“Customer-Centric” isn’t a new noun in the businessman’s dictionary; it’s actually the verb that the early settlers built their businesses on.
Imagine the year 1849. You walk into the General Store and the owner, John, looks up, and says, “Hey, Joe, how’s the missus? Is she ready for the extra sugar for her blackberry preserves? You know; she promised me a jar. Is five pounds enough? I know your mare’s nearing her foaling date; bet the young-ins are excited. Do you need anything for her? Ok, then, I’ve got your regular order boxed and I tucked in some penny candy for the boys. I’ll put it on your account and help you carry the boxes out to the wagon.” That’s “customer-centric” in action.
Ask most any business these days if they put their customers first and most will tell you that they do. In truth, most are running on intention. Part of the problem is that it’s hard to estimate the amount of income that can be generated by such things as customer service improvements; customer-friendly packaging and staying in touch after the sale. It is a risk no matter how you look at it. Risk the change or risk failing for not.
Be Customer-Centric in Thought and Deed
- Plant the attitude. Make the mission to become Customer-Centric a company-wide training and discussion. Higher management must lead by example.
- Connect all departments with communication. Customers want answers fast.
- Empower your employees to make on-the-spot decisions for your customers. Give them the training, confidence and authority to put the customer first.
- Give your employees a personal stake in the customer satisfaction process. Reward them for getting it right.
- Make Customer-Centric a core value in your company. Hire people who understand it; who will live it.
- Trade control for co-creation. Listen to your customers and implement their suggestions to improve such things as customer support.
- Find ways to make your product more user-friendly. Think about packaging; sizing and where you put handles. Is your product easy to open? Heinz has an upside-down Ketch-up bottle; milk bottles have handles that cartons didn’t, and there are now squeeze handles on scissors…
“I think the success around any product is really about subtle insights. You need a great product and a bigger vision to execute it against, but it’s really those small things that make the big difference.” Chad Hurley
Depending on which articles your read; whose studies you consider, it is said that as much as 60 percent of business deals are lost due to indecision. The prospect opts to hang tight to the “status quo.” While there are times that it’s prudent to keep the status quo most of the time doing so inhibits progress. Historically had our nation not undergone challenges to change the status quo we would still be attending the Church of England; plantation owners would still be buying slaves to pick the cotton, and women most certainly would not have the vote. Without challenging the status quo we wouldn’t have advances in medicine, science, and technology, nor would we be searching the Universe for a backup plan. Embedded in the very definition of life is the condition of change. Without change; without growth all things die or get swallowed by the competition, especially in this age of technology. Each prospect that you talk to who chooses to make no decision has their reason. The trick is to learn their reason and address their concerns by opening a dialog. Dig Deeper. Respect Prospect’s Perspective Even a “no decision” is based on something. You prospect knows their balance sheet and they know the team under them. They may see all change as a risk, whether the company is still trying to gain a solid footing or is in a comfortable holding pattern. Rule of thumb: Remember, when your mouth is open, your ears are closed. Let your prospect lead the conversation, and then reflect back your understanding with questions and comments that prove you are hearing what they said. Example: “I hear that your current system is effectively meeting your needs when it comes to call volume, but that it doesn’t track activity history at an ideal level. How does that affect your analytics?” A pro/con dialogue will give insight to both you and your prospect.
Validate the Difficulty of the Change Process
Discuss the different aspects of the change process ahead of time. There should be no surprises at the eleventh hour. Keep the conversations real and compassionate about how the steps will affect the prospect.
- It will cost time. Production may have to slow while new software is implemented and the users are trained. Time lost may show a temporary drop in revenue. The new efficient system will quickly make it up and continue to push revenue up.
- It will take energy. It will take structured effort to get everyone trained and comfortable with the new system. Schedules will have to be coordinated for training, and progress fastidiously monitored.
