Tell Me More

Three Simple Words Provide Depth to Sales Questions

When you ask a customer, or a client, a question, there is a great tendency to take the customer’s response at face value, making the assumption that the answer given is a full and complete answer.

Many times this simply is not so.

Customer responses are a bit like swimming suits. What they reveal is most interesting. What they keep covered, however, is vital.

Few customers are going to tell you everything about how they feel and think, or everything about their needs, wants, and desires.

It is up to the inquiring professional sales person to dig deeper into customer responses through probing and follow-up questioning.

Good sales people are like journalists chasing a good story. You do not just want the facts. You want to know the who, what, and why behind the story (in this case, the customer’s response).

Sales people need to be taught the same basic requirements as journalists:  do not come back until you have discovered the 5 Ws and 1 H. This is the who, what, where, when, why, and how that gives you the story behind the story, or the deeper answers behind the stated responses.

Or, to use another analogy from my favorite pastime (scuba diving), you cannot understand the whole structure of a coral reef by only snorkeling around the top of the reef. To really see the beauty of the reef, and its full composition, it is usually necessary to dive a bit deeper.

The same is true with customer situations. In order to ensure you fully understand the customer’s situation, and all of the factors impacting that situation, you need to dive a little deeper through your questioning tactics.

Of course, one does not want to be seen as an inquisitor, or as a busy body, when having a discussion with a customer.

That is why the direct approach to question asking often does not work very well.

Instead, try the indirect route.  My favorite way of asking a follow up question to a customer is the simple phrase, “tell me more.”

This not only signals to the customer that I am listening, but that I am interested in what they have to say.

Being interested in what the customer has to say, of course, is an extremely valuable way of building credibility, trust, and confidence with a customer or prospect. After all, it is human nature to want to be listened to.

Speaking of listening, I often tell sales people to remember that “God gave us two ears and one mouth, and we should use these in that proportion.” In other words, a good sales person will listen twice as often as he or she talks when engaged in a discussion with a customer.

Sales people have a great tendency to jump into the conversation, and often rush to present solutions and ideas before the real needs of the customer have surfaced in the conversation. This is a common mistake and often results in the customer walking away saying that they are not ready to buy yet (when what they really mean is that they haven’t found someone who has listened thoroughly enough to understand their problem or situation).

It takes a great deal of discipline to hold off from presenting solutions you believe are viable for the customer and to continue probing. But this discipline will lead to better understanding of customer needs, and higher successful closing rates.

Three simple words:  tell me more.

That is all it takes to be a good journalist, or a good sales person.

Good luck, and good selling.

KEY POINT:  being interested in what the customer has to say, by asking good follow up questions, is an extremely valuable way of building credibility, trust, and confidence with a customer or prospect.

TAKING ACTION:  what other phrases can you use to get customers to tell you more about their wants, needs, and desires?

Evaluate the probing skills of your sales staff. Where are there areas for the most improvement? Who is in the best position to coach them on probing skills?

 

This article is excerpted from the book The Best of the Monday Morning Marketing Memo, available in Kindle and paperback formats at Amazon.

Succeeding in Sales

11 Core Competencies for Sales People

Not everyone is cut out for a career, or even an assignment in sales.

Additionally, it is often difficult for people to make the switch from “Customer Service Officer,” a role with an emphasis on serving the customer, to that of “Customer Sales Representative” and a need to be a professional sales person.

However, in today’s world, where customers have numerous choices of service and product providers, an organization without a sales culture featuring a core of well-trained, highly motivated sales professionals, is not going to be as successful as it would with these two ingredients.

Selling is a people business. So what does it take to be successful in selling?

A partial, and admittedly by no means complete, list of personal criteria for succeeding in selling includes:

Customer Focus and Concern ─ a successful sales person will build relationships based on trust, honesty, integrity, and concern for his customers. They have to be able to understand, from your customer’s perspective, the needs, wants, and desires of each individual customer. What are your customers’ key needs, wants, and desires and how can your organization satisfy these cost efficiently, or through adding value, or both?

