Confidence In Relationships

ConfidenceWouldn’t it be nice if yours was the last sales call anyone ever wanted to accept?   Wouldn’t it be great if your customers could really MEAN IT when they told the interrupter: “I’ve got everything taken care of?”

The most stand-out characteristic of a successful sales team in the new millennium is that they genuinely care about their customers’ time with friends and family, enjoying experiences that matter more than taking a phone call, reading an e-mail, sorting—not even opening— junk mail or responding to a text. They understand that production numbers are a product of relationships, not the other way around. Build deeper, trusting relationships and earning a decent living will never be a problem.

It would be foolish to think that everyone appreciates this philosophy, or that “those kinds of salespeople” get along with everyone. Comedian Steven Wright once said: “You can’t have everything. Where would you PUT it?” We feel the same way about people: We can’t serve everyone. How would we DO it? No one is so naïve as to think serving everyone is possible, so how do we determine who we are compatible with? Relationships. Getting to know people. Being introduced through mutual connections. Building communities. Generating thoughtful dialogue. Reaching out. Serving.

We aren’t ignorant, either. Change is hard. People on both sides of the table resist it. “But I like the way it’s always been done” is code for “I don’t want to try something new”. When people drive to the car dealership with their worn out trade-in, they KNOW the process. How many would honestly say they LIKE it? Not many. But they know (or think) it’s never going to change, so they deal with it.

Many businesses have done marketing and sales the same way for decades. Prospects used to get calls from telemarketers or door-to-door salespeople offering a variety of products and services several times a week.  Then, on June 27, 2003, the National Do-Not-Call Registry was introduced in the United States. Why? Because people apparently didn’t like being called at home during dinner to be sold something…books, magazines, cookware, vacuums, whatever. What was the result?  You guessed it. All of the calls formerly directed to the people who signed up for DNC were redirected to those who didn’t, exponentially increasing their interruptions.  What was the next public reaction? (Hint: Cell phones.) People began disconnecting their land lines. “You can’t call me if I don’t have a phone number.” Don’t tell me I’m the only one who’s said this out loud. The people spoke with their wire cutters, but instead of reducing the amount of clutter, it resulted in even more of something else: JUNK MAIL.

“If you won’t let me talk to you on the phone, I’ll flood your mailbox. You’ll either call to tell me to stop or buy something so it stops.” The U.S. Postal Service became the distribution network for every mass marketer in the world. What’s your ratio of junk mail to important/personal correspondence on a given day? Mine is about 8:1. Some days I just trash the whole thing after the 5-second review while walking up the driveway. Like many others, I chose years ago to electronically opt-in to anything important:  Bills, newsletters, policy information, etc. Unless it’s a hand-written, personally-addressed card or letter, if it comes on paper its likely irrelevant.

The argument for telemarketing and direct mail has always been that they motivate people to act when they otherwise wouldn’t. If you live with the old mindset and refuse to change, you’re right. You’ve spent years being conditioned with external stimuli that influence every purchase decision you’ve ever made. Seeing a new car ad makes you want and believe you need a new car. Seeing a well-dressed Banana Republic model makes you think your wardrobe needs an upgrade. Getting a 0% offer in the mail makes you think your current rate is too high. All of these stimuli, all of these ads, and all of these interruptions are intensifying daily, yet hardly anyone does anything to stop them. Why is that?

The breaking point is on the horizon. It’s very close to being real. You can hear it in the checkout lines at your local grocery store. What’s your reaction when the person ahead of you in the Express Lane has 20 items instead of the maximum of TEN allowed, then has the audacity to pay with a CHECK?!?!? Odds are your response is something like this: “Are you kidding?!?!? I don’t have time for this!!!!”

Would that have been the response twenty years ago? Possibly. Would the emotion feeding it been as strong? Not likely. But twenty years ago we didn’t have SMARTPHONES or AMAZON or SNAPCHAT. We had attention to spare. Not anymore. What happens when you trap an animal in a corner in a way that increases their stress level (they sense danger)? If it’s a cat, it arches it’s back, hisses, and its claws come out. A dog bares its teeth, growls, and the hair stands up on its back.