- It will take encouragement. Reassuring reminders about the benefits of the new software during the training process will ease the transition. When you know your product everything seems simple, but to the person trying to learn it, not necessarily so. Take care not to assume that everything is understood. Check and recheck. Patient, consistent re-enforcement will get the job done.
Give Control of Change Process to Prospect
It’s important that the prospect has control of the change calendar within reason, and that they choose the initial trainees. When customizing the software to meet specific needs, it’s crucial to keep an open dialogue and gain approval for significant modifications. Avoid buyer’s remorse by encouraging conversations that addresses any fears that develop during the transition, and make it comfortable for the prospect to put all issues on the table.
Just Guide; Don’t Take Over
There are two ways to teach. You can do it and let the learner watch, or the learner can do it while you watch. The fact is, people learn better with their hands on, and your position as just a guide will result in a smoother process. Mistakes during training are a great clarifier of understanding; easily fixable. Guide, and resist the urge to take over. Dissecting the sales process and digging a little deeper into the reasons for no decision being made will payoff for all concerned. Build long-term relationships through communication.
Okay, I’ve never admitted this in public before, but we’re friends, so I’m going to trust you not to snicker. I spent second grade in a one room school house. Yes, a box with a peaked roof, bell with a rope beside the door; a right off of Little House on the Prairie schoolhouse on the outskirts of Jackson, Michigan. No, I’m not older than….
The interesting thing about the one room school was that it was full of students of all ages from multiple grade levels. The one teacher couldn’t adequately cover all educational needs at the same time, so the solution was that the older students taught the younger, and the younger taught someone younger than them. It was a type of hand-me-down education, but it worked. Today I can tell you that I earned a Masters in Education in college, but I learned to teach in the field, in a give and take process. There are times I’m sure I learned more from my students than I taught them.
How did you learn to be a sales person? You may be sitting on more than one business degrees, but if you think about it – you actually learned how to sell on the job by following someone else, and I will bet you’ve paid it forward. Sales is a bit of an abstract, complex profession because techniques are varied depending on the product you sell, the environment you work in, and the unbending insistence that you stay on top of technology, so aside from following the leader, how do you fine-tune your skills and stay on top, while remaining a team player?
Internet Mentors to the Rescue
- How to Deal with Rejection in your Sales
- The best days and times to call prospects
- The Sales Pipeline Revealed
- Long or Short Sales Cycle Makes a Difference
- Is Research Overrated?
- Model Responses to Cold Call Objections. Sales Scripts to handle Blow-Offs and Sales Resistance
We all learn easiest from positive role models. Time and experience adds to our skill wealth, but you have one thing the one room schoolhouse didn’t. You have the power of the amazing search engine. If you have a question and can’t get the answer from a warm body standing nearby – don’t forget to just look it up on the Internet, and then make your sales team stronger by sharing.
Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships. Michael Jordan
There is a reason that we have multiple governing houses making decisions for our country. They are meant as a check and balance system, but too, it is a division of responsibilities and a way to tap into the experience and expertise of many. So it works in business too. Even the strongest, most dedicated, hardworking CEO of a company could not be successful without a solid team of qualified professionals under him/her dividing up the responsibilities. The success of a team depends on level of leadership and the success of the company depends on the level of team work.
Some years back I lived in a small town that had just one grocery store. The store had every appearance of one that belonged to a major chain. It was large, well-stocked, and clean. Prices were competitive. Its owners were known to be involved in the community and they placed full-page, color ads in the city paper. For all intent and purpose it looked like “the” place to shop.
I shopped there for some time, but I eventually took my business eight miles up the road to a store in a larger city. Why? The store lost my business because every time a bagger saw me to my car they expressed what a hateful place it was to work. (Keep in mind, in a small town everyone knows everyone, and most knew me because I was the editor of the city paper – so to them it was just friends talking to a friend.) It may well be right that they should have never voiced their grievances with a “customer,” but the fact remains – the sales team in the store from the bagger on up were not being led in a way that made them an effective team, and sales were lost.