Loyalty to the Needs of the Customer ─ having the ability to be an internal advocate and fighter for the customer, and being able to lead (directly or indirectly) internal teams and processes toward the absolute satisfaction of your customers.

Accepting and Learning from Rejection ─ everyone in sales experiences rejection. A sales person cannot take rejection personally, but must use each instance as a learning experience. Those who allow sales rejections to upset them personally and emotionally are likely to carry these emotions into their personal lives. An unhappy or emotionally distraught person is unlikely to find success in a sales career.

Understanding the Value of Selling ─ customers today cannot be expected to know all there is about your products. When they need more information, they turn to your sales forces to help educate them. This is why consultative selling approaches, rather than the old fashioned hard sell approaches, are working best in so many industries. Selling is a value-added process, when it is done right. Each sales person needs to be a critical component in this value adding job function.

Being a Constant Student ─ successful sales people are not born, they are well trained and tend to be constant learners. A desire to constantly upgrade one’s skills is a key criteria for success, resulting in a self-propelled drive to read, listen to audio recordings, or watch DVDs, from successful sales people and others about factors that impact their selling skills and personal self motivation.

Believing in themselves, your products and your services ─ customers can easily tell when a sales person does not fully believe in the products and services they are selling. Success requires a complete belief in what you are selling, including full confidence and belief in one’s own consultative selling ability.

Commitment ─ at a minimum, a three-level commitment is required:

a) A commitment to continuing trying, no matter what the odds or what one’s recent experiences have been.

b) A commitment to focus on the needs of the customer, not only on the needs of one’s own organization.

c) A commitment to one’s self to constantly upgrade skills and to constantly monitor one’s own motivation requirements.

Goal Setter ─ the old adage that “what gets measured gets accomplished” is very true in sales. A successful sales person will set his/her own stretch goals, ones that focus on the selling process (number of attempts/calls, hours spent upgrading skills, etc.) as well as on outcomes (sales, success ratios, etc.).

Honesty and Trustworthiness ─ one cannot build a long-term career in sales without being fully honest and trusted. As in point number one above, client relationships must be built on honesty, integrity, trust, and a true concern for one’s customers. After all, customers prefer to purchase from those they can trust.

Keeping Outgoing Personality Under Control ─ many people think they will be good at selling because they have an outgoing personality and they enjoy interacting with people. While it is true that an extrovert has many tendencies and qualities of a good sales person, it is also important to remember that one of the most critical selling skills is that of listening. An outgoing personality that asks interesting questions is far more likely to be successful in sales than a person who only likes to talk about themselves and/or their products and services.

Enthusiasm ─ last, but certainly not least, is to have positive enthusiasm for one’s job, products, company, and even life in general. Positive and enthusiastic people are so much more pleasant to deal with that we all find ourselves buying from them just because the sales/buying experience has been so enjoyable.

There are many more personal criteria required for being successful in sales, but this list is a good start. And without these 11 criteria as one’s core personal competencies, all other personal attributes will not lead to the kind of success one is capable of achieving.

 

KEY POINT: successful sales people are well trained and are constantly learning how to upgrade their skills.

TAKING ACTION:  what can you do on a regular basis to upgrade your selling skills?

Are you setting sales goals strictly on final outcomes (i.e. sales targets) or do you also set goals for each step of the sales process?

Do you have a regular process for reviewing rejection, so that each sales rejection becomes a learning experience?

Where can the selling process (which is the buying process from the customer’s perspective) add value to the customer? Are you placing enough emphasis and resources in this area?

This article is excerpted from the book The Best of the Monday Morning Marketing Memo, available at Amazon in paperback and Kindle formats.

The Sales / Service Relationship

Sales = Service = Success

Many organizations like to segment their customer service function from their sales activities.  I believe this is a mistake.

