Tuesday, February 24, 2015

How Can You Recognize When A Prospect Is Really Good And Not Just A Waste Of Time?

How To Know The Difference?
A common story that has happened to all of us who’ve been involved in selling, and surely more than once (that I'm positive of) is to have made a sales presentation, one of those from which you come out really proud o only to be completely shocked about what happens on the days afterwards.

You’ve had a very positive conversation with your client and exchanged with him many different ideas. The client thanks you for all the information you’ve shared with him and recognizes the solution you offer is aligned with his company’s needs, continues to make some questions about what your pricing offer might be, asks you to prepare a formal proposal and even gets to the point of checking possible delivery dates and stuff like that.

Obviously with a big smile on your face, the feeling of having done a good job and very confident you’ll be able to sing a new project, you go back to your office.

Based upon your past experience, you’re confident you’ve received from the client green light to move forward with this project, sit down at your office to put together your proposal according to all the indications you’d reviewed with your client, and when you’re finished, you’ll then send it by email, fax or the most convenient method of your choice.

When you try to get in touch with the client again to check on his thoughts about your proposal and for a date when you could expect to be receiving a confirmation from his side, you just get the deepest silence ever. You try again, trying to get an answer, and yet nothing. Only silence.

Never assume anything and always look for a specific answer from your prospect.

What could have gone wrong when everything appeared to be perfectly aligned so you could get the business? Obviously you're perplexed, speechless and confused. What had just happened?

What happened at that meeting which apparently ended up so good? Why you didn’t see this one coming? Why is your client not returning your messages now?

Perhaps it’s simply a matter of bad manners, rudeness. Maybe your client is just too busy, went on vacation and forgot to let you in advance, perhaps she was  abruptly fired, or didn’t received approval from her superiors and is too embarrassed to tell you because she knows she has made you waste your valuable time. Perhaps it’s none of these.

Never assume anything neither be satisfied with “what you think it must have been”

Assuming things is usually dangerous when it comes to sales. When you assume you’ve got the business and have it in your pocket, you get overconfident, let your guard down and tend to relax in the efforts you make to properly follow up with your customer.

First of all, you should always be sure (but not in an "I-assume" way but by asking your prospects the corresponding questions), you have:

  • Covered all your customer needs and answered all its questions.
  • Your customer understands the value proposition you’ve offered and the impact this solution will have for its business.
  • Make sure the people you are talking with have the power to make a decision…
  • Or you're completely clear about the process to be followed to get such approval.

If you are absolutely sure (again without taking anything for granted, but being really sure) you’ve covered all of the above, what has then happened?

Get your client to participate and engage in the sale process as well.

At the end of each sales meeting, be sure to make (regardless of how good the meeting you think came out), a summary of all the agreements that were made, asking if there are any additional questions that must be resolved.

If everything is good, then you all need to make some commitments: You need to clearly establish what you will do next (put together a formal proposal, for instance) and what is your prospect supposed to do as well (review your proposal and give you a response within a certain period of time, for instance).

Never end up a sales presentation with commitments only made on your side and none on your customer’s.

Both you and your client should equally engage in the sales process, with the understanding it’s beneficial for both parties involved. If commitments are only made on your side and your client is not engaged in the process, you’re then starting to take for granted things you probably shouldn’t.

If your client is not willing to make commitments with you and your business in regards to the next steps needed to be take after the meeting and scheduling a follow-up meeting, it’s a clear sign that your proposal didn’t click on your customer’s head and its business is not yours yet.

The best way to make sure you're on track 100% is to confirm your prospect is determined to moving forward with you, and this can only be accomplished by having your client also committed and engaged with the whole sales process and not leaving all the work only on your side.

If your proposal is really interesting and solves your prospect’s problem, what problem would it have to make commitments with you?

Photo Credit: Sepy / Dollar Photo Club

I recommend you to read on this blog the following posts:
How Not To Become A Prisoner Of Hope.
Why Keep Them Waiting Forever To Get Your Response?

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Why Keep Them Waiting Forever To Get Your Response?

Why Keep Them  Waiting Forever?
Last week a blogger friend of mine, Bernardo Abril (whose blog "Exporta con Inteligencia" I recommend you to read if you are thinking about exporting your products to other countries) wrote about a topic which I’ve been thinking about for a long time, and one that I consider very important as it relates to managing our relationships with others, whether they are customers, suppliers, friends, colleagues and even with our very own partners.

