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.

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?

Business Focus: Ants or Elephants

elephantAntHow many sales representatives are trained to hunt “elephants”? (Figuratively, of course!)  Elephants are the big accounts that can surpass an organization’s annual sales budget in ONE DEAL.  

Reps that land these accounts are seen as heroes whose business practices are written in stone for everyone hired into that role going forward.  We can all agree that elephants provide an organization with significant revenue streams in the short term, but what about the long run?  Is there another source that could be as, if not MORE, lucrative over the long haul? As a matter of fact, there is…except not many representatives or companies are able to see them or the massive potential they represent. Why?  Their work is being done mostly underground.

I consider myself an “ant”, not an “elephant”.  In fact, most small business owners probably place themselves in the “ant” category.  The reason?  Because small business owners aren’t provided the same opportunities to leverage today’s technology and big data as large corporate counterparts. They simply have to be more frugal with their cash flows in order to make ends meet. Unfortunately, that means the customers they are passionate about serving are often faced with operational IN-efficiency throughout the buyer journey.  For instance, large companies have the resources to leverage predictive analytics to more accurately anticipate the needs of customers.  Small business owners have to physically listen to each of their customers’ interactions and reach out to them MANUALLY, not via automation tools provided to their larger competitors within their custom-tailored systems.  This seriously restricts the ability of small business owners to add value to their customers’ experiences.  My assertion, which is supported by at least a handful of influencers out there, is that “ants” provide a huge, untapped opportunity.

Ants are truly fascinating creatures, and perfect for this analogy.  Here are some interesting facts about ants that can be assimilated to small business ownership and marketing:

  • Ants can lift up to 100 times their body weight.  Like small business owners, they have to do their own heavy lifting.   
  • Ants recruit other ants into their colony to help do their work.  Sounds very similar to an advocacy program, doesn’t it?
  • Ants do most of their work out of sight.   They build massive networks of colonies across hundreds, even THOUSANDS of acres, and no one even pays attention.

What would happen if some attention and support were suddenly given to small business owners who have been doing their own heavy lifting, manually piecing together their own systems while diligently building tight-knit, connected and far-reaching communities of compatible world views? What if they suddenly had all of the tools necessary to come out from their underground networks and could start influencing others to build their own inter-connected communities above ground? How would the cumulative benefit of serving thousands of “ants” compare to that one “elephant” not only in present, future, value?

It might be worth a look, don’t you think?

Arranged Marriage

wedding rings

Have you ever thought about what it would be like to be assigned a spouse without considering an emotional attachment or dating first? Seriously—what if they snore?  What if they have gastrointestinal issues?  Arranged marriages happen in a few cultures, but not often in America.  Although spouses are very carefully (and lovingly) chosen, the fact remains that very little freedom exists between the partners to make the final decision.

Do you ever wonder what happens when you visit a branded website looking for basic information about products and services you believe may suit your needs?  I don’t know everything, but I DO know that the information you provide during the website visit is often accumulated, disseminated, and distributed on lead lists to brand representatives within an organization.  That’s correct:  Your name is assigned to salespeople whose job it is to finalize the sale you knowingly or unknowingly initiated with your visit to that website.  The only decision you made up to the point of that return contact was which site to click into. Everything that happens afterward is very similar to an arranged marriage.

What were you looking to get from the experience may have been nothing more than a transaction of some kind, especially when the product or service sought is readily available from multiple providers with price as the primary consideration.  But what happens when the product or service sought requires a deeper understanding, and thus, a deeper, ongoing relationship? Wouldn’t you prefer to at least LIKE who you’re going to spend the duration of that experience with?

Brands fight really hard to get your attention.  They throw their names out there on every commercial, in every newspaper, and on every website.  Although traditional marketing like this has to happen to maintain the brand’s image and name recognition, a key point gets left out of the equation in the pursuit of immediate ROI:  The Courtship.

My policy, out of respect for the person I was dating, was to never kiss on the first date. Let’s get to know each other first. See if we’re compatible.  I’d like it to last.

 

 

Gotta Get Back In Time

Back to the Future 2
Who can resist a Huey Lewis and The News lyric on Back To The Future Day?

Does anyone remember the ’70’s?  You know, BEFORE the Internet?  That’s the era when handshakes solidified business deals, anything you wanted to learn about could be researched in either the Merriam-Webster Dictionary or World Book Encyclopedia (with annual supplement, of course!), and the soda jerk at the corner drug store would mix a Green River and serve it in a large styrofoam cup with ice for a quarter. Oh, to be a kid again!