The closer you can entwine your service and sales activities, the more successful you are likely to be. After all, the customer rarely segments a sales activity from a service activity. To him or her, all your activities are service interrelated!

The formula for weaving these two activities together is to:

  • turn customer service opportunities into sales opportunities, and
  • follow up on sales opportunities to provide efficient and appreciated service.

Another way of expressing this is:  SALES = SERVICE = SUCCESS.

Some people like to argue that this expression should read “sales + service = success.” But that is where I disagree. That is the way of doing things today, with sales being one activity and customer service being another, with little or no integration.

Changing your mindset to SALES = SERVICE = SUCCESS means you understand that success comes when there is no segmentation between selling and service.

In today’s age of consultative selling, one of the best services your organization can provide is to sell a customer the right product at the right time that provides the right solution for his or her particular need.

Now that’s a true service. One that every customer is likely to appreciate.

People often ask me, “How do you know if a customer is satisfied?”

The simple, and best, answer is: ask.

Be proactive. Call and ask the customer:

“Did everything go as expected?” 

“Have we delivered as promised?” 

“Have we met your expectations?”

Staff should be encouraged to never be afraid of having to deal with problems. What if you do call up and there is a problem? Well, at least you are now aware of it, and you have an opportunity to fix the immediate problem ─ before it grows into something larger and unmanageable. And by doing so, you not only show the customer that you care about them, but that you are also willing to make sure that they are completely satisfied ─ two concerns of customers that they will value highly.

Also, not following up always results in a missed selling opportunity.

After all, when is the best time to start the next sales cycle?

Anytime the customer is satisfied with you.

So, if nothing has gone wrong and the customer is fully satisfied, that is the ideal time to start working toward the next repeat order. Or, once you have corrected any problems and have achieved customer satisfaction through your servicing efforts, you are in an ideal position to start working towards the next sale.

The Golden Rule of Selling: keep the customer satisfied, not just sold.

I see this as a 3-step equation:

1) Quality results in customer satisfaction.

2) Customer satisfaction results in repeat buys.

3) Repeat purchases lead to customer loyalty.

By weaving together your sales and service mindsets, and being proactive in your customer care efforts, you will achieve the customer loyalty levels you are seeking.

Marketing is not rocket science. In fact, marketing success really boils down to two key principles:  understanding customer needs and delivering upon the promises the organization makes. You can achieve these two principles through a full understanding of the sales/service relationship.

KEY POINT:  it is important to weave together your sales and service activities so that they appear seamless to the customer.

TAKING ACTION:  are you sales people capable of superior service? Are your service people capable of superior selling? How can you fix any gaps that exist?

How can you make your staff more proactive in their customer care activities?

How can you inculcate the mantra SALES = SERVICE = SUCCESS throughout your organization?

What steps can you implement to keep your VIP customers satisfied, not just sold?

This article is excerpted from the book The Best of the Monday Morning Marketing Memo, available at Amazon in paperback and Kindle formats.

Corporate Image Management

The corporate image is a dynamic and profound affirmation of the nature, culture and structure of an organization. This applies equally to corporations, businesses, government entities, and non-profit organizations.

Looked at from a marketing perspective, corporate brand management needs to be an on-going, synergistic management tool, not the one-time “corporate image exercise” as practiced by so many organizations and almost all corporate identity consultants.

The corporate brand provides a mechanism for the organization to:

  • Differentiate itself from competition.
  • Create recognized added-value to the products and services marketed or delivered by the organization.
  • Attract and maintain customer relationships in order to prosper in an increasingly competitive and constantly changing global marketplace.

The corporate image also represents the highest level of brand personality and characteristics that can be created and communicated to customers and marketing partners [and hence the linkage to relationship marketing].

In today’s world of deteriorating product brand power, rising perceptions of parity products, reducing employee loyalty, and increasing competition, the corporate brand image has taken on renewed importance.