Bernardo wrote on his post: "Courtesy is part of any business relationship, whether we’re interested or not on what people are offering us" and I even dare to add that courtesy is an important component of life itself, because if it isn’t, what kind of  world are we living on?

But getting back to the point which always occupies me, to offer you my thoughts or even a simple advise on issues I find relevant, so that I might help you better manage your business, I would say this time you have to start by understanding that everyone’s time and effort is as valuable as yours.

Surely you regularly talk about how important your relationships with customers are to your business, and definitely put a lot of value on all the interactions and contacts you have with them. Why don’t you do the same with the relationships you have with your suppliers and partners?

What makes the difference between them? Is it that some of them bring the money in (God permit) while, on the contrary, you consider all others an expense for your company?

Let's start with the basics.

Treat others with the same consideration you want them to treat you back.

And it seems out of place having to talk about this kind of things in a business environment, but it often happens that when someone is trying to sell you something, to offer you their services or to approach you somehow, you then assume that they should interpret your lack of response to their attempts to contact you as a "I’m sorry, but I'm not interested in what you're offering me", when it really shouldn’t be like that.

How can other people know what you're thinking, if you don’t tell them what it is? We can be highly efficient, but never mind-readers.

As everytime I make this kind of statement, I do explain myself: There are many and different reasons why you could not be able to answer an email or phone call:

  • Because you don’t really care about what they’re offering you, or think is not the right time to review such information.
  • There was a glitch in your company’s computer systems and all emails received that specific date were deleted from the server.
  • The message was received by another person who inadvertently erased it.
  • You have been sick for three weeks and couldn’t get out of bed.
  • Your assistant lost all information about the person who tried to contact you.
  • Your answering machine is not working properly or you don’t check your messages as often as you should.

As you can easily see, the reasons for not answering an email or returning a phone call are as different as the people trying to reach you, so it doesn’t make any sense on your side to expect that person to guess which one of them applies to your specific situation.

You must learn to say "Sorry but I’m not interested in your proposal at this time"

And with such a simple answer you free everyone of any compromise, real or assumed, which may have been caused by your lack of a clear and direct response.

By saying "Right now, your proposal is not of my interest" the first one to be relieved is you, since you won’t be receiving messages or communications from a person (or a company) which is offering something that is not appealing to you. You avoid the hassle of having to delete those emails thinking to yourself "But when are they going to realize that I’m not interested in what they offer?".

For the sake of our relationships with the whole world, we must learn to be honest when something is not of our interest.

But best of all is that when you offer a clear, direct answer, no matter how simple it might be, you’re doing what is professionally correct: You are properly respecting the time and effort of the other person, and clearly indicating that it’s not worth it to continue trying to approach you, at least for a while.

And the second side to benefit from your action: The person who has been trying to contact you. By having a clear answer from you, she can just flip the page over and focus on trying to reach other people who might be effectively interested in what her company has to offer.

Not only that but you also keep that person from having to go through the hassle of listening to your secretary as she says, for the fifteenth time that "I’m very sorry, but Mr. (you can enter your last name here) is not available to take your phone call at this time".

We are all customers and buyers at different points in our lives.

This is what Bernardo writes on his post, and I totally agree with him. Perhaps in your work you manage the purchasing area, and that’s why you get so many approaches from different companies trying to do business with yours. It’s normal. After all, everyone has to make a living, isn’t it right?

Today it’s for you, next day it’s for me, am I right? By treating people on a professional way, you make sure to receive the professional treatment you want for yourself.

And if you're in such a power position, it’s also expected (or should be expected) that you act professionally toward others, just as you would expect to be treated when you have to be on your own, without your company backing you up, and do your own selling.

Because all of us, at different moments in our lives, assume both roles as buyers and customers. Always.

So, to wrap this post up, I think you should take this into consideration: The next time someone makes contact with you for something you're not interested at the moment, take a deep breath and provide a honest and professional answer: “Sorry, but at this point time, I’m not interested in your proposal”.

It’s always better for everyone.

Photo Credit: Arpad Nagy-Bagoly

Here you have Bernardo’s post (sorry, no English translation available)
¿Estamos perdiendo el mínimo de cortesía profesional?

