Saturday, April 27, 2013

Building Repeat Sales

Creative selling isn't just for new accounts. A good creative seller will base the renewal proposal on a fresh idea for the long-term customer as well. Since you know their business intimately now, your ideas for them should be real barn-burners.

Idea power works on renewals the same way it works on new prospects. It more firmly establishes you as a resourceful ally of the customer. It separates you from the competition. It moves you and your proposal farther up the decision-making chain. And there’s that key advantage of idea selling, which is its focus on value rather than price.

A typical contract renewal usually starts with you and/or your sales manager deciding how much more to ask the account to spend. That amount generally is determined by the budgeted revenue increase your company has imposed on your sales manager and has nothing to do with the customers or their needs.
So the two of you look at what the customer spent last year, what prices they paid for what inventory or services, and you put together a proposal for the same thing with an additional item or two plus some unit price increases. Sound familiar?

When you pitch this insightful piece of work to the customer, Mr. Big’s going to consider it with two things in mind:

1. “Since this is the same thing I bought last year, am I satisfied enough with it to buy it again?
2. And if I buy it again, can I get a lower price?”

Then he’ll pull out the proposal which your competition has given him and compare the prices. Since they’ve had a year to study what Mr. Big bought from you, they’ve undoubtedly offered their version of it at a lower price. Even if they haven’t, Mr. Big is going to tell you that they have.

Being the saint that he is, Mr. Big will also inform you that he wasn’t entirely happy with what you sold him last year and has to have a better price this year to justify buying the same thing again. And since you can’t prove either point otherwise, you have to negotiate the renewal on price.

But what if you had followed the Creative Selling System to set up your renewal pitch? You’d be presenting a new idea to Mr. Big rather than the same old thing. And since your idea is based on the intimate understanding of his needs you have gathered during the last year of servicing the account, it should be right on Mr. Big’s target. Can he compare your new proposal with the competition’s? They’ve come in with last year’s model while you’ve presented a completely redesigned, up-to-date, forward-looking alternative. Which looks better?

How about comparing the new proposal with the old contract? If he says he wasn’t satisfied with the old deal, he’s playing right into your hands. Once again, what you are offering isn’t the old deal—it’s something new. He can’t compare prices—it’s apples to kumquats.

Idea power is awesome.

Dave Donelson distills the experiences of hundreds of entrepreneurs into practical advice for business owners and managers in the Dynamic Manager's Guides and Handbooks, a series of how-to books about marketing and advertising, sales techniques, and management strategy.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Don't Lose The Customer On The Phone!

We like to think that things like the quality of our company’s products or service and the fairness of our pricing are the most important factors when it comes to building customer loyalty. To a certain extent, that’s certainly true. But there are several other things we do (or don’t do) in our operations that can sour the customer’s feelings toward us and, all too often, drive them into the welcoming arms of our competitors. Most of those things seem like such small items that we can’t imagine losing a customer over them. But customer relationships can’t be taken for granted because even the smallest molehill can turn into a mountain if we’re not careful.

There are several areas of business operations where mountains are likely to grow. One of the first places to look is your telephone, often one of the first points of entry to your business for your customers. When the customer calls, does it sound like you’re glad they did? Or does the way you answer the phone send the message that their call is an intrusion? If you answer the phone with a supposedly neutral statement like, “Dave’s Guitar Shop,” you’re making the customer work to justify their call to you. If you just add something a little friendlier such as, “Can I help you?” it makes the customer feel wanted. This applies when a real live human answers the phone, of course.

If your customer’s first telephone interaction with your shop is with an automated attendant, some different rules apply. Since most people detest dealing with machines, it’s essential that you make their experience as painless as possible. Here are some guidelines for setting up your automated telephone answering system:

  • Make the welcoming message cheerful and short.
  • Offer an immediate option—like “press zero”—to speak to a real person, then repeat it after the other options.
  • Keep the number of choices to a minimum. If your customer has to wait to hear, “Press twelve for the parts department,” you’ve lost them.
  • Label your choices by functions the unfamiliar new customer will recognize, like “parts,” “machine shop,” and “estimates,” instead of “Charlie,” or “Susie.”
  • Don’t make them press more than one number before they’re connected to a human.

If you absolutely must use a voice mail system, make sure it’s customer friendly, too. Everyone’s greeting should be pleasant and promise a return call as soon as possible. At the end of each message, repeat the option to “press zero” for an operator.

Whether you use a voice mail system or have someone who takes messages, make it an absolute rule that every customer message gets returned that same day—although within an hour is even better. Even if you have to call back to say you can’t talk to them now, make an effort to acknowledge the call.

The degree of customer-friendliness of your telephone system is easy to test. Just take a page from the manual of the retailers who employee “secret shoppers” and call your shop from outside to see what it sounds like. Put yourself in the customer’s shoes and ask yourself if the person that greets you—recorded or live—sounds like he or she is smiling. Listen to the entire greeting and ask yourself if you feel welcome. If you have an automated attendant, press every option at least once to see what happens. If you end up in voice mail purgatory—where you don’t know if the message you’re leaving is for the right person—you know you’ve got a potential problem.