Previously, a company’s visual identity system was sufficient to project and protect the image of the organization. Today, all aspects of the corporate brand image need to be managed, from the refinement of the mission statement to how well the troops on the front line understand, communicate, and portray this mission.

Corporate image management matches the expectations and understanding of both customers and employees about what the organization stands for, where it is heading, and what its core strengths, traditions, and principles are.

The underlining principle of this discipline is simply thisif it touches the customer, it’s a marketing issue.™

Nothing touches the customer more than how he or she perceives your corporate image. This fundamental perception will be a major factor that determines whether the customer will decide to conduct business with you and, more important, enter into a long-term and mutually rewarding relationship with your organization.

There may be no greater marketing issue than management of the corporate image in today’s increasingly competitive markets.

Without a doubt, corporate image management will be a key marketing discipline well into the future.

The ultimate battleground for winning and maintaining customer relationships now takes place in the minds, hearts, emotions, and perceptions of your customers.

KEY POINT:  the corporate image represents the highest level of brand personality that can be created and communicated to customers and marketing partners.

TAKING ACTION:  where and how can you place greater resources in winning the battle for the minds, hearts, emotions, and perceptions of customers?

Is your corporate brand giving you sufficient differentiation in the market? Why or why not?

How can your corporate brand provide added value to the products and services marketed and delivered by your organization?

What does your organization stand for? Where is it headed? What are its most important core strengths, traditions, and principles? Are these found within your corporate image, as perceived by your key constituents?

This article is partially excerpted from the book The Best of the Monday Morning Marketing Memo, available in Kindle and paperback formats at Amazon.

The Value of a Good Corporate Brand

One of my favorite marketing topics is the subject of corporate image.

While I was conducting research for my first book, Corporate Image Management: A Marketing Discipline For the 21st Century, I began looking for illustrations to prove the value of a strong corporate image.

I knew intuitively that a strong corporate image would provide several levels of value to an organization ─ such as financial value, market place value, human resource value and, of course, customer value.

But how to prove this?

Well, an example from the automotive world probably best illustrates the market value of a powerful corporate brand.

In the late 1980s, Toyota and General Motors created a joint venture company in Freemont, California called New United Motor Manufacturing Inc. (NUMMI).

The NUMMI plant produced two identical cars: the Toyota Corolla and the General Motors Geo Prizm. These two cars were produced on the same manufacturing line, using the same raw materials, the same labor, and the same manufacturing process; basically the same of everything. In the computer world we would call these two car models “pin for pin compatible.”

The only difference between the two models was that some of them carried the Toyota Corolla brand name and some of them had the General Motors GM Prizm marque.

Being identical in all but brand name, they should sell for approximately the same price and depreciate at about the same rate, correct?

Perhaps so, but they didn’t.

The Toyota Corolla sold in 1989 for about 10% more than the GM Geo Prizm.  It then depreciated more slowly than the Geo Prizm, resulting in a second-hand value almost 18% higher than the American-branded model after five years.

Why the differences?

One has to conclude that the relative strength of the Toyota brand and corporate name, over the General Motors name in the late 1980s and early 1990s, played the first significant role. If car buyers perceived a Toyota named car to be superior to a GM car in the same model class, they would be willing to pay a higher sticker price.

But that wasn’t the entire difference, according to a study by the Boston Consulting Group. The BCG study reported that the after-sales service provided by the Toyota dealer network sustained, and even boosted, the perceived edge of the Toyota name.

In other words, the corporate image management process taken by Toyota to ensure that the service departments at its dealer network wouldn’t tarnish or deteriorate the Toyota brand helped to reinforce the positive attributes of the Toyota identity.

These positive attributes had already given it an edge in the marketplace vis-a-vis a direct competitor brand manufactured in the same facility, using the same materials and labor.

This example shows the direct value of a powerful and well-managed corporate brand.