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

"When The Company Plays With Its Employees’ Needs"

Playing With Employees' Needs
And I swear I didn’t say it myself. I heard it from a regional sales manager for a major multinational company I worked with some time ago. But so you can fully understand what it was supposed to mean, let me talk to you about the environment within which it was said.

A few weeks before, the company had decided to transfer to one of my colleagues the vehicle I had been working with for the past few years. Obviously, the untold message I received was crystal clear: the company wasn’t happy about my performance and decided to put pressure on me to somehow make me increase my sales numbers or induce me to resign.

And of course, since I was doing door-to-door selling, not having my car strongly reduced my ability to move from one place to the other. Even getting to the office for the early morning, daily meetings became a problem for me.

During the first three weeks, I was lucky a dear friend of mine, who was traveling to Miami by the same time, lent me his car and I was able to continue to work.

Three weeks later, I gave him his car back, and decided to rent one on my own, for a week, to continue working. The joke cost me around 250 euros, insurance included. At the end of the week, it was clear it couldn’t continue being like that and I decided to talk with the aforementioned manager.

What do you do if your employee is not planning to resign, but you don’t want him on your team any longer?

Common sense and legality indicate that if you, as a company, have decided an employee no longer fits what it was hired for and you want to let it go, you must calculate the money that is due according to current regulations, prepare the payment (or a wire transfer if you so prefer) and all corresponding documents, notify your employee of your decision, and that’d be it. A good handshake and moving on.

The employee is free to move on with his life and you’re free to hire someone who can do the job properly.

Unfortunately the reality we are living nowaday is far from what is indicated by common sense and legality. I’ve many friends who have experienced a situation like this: The company has decided it wants them out but doesn’t want to pay what is due and indicated by law, especially when it comes to those employees who have worked for the company for many, many years.

Which actions are companies making use of to ignore their economic obligations with their employees?:

Making use of illegitimate practices to pressure an employee and force him to resign, is not only illegal but dishonest.

Well, practices that are highly questionable and definitely dishonest, always from my point of view that is:

  • Not paying payrolls as it was agreed upon, and bringing up excuses such as the economic situation, the crisis and stuff like that.
  • Requiring employees to work much more hours than they were initially supposed to work, without paying them for it.
  • Requiring employees to take on roles within the company for which they were not hired.
  • Reducing wages, benefits or working conditions for the employee.

I have to tell you from those 4 things I mention above, I’ve personally experienced two. I’m sure there will be many other practices such like this, and even some more questionable, but hey... my goal with this post is not to focus our attention on the actions, but rather on the important role you can play as an entrepreneur, and in stories like these, to make things different and become an agent of change in a society that is claiming for it loudly.

And it’s then when you start playing with your employees’ needs.

It all starts with jokes as simple as: "Look, Francisco, you really have to do much better than what you’re doing, because there are many people out there who would do the your same job and more for half the pay" or "Unfortunately, we were not able to deposit your payroll this month because we have a customer who didn’t pay us on time."

Or the worst one I have had to listen, out of the mouth of the regional manager I mentioned at the beginning of this post: "The company offers you a 3,000 euros settlement. Your lawyer said it should be around 6,000. Sue the company and take it to Court and let's see what decision is being made then."

The money you pay your employees should be as sacred as the fidelity you expect them to have towards your business.

Everybody knows suing a company and taking it to court involves a process that can last for years. The company is also aware of it. That’s the reason it does what it does. The guy I‘m referring to continued his overbearing and arrogant speech by saying: "It’s your choice: If you want to wait out the trial, regardless of how long it might take, or you can simply take this settlement now, keep it cool and not fight anymore".

And finally, to place the icing on the cake, he added: "For our company it’s the same to pay you a thousand, 5.000 or 10.000 euros. What the company knows is that you cannot wait too long thus will end up accepting this settlement".

And it is at this point where I would like to invite you to focus: Do you want your company to be recognized by this kind of stories? Is this the image you want to create for your business within your community? That of a company which doesn’t honor the financial obligations it undertakes with its employees?

Sometimes, as a dear friend of mine says, "we must learn to turn things around and look at them from a different point of view", and doing so then: what would happen if you have to go through a situation like this yourself? What if you have to live it on first person? How would you feel?

And if you’d feel like that, why do you expect your employees not to feel the same way? Would not it be easier to do the right thing all along and leave a pleasant taste on everyone’s mouth?