Back then, there were THREE channels on television. People only received what was enabled by the station’s antenna reach. Back then, most people’s cultural awareness was determined by a phone book and a road atlas.  If you couldn’t find what you needed in the phone book, you sure weren’t driving around in a strange place 100 miles away to look for it.  You just did without.  Back then, your closest neighbors were also your closest friends as well as the main influencers in your life (besides family).  People didn’t care about what everyone else thought when “everyone else” was outside their circle of influence.

If you take a couple of steps back and look into the future, you’ll see a trend approaching. Leading indicators are already appearing, the most significant being increasing noise in the marketplace.  People are overwhelmed by it and are retreating into little circles of influence. Individuals inside these circles share compatible worldviews, so what others on the outside think is essentially irrelevant.  As the groups form, their scope of inputs narrows.  Instead of randomly scanning 2000 channels for insights supporting their worldview, they are identifying identify 3, 6, or 10 and then actively engaging with them. Their attention becomes so focused, in fact, that ALL outside messages vying for the attention of the group become background noise…like a hissing sound.

Come to think of it, that hissing reminds me of the sound the fountain made when the soda jerk pulled the handle to mix my Green River.  Those were the days.

Silent But Deadly

Vapor trailVapor trail:  The result of consistently choosing to ignore the wishes of today’s customers, instead forcing them to continue interacting with you within the traditional sales model.

Scenario 1:

You’re a quota-based sales rep who needs numbers.  A couple we’ll call John and Mary are two of your best customers who agree to meet after three weeks of late call nights. Your diligent follow-up efforts have paid off! Contacting them twice a day refusing at take “No” for an answer finally broke them.

John and Mary are the parents of two children, so their schedule is insane no matter what day it is.   You prepare for the meeting with great anticipation as this is your big chance to meet your sales quota for the year.  You go through every feature and benefit perfectly, just like you were taught, and John and Mary are nodding through the entire presentation.  Finally, the moment of truth comes:  The close.  “So, does this sound like a solution that would serve your family well?”

“Well, yes, we think this sounds like something we need.”

“Excellent.”

Then John says:  “Do you mind if I ask you something?  You were very persistent in getting us in today, and we do know it’s for the best.  However, I’m curious as to whether we’re getting the whole picture.  We understand and agree that you are compensated by commission, but is there anything more to it than that?”

How you respond will set the tone for the relationship for the rest of your time together, will it not?  Do you tell them the truth and inform them of the incentive plan, or do you answer, “No, John, there’s nothing else”…and then let them find out from your team members that you’re on rewards vacation?

Either way, you may very well get a vapor trail out the front door.   Today’s customers are extremely knowledgeable.  Very few things (besides trade secret information) are NOT found somewhere on the internet, especially when matters of trust are at risk.  This particular scenario puts you between a rock a hard place:  Tell the truth, and you’re potentially seen as putting their own needs before theirs.  Lie, and, well, why should anyone trust you in the future?  In either case, John and Mary are at risk for not only never coming back, they may quite possibly never speak to you again. Not exactly the kind of word-of-mouth that is necessary to BUILD a business.

Scenario 2:

John and Mary have passively asked about your brand’s helpful time-saving technology as it has been introduced, and you have educated them by sending links to information you believe they would find interesting.   Their friends have also been talking about the solutions your brand provides and how much their own families have benefited from them.

One day, Mary sends you an e-mail asking for your input and professional insights.  The request and related documentation is also forwarded to your CRM platform.  This enables you to see exactly what they are thinking and review their concerns in advance.  After a thoughtful analysis of their ideas, you send them your feedback and extend an invitation to meet on their schedule.  They are impressed with your promptness and professionalism, and ask to get together on Saturday morning in two weeks to finalize their purchase.  Mary’s parents are coming to see the kids, so it’s not a problem to get away for a while.

The couple arrives early for the appointment.  They’ve already decided this is the perfect solution.  As you are preparing to get their signatures, John asks, “Do you mind if I ask you something?  There’s a lot of information on the internet about incentives in many different businesses.  Does any of that information apply to this one?”

You look away from your computer screen and focus your attention directly on John.

“Yes, John, I’m glad you asked.  My company offers incentives based on how many people I serve.  This year, I’ve been fortunate enough to help a lot of people just like you. So many, in fact, that your request for my help will qualify my wife and I for a vacation next spring.  It’s not something I usually tell people, but I don’t hide it when asked, either.  Now that you know, do I still have your permission to continue?”

“Of course!  If you’ve helped THAT many people, you deserve to be rewarded.  Working with you has been the greatest experience we could have asked for.  We never felt like we were being ‘sold’ anything.  You supported and educated us through the process and never seemed ‘pushy’.”

“Thank you, John.  I truly appreciate the opportunity to serve you.”

In this scenario, “silent” represents the approach you took to serve your customers.  “Deadly” is what this process is to your competitors.  I also call it “flying under the radar.” You’re in and out before anyone realizes what happened…and THEIR customers have left with YOU.