Friday, December 24, 2010

7 Things to Do Between Christmas & New Years to Increase Your Sales

Trying to make use of the down time between Christmas and New Years? Here are 7 things to do in the next week between Christmas & New Years to jazz up your sales:
  1. Read a bestselling business book. During the holidays the new book display is easy to find at the book store. Pick one that looks interesting and read it to find out what current thought is in the business world. It can also provide content for a conversation starter with customers.

  2. Buy a subscription to People magazine. I got this idea from John Jantsch's book Duct Tape Marketing (plus I've read People for years!). For the last 20 years People magazine has sold more magazines than any other. People will help you get a feel for what the "majority of Americans want to fight, find, lose, gain, have, give or embrace" according to Jantsch. If your customers are men and women ages 25 to 54 then People magazine will tell you what your customers are talking about. Read Jantsch's full explanation and I'll bet you won't think twice about subscribing.

  3. Really clean off your desk. Throw away old papers, file necessary papers, remove all the post-it notes from around your computer monitor, get out the furniture polish or a wet rag and wipe the desk surface clean.

  4. Make and prioritize your list of what you want to do the first week in January. I always feel overwhelmed when the holidays are over and lose the first few days in January because I'm in chaos and trying to do everything on the first day. Keep in mind that your customers will feel the same way and may not be as receptive to you at this time.

  5. Get your tax stuff in order. By April 15th you won't remember half of what you did in 2010 and digging through papers and receipts to get your taxes done will be a huge distraction.

  6. Mentally reflect on your business. Do you have any clients that really bug you or drain you? Do you have any projects or tasks that you dread doing? Is there anything you do in your business day that feels like a waste of time? Think about how you can eliminate energy draining projects or clients so you can focus on increasing your sales and on projects you really enjoy.

  7. Have fun. Spend time with friends, go see a movie, hit the gym, or do whatever you enjoy that helps you refuel to start the new year off with energy.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Do You Hate What You Do for a Living?

I just finished reading Andre Agassi's autobiography OPEN and was surprised to learn that Andre Agassi hates tennis. He says it several times throughout the book. He even hated it when he was young and winning tournaments all the time. Whenever he confesses this fact to friends they are incredulous and don't believe him. Even now, he doesn't have a tennis court at his home.

Basically, tennis was all Agassi knew how to do and so that is what he did. As a child prodigy he spent his school years on the tennis circuit traveling all over the world. He didn't even finish high school. At times his dislike for the game surfaced in his bad attitude or unsportsmanlike antics.

It reminded me of how small business owners can both love and loathe what they do for a living. You feel boxed into a corner like what you are doing is all you know how to do. You may feel like there are no alternatives available. Guess what? Your customers are on to you. They will know if your business is run by someone who hates coming to work every day. It will surface in poor customer service, low quality, bad employees and eventually reduced sales.

Here are a few tips for jazzing up your sales when you feel like you hate what you do for a living:

  • Focus on what you like instead of what you don't like.

  • Be good, but not perfect. Perfectionism can cause you to focus on tiny details that don't matter and can really bog you down.

  • "Control what you can control," is advice Agassi's conditioning coach gave him. Unhappiness can result from feeling like things are out of control. If you don't have the power to change something then let it go.

  • Take a quick look at yourself. Are you miserable in other aspects of your life? As a business owner I definitely understand that work and home life can be one in the same. Make sure your dissatisfaction at work isn't a by-product of other issues in your life.

  • Figure out exactly what it is that you don't like. Don't get overwhelmed and say that you hate EVERYTHING. If it's the 24/7 schedule find a way to have an employee cover for you at times. If it's having employees you can't count on, make finding better employees a priority. If you can articulate what you hate in one sentence then you are on your way to finding a solution to your problem.

  • Don't quit. You may just be unhappy because a big deal you were working on fell through or you lost a key account. Don't let one failure define who you are or the reputation of your business. All businesses have big losses on occasion. Good businesses learn from it and move on.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

10 Ways to Snap Out of a Sales Slump

If you've been in business long enough you've gone through a dry spell. Experienced sales people know this will happen. Experienced sales people also know that if they keep prodding ahead things will change for the better.