Picture Credit: Sergey Nivens

I recommend you to read the following posts on this blog, which complement today's topic:
SMB can also be written with G of Greatness. 
Corporate Social Responsibility: Are we starting from the right point?
Sheer Visibility: Were You Familiar With This New Payment Form? 

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Saying “We Are Sorry” Is Not Customer Service. Solving The Problem Is.

Solving Problems Is Customer Service.
Do not mix up politeness and good manners, with our obligation to be accountable for the consequences of our actions, whether on a personal or business level, especially when it’s about business, where you’ve people paying you to develop a product aimed to solving a specific problem.

Last week I saw a councilor of an I-do-not-know-which-city government office who was being interviewed on TV about the fact that, during her tenure, a company for which her brother was working, won (or was the beneficiary of) several of her office’s projects.

She just managed to apologize for what she considered was simply a “rookie mistake” and nothing more. That's it. No further response. No commitment. No amendment. Simply one phrase "I’m sorry".

The same frustration we all feel when listening to public figures just say "I’m sorry" and with that pretending to fix the problem they have created, and not making any serious commitment to change things, is the frustration your customers feel when the best they can receive from your representatives, otherwise your alleged customer service department, is an apology rather than a solution to the problem your customer has.

Only problem solving is synonymous of efficient service.

You may have trained your representatives to have excellent communication skills, but as everyone communicates differently, your agents must be sensitive to the perceptions of customers.

Rather than training them to be kind, train them to be effective problem-solvers.

Each time your agents say “I’m sorry" there is a customer behind who has complained, a customer who continues to have an unsolved problem. Hasn’t it ever happened to you that you’ve contacted a company to make a complain, and then their representatives have been lip-servicing you around for a while, making you repeat your story several times without getting someone to offer you a real solution at the end?

Is this the experience you want your customers to have? Is this how you want them to feel about your business? Customers always appreciate an apology from agents, but when “sorry” - or any similar phrase - is repeated in a conversation many times, customer satisfaction decreases, because everything is indicative of poor customer service, and definitely will end up being a waste of time for everybody.

A few months ago I bought for my wife some alleged "vibrating dumbbells" with which, at least in theory and according to the advertisement, my partner would be able to make low-intensity workouts for her shoulders and arms, with very little effort on her side. It turned out advertising had exaggerated product performance quite a bit and nothing of that was going to happen!

But in my case, and thanks to God, what did the company representative do? Instead of focusing on apologizing for their blunder, she reimbursed my money without making any further questions. I ended up feeling so happy with them that even wrote a positive review for them on Google for the service I had received.

Like Jesus, your client wants to tell you: “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

There is a passage on the Bible (John 8: 10-11) which clearly reflects what your customer policy should be: “Jesus straightened up and asked her: “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”. “No one has, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

Repeatedly telling your customer you’re sorry while the problem remains unsolved will not help at all in the whole situation. What your client wants is for you to come up with a solution, an answer, nothing more. Without lip-service or funny stories. Just a simple solution.

Why do we insist upsetting our customers when all we have to do is solve a problem they have?

You must understand your customer is telling you: "I don’t want to condemn you neither judge you", that’s not the key of the issue. “All I want is to solve a problem I have" and that would be it.

It is this commitment on your side what your customer is looking for, which will make them happy again, put a smile on their face, will allow them to feel comfortable with you and your business, and hopefully grateful for the outstanding service received.

Less apologies and more solutions.

Do you want to offer your customers an unparalleled service that openly sets you apart from what they receive from other companies? Try to decrease the frequency of the "apologies” game with your customers, and focus your efforts, and those of your team, in offering "more solutions".

The cost of keeping your customers happy, satisfied is always lower than that of recovering a frustrated, upset one.

You could even learn that solving your customer’s problem could even have you recognizing your product was not what the client really needed and then recommend an appropriate, more effective solution.

What could be wrong with that? Put yourself in your customer’s shoes for a moment and think how you would feel if suddenly you come to realize the product you have in your hands does not serve the purpose for which you bought it, and yet, the company you bought it from turns its back on you and doesn’t offer you any alternative.

How would you feel? Scammed perhaps? I'm sure you would have preferred things had taken a different route. Wouldn’t you?.

I recommend you to read the following posts on this blog:
Loyalty and CKCH: When is it that you really lose a customer? 
I already bought your product. Now what?