Thursday, December 18, 2008

Jazz Up Your Sales with a Happy New Year Card

It's the time of year to send out holiday cards to your clients. Last year I blogged about how to jazz up your sales with a Thanksgiving card instead of a Christmas card.

You MUST use the holiday season as an excuse to reach out to your clients! But don't fret if you are up to your eyeballs and haven't sent out your holiday cards yet. Send a Happy New Year card instead! It won't get lost among the Christmas cards or thrown out with end of year clean up. It might even have a bigger impact.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Jazzing up Sales in Tough Times

In Texas, we have billboard signs lining the interstate highways - advertising businesses and reminding us which exit has the next McDonald's.

I've been on 3 road trips recently and noticed that several of the billboards were blank or said, "Advertise here. Call 555-5555." A clever one said, "Do billboards work? Just did!" This reminded me that one of the first costs businesses cut in tough times is advertising. But advertising is crucial in slow times. So what can you do to promote yourself on a shoestring budget?
  • Check the season. Is your business seasonal or cyclical? Increase your advertising budget as your busy period approaches.
  • Use the web. Make sure your business has a website - even if it's a simple one-pager. Consider asking other businesses in your area to link to your website. For example, a restaurant might ask local hotels or tourist sites to link to their website.
  • Get out there and network. Attend meetings, conferences or other get-togethers (like holiday parties) where people in your profession meet. This can put you in touch with potential customers--and with people who can refer customers to you. Consider joining the local Chamber of Commerce. Then, volunteer on a committee and do a good job on the committee so people know you are dependable.
  • Ask for referrals. Your best source of future business is from your existing customers. So ask them. And remember those businesses who you buy from - ask them for referrals as well. An accountant might ask his office supply rep to recommend a potential client. Be sure to follow up on referrals ASAP and let them know you have been referred by a mutual acquaintance. Then, call your mutual acquaintance, thank him for the referral and let him know you have already been in touch.
  • Power of the card. Your business card is a mini-billboard. Make sure it is crystal clear from looking at it what you do. Shoot for clarity over creativity. You can even include a list of services on the back of the card. Vistaprint provides a great low cost business card!
  • Hand it out. Your business card, that is. Hand it out to everyone you meet in a business setting. Leave them on the counter at local businesses. Don't leave home without them!
  • Take advantage of bulletin boards. You see them everywhere - at the grocery store, donut shop, dry cleaners, college lounges, etc. Post your business card or a business flyer at locations that cater to your target market.
  • Participate in community events. Donate your services or products in community fundraisers, charity events and charity auctions. Many times you will receive publicity in the fundraiser's publications and be allowed to distribute promotional materials at the event.
  • Go local. Advertise in the local community newspaper, weekly shoppers or neighborhood newsletters where the ad rates are pretty low. Just make sure the ad reaches your target audience.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Book Review: The One Minute Closer by James W. Pickens is Worth Every Second

James W. Pickens writes his book, The One Minute Closer, for master closers and reveals closing techniques that he promises are "guaranteed to get sales." And he definitely knows who his customers (readers) are: salespeople!

One snippet in the book reveals how to sell to a salesperson. This technique states that salespeople are generally independent, positive, impulse buyers who like to feel as though they have the inside scoop on buying a product. Keeping this in mind Mr. Pickens constructs the entire book to make the reader feel as though he is becoming privy to the inside scoop on getting sales. Pickens uses phrases like "these closes are not for beginners, " "for the first time in print," and "if used in the right circumstances this close will get a sale every time." As a salesperson reading the book I was sold!

The book begins with an explanation of what master closers know about themselves. In a nutshell master closers exude confidence with humility and refuse to live below one's abilities. Master closers stay away from the words "I," "me," and "my" and prefer "we," "our" and "us."

Pickens also discusses what master closers know about their customers. This is my favorite part of the book because general thinking patterns about 34 different types of customers are explored along with explanations of how to sell to them. Great tips are provided on how to sell to salespeople (as mentioned earlier), accountants, pilots, artists, bankers, barbers/stylists, bartenders, coaches, dentists, electricians, engineers, clergy, farmers, lawyers, judges and the list goes on.