Here are 10 ways to snap out of a sales slump:

  1. Start with the business you have. Loyal customers are glad to hear from you and will be most receptive to new offerings you have. Spend a few days calling or visiting all of your existing customers and thank them for their business. Keep it short and sweet so as not to waste their time.
  2. Ask for referrals. Don't be afraid to ask your friends and happy customers to refer you or your services to their contacts. Most people are glad to help.
  3. Resist the urge to make a bad deal just to make a sale. You'll hate yourself later for it and the bad deal will distract you from more worthwhile efforts.
  4. Know what you can and cannot control. Justifying your sales slump by blaming the bad economy is not the solution. You cannot control the economy. What you can control is the quality of services you offer, the employees you hire, how you present yourself and your attitude.
  5. Don't get snotty with a potential customer. I remember a sales person from the National Chamber of Commerce cold calling me and being visibly ticked when I didn't buy from him. Not only had I stopped what I was doing to meet with him when he dropped in but I listened to what he had to say. When I didn't buy from him on the spot he got mad and told me what a big mistake I was making. He was probably in a sales slump and decided to take it out on me - but there's no way I'd ever buy from him now.
  6. Focus on what's right instead of what's wrong. When you lose a sale it's human nature to try to figure out what went wrong. Was it my timing? Did I not have a good enough relationship with the client? Was my product not as good? Instead of going through this litany of questions ask yourself, "On my last sale what did I do right? What made the customer chose me? What did I do to persuade the customer my product/service was better?"
  7. Get your act together. In other words, get organized. When you are in a slump it's natural to panic and respond in a desperate haphazard way. Clean off your messy desk, organize your email inbox, update your contact database and wash your car.
  8. Let dead dogs lie. We all have customers we've been working on for yeearrrrsssss who always say, "No," but we keep holding on to the idea that one day they'll be ours. Stop. Move on. Go sell to someone else.
  9. Don't over-celebrate. Keeping your pipeline full will prevent a slump. Continue sales and marketing efforts like networking, PR, advertising and cold calling even when sales are going gangbusters. Be careful not to take a week or 2 off celebrating a big sale because it can lead to a future slump.
  10. Buy a new outfit. You've heard the saying, "If you look good, you feel good." It's true.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Know When to Zip it!

Have you ever been excited that a client you are working with finally decided to sign up and buy from you? Remember that as soon as a prospective client agrees to sign your contract, writes you a check or says, "I'd like to order 50," then it's time to stop talking. Don't discuss anything else. Not the weather. Not your kid's birthday party. Nothing. Nada. Zip it!!!

I'll never forget one of my sales managers who was in such a hurry to leave our customer's office after the sale that he knocked their clock off the wall and then stepped on it! Without saying a word he picked it up, brushed if off, hung it back on the wall and practically ran out of the office with me tagging along.

It's natural to be excited about making a sale or getting an order - but resist the urge to make idle chit chat as you leave your client's office or as he leaves your office. You could give your client a reason to change his mind. But if you happen to knock his clock off the wall and step on it I'd open my mouth long enough to apologize!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

What do Tupperware & YouTube have in Common?

I never would have realized what Tupperware and YouTube have in common had I not read the book Viral Loop by Adam Penenberg. In 238 pages the author explains how successful companies tap into vast social networks. Beginning with Tupperware the viral networks of companies like Netscape, Hotmail, eBay, PayPal, Flickr, MySpace, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter are explored and the term "viral coefficient" is used to explain how they caught on in the market place.

In the olden days we called it "word of mouth" but with the internet ideas spread infinitely faster, many times within hours. More than one viral loop company has grown so fast that its founders have been awake 24 hours a day for several days making 3:00 a.m. server changes just to keep up with demand. With a viral loop a small business can grow huge in a matter of days. It's Webonomics at it's finest.

Here are 5 quick facts I learned from the book:

  1. Viral loop businesses are web-based, free and users spread the product purely from using it.

  2. You must have a viral coefficient of at least 1 to have truly viral growth. This means for every user of your product, they tell one person each day. On day 1 you have one user and the next day twice as many - and so on. If you have 100 users, on day 2 you would have 200 users, on day 3 you would have 400 users, etc.

  3. Viral loops cannot be initiated and carried out by a marketing department. It has to be built into your product from the beginning.

  4. Be open minded when your product or service shows up or is spoofed on YouTube. Remember the Mentos and Diet Coke experiments? Mentos embraced it and enjoyed $10 million worth of free publicity and a 20% increase in sales. Procter & Gamble CEO A.G. Lafley is quoted as saying, "The more in control we are, the more out of touch we become. But the more willing we are to let go a little, the more we're finding we get in touch with our customers."

  5. Don't hold back on viral opportunities because you are afraid of growing too fast. All of the viral loop companies grew too fast and were glad to figure out ways to overcome their obstacles.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

How to Argue with Your Customers

Arguing with a customer is a lose-lose. Even when you know your customer is wrong.