Dave Donelson distills the experiences of hundreds of entrepreneurs into practical advice for business owners and managers in the Dynamic Manager's Guides and Handbooks, a series of how-to books about marketing and advertising, sales techniques, and management strategy.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Is Your Shop Customer Friendly?

When was the last time you looked around your shop to see if there are any customer-aggravating items? How about signs that explain your policies to customers? Do they read like they were written by Joseph Stalin? It’s really not necessary to scold your customers when you tell them where to park, make them stay out of the service area, or keep their hands off your tools, although it may seem like you have to sometimes. “No Customers Allowed”  sounds pretty nasty, especially compared to a sign that gets across the same message by reading, “Employees Only, Please.”

You sound a lot more customer friendly (and professional), too, when you explain why you have the rules you have. Add “Insurance Rules” or “OSHA Regulations” to the “Employees Only, Please” sign and you’ve made your policies sound a lot less arbitrary.

When it comes to rules, it’s not a bad idea to review yours every once in a while. Look at things like your hours of operation, availability of merchandise, deposits, and return policies to see if they serve a real purpose beyond irritating your customers. Do you close so early in the day that customers don’t have a chance to pick up something they need after they leave work? If a customer has to take off work, it’s an additional cost to them of doing business with you. The same holds true for when you open—can they drop off an item for repair and still have time to get to their job? Saturday and Sunday hours are customer-friendly, too. And if you want to really do it right, offer to accommodate customers by appointment at other hours when you’re not normally open.

Most customer relationships are built on good communications, of course, which raises a couple of other questions:  Do you call the customer when their job is ready or make them call you to find out if it’s finished? If the work’s not going to be done when you promised, do you call to warn them? It takes a little time and effort on your part, but the customer who gets such a call generally recognizes the thoughtfulness. Besides, it demonstrates that you respect the value of their time and, by proxy, appreciate their business.

While I’m ranting, whatever happened to saying “thank you” to customers? From the almost total absence of that phrase in most businesses these days, you might think it had been put on something like the FCC’s list of forbidden words. Another phrase seems to have replaced it, the one you hear when the cashier at the grocery store hands you your change and receipt and says, “here you go.”  What the heck is that supposed to mean? Even worse, when the customer takes the change, their inclination is to say “thanks,” which sounds as if they are expressing their gratitude to the store! What’s wrong with this picture?

If you want to make your shop truly customer friendly, make it a practice to thank the customer every chance you get. “Thanks for calling,” “thanks for letting us work on your car,” even “thanks for coming in” are the right words to use when dealing with the person who keeps you in business.

These may seem like little, picayunish details when compared to major factors like how well the product works after the customer gets it home, and they are—individually. But when you add them up, which is what happens when the customer comes into your shop time after time, they grow. Add enough aggravations, and the next thing you know, you’ve built that proverbial mountain out of a molehill
Dave Donelson distills the experiences of hundreds of entrepreneurs into practical advice for business owners and managers in the Dynamic Manager's Guides and Handbooks, a series of how-to books about marketing and advertising, sales techniques, and management strategy.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

How To Lose A Customer - Method #3

You can’t please everybody. Some days, in fact, it seems like you can’t please anybody. The paint color is a shade lighter than the customer thought it was going to be. There is a squiggle in the upholstery seam that only the customer can feel. The shelf is higher on one side than it is on the other—you can’t see it, but the customer can. How do you handle impossible, irrational complaints? (No, a slap upside the head is not a viable solution.)

The first step in handling a complaint—rational or otherwise—is to hear the customer out. Listening is the most important skill in customer relations, so remember the first rule: you can’t listen if you are talking! Let the customer talk first. Don’t pounce on what they say by trying to give them an answer before they’re finished. A remarkable number of complaining customers just want someone to listen to their problems, so learn to offer that particular small service automatically.

Is the customer always right? No, but they should never be told flat out that they’re wrong, either. Soften it a little by using phrases like

  • “I can see why you feel that way…”
  • “Let me look at that again…”
  • “I understand what you’re saying…”

Then make an adjustment if you can, or explain—politely and respectfully—why you can’t. It’s tough to generalize because complaints can vary from the frivolous to the catastrophic, but the key factor in the customer relationship is the way you communicate with them about it.

You may have to shave your profit on a job to make the customer happy, but it doesn’t really happen all that often. There are people who try to get something for nothing, but if we start by assuming that the customer is trying to take advantage of us, we’re never going to resolve the problem to either their satisfaction or ours. In fact, the damage to our relationships with good customers far exceeds any loss we’ll experience by giving in to the unfair demands of the single crooked complainer.

Dave Donelson distills the experiences of hundreds of entrepreneurs into practical advice for business owners and managers in the Dynamic Manager's Guides and Handbooks, a series of how-to books about marketing and advertising, sales techniques, and management strategy.