The breaking point I’m referring to will generate the same response as the cat and dog, except in people. In our human environment, the danger isn’t physical or spatial…the threat is whatever distracts us from what we truly enjoy doing, namely by questioning the confidence we have in the important decisions we’ve made, both past and present.  So…What are we, as consumers, going to do differently after we scare away the perpetrator?   If we’re not actively reinforcing change in the way the marketing and sales world treats you each day, the perpetrator will always pose a threat to the time we spend enjoying the people, places and things that matter most.

Find a way to say, with confidence, “I’ve got it taken care of.” If you need help making that possible, contact me.  Even if I’m not the right fit, someone in my “know, like and trust network” might be.

Time To Re-Run Your Lists

Lists spreadsheetBut first you must change the categories. The old way was to sort by name, address, city/state/zip and phone number, not necessarily in that order.  Sales representatives used those criteria because they were expected to provide products and services to customers within a reasonable driving distance of their office location. They were expected to qualify people for products and services very early in the prospecting process. They, of course, needed to know prospects’ names, addresses, and phone numbers to ensure their after-hours marketing efforts weren’t going to be fruitless.   

What percentage of today’s books of business are set up on those sort criteria? 50%? 70%? 90%?  How territorial are the salespeople that serve those books of business?   Over the top, right?  They base their depth of relationships on the number of products and services they have sold their customers over the years. Now for the question that’s going to raise a lot of eyebrows: What percentage of customers bought before either party to the sale knew each other personally?   How many of them would stay with their representative even if their best friend worked for a competitor with a competitive price point? No one reading this can honestly say that this has never happened to them. It happens all the time.

It’s always been said that selling multiple products to your customers insulates your book of business and establishes a consistent revenue stream by increasing retention. There is no disagreement that more product lines increase retention FOR THE BRAND. Where the disagreement arises is in the argument that customers who own a broad array of products and services distributed by one brand will remain with the representative that initially sold them even when someone enters the picture with whom they share a deeper personal connection. Herein lies the quandary: Does the brand care more about retaining their customer or which representative is serving them?

The old way of ensuring retention is no longer enough. Products and services are now automated. Customers no longer have to “sign here, now here, now here, now here”…on each page of a ream of paper the applications were printed on. They sign ONCE, ELECTRONICALLY, if even then. The myth that more product lines makes it harder for people to leave, and thus, increases retention, is BUSTED. Increasing retention today means sorting on an entirely different set of criteria that most companies don’t even have sortable categories for. They don’t even know what data they need.

Whoever figures that out first WINS BIG.

Two Sides of the Advocacy Debate

advocate

Advocacy:  The act or process of supporting a cause or proposal. —Merriam Webster Dictionary.  

The act of pleading for, supporting, or recommending.   —  Dictionary.com

My first career was in food and beverage, and it was tough.  A lot of work for not much income, at least back in the ’80’s.  The great thing about hard work, however, is that it usually nets the best life lessons.  The consequences of bad decisions are amplified when you have no money to start with, and the restaurant business is known for delicate profit margins. This is the premise for an unwritten rule that I’ve carried forward to today: If you’re not confident that you have the best food in the business, why in the world would you ask people to come to your restaurant?  Better yet, why even open one in the first place?  

There’s a running joke in the food and beverage world:  “Wanna know how to end up with a million dollars in the restaurant business?  Start with TWO million.”  Few owners run on tighter budgets and are more impacted by outside forces than restaurateurs.  The average profit margin of a successful restaurant is between 5% and 15%, but every day, managers are forced to deal with varying prices from their suppliers, customer counts, new competitors, and now, wage and salary challenges that all impact their bottom lines.  

The most valuable lesson gleaned from the restaurant experience is that people vote with their feet.  In other words, serve them a bad meal, fail to listen to their complaints and suggestions, or do just do some little thing they don’t like on any given day and they’re gone…FOREVER.  No goodbyes, no second chances, no nothing.  Just GONE.  Not only that, they tell their friends and relatives about  their miserable experience. Before the Internet, they could tell 10-20 in a week.  Today, one mouse click can reach 100-2000 people in a millisecond without anyone ever knowing what happened.   What used to be the cloud of dust from customers speeding out of the parking lot is now a vapor trail.      