It was a breath of fresh air to read how one should treat customers - with respect, integrity and without judgement. Some simple techniques for establishing rapport quickly and getting to the root cause of objections are discussed. Some of the specific one minute "seal the deal" closes border on being theatrical and a tad hard to believe - but thought provoking nonetheless.

And Pickens does not ignore the behavior and actions master closers exemplify after the sale - a point noble salespeople know is the key to future business.

The One Minute Closer is written in a breezy format that gives the reader the ability to pick it up for a minute here and there and still retain the key points. If you're brave enough to try some of Pickens' one-liner quick closing statements then go for it! Just keep in mind one of the last quotes in the book, "Sometimes you have to make yourself humble to make yourself great."

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Is Your Refrigerator Running?

Mine is, but it has the knocks. Because it is still under warranty the manufacturer has sent a local generic repair company out to fix it 5 times. And now, instead of being pleased with the warranty service I'm irritated. The repairman said he usually works on cars.

This brings to mind an ancient proverb: don't bite off more than you can chew.

It will be tempting when trying to jazz up your sales to take on ANY work or projects. Projects that are on the fringes of what you actually can do well (or even enjoy). Resist the urge to venture out of your specialty - it can set you up for failure and take you away from what you do best. Plus you will not be as accessible to your already happy clients.

What was it that Tom Peters said a long time ago? I remember, "Stick to the knitting."

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Book Review: HOT PROSPECTS by Bill Good Makes Me Wish Life Was a Bowl of Cherries

Bill Good, author of HOT PROSPECTS (Scribner, 2008), knows the secret - he knows that reading a book about how to find sales prospects is just as painful as actually finding the prospects. Almost as bad as a poke in the eye with a sharp stick! So he interjects enough humor to keep you engaged. The same sense of humor one has to have when cultivating prospects for one's own business.

Right off the bat he discusses the Old Way of prospecting vs. the Good Way. With the Old Way you basically take a "no" to mean "not yet" and proceed to bug your lead to death forcing him to say "no" until he slams the phone down in your ear. All the while wasting your time and energy on a prospect who just isn't (and never will be) interested in buying from you. The Old Way assumes that buyers are liars and that when they say "I'm not interested" that means, "Send me more info." With the Good Way "no" means "no" and the conversation ends immediately with a "thankyouverymuch."

Prospects are classified as being hot prospects (smokin' hot), red cherries (pretty hot), green cherries (might be hot some day but not now), and then a few more classifications which are basically the pits. Mr. Good advises working with the red cherries because they will be fun and interested in you. If leads are unpleasant don't deal with them. (What a concept!).

Information in the book is reinforced on his website. Mr. Good inconveniently hides the passwords in the chapters so that one can't "tell all your friends." This makes it a little tough for those of us who may be reading in an airplane, on the exercise bike or any other place where a computer isn't at our finger tips. To go back later and try to find the passwords is time taxing. If I were ├╝ber-rude I would list all the passwords right here - but I won't. The information is worthy. Remember to read the book with a highlighter.

Two quick points that I highlighted:

  1. People buy benefits, not features. (Duh, we all know that) - BUT the spin Good presents is that clients ask questions about features, not benefits. AND, people must ask questions to buy. They want to ask questions to demonstrate they are "reasonably sophisticated" and prove they are "analytical, not emotional buyers." The lesson here is to withhold features in your initial calls and presentations so that your prospects can ask questions about them. Don't leave your prospect with no questions to ask because then they will not buy.

  2. Dripping. This is the series of "low-key messages and phone calls designed to keep your name alive" with a prospect. I've always called it my excuses for reaching out to touch a prospect. I blogged about this topic last year. A phone call, followed by a letter, followed by an email, followed by a postcard, etc. He presents dripping on the last 4 pages of the book. Be sure to read these pages even if you have to skip to the end.