I can still remember taking the bait with an angry customer and yelling back. It was a hot day in the Texas summer when I worked for Otis Elevator. The hotel manager at a fancy hotel was mad. I drove down to his hotel to check out the problem myself.

This hotel had an old-fashioned elevator that required an operator. The car door was a collapsible gate that opened by hand like an accordion. Bellmen used this elevator to move luggage for hotel guests and the gate had been banged off the track and was hanging in the doorway. The elevator, of course, wouldn't run and this type of problem wasn't covered in the hotel's elevator maintenance contract.

The hotel manager proceeded to scream at me in the hotel lobby in front of staff and guests. Yelling at the top of his lungs! He claimed the gate "just jumped off the track and broke." I claimed one of the bellmen ran into it with his luggage cart. He claimed his bellmen didn't run into the gate. I grabbed a luggage cart and yelled back, showing him the dents at the bottom of the cart where it had run into the gate. Paint had even chipped off the gate onto the cart. He yelled LOUDER and got angrier!

I won the battle but lost the war. He called my boss as soon as I left.

Use these tips to jazz up your sales when arguing with a customer:

  • Apologize, no matter how much it makes you cringe. Apologizing is one of the fastest ways to diffuse anger. It will shave minutes off your argument and it doesn't mean you are admitting fault.
  • Control your voice. Resist the urge to yell back by intentionally talking in a softer voice than your customer.
  • Allow the customer to vent. Many times people communicate with high emotion because they don't feel understood. Try not to offer a response or solution until the customer has fully explained himself.
  • Don't make threats. Statements like, "If you do ______, then I'm going to do ______" will only make matters worse. Backing your customer into a corner is a short-term win for you.
  • Say what you can do. Once the customer has vented avoid rehashing what has been said and who is at fault. Instead, focus on what can be done to rectify the situation.
  • When in doubt, say nothing. You can't take back words. Even if you retract what you say, your customer will remember you said it. Err on the side of caution. Less is more.

By the way, thanks for letting ME vent! I still get mad when I think about that hotel manager.

Monday, June 07, 2010

The Caboose Matters Most

Our family recently installed a swimming pool just in time for the hot Texas summer! Big home improvement projects typically cause anxiety for me. (Honestly, I believe I have a form of post-traumatic stress disorder from a home renovation gone bad when I was weeks from delivering my second daughter in 2002). However, the pool installation was fabulous! Within 4 weeks we were swimming in the pool. Several friends were so impressed that they asked who our pool company was and subsequently contacted the company for a pool quote.

Once the pool was swimmable there were a few odds and ends needing completion. This is where our pool company took a nose dive in the deep end. Getting the company to finish up their punch list has taken 3 times as long as it took to install the pool and it's still not completely finished. Now we are calling our friends and retracting our accolades for the pool company. All because of a few tiny odds and ends.

Sadly, the last thing that happens is what customers remember. No matter how great your product is or how perfect your service has been the last thing that happens defines you and your business. As salespeople we like to make a sale and move on to the next customer when really we should see the process through until we can waive at the caboose driver.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Do You Tap Your Brakes?

On my way to drop the kids off at school today I saw a police car parked on the shoulder and automatically tapped my brakes. I almost always involuntarily tap my brakes when I see a police car on the road. This made me think - do I tap my brakes because I assume I must be speeding? Do I assume I must be doing something wrong just because I see a police car? Or does the police car just raise my awareness of my driving speed?

This happens in sales, too. We may be talking to a customer and just because they mention our competitor or make an objection we assume they don't want to buy from us. We assume we must have said something wrong in our sales presentation just because the competitor's name or product was mentioned. Actually, it should simply raise our awareness of why our product or service is better and how we can best help our customers.

One quick side note about my driving this morning. If I was speeding I wouldn't drive up to the police car and tell the policeman. Instead, I would casually slow down and hope he doesn't see me. Same thing with your customers. If they bring up your competition don't let the conversation be about what the competition can do. Instead, casually turn the conversation to what you and your product can do.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Would you Rather be Lucky than Good?

I'll never forget one of the biggest surprises of my sales career. I drove 2 hours to give a potential customer a 1-hour presentation in hopes of gaining his business. As soon as I walked into his office he pulled out his pen and said, "Where do I sign?" WHAT? I almost didn't know what to do. Thankfully I had been in sales long enough to know to keep my mouth shut, show him where to sign and then high-tail it out of his office. Less than 5 minutes later I was in my car headed home. How lucky can you get?!