Here’s the side of the advocacy debate that nobody seems to want to discuss:  A large number of organizations are still not willing to accept that change is no longer an option…it’s mandatory… yet influencers and other experts are trying to sell them on advocacy programs. On one hand, that’s fine:  Just do your competitors a favor:  Keep doing what you’ve always done and get it over with. Encourage everyone inside and outside the organization to spread the “word”, non-verbally…actions and processes speak the loudest…about how they aren’t aligned with customers’ preferences. Then the doors and windows can get boarded up faster to make room for others who DO pay attention. On the other hand, there are people who truly are passionate about their careers.  They want to invoke changes that build their brand’s reputation, even if it means doing it from the ground up because the organizational culture isn’t evolving as rapidly as their personal brand.

Perhaps the advocacy programs should be directed at individual change agents, no matter what their position or role.

Dealing The Cards Face-up

Dealing cards face-up

My wife and I enjoy getting together with other couples to play cards once in a while.  It’s a way to give the brain a workout while also having a good conversation with friends.  One of the husbands, in particular, always insists on cutting the cards after shuffling them.  Apparently you’re less likely to be dealt two bad hands in a row if you mix them up really well.  That made me think:  What if the same concept were applied to the business world?

The traditional marketing model is like the standard card game:  Each player is dealt cards, face-down, from the top of queue (otherwise known as the deck.)  Most games require that the cards remain face-down and out of their opponents’ sight throughout each round of play.  Players have little or no control over the hand they receive, nor do they know what cards their opponents possess.  Sounds like the traditional marketing funnel:   A large number of faceless “leads” are distributed randomly to players who then arrange their hands in a way that makes sense according to the game they are playing.  Just as different cards have different values or significance, different leads may require unique approaches based on their position in the buying journey.  In addition, players are rarely given the opportunity to openly trade cards with one another.  That’s probably where the old saying:  “You need to play the hand you’re dealt” comes from.  The problem with this system is that there are more losers than there need to be. Not everyone wants to play the same game and some cards have more value in one game versus another.  What if this could somehow be changed?  What if the cards could be dealt face-up and were matched to each specific game?  

Personal branding and content marketing are beginning to enable this process of shuffling and face-up re-dealing.

As more and more people tell their stories online, both representatives AND customers are finding it easier to align with those of complementary beliefs and values (or separate themselves from those with conflicting world views). Such re-shuffling is likely disconcerting for “territorial” traditional representatives who see the number of products or services they have sold their customers as the definition of relationship depth, but in the end the process will prove to be quite beneficial to brands, specifically as it relates to retention.  Using the analogy of the card games, some representatives prefer to play Poker while others may prefer to play Cribbage.  Both games use cards, but the rules of each game are different, as are the assigned point values.  For instance, the perfect hand in Cribbage is J (knobs)-5-5-5-5, while the perfect hand in poker is A-K-Q-J-10 (all same suit = Royal Flush).  The Crazy-8’s game I used to play with my grandpa has a different “perfect hand”.  Pitch has yet another.

The point is this:  If representatives are playing different games within the scope of one brand, wouldn’t it be advantageous to the brand’s retention AND acquisition rates to encourage redistributing the cards face-up based on what the best fit for each CARD is rather than only requiring one game to be played?  The greater the variety of games (differentiation between personal brands), the more cards (customers) could be perfectly aligned with each.

We Are Your Customers: Experience Evolution

customer-experience-customers-evolution-changeCustomers want seamless experiences, especially if purchases are mandated by lending institutions and/or law enforcement.  

If we have to make mandatory purchases, fine. But once we’ve signed up, we don’t want to discuss it again unless the prices we’re being charged increase for no apparent reason.  Then we want to know why—immediately.

If we choose to buy products and services from you, we want to do it when it’s convenient for US.  And if we buy online, we want the same price we were quoted when the items are actually delivered. If your systems can’t make that happen, we’ll find a company that can.   

If we need something more than what we’ve already purchased, the people who will help us understand that are our relatives, friends, and co-workers…not a commissioned salesperson who sends 1000 mailers a month or expects us to “come in for an appointment between the hours of 9 and 5.”  We have a jobs, families, and social lives:   Just like you.    