Mr. Good reveals his extensive work with lead generation in the financial services industry. Depending on your business you may find some techniques not relevant to your industry. HOT PROSPECTS is a great how-to book complete with access to scripts, sales letter templates, sample direct mail letters and tons of checklists. You can always cherry-pick the sections most relevant to your business whether it's a small server hosting company or a large firm.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Watch out for Sins of Commissions

There's a great article in this month's Inc. magazine called Sins of Commissions. In a nutshell it says be careful not to provide sales incentive plans to employees that can be achieved at the expense of customer service, morale or goodwill. The author provides an example of a sporting goods store pushing $12 sneaker spray and how employees at the register told customers the spray was free but then discounted sneakers by $12. The net gain to the sporting goods store was ZERO - but someone at the corporate office was getting high-fives for boosting sneaker spray sales.

Some examples of incentives that could have adverse affects on sales are:
  1. Contests to see who can achieve the "Most Number of Anything." Quality usually trumps quantity. Think through short cuts or business that might be sacrificed just to achieve the "number."
  2. Short-term programs. Closing a quick deal can be done at the expense of customer service. Make sure an incentive program keeps the big picture in mind and promotes long term customer loyalty.
  3. Complex incentive plans that frustrate employees. Keep programs simple.
  4. Taking too long to provide the incentive program reward. Give people their stuff FAST - the faster the reward is delivered the greater the enthusiasm will be.
Even if you are a solo-preneur (like me) you could fall into these "sins." For example:
  • If you are focused on the bottom line you may cut costs in areas that give your customers less value.
  • If you are desperate for some sales revenue you make make promises that are hard to keep or make deals that don't provide adequate profit.
  • If you need to increase your client base you may take on a new client/account that isn't a good fit or drains your energy.

Watch out for the above sins and your chances of having long term happy clients will increase.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Write Handwritten Thank You Notes

When you get your mail each day what is the first envelope you open? For me, it's the hand addressed envelopes. I know for sure that these aren't junk mail.

Handwritten thank you notes are even more important in today's electronic world of email and text messaging. Here's why:
  • It's hard to throw away a hand-addressed letter without opening it first
  • They provide a personal touch that can't be communicated via email
  • Handwritten thank you notes are becoming a lost art. They are practically a novelty and almost certain to be read by the recipient

If a handwritten thank you note feels too informal for your recipient then type and print it on your letterhead. You can use a light and breezy tone - but if you type it, make sure the grammar, punctuation and formatting are in a professional business style.

Along with showing gratitude, thank you notes create additional opportunities to jazz up your sales by getting your name and company in front of your client. They are like a marketing brochure in disguise.

I love this quote by Tom Peters: “A two-line, largely unreadable scrawl beats a page and a half spit out by the laser printer.” So get to writing!

Monday, August 11, 2008

How to Lose a Sale

I love the Olympics!

And the Olympics remind me that sometimes we learn more about people by how they win and sometimes we learn more about people by how they lose!

If you saw the U.S. men's swimming relay team win the gold medal last night then you know what I'm talking about. After the French men's team talked smack all week about how they were going to "smash" the U.S. it was a pretty tough blow for the French to lose. But there the French were, standing on the medal stand receiving their silver medals and congratulating the U.S. team.

The same holds true for jazzing up your sales. Every proposal you submit won't be accepted. Every prospect is not going to buy from you. How you "lose" the sale can be more telling to your prospective client that you might realize. Here are some ways one might act when losing a sale:
  • Get ticked off, act dejected and tell the customer they are making a big mistake.
  • Resort to begging... "Please, just give us a chance to work with you."
  • Bash the competition... "Did you hear what XYZ company did to so-in-so? They are lousy and can't be trusted."
  • Badger the prospect after they say no by sending repeated emails or dropping by unannounced.
  • Tell the prospect you appreciate being given the opportunity to work for him and you hope he will feel comfortable contacting you any time. Use the sales loss as an opportunity to start a relationship so that your prospect respects you and your company for future business.

Which one of the above options do you think will win you the gold medal?