If a sales team is comprised of qualified people who understand the value in working together; if their leader instilled common goals and principles through explanation and example, the odds of achieving success climb. People live up to expectations.
With a solid team, you don’t make a sales call alone; you do it with
backup. The stress, responsibility and work is divided, which makes your jobs easier. The prospect relaxes when they know you rely on your team members because they know the process is fine-tuned; each step managed by the professional who is best at it. It is a win for all.
Quality Sales Team
- Divided Workload
- Diversified Expertise
- Shared Accountability
- Less Stress
Quality Buying Team
- Purchase Considered from Multiple Angles
- Right Questions Asked
- Strong Change Leadership
Remember even if you’re playing a game of Bingo it takes five spots covered to win. One base covered just can’t get the job done. Strong leaders build strong teams. Collaboration and teamwork are the backbone of successful decisions.
Some years back I served as the editor of the city paper in a small bedroom community in California’s Central Valley. When you’re the editor of a small town newspaper you are also the interviewer, photographer, typesetter, public relations manager, and floor sweeper. You cover everything from fires and parades, to births, deaths, football games, bake-offs and award ceremonies. It’s definitely not a sit down, put your feet up kind of job. You lunch on adrenaline every day, more so as the weekly go-to-print deadline rushes in on you because there is absolutely, positively no excuse for not getting the paper out on time.
I learned something during those years. I learned that there is a distinctive difference between “stress” and “adrenaline rush.” Technically, the body responds in the same way, no matter which it is – but stress is bad and adrenaline rush is good.
Adrenaline is the natural hormone that your body produces that gives you heightened senses, boosts of energy, an increase in strength and stamina, and masks the pain and exhaustion that would have other-wise slowed you down. You use the adrenaline rush to meet deadlines, find all the right answers to all the right questions, and systematically get through your to-do list, and get the job done on time.
Stress is a product of fear; fear of mistakes and failures. More often than not we can trace our stress back to something we did or didn’t do that we were supposed to do or not do. More often than not, we create our own stress and panic.
Sales is a highly competitive field and sensory overload is the name of the game. Your time is spent talking to ever-changing, unpredictable personalities on the phone, attending business meetings, balancing relationships with co-workers, and managing your pipeline. You hear “No thanks, “more often than you hear, “Yes.” You have demanding goals to meet, and drawing a paycheck means closing deals. The question is, do you love it enough to ride the adrenaline rush, or do you allow stress it’s negative impact?
- Organization is at the heart of stress control.
- Keep your promises equal to your capabilities.
- Eliminate chaos and clutter from your environment.
- Give prospects honest facts about your product.
- When you don’t know the answer, admit it, and get it.
- Help colleagues; they will return the favor when you feel the crunch.
- Stay on top of technology developments.
- Avoid multi-tasking.
- Admit your limitations.
- Make conscious decisions.
- Open the window; fresh air feeds the brain.
- Schedule breaks and get away from your desk.
- Eat healthy.
- Get enough rest.
- Exercise eats stress.
- Don’t work during your time off.
- Indulge in a relaxing hobby.
- Enjoy a social life.
- Don’t skip vacations.
- Recognize it.
- Enjoy it.
- Use it.
- Relax when it passes.
When you take the time to reflect on what makes you tick; on how you spend your time, if you are honest with yourself you will find that you have the ability to control your processes. Avoid setting yourself up for stress and instead enjoy the thrill of the hunt and make more sales.
When I was growing up we had a gigantic garden in back of the house. Actually maybe it wasn’t gigantic; maybe I was just small? Anyone who knew my grandmother said that she had a “green thumb.” No matter what she grew it had more flavor than the same thing grown next door. She grew the biggest, sweetest strawberries, tomatoes flavored by the vine and watermelon so perfect that you didn’t need salt. There were cucumbers, long white icicle radishes and sweet onions… Out in front of the house there was a roadside produce stand that she kept stocked with whatever was in season. On the counter there was a small wooden box with a slot in the top and a sign that said, “Pay What You Can,” and people did.