Speaking of expertise, why should a customer have to call your office every time they have a question?  Why can’t you just tell them in simple language how to use what they’ve purchased?  Better yet, why don’t you post podcasts or video links on a blog or website?  Then, even if it’s 10 pm we can find the answer instead of thinking about it all night.  Customers do have smartphones, you know!  

As for additional purchases:  We prefer to research most things on our own.  When we have a good understanding of their features and benefits, we’ll narrow down our options.  Again, our friends and family bring things up because they’re concerned about us, but we’re not always in a financial position to do something at the moment.  If we trust that you understand and respect our choices, we’ll actually look forward to having you help us put it all together when we’re ready.  It’s not like we WANT to be in that position…  We’ve just been forced to adjust a few priorities.     

If we’re looking for a new company, we’ll ask friends and family what their costs are and how well they like their provider/representative.  Then we’ll do research within our own networked communities.  If they’re connected to someone we know, we’ll be more comfortable asking for an introduction.  

Researching you online means you need to BE online. And if we contact you for help, you’d better respond if you expect us to EVER talk to you again. If you’re not where we want you to be, you don’t exist.  We’re not going to waste any personal time looking for you.   

What are we looking for in a brand representative, anyway?  Well, if we share complementary world views and you’re empathetic to everything we just laid out, most of us prefer to have a personal (human) relationship. We’ll even add your number to our contacts as long as we can trust that the only reason you would contact us is to share something you think we’d find interesting or helpful.  On the other hand,  if you refuse to accept our way of doing things and don’t meet us halfway on some of these requests, we’re fine with getting our stuff online, even if it means we’re working with chat bots driven by artificial intelligence.  

The choice is yours.

Marketing and Gambling: Synonyms?

Vegas

Have you ever been to a casino?  Flashing lights, poker tables, slot machines, craps, keno, blackjack, you name it…Most people go in with hopes of winning it big and come out with empty pockets.  It’s just how the system works.  

I worked for a man about 20 years ago that loved to gamble. He maintained a “fund” of about $4000 in the glovebox of his car and frequented the local casinos every weekend.  For him, feeding the $100 slots was a recreational activity.  To me, it seemed ludicrous that he was “burning Benjamins” on an activity in which the odds were NEVER in his favor.  Perhaps it’s the way I was raised or the way I chose the activities to place my own bets on that formed my opinions about his behavior.  It may have even formed a few professional opinions like this one:  Most marketing is like gambling with house money.  

If gambling is defined as “playing games of chance for money”, isn’t that what direct mail is?  A business owner purchases a list of leads and downloads them into a prospecting platform.   Not necessarily a CRM platform, as “CR” stands for “Customer Relationship”:  In the initial stage of this game, there is no relationship.  Following the definition, the names and addresses on the lists are acquired to have a CHANCE at generating enough revenue to RETURN the money to the house.  For example, let’s say a list of 50 names and addresses is purchased for $100.  That’s $2 per name, all of which are random.  The GAMBLE is whether any prospect on the list will result in a sale.  This is equivalent to pulling the arm of the $100 slot machine.  Keep in mind that the average success rate for a direct mail program is LESS THAN TWO PERCENT.  That means you get to pull the arm of the slot ONE TIME to even have a CHANCE to hit the jackpot.   Let’s just say the odds are not in your favor.  So why not choose a game with less chance and more control?

I’ve been to Vegas a few times, but gambling isn’t a rush like it is for other people.  I don’t mind betting, but only on things that I have some element of control over:  Like pool.  The only true element of chance in a game of pool occurs on the break.  After that, the skill of each player determines the outcome, not the random “lie” of the balls. The moment a great pool player gets their turn, the game is essentially over.  Have you ever seen a tournament on TV where one of the players shoots one time…in FIVE GAMES?  That’s what I’m talking about.  Great players visualize the sequence in which they are going to pocket the balls before they even take their first shot.  They know how to strike the cue ball in order to make it sit exactly where they want it to make the next shot.  Great players OWN the table in a way that reduces or eliminates randomness.  I was never close to “professional”, but had no problem throwing a $5 bill on the table before the break.  If I lost, it was either MY fault or my opponent happened to be better in one game.   