It was stories such as this, as I continued to conduct my research into the value of corporate branding and corporate image, that led me to conclude that corporate image management is one of the most powerful and potent marketing and management tools available to senior executives for the 21st century.

KEY POINT: corporate image management is one of the most powerful marketing and management tools available.

TAKING ACTION: what are your internal processes for managing your corporate brand and corporate image?

What is the weakest link in your corporate image management chain? What steps can be taken immediately to strengthen this weakest link?

What is the strongest aspect of your corporate image? How can this be further leveraged to develop market leadership for your products or services?

 

 

This article is partially excerpted from the book The Best of the Monday Morning Marketing Memo, available in paperback and Kindle formats at Amazon.

Marketing Words of Wisdom on Customer Retention

Keeping Good Customers

The world in which marketing takes place has changed, and continues to change at a rapid pace.

Customers, customer needs, and the motivations for making purchasing decisions are also changing. Often at an equally rapid pace.

Plus, the natural loyalty of customers is becoming a thing of the past, not just because customers have become more fickle but also because a large majority of organizations do not exhibit tendencies that deserve customer loyalty.

Here are three pieces of advice from our new book Marketing Words of Wisdom that I regularly give to clients on how to build customer loyalty and keep good customers:

Rational marketing ignores half a customer’s brain.

Customers buy for both rational and emotional reasons. Persuade by reason, motivate through emotion.

This is the Yin and Yang of marketing.

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The secret to Customer Retention Marketing is TLC (think like customers).

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A person or business is not your customer until the second time they buy. The first time they purchase they are merely a trial user.

 These are three steps that any business — particularly smaller businesses and start-ups — can put to immediate use to build a loyal customer base and convert trial users into good customers.

For more of my thoughts on how to use marketing as a business driver, Marketing Words of Wisdom is available at Amazon in both paperback ($5.88) and Kindle ($2.99) formats

Note: Marketing Words of Wisdom will be specially priced at just $0.99 in Kindle on July 28 – August 1.

Marketing Words of Wisdom

Marketing is not rocket science.

In fact, marketing is more art than science, though there are some scientific and measurable aspects to marketing. But what to measure?

Here are three quotations from our new book Marketing Words of Wisdom containing advice I regularly give to clients on what to measure and how to differentiation advertising from branding:

 

There is a misplaced focus on marketing metrics today.

The number one thing to measure is your customers’ propensity to repeat their business with you.

Secondly, measure how likely are they to bring to you new customers or to refer potential customers, colleagues, and friends to you.

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A competitive advantage is what you do different from and/or better than your competition.

It is the service, product, brand identification, guarantee, or anything else that motivates the customer to give you his or her money because price is no longer the main issue or the deciding point of differentiation.

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An advertising campaign should be timely. A branding campaign should be timeless.

 

Now I realize that this is not how many of the big agency firms approach these topics. But my focus is more on helping non-marketers, business owners, and entrepreneurs get a firmer grasp on how to build their businesses and retain good customers.

For more of my thoughts, Marketing Words of Wisdom is available at Amazon for just $5.88 in paperback and $2.99 in Kindle.

The Customer is (STILL) King.

We live in a world of change. As a matter of fact, the rate of change today is faster, and affects a larger portion of the earth’s population, than at any other time in history. And, as some pundits like to repeat, “the only thing constant in our lives is change.”

Tomorrow’s world will require marketing-driven approaches to generate the level of success known as market leadership. My personal market-driven philosophy is “if it touches the customer, it’s a marketing issue.™” 

Anything that touches your customers….that impacts your customers or your prospects….should be considered a marketing issue for your entire organization.

This marketing philosophy has led me to develop five customer-driven marketing strategies. Let me share the first one with you.

I call it the golden rule of marketing: the customer is king.

No, the customer is not always right. But the customer is still the customer, at all times. And as marketers and business leaders, it is imperative that we fully understand and appreciate the needs of each and every one of our customers.