Friday, July 11, 2008

It's Always Better to Fess Up

I just returned from a great vacation to Colorado Springs! Among the many things we did was ride the Cog Railway to the top of Pikes Peak. You'd think working for an elevator company for 12 years would have cured me of my fear of heights - but this took it to a whole new level. Over 14,000 feet high!

On the ride back down the mountain the train quit working. It came to a slow stop at a downward angle of around 25 degrees. It was pretty steep and it felt like we were hanging in mid-air looking straight down. What took place next is what made me think about how fast you can lose trust with customers when you don't fess up. After some lurches and stalled engine noises the tour guide cheerfully announced over the microphone that there was nothing wrong with the train and not to be worried. No one believed her! And she was not shooting straight with us.

Here are ways to jazz up your sales by fessing up:
  1. Don't totally spill your guts. You don't have to reveal EVERYTHING that went wrong to your customer. Keep in mind that an angry customer will hang on your every word. Choose your words carefully.

  2. Talk in terms of the future. Instead of going into detail about what and why something went wrong, tell your customer what you are going to do to correct the problem.

    For example, don't say this: "My manager didn't show up to work today because his car broke down and so we missed the shipping cut off. I'm really sorry."

    Instead, say this, "We will be overnighting you the product today for delivery tomorrow plus we will throw in one free extra for your trouble."

  3. Don't blame what went wrong on anyone else. Regardless of who's fault it is, the customer had faith in you to get him what he needed. Accept responsibility for the mistake.

  4. Couple the "fess up" with an apology and a voucher/coupon for more business from you or your company. Hopefully, this will help you keep from losing the customer all together by getting him back to you to redeem his freebie.

After 30 minutes of being stranded on Pikes Peak people on the train began to get angry and concoct stories about what could be wrong. We later found out it was a problem with the braking system - and that one of the 3 systems (3 for redundancy in case the other 2 fail) had quit working properly. For the remaining way down the mountain the tour guide ran the train from the front while the engineer gave her directions from the back (over the microphone for all to hear!). Everyone would have been a lot happier if we had known what was wrong. But instead we all stewed about it and then worried if our lives were in good hands. The tour guide should have FESSED UP!

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Have a Sale

I love the 4th of July - not just because of the holiday and fireworks, but because I love sales. As a matter of fact, I already bought a new rug as part of a 4th of July sale.

But you don't have to wait until a national holiday to provide a special deal for your clients. I recently received a promotional flyer that was having a sale "in honor of the summer solstice." The summer what?

So, create your own "excuse" for a sale or special offering. Sort of like Hallmark holidays... (grandparents day, bosses' day, etc.). The more creative the better.

So, enjoy the weekend and hope you had a happy Stay out of the Sun day!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Just be Consistent

I think some people think that to be good at sales you need a dynamic personality, a great sense of humor and super quick wit. These qualities are definitely a plus!

But the real secret to jazzing up the sales of your business is to just be consistent.

  • Be consistent in the quality of work you provide. Clients will learn they can depend on you.

  • Be consistent in how you deal with clients. Don't be a moody! Don't appear down in the dumps. Have a positive attitude about your business - always.

  • Be consistent in your marketing efforts. Instead of spending a lot of money on one large marketing effort, like a mail-out or TV ad, spend smaller amounts of money on several marketing efforts over time.

  • Be consistent in your promises to employees. Your employees ARE your business to your clients. Make sure they feel engaged and appreciated.

  • Be consistent in your community involvement. Getting involved in trade associations and community groups is a great way to market yourself and your business. Being involved for just 1 year won't provide you with a jump in sales. You have to get involved and stay involved over time.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Don't Jump Rank to Make a Sale

How many times have you been trying to make a sale when you realize that the person you are dealing with does not have decision making authority? It happens all the time.

Here's a tip: Don't jump rank and go around them!

Here's why:
  • Even though your contact person doesn't make the decision, he is an influencer. You will make him mad by going around him or above his head - and then you are doomed.

  • The decision maker may have delegated the research on you or your company to this person because he doesn't have time to do it. Respect this chain of command.

What can you do?

  • Ask your contact person if it would be helpful for you to meet with the decision maker. But be careful not to insult their authority.