Whenever someone new moved into the neighborhood, or someone was sick, or maybe they brought home a new baby, my grandmother would fill a basket – not with strawberries, but with strawberry jam; not with cucumbers but with bread and butter pickles. When I asked her why she didn’t just give the fruits and vegetables, she said, “The fruits and vegetables are the things I sell, but the jam and pickles are what I give to make and keep friends.
When you think about your sales technique do your efforts lean toward selling a product or building a relationship? What’s the difference?
Just the Product
- Products are sold on retail shelves.
- A sale may be lost because the competitor’s product that is right next to yours, costs less, or has a more attractive package.
- A sale often depends on the store display.
- You never get to know the buyer, so your only feedback is quantity sold.
- You don’t get any recommendations or insight about how you could improve your product and encourage higher sales.
- Brand loyalty is hard to earn
- Quick sale and now it’s a wait and see.
- People buy more from people they come to know and trust.
- Your analytics are more predictable.
- Future upgrades of your product are watched for.
- You get testimonials when you do a good job.
- Your customers will help you sell your product.
- You get feedback from those who actually use your product.
When you make that sales call, remember the idea is to forge a long-term relationship, not one quick sale.
Build the Relationship
- Be trustworthy, reliable, objective, and available.
- Exhibit a care for the prospect’s needs and limitations.
- Listen to the prospect and respond in a way that shows you hear and understand.
- Don’t be all talk and no action.
- Demonstrate your knowledge and expertise at appropriate times.
- Keep everything confidential.
You can’t put a price on trust, but you can take the profits to the bank when you build it. My grandmother’s sales at that produce stand kept all of us kids in shoes and coats all the way through high school because the relationships she built, kept buying from her.
In 1974 I bought my first microwave oven from JC Penney. Whenever a technology is new to the consumer, the price is always high for a handful of years. The first microwave ovens hit the stores in 1967 so when I bought, I paid $750, which definitely taxed the household budget. The product came with a one year guarantee, and at the time of the sale I was offered an extended warranty – which I turned down. One year and three weeks later the microwave stopped working, and when I contacted the store, I was told, “Nothing we can do. You didn’t buy the extended warranty.”
I decided to keep the problem human. I sat down and wrote to the CEO of JC Penney’s. I told him that I didn’t buy the extended warranty because I had grown up with JC Penney being a part of my family, and I trusted that as family they would do what was right – whether I bought the extended warranty or not. I told him that their products were in every closet, on every shelf and in every drawer of our home. I asked him to not break the trust that I had grown up having for the company. He authorized the repairs at no charge.
When it comes to business, especially in this day of high tech everything, caution should be taken to not lose the human touch with your prospects. While everyone appreciates the speed, the accuracy and the convenience of technology; no one wants to be nothing but a statistic in your analytics.
Keep it Human
Keep it Warm
Talk with your prospects like they are professional “friends.” As you move through the sales cycle get to know them as people. Learn about their family, significant events taking place in their life – weddings, new babies, great vacations. Maybe they just built a new house; their child’s ball team took first place or they are thrilled with a new car they just parked in their garage. Share a piece of yourself to open the door of friendship; they will give back. You will build trust by letting them know you care about them beyond their bank account.
Email is awesome. It is fast, and it is free, and there is a time and a place for it. Some years back I was with a car insurance company that actually mailed me a birthday card each year, personally signed by my agent. Had he sent me a birthday greeting via email – I would have been a lot less touched. Yes, I know it was a marketing tool, but I still thought it a class act.