If you've worked in sales then you know people who try to take the easy way out by not preparing as much as they should for a call, by leaning on their personal relationships more than their ability or by not putting in the time it takes to develop their skills.

Being good at sales is hard work. It's not just using a formula that you plug in. I believe we create our own luck by being over prepared, knowing our product and service, and learning and understanding what our customers really need.

But I have to confess - sometimes I'd rather be lucky than good!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

How to Trust Your Customers

Sam Moon is a retail store in Dallas. When I was growing up it was a great place to go for good deals on accessories like earrings, purses, belts, etc. (It's still a great place to go). Every time we shopped there my friends and I would joke about how the sales people followed you around the store because they were afraid you would steal something. The sales staff didn't try to hide their suspicion of customers. I felt like I wasn't trusted and consequently it made me not trust the store. When the sales person told me the necklace looked good on me I didn't trust her. When the sales person told me the purse was real leather I didn't trust her.

Today I called to make a reservation at the restaurant Medieval Times in Dallas. The reservationist told me I must pay 100% up front for all parties, there were no refunds of any kind and I was only allowed to change my reservation once. It felt like a "gotcha" situation - like they didn't trust me to show up.

I understand that businesses must have policies in place to protect themselves from theft, piracy and fraud. There will always be customers who take unfair advantage of every situation. When Costco and Home Depot allow returns with no questions asked - you know someone is going to show up with a worn out "something" and ask for a refund. And we've all heard the story of customer service giant Nordstrom allowing a customer to return a used tire (they don't even sell tires!).

Trust your customers to jazz up your sales. Here's how:
  1. Don't use the term "company policy" to hide behind rules. The Medieval Times reservationist used this line when explaining why I had to pay 100% up front.

  2. Offer a free trial with few restrictions (the test drive theory).

  3. Listen first. Don't just listen - do it first. In his book The Speed of Trust Stephen M.R. Covey lists this as one of the 13 Behaviors of trust. When you are trying to make a sale it is natural to "pretend listen" while waiting to jump in when your customer is finished talking. Covey calls this "counterfeit listening." Listen first and it will tell you how to build trust.

  4. Spell out your guarantee. By doing this you are showing customers you trust them to hold you accountable for your claims. Know that you will need to stand behind your guarantee even when it hurts.

  5. Allow your customers to complain. Make it easy for them. Tom Egelhoff says to provide phone numbers (answered by real people), feedback email access and any other ways you can think of for customers to notify you when there is a problem. The longer it takes to resolve a problem the more potential customers will hear about this particular customer's dissatisfaction with your company.

  6. Give away something for free. In his book FREE: The Future of a Radical Price Chris Anderson says that the enemy of free is waste. When you give something away people feel compelled to use it. And the law or reciprocity will bring them back to you for other business.

  7. What seems to be a people problem is sometimes a situation problem. This concept is presented in Chip and Dan Heath's book SWITCH: How to Change Things When Change is Hard. Your customer may trust you but not your company, product or industry. Several years ago I experienced a home remodeling job with a contractor who performed shoddy work and then skipped town with my money. Since then I have not trusted any person doing work in my home. It has nothing to do with the people - I have blanket mistrust of home building contractors. Figure out ways to create a situation where you are able to trust your customers.

  8. Recognize when people don't feel trusted. As long as a person is communicating with high emotion, he or she doesn't feel understood. And a person will not trust another until he feels understood.

I don't believe the average customer says to himself, "Wow, that business doesn't trust me so I won't buy from them." But I do believe customers pick up on the vibe of mistrust. And if they don't feel trusted they won't trust you. And even worse, they won't buy from you.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Find the Bright Spots

I just finished Chip and Dan Heath's new book SWITCH: How to Change Things When Change is Hard. You may remember their book Made to Stick that came out a few years ago. In SWITCH they use the phrase "Find the Bright Spots." If you want to know how to find the bright spots in your business ask yourself, "What are we doing that's working and how can we do more of it."

In business we don't tend to focus on the bright spots. Instead we tend to ask, "What's broken and how do we fix it?" When we have an unhappy customer we tend to throw resources at making them happy. When we don't close a big sale we focus on what went wrong. When the sales force isn't selling as much we focus on how to get the worst producers to sell more. Parents even do it with their kids. When your child brings home three A's, two B's and one F which grade do you talk to your child about?

Psychologists call this phenomenon the "predilection for the negative." In other words, bad stuff is more memorable than good stuff. I lost a sale last week that I had been working on for 2 years. It bummed me out and I have thought about it constantly to figure out what caused this deal to slip away. However, I also closed a sale last week. But my success didn't get even half the attention as my failure. Just call me a "predilection for the negative."