  • Ask if you can take your contact and the decision maker to lunch.

  • This one is a little dangerous - but you can have another person within your organization who has a higher ranking than you, contact the decision maker. He might say, "I know so-in-so and so-in-so have been working on this project and I just wanted to see if I can offer any assistance." I recommend this plan of action as a last resort.
We all want to talk to the decision maker - but it won't always happen. It's important to respect protocol and chains of command that your potential client has in place.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Jazz Up Your Sales with the Golden Rule

The Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Observing the Golden Rule will jazz up your sales. Observing the Golden Rule in business doesn't mean that you have to put all your cards on the table, reveal proprietary information to your customers, or make promises that are impossible to keep. And it doesn't mean that you have to give your product or services away at below market prices!

Early in my sales career I struggled with sales negotiations whenever I knew the profit margin levels were high. The company I worked for thought it was great! But I sometimes felt it was wrong. Was I taking advantage of someone? Here's what I learned: if you do a good enough job explaining how your product/service will benefit a client the price they pay will be secondary in their decision making process.

Here are some ways to jazz up your sales with the Golden Rule:

  • Respect people's time (biggy!), values, personal situations, family situations.
  • Honor your commitments. If you say, "I'll be there by 3:00 tomorrow," then be there!
  • Be the first to admit it if you've made a mistake. Don't wait and see if your client finds out. Be up front so your client doesn't think you were trying to sneak something by him.
  • Maintain price integrity. Know that your prices are fair and stick to them. Your clients will talk to each other - be sure they are all getting the same "deal."
  • Talk straight. Say what you mean and mean what you say.
  • Do a good job. Duh!

I still remember a customer of mine named "Dub" who was negotiating a big contract with my company. Dub had done everything salespeople hate: gotten several competitive bids, told me the price was way too high, broken down the price into several elements, argued with me on delivery and schedules, etc. Finally I was worn out and ready to forget it when Dub said to me, "Zan, this has to be a good deal for both of us. Your company needs to make money on this work, too." I was shocked! From that day forward I always shot straight with Dub - and he never called my competitors again.

The adage, "He who has the gold rules" is starting to lose ground. Even Corporate America is trying to abide by the Golden Rule. Companies are going green, donating money for disaster relief, volunteering their employees' time for worthy causes, and partnering with nonprofits. I love this article about what 49 business leaders say about the Golden Rule in Business. Take the time to see how you can abide by the Golden Rule and turn it into a marketing opportunity using cause marketing.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Donald Trump has it all Wrong

I admit I loved the Celebrity Apprentice show this season - but I disagree with Donald Trump selecting the unlikeable Piers Morgan as the winner. Piers won the challenges and raised the most money for his charity but managed to tick people off along the way. He came across as ruthless, arrogant and disrespectful; traits which he accused Donald Trump of having.

To jazz up your sales in the short-term you can take the "Piers Morgan, in your face, I'm smart and your dumb" attitude. Obviously it worked for Piers. But to sustain jazzy sales you have to take the "Trace Adkins, let's collaborate, aw-shucks, nice guy" attitude. People will only buy once from a person or a company they don't like. Customers learn fast. And just because you are likeable doesn't mean you aren't business savvy. Quite the contrary. Being likeable means you REALLY get the big picture.

I recently read the premiere issue of SUCCESS magazine where Starbucks' CEO Howard Schultz says, "Success should not be measured in dollars. It's about how you conduct the journey and how big your heart is at the end of it." I'm not sure I agree with his comments about dollars (revenue is key!) - but I do agree with the intent of his statement. And that is, your character and integrity are ways to measure your success because they produce trust and loyalty with your customers.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Using Voicemail to Jazz Up Your Sales

Whew! I called someone today whose voicemail greeting went on for 75 seconds. It gave a lot of "If you are calling about X, then do this" type instructions. By the time I was supposed to leave the message I was so worn out that I forgot why I called. I literally hung up, collected my thoughts, remembered why I was calling and then called back.