While you may think your customers are impressed when you have all the answers, know that they are equally as impressed when you admit that you don’t. There’s something reassuring and connecting when you admit to being human. If you promise to find the answer, and follow through, you’ve demonstrated your good character and earned their respect. Know too, admitting your mistakes and then responsibly fixing them, builds a level of trust that you can’t put a price on.
Let the Wisdom Kick In
The difference between a good teacher and a great one is that a great one will tell you that they learned more from their students than they taught them. Every prospect has something to teach you, even the ones who say, “No thanks.” It might be the questions they ask that drive you to research; it might be their leadership style that you get to observe, or it might simply be that they share something they’ve learned that makes your job easier. Learning from others is the best way for you to grow, both personally and professionally.
It’s a new day. Before you start calling consider your style. Will the prospect hear a sales shark, or will they hear a new friend who wants to help them? Will they hear irritation at a “No thanks,” or will they hear understanding and respect? What kind of impression will you leave? You can keep it business, and be real at the same time.
Hindsight is always 20/20 and that’s too clear a vision to waste. It is human nature to tuck away memories of extreme moments, so more often than not, our greatest lessons stem from the mistakes we make.
In business one of your most powerful, money-making assets is the lessons you learn when things don’t go right. In 1959 Ford lost $250 million on the Edsel and in 1964 it turned out the Mustang. A million of them were sold the first year. In 1977 20th Century Fox made the mistake of signing over all product merchandising rights for all Star Wars films to George Lucas for just $20,000. They lost over 3 billion. In 1975 Eastman Kodak developed the first digital camera – and then opted to sit on it and the core technology for the cell phone, and in 2013 Apple and Samsung split the profit on the 120 million smartphones sold.
Take time to reflect on the call that didn’t work; the deal that fell through and the renewal you didn’t get, and use what you realize to take your mistakes to the bank. What can you do to improve the process that you used on the ones that got away?
- Was there any pre-call research?
- Could your call script be better; your tone of voice more confident?
- Did you call the right person; someone with the authority to invite a second call?
- Did you push for a sale instead of a second call?
- Were you able to separate them from the last “no thanks” you got?
- Did you offer them something helpful?
- Did you assume you had all the answers rather than listen for their need?
- Were you respectful of their time?
- Did you leave yourself available in the event they reconsider?
- Did you leave a quality last impression?
The Renewal You Didn’t Get
- Did you give your client a reason to renew?
- Did you give them reason not to renew?
- Did your product update to stay current with the needs of the buyers?
- How was your after-purchase service?
- Did you foster a business relationship that had the ability to grow?
- Did you keep your product competitively priced?
The only bad mistake is the one you don’t learn anything from; the one you repeat. When something doesn’t work, make time to figure out why. Life is supposed to be a learning experience. Turn “no thank-you” into revenue by using it to make you better at what you do.
“At the end of the day, you are solely responsible for your success and your failure. The sooner you realize that, you accept that, and integrate that into your work ethic, you will start being successful.” Erin Cummings
Everything I know about work ethics I learned from my first employer. I was just 16 and I went to work for The House of Fabrics. I thought the $1.65 an hour I earned was a gold mine, so I tolerated the “warden” I worked for. Mrs. Feldon, bless her heart, was nonnegotiable when it came to the rules, and today she has my thanks because I’m never late for anything and I honestly earn my dollars.
People want to buy the best, which means you have to be better than average to make the sale. Sales is one of the most competitive fields you can be in. If you have a quality product, someone will improve it, and trump you. While it’s important to stay abreast of the advances in technology and constantly upgrade your product, the best way to hold on to the leading edge is by flaunting your good character; be known for more than your product. Follow a Moral Compass
Work Ethic; Moral Code for Success
Always strike a fair deal. Promise what you can deliver and deliver what you promise. Own up to mistakes, be quick with apologies, and make things better than right. Dishonesty will get you by in the moment – but it will come back and cost you in the long-run.
Sense of Responsibility
It isn’t the hours you work; it’s the work you put in the hours. Imagine you own the company and build the revenue like it’s your personal bank account. Be accountable.