Moving forward I am going to find the bright spots. I am going to find ways to duplicate my successes instead of undoing my failures.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

What Kind of Salesperson are You?

In Tom Hopkins' new book Selling in Tough Times he identifies 2 types of salespeople:

  1. The interesting extrovert

  2. The interested introvert

The stereotypical salesperson is #1 - the outgoing, funny, entertaining extrovert who has a story for everything and enjoys the "gift of gab." But many times the most successful salesperson is #2, the interested introvert, who listens to his buyer, offers solutions and has the patience to hang in there over time and continue providing valuable insights.

I've heard small business owners say, "I'm not a salesperson" and "I don't like sales." Maybe this is because you are the interested introvert.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Playing to Win

I really like to win. (And I was really pulling for TCU and UT in their bowl games this week, even though I went to Texas A&M). Notice I didn't say, "I hate to lose."

Recently I read the phrase, "Play to win. Don't play NOT to lose." According to Robert Caldini in his book INFLUENCE: The Psychology of Persuasion, people seem to be more motivated by the thought of losing something rather than gaining something of equal value. For example, homeowners are more likely to insulate their homes when they are told how much money they could lose from inadequate insulation vs. being told how much money they can save from adding insulation. This got me to thinking that there 2 types of sales people.

"Playing NOT to lose" sales people look like this:

  • Doing things that hurt your company just so you won't lose a customer.

  • According to Brad Isaac in his Persistence Unlimited blog if you say to yourself “I have to do ____ or else____ will happen,” then you are playing not to lose & subsequently focusing on losing.

  • Playing it safe and letting fear guide you.

  • Hoping your competitor will mess up instead of planning for every angle in the sales process.

"Playing to win" sales people look like this:
  • Agreements benefit both parties.

  • You trust your skills, talents and knowledge and use them confidently to win the business.

  • You are not afraid of losing, you are afraid of not being able to provide your customer with the solution they need."

  • You think of ways to thrill your customers rather than satisfy them.
In other words, you can play NOT to lose by playing it safe, doing what is expected and hoping for your competitors to mess up. Or you can play to win by using your arsenal of skills and talents to win customers and impress your competitors.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Use Coupons to Increase Your Sales

Last year my New Year's resolution was to cut coupons and actually USE the coupons on a regular basis. I have been cutting coupons off and on for years, leaving them stashed in a drawer at home and mostly forgetting about them until I'm standing at the check out line. So last year I kept my resolution. And I rang in 2010 by saving $6 on breakfast!

Here is proof. It's my coupon organizer that fits in my purse and accompanies me everywhere. (I bought it at Staples and have seen them in office supply sections in Wal-Mart and Target).

Coupons serve a few marketing purposes:

  • Draw you to a place of business
  • Encourage you to buy a certain product
  • Encourage you to buy within a certain time frame
  • Encourage you to buy more goods or services in advance of needing them
  • Simply serve as an advertisement for the product or service

Keeping the above in mind, I've noticed shortcomings in the past year in how companies and businesses use and honor coupons which has led me to develop a few tips for jazzing up your sales with coupons:

  • In addition to standard coupon offerings and terms, include your company logo and picture of the product (if applicable) on the coupon. I have a coupon for Kellogg's breakfast cereals that doesn't include a picture of any of their cereals. Keep in mind that your coupon can be used as an advertisement. Don't miss the opportunity for your customers to see your product.
  • Use your coupon as an advertisement. If you are a service business then a coupon offering a free consultation or service can pull people in the door. Make sure this coupon lists other services or products you provide.
  • Don't forget to include your business address and phone number on the coupon. My daughter recently brought home a coupon for a free burrito from Planet Burrito for receiving good grades. The address for Planet Burrito was no where on the coupon - and neither was the phone number. This makes it too hard for me to figure out where to go.
  • Never turn away business because the coupon is expired or not for the exact item or service. Give customers a little slack. There are experts who disagree with me on this and feel that you should never extend a coupon offering or make exceptions. Keep in mind that the goal of a coupon is to increase foot traffic and sales. Here's an example: On January 2nd I went to use a coupon for a free bowling game that expired on January 1st. Imagine how frustrated that made me feel! The bowling alley went ahead and honored the coupon - and that made me feel great! I bought 2 additional games for everyone. Mission accomplished for the bowling alley.

Remember that part of your coupon strategy is to monitor the effectiveness of a coupon campaign. You will want to know what product or service offerings got the most response, which publications best reached your target audience and the ROI of the campaign.