Online debates about the future or marketing are taking place daily.  How-to posts about creating the best content for acquiring attention, building prospect lists, executing follow-up systems, and expanding networks are bombarding newsfeeds every 3 seconds.  The question to ask is this:  Who’s REALLY in control of the game, you or the HOUSE, with the house being the customer?  That’s who you’re rolling the dice in hopes of attracting, right?

How many times can you afford to crap out?

Marketing and Sales: DNA Integration

DNA IntegrationWho says sales and marketing can’t work together?

Marketers have long been charged with the goal of getting the attention of potential buyers so sales teams can generate revenue.  Since many people they target have often had little or no previous interaction with a brand, the volume/humor/content/sex appeal/celebrity status has to be ultimately memorable. When it’s not, it’s game over.  You lose.  The sales rep never gets a shot.

What if marketers took ACTUAL insights about CURRENT customers from the sales reps who work with them?  In other words, marketing specialists create content to help deepen front-line relationships between representatives and existing customers in a way that stimulates INTRODUCTIONS rather than just attention.

“This all sounds great, but how do we get there?”  “How do we hire and assign marketers to brands, reps and customers based on worldview compatibility?”

It’s not as hard as you may think.  For example, Flipboard sends articles from selected categories sent to the user’s news feed.  Flipboard represents worldview in a nutshell.  Apply this insight to your marketing strategy, and the “chasm” magically disappears.   Here’s how:  Let’s say a rep has honed their client base to the point of optimal compatibility.  Marketing representatives of complementary profiles would then be matched to serve that particular niche or community, regardless of geographic region…No office physical office necessary.  It’s also a role today’s workforce would thrive in.      

Marketing representatives’ impact would be most significant when combining their content marketing expertise with the personal relationship skills of the brand representative.  When woven together, they add value to the lives of all customers in that niche through informing and educating in ways conducive to that particular set of criteria. Customers then tune in to their messages and tune out those of competitors…unless they are given a reason to stop offering their trust and attention.  

If marketing and sales effectively close this chasm, a strong bond should be formed between all parties involved, as well as within and across microcommunities in both branded(company) and sub-branded(representative) networks.   

What do you think?  Feasible or pie-in-the-sky?

Learning To Swim

When do you learn to swim, when it’s sunny or when the flood waters are approaching your second-story windows? Why, then, do you wait for the storm clouds to fill the skies?  Because like most people, you don’t think it will ever be THAT bad.  

There are times when being an optimist is perfectly reasonable, but this isn’t one of them.  Now it’s all about realism. It’s time to open the blinds and take a long, hard look outside.  The Industrial Age is gone.  So are land lines, televisions with tuning dials maxed out at the number “13”, and 8-track tapes.  We are now in the Internet Age, where consumers are armed with more information about not only brands, but also their representatives, than can be printed on a direct-mail newsletter.  Where does all of this information come from?  Transparent sharing by real human beings in and between an infinite number of online communities.  “Dirty little secrets” can’t stay secure forever.  Inside information may be protected legally, but common-knowledge across-the-board “perks”  of most industries will likely not fall in that category.

What happens when the proverbial cat is out of the bag?  How do you explain to customers the REAL reason for calling them repeatedly when they aren’t expecting it?  They’re going to find out.  The legacy generation that has provided a solid income stream for the last three decades probably knows, but they no longer care. They are nearing the end of their buying cycle for your products and services.  Unless they are independently wealthy, the likelihood of them needing more than they already have is slim.  What many fail to realize is that every generation of consumer that follows is going to have access to exponentially more information shared transparently across infinitely more platforms than their Industrial Age elders. No longer are they going to lie down in a sales appointment.  In fact, there won’t be a “sales appointment”.  It will be a “validation meeting”.  They will meet to confirm that you are a real human being, matching your face to that of your online avatar,  then to verify that the solution they quoted on their mobile device has identical features and pricing on your brand’s platform.

Are you prepared to deal with that reality?

Bugatti Veyron For Sales

BugattiIt’s not a typo:   This isn’t a classified ad. Those don’t work like they used to. Nor do a lot of things in the sales world.

Remember when you had to call people, knock on doors and send them direct mail just to get their attention? Of course you do…90% of the people reading this are still doing it every day! Even though they have access to a marketing machine equivalent to a Bugatti Veyron at their fingertips, they still choose to do it the old way. The vehicle is Social Selling.

