutions that don’t involve you but benefit them.  Evolve that relationship.

Customize your pitch to match their needs.  Don’t just come out with a cookie cutter approach.  Ask questions and refine your product or service to meet their needs and most important to meet their budget.  You may not score a big victory but a small project now may lead to something big.

Work with your team.  It doesn’t matter who scores the contract as long as all your company benefits.

Be gracious if it doesn’t work out.  Maybe not this time but surely next time.  If however you’re not gracious then there may not be a next time.  Above all things, think of the relationship.

Remember this is not a singular event or just something that happens once.  Next year the same thing will happen and you want to lay the ground work for future success.

How to get and keep business

If you only rely on old steady customers to keep your business going then you won’t be able to expand or grow.  Conversely if you only get new clients all the time and only do single projects for them then you’re really not fulfilling their needs and once the project is done they will go elsewhere.

Getting new business in the door and keeping existing clients happy and coming back for more is a huge part of sales and customer service and one of the keys to making your company successful.

You have to go beyond just selling your product or service and really becoming an adjunct to your client’s success.  Becoming that “go to” resource in your field is a huge compliment and will keep you in the thoughts of your client long after the project is finished.

But how do you connect with a potential client?  Firstly by answering their inquiry.  Astonishing but true, there are salespeople out there that ignore client requests.  A good example was when I first started working out, I gave my number to a gym staff person and they passed it on to a trainer.  2 weeks later and nothing.  I went back and verified that my phone number had been shared but the trainer never called back.  Something very basic but ignored is that you have to accommodate yourself to your client’s time table and if they come to you with an inquiry that timetable is now.

Next you need to listen to what the client wants, expects, and needs.  Three very different things.

The client wants what they think will solve their problem.  They may or may not have a good grasp of what that is.  They may get good or bad advice as to what to get.  You need to listen to them first to see what their frame of reference is.

They expect that whatever it is you sell will be a “turnkey solution”, something that will be easy to incorporate into their project and as foolproof as possible.

What they need from you is for you to use your knowledge and expertise to bridge the gap and give them your expert advice as to what you can provide and how that product or service will make their life a lot simpler and get their project off and running.

Once you have made the sale, your job isn’t finished.  You have to tell the production team what you’ve sold, what the client’s level of expertise is, and you need to discuss the client with the production or account manager.  Is the client an easy-going individual?  An exacting taskmaster? Do they have special requirements or needs that have to be met?  What sort of time line are they working on?

Here you enter a new phase in the sales process.  Maintaining the client.  Making sure that they’re satisfied with the end product and interacting with them to see if this met their expectations and needs.  You can’t just walk away after the sale.  This isn’t a grocery store or a fast food joint.  If you expect to have that client return when they need your product or service then you need to make that client think of you and only you when the need arises again in the future.

Becoming that go to person is hard work and it does take a lot of effort but ultimately this is the key to growing and expanding your footprint in whatever field that you’re in.