Thus, it is mandatory that everyone in the organization who has contact with customers and prospects be taught how to investigate customer wants and needs. And, they need to be able to fully understand and appreciate these needs.

Then, your company needs to determine how it can best serve the needs of these customers ….. profitably, efficiently, and consistently.

Bear in mind, of course, that it will be our customers who are the judges of how well our organizations satisfy their requirements. Our internal measures don’t really matter, unless we are using the same measurement yardsticks as our customers.

I recall when I first joined a major international retail bank. On the first week on the job I was invited to a party, in celebration of the fact that the bank had just exceeded its own goals on the issuance of ATM cards to new account holders. The bank had achieved a 94% level of issuing these cards within seven days of new account openings for the previous month. It was the first time the team had surpassed the goal of 92%.

“Wonderful,” I thought. “We are willing to set a goal that leaves 8% of our customers less than satisfied.”  However, not wanting to damper the spirits of the team, I kept my initial thoughts to myself.

Later I enquired whether we had ever asked customers if seven days was satisfactory in their minds. Unfortunately, the reply I got was “no.”  Hence, I made sure that in our next regular customer satisfaction survey we included a question on “how many days should it take for you to receive your ATM card after you open up a new account with us?”

As I recall, something like 85% of the respondents selected either three days or four days in response to this question. Hence, not only were we will to live with a statistical service measurement that said it was okay to not satisfy 8% of our new customers….we didn’t have a clue (until the research findings) that in fact we were actually disappointing the large majority of customers by using a measurement criteria that was not in tune with their own thinking.

Please remember, while the customer may not always be right, he or she is still the customer.

And in their hands lie the future fate of your businesses.

Key Point: our customers are the judges of how well our organizations satisfy their requirements. Internal measures don’t really matter, unless we are using the same measurement yardsticks as our customers and have a full understanding of customer expectations on service delivery.

Taking Action: ask your senior managers to brainstorm and develop a list of the things your organization tracks in relationship to customer satisfaction.

When was the last time you checked these measurement yardsticks against the requirements of your customers?  If it’s been awhile, you should make it a high priority to conduct a Customer Satisfaction Survey with your existing clients and ask them how you’re doing in relationship to their needs.

The Corporate Brand Image is a Powerful Marketing Tool

Every organization has a corporate image, whether it wants one or not.

When properly conceptualized, designed and managed, the corporate image (and the resultant corporate brand) will accurately reflect the organization’s commitment to quality, excellence and its relationships with its various constituents: such as current and potential customers, employees and future staff, competitors, partners, governing bodies, and the general public.

As a result, the corporate image is a critical concern for every organization (big or small). As such, the corporate brand deserves the same attention and commitment by senior management as any other vital issue. Management of the corporate image and the corporate brand is a core competency of the leaders of the most successful organizations.

We live in a world of change. In fact, the rate of change today is faster, and affects a larger portion of the earth’s population, than at any other time in history.

Yet, despite all this change, there is still one constant. And that is that marketing excellence and a strong corporate image are firmly linked. You cannot have one without the other. At least not for very long.

Because, at the end of the day…..your competitors can mimic and better your product offer. They can create stronger distribution systems than yours. They can outspend you in advertising and promotions. And, of course, they can always beat you up on price.

But the one thing a competitor cannot mimic or copy is a well-defined corporate personality. As I always advise my clients….if it touches the customer, it’s a marketing issue.™

And nothing, nothing touches your customers more than how he or she perceives your corporate image.

This makes the management of your corporate brand image one of the most potent marketing and management tools available for senior executives to use in ensuring the viable execution of your corporate vision.

Key Point: everything an organization does, and does not do, has an impact on its corporate image.

Taking Action: ask your senior managers to brainstorm and develop a list of the things your organization does that has a positive impact on your corporate image, and a list of the things you do that has (or could have) a negative impact on your corporate image. What can you do to leverage the positive things? What can you do to eliminate the negative ones?

 

 

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