What’s the point of the cold call in the first place? To get attention and build relationships, of course. Whose time does that involve? Both the caller’s AND the prospect’s. What happens if you can’t come to trust and respect each other in that first interaction? Both the your AND the prospect’s time are wasted. Time has become an even more important resource than currency, especially when you’re trying to build a business in this fast-paced world. Unlike money, you can’t add time to your bank account.

What if you could establish relationships faster than a Bugatti can go from 0-200 mph? How would it benefit your business if you didn’t have to spend hours every day interrupting people, trying to get their attention to give them a message they usually don’t care about hearing?   What if you could instead focus on engaging with communities of other humans that have grown to know, like and trust you before you have even physically MET THEM?  Does anyone else think this is a ridiculous conversation to be having right now? Be honest: How many more people could you reach and attract if you just stopped doing what you have been told to do for decades and started interacting with customers on THEIR terms? Social Selling allows you to make the most of your time AND that of people who have yet to meet you.

By the way, you can’t test drive a Bugatti Veyron. They’re like works of art, specifically fitted to each buyer…like a personal brand is specific to each human being that builds one.  

Coincidentally, authentic versions of each are nearly priceless.

The Opposite Attraction: NLP

cropped-stop-cross.jpgI’ve said a repeatedly that:  “I don’t care if I’m the FIRST person someone thinks of.  In fact, I’d much rather be the second than the first.” The reason is simple: The representative’s name people bring up first when talking about my industry at dinner parties is often the one they’re pissed at. Interestingly enough, this JUST HAPPENED, right at my own breakfast bar.

My wife had friends over the other evening for wine and appetizers.  Out of the blue, one of them started talking about how much junk mail they get from other local brand representatives, and how they get nothing in the mail from my office.  Almost instantly, the other two chimed in and it became a virtual slam-fest.  These women were going off on the old-school marketing  tactics, saying how they would “NEVER” do business with these people.  Meanwhile, I stood there in my kitchen, eating some soup and a sandwich.  Finally, an opportunity came to throw some gasoline on an already blazing flame:  “Do you know that when those prospects call one of those offices, they are told THEY HAVE TO COME IN DURING BUSINESS HOURS to be taken care of???”  I thought the roof was going to blow off the house!  But it was true. This is how some representatives STILL thrust their “this how we’ve always done it” mentality on people.  What this impromptu conversation made me wonder was:  “How can I tap into this incredible negative energy and use it to build something amazing?”  That’s when I thought back to Anthony Robbins’ “Unlimited Power” CD I keep in my car for road trips.  It’s in that content  where I first learned the term “Neurolinguistic Programming.”  NLP is the perfect way to advertise and market the opposite attraction.

When people go on a diet, do they stop eating entirely?  No.  When they start a workout program, do they go to the gym for three hours 7 days a week after being sedentary for 5 years?  Of course not.  Dieting and exercise are are two cases where doing the exact opposite of what you HAD been doing simply doesn’t work.   Marketing, namely how consumers REACT to certain strategies, is an example of how customers CAN be rewarded for engaging in the exact opposite behavior when confronted with certain stimuli.  In this case, those stimuli are traditional interruption strategies.  Expose and build upon the frustration people like my wife’s friends were demonstrating about the other local brand representatives, then give them an easy-to-adopt opposite alternative that allows them to regain control over their time and attention.

Few things in the world are absolute, which is why gray areas exist.  One exception to this is time.  There are ABSOLUTELY 24 hours in a day…no more, no less.  What people choose to do with every second of every hour depends on their personal values.  I argue that most people value spending time with others and/or doing things that matter most.  They would also prefer in those moments that everything else:  distractions, annoyances, inconveniences, surprises, etc, would just go away.  Do-Not-Solicit/Do-Not-Call, DVR’s, Opt-outs, and anti-SPAM regulations are just a few indications that customers want uninterrupted control of their time. What many have yet to understand, however, is that there are increasing numbers of professional service providers out there TODAY who will allow them to reject the traditional strategies and actually encounter remarkably superior levels of service by doing the exact opposite of what they are accustomed.

When customers begin diverting their attention and revenue the opposite direction, it will accelerate change across entire industries.