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  • Aspire » Sales

    10 Feb

    Acquire Customers

    Acquire Customers was number 2 of 5 on the recipe for business success given to me by a dealer mentor when I first purchased my dealership in 1997.   It was second in importance behind “Hire Quality People” on a 200 word, handwritten blueprint, drafted by this senior peer.   Although his dealership’s track record for growth, market penetration, and sales often placed this dealer group among the best of the best, this key to success had the least number of words of all 5 of his key points.  He summarized this action step in 20 words.

    The succinct message was simply this:

    2) Acquire Customers

    a. Aggressively sell to get a customer base.

    b. Aggressively try to retain at least (industry) margin.

    c. Monitor Sales & Margins.

    Even though this was an area that his business excels in; that was it, 10% of the 200 word total!   That said, when you think about implementing each of these as a strategy for building a business and acquiring customers, maybe his real key to success is taking a “keep it simple” approach.

    Digging Deeper….

    “Aggressively sell to get a customer base.”

    The elements to successful selling have changed with the internet and all the social outlets.  Today polls tell us our customers want you to educate them, not sell to them.  So, if you don’t know your product or service you will have a hard time selling it.  Personally knowing a little more background on the sales processes of this dealer group, educating had already been a part of their process for decades by the time this was drafted 17 yrs. ago.  Many of their sales staff had worked their way into sales after spending (sometimes years) in other supportive roles as they learned about the products, the applications, and specifications.   He also believes in providing outstanding customer service that was second to none in his industry and that no person is above any job when it comes to seeing the customer is taken care of.

    One thing that still lives at the core of sales process is people still buy from people; something easily forgotten in emails, texts, and the social media interactions.  His sales staff is expected to be involved in the same local associations & organizations their customers are in so they foster and build meaningful relationships.

    “Retaining a margin”

    This was a message directed to the front line people engaged in selling.  Many businesses are still afraid of being too transparent when it comes to showing actual profit.  The easiest way to hide this in sales is to structure everything around the published (list) price.   In this structure, most of the employees selling have an idea of the actual cost, but any discounting or negotiating on price is structured from the published or list price.   This can be effective and I have seen it work very well, but the person selling the product or service usually does not know the final margin at the end of the transaction.

    As far as I know from day one, this dealer has sold product based on a profit margin.   As he built his business all of the departments in the business know what the net costs are of the products or service they are selling.   They all know where the margins are expected to be in order for the business to remain profitable and they manage to those margins.  They know the tipping point where a good deal becomes a bad deal.  Without some level of transparency in your numbers, it is impossible for your employees on the front line selling your products and services to know if they are helping or hurting your business when they complete a transaction.  Establish and then retain profit margins on every transaction.

    “Monitor Sales and Margins”

    If the previous directive of retaining margin was a message for the front line employees, this message is for the management.  Someone has to continue to monitor the big picture.  Are trends changing?  What is happening in the economy?  Where are new pressures developing in our market?  Are overall margins increasing or decreasing?  It is the crystal ball statement.  To be prepared for the future, you need to be constantly assessing what is going on in the market.   Running your company on Auto-pilot in this area of your business will eventually run it off a cliff or into the side of a mountain, neither of them have a good outcome.   If your goal is to build a business and acquire customers for the long term, you owe it to them to monitor your sales and margins, so your business is sustainable and it will be there for them long term.

    When it comes to Acquiring Customers, how does your business approach it?  Do you apply any of these principles and practices to your business?  As always, we appreciate any comments in the space below.

    Chris Steinlage Kansas City Business Coach

    Photo by 10ch via Flickr

    15 Jul
    Photo by WoodleyWonderWorks via Flicker

    Photo by WoodleyWonderWorks via Flicker

    Sales management may be one of the hardest things a business owner has to do. Managing a sales person (or a sales team) successfully can be a real challenge. If you’re too loose about it, then you’ve abdicated your primary revenue stream and you’re left hoping that things work out. If you manage it too tightly, you will chase people off if / when they perceive it as a no-win situation.

    Ideally you and your sales team want the same outcome – more quality sales with customers who are a great fit for what you do. So just like the coach of a team will review the last game and look for areas to improve – maybe it’s time for you to do a sales call debrief with each member of your sales team.

    It starts with a consistent sales process

    If you’re going to have repeatable success with sale, if you’re going to have anything to review, you need to have a sales process that you and your team follow consistently.

    There’s a horribly unproductive myth in the business world that some people are just ‘natural’ sales people and simply talk to prospective customers and work their magic. The implication is that sales success solely depends on finding this magical person and hoping you can keep them happy – a tall order for several reasons and luckily it’s not true.

    You don’t  and shouldn’t rely on ‘the natural’ – instead focus on a proven sales strategy / process that works for a lot of different people. Your sales team still need skills and attributes – knowledge about your products and services, ability to ask great questions, the ability to actively listen, establish rapport, etc., but there’s nothing magical about it.

    Additional good news – the process doesn’t have to be horribly rigid or complicated. Most successful sales programs use a few simple phases to keep track of where you are in the overall selling process with that client. It could be as simple as a few steps – 1. Diagnosing the issue and the cost impacts, 2. Understanding what they need to make a decision and 3. Making a proposal.

    Whatever your process is, the important thing is that you and your team have planned out ahead of time what steps you’re going to take prospective clients through in order to either get to a sale or to drop the prospects. Often getting to ‘no’ quickly is one of the most productive things you can do in sales.

    Review the game film

    The team has a game plan (the sales process) – but that’s just the beginning and the best way to learn is to review the ‘game film’ from a recent meeting and see how well the game plan was executed.

    As the sales manager you have to be careful doing this – if it’s going to work, you have to present the idea in a positive way – remember you and your team are all trying to achieve the same goals, so the purpose of the sales call debrief is a constructive review to help your sales person get better. You’re coaching them on improvement, not telling them what they did wrong. They’ll be naturally defensive, but if your team learns they can trust you to help them everything will work much better.

    Here’s the approach – setup a weekly meeting with each person on your sales team individually. At the meeting, pick a sales call from the previous week and again emphasize the purpose of getting together is to learn from the experience and apply the learning towards making future sales calls more effective.

    Be prepared – develop and use a sales call debriefing checklist that covers the high points of your process. The checklist will ask questions about each step of the process. By following an objective, consistent approach to the debriefing, the sales team will know what to expect and get comfortable with your meetings.

    Ask your sales person what they did well or what the positives were. Also ask them where they thought things could have gone better…or what might have been missed.

    Finally – make sure you focus on next steps for that particular sales opportunity, have them suggest a