In general, voicemail does not jazz up the sales of your business. Having a live person talk to your clients is always preferred. But for many of us voicemail is a necessity. So keep the following in mind when creating your voicemail message:

  • Keep your voicemail greeting to 15 seconds or less.

  • Make sure it sounds professional and upbeat. Be genuine, not fake.

  • I suggest this script: Hello. This is (NAME) of the (DEPARTMENT) of (COMPANY NAME). This is the week of (DATES) and I am in the office this week. Please leave your name and phone number and I promise to call you back today. If you need to reach someone immediately please dial “0”. Thank you.

Click here to read some great Voicemail Etiquette tips. I also enjoyed this article on voicemail etiquette.

But don't use voicemail as your phone screener if you are running a business. Customers get frustrated when they need you and get your voicemail. Don't give your customers an excuse to call someone who will answer their phone!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Jazz Up Your Sales by Showing Excitement

Jazzing up the sales of your business is fun (more money for you) and people want to buy from people they like so....GET EXCITED!

I just left a pack and mail store where everyone who worked there seemed ticked off and bored. And I was such a pain to wait on. It was like I was disturbing them. Sound familiar? It was making me cringe because they did so many things wrong!
Your excitement about your business transfers to the positive experience your customers will have and directly impacts repeat business. Keep the following in mind to show excitement:
  • Hire for attitude. When you have a business you can't always control the attitude of the people who work for you so consider that when interviewing potential employees. Hire people who have a good attitude vs. hiring for skill level. If they have a good attitude they will learn the skills.

  • Answer your phone fast. On the first or second ring as much as possible. Be eager to serve your clients.

  • Greet people. Wal-Mart has perfected this with employees designated to be greeters. But have you ever been to a doctor's office and the person slides the window open and looks at the sign-in sheet without acknowledging you? (Rude!) Even if you cannot help the customer immediately, always greet them.

  • Smile. So cliche - but this is critical. How many excited people have a frown on their face? When you smile it is human nature to mirror the behavior. Smile and your client will smile back.

  • Focus on your customer. Have you ever been to a store and seen 2 employees standing around talking and not helping you? Or have you ever been at the at the grocery store listening to the checker and the bagger plan their weekend? This is like answering your cell phone during a business meeting. It says, "I'm not excited about focusing on you, my client."

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Persistence Pays Off

In my opinion, being persistent is the quality that separates the good from the great salesperson. To jazz up the sales of your business, be persistent.

Did you know that 80% of salespeople quit trying after hearing the first, "No?"

Tom Reilly, author of Value Added Selling, clarifies the difference between pushy and persistent. He says, “If you press for an order after I say ‘No’ because you need to sell something today, you’re pushy!” But, “If you press for a commitment when I say ‘No’ because I really need your solution, you're persistent.” It has everything to do with your motivation. Are you pressing for the customer’s benefit or for your benefit?

I'm glad that the builder I blogged about last month was persistent. Although from what I said about him appearing desperate you may think I'm contradicting myself! But we just closed on the house this week!

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Don't Appear Desperate

My husband and I almost bought a new house last month. It was a brand new home that the builder was anxious to sell. The builder appeared desperate to unload the home by calling every day (sometimes multiple times in one day), quickly dropping his price and then suggesting we circumvent both of our realtors. After 1 week of this my husband and I got spooked about the deal and withdrew our offer.

You may be negotiating a great deal with a perceived "qualified buyer." Just because the buyer's decision time frame isn't fast enough for you doesn't mean they won't buy. But you can kill the deal by appearing desperate. Avoid the urge to harass a potential buyer or beg. The following constitutes begging:
  1. Calling the buyer frequently to check on their decision.
  2. Dropping your price without taking something away from the deal.
  3. Calling a buyer's cell phone and not leaving a voicemail (caller ID - duh!).
  4. Putting fabricated pressure on the buyer: "Can you let me know by 1:00?" or "We are close to selling out." or "This deal is only good until 5:00 today." If you make something up - your buyer will find out.
  5. Becoming agitated with your buyer or questioning him. Confrontation kills most deals.

So it looks like we will be staying in our current house for a while longer.