Dedication to Quality
If you deliver less than high quality, those that trust your product will leave when the reality plays out. Know that no matter how good, everything can always be made better.
Develop an organized system that keeps you on task and leads you through the steps to get the job done. Have a clear sense of priorities and systematically follow it. It isn’t about clock-watching; it’s about delivering on your word.
If one person could do it all, there would be no need for colleagues. Hillary Clinton once said, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Know that it takes a team to run a company. Learn the fine art of respectfully delegating tasks, and when you have a spare moment, help a colleague if they are on overload with theirs. What goes around, comes around. Strong team; strong company.
What will all that get you?
It will get you repeat business, respect, and job security in a competitive world. Remember, you teach people who you are with your actions. When you know that your job is well done you get peace of mind that can’t be bought.
When you’re a kid the thing you want most in the world is to be a grown up, so birthdays are a big deal. Presents are fun, but the thing that I looked forward to the most was the birthday card from my grandmother. She always tucked a crisp, clean, brand new one dollar bill in it. Over the years it never changed. It was always a one dollar bill. Her rule, a dollar every birthday until year eighteen, and then that’s it, and it was. Long after my beloved grandmother passed, one day, just out of curiosity I asked my mother – why always just a dollar? My mother replied, “Your grandmother probably still has the first nickel she ever made.”
My grandmother wasn’t the first penny pincher, nor was she the last. People who watch every dime aren’t just those who struggle to make ends meet; even billionaires do it. For instance, Warren Buffet; net worth nearly 60 Billion; IKEA founder, Ingvar Kamprad; News Corp. Chairman, Rupert Murdoch, and Australia’s retail king Gerry Harvey are all worth billions, but they are known to take thrifty to the extreme.
We may laugh at some of the penny pincher’s antics; we may see them as eccentric and odd, but it’s a little hard not to covet their ability to manage their money better than the rest of us. Most people comparison shop for the big ticket items and feel a rush of happy when a good deal is had. The same people probably use coupons at the grocery store. The same people run businesses in less than cost effective ways because they tend to count their profit as just the dollars in the door, and ignore the dollars saved by doing things in time-saving/money-saving ways.
A Penny Saved…
- Piggyback Advertising: Advertise on everything. Put your company logo on items you can give away – pencils, Post-it notes, calendars, business cards, newsletters, and every email you send – even personal.
- Collaborative Marketing: It’s the electronic age, use the technology. Trade advertising links with other companies. Include “partner coupons codes” in email marketing or on your company website for like offers to give your partner’s customers. Share media space in print. Pick a partner and share the cost in newspaper ads.
- Testimonials: Let your happy customers tell others what you’ve done for them. Refresh the testimonials on your website every couple of months.
- Electronic Invoices: Convenient for the customer, cost effective for you.
- Online Meetings: Cut travel costs and save time with online business meetings. There are several sites on the Internet like GoToMeeting and WebEx that offer this service. Meetings can be held on desktops, laptops, tablets, cell phones – anything that can connect to the Internet. That means you can squeeze meetings in no matter where you are.
- Form Partnerships: Find other companies that you can trade goods or services with at no cost. It is a financial boon for both.
Saving Time is Saving Money
Stay abreast of the different types of software being offered that automate your selling process. Over 100,000 of the world’s most innovative companies of all sizes use Salesforce to close bigger deals faster. It only stands to reason that if you can speed up what Salesforce does, that you will make more money by virtue of the time you save. ShadeTree Technology’s Incite2 does just that. It is a Salesforce add-on that gathers the information that is spread across the Salesforce site and puts it all on one page. Your sales team can save a mountain of time by having everything they need to know about a prospect, scripted call prompts, emails and voicemail, as well as an active time line that easily documents every step taken, on one convenient screen. Time is saved that allows more calls to be made. Imagine the dollars you can add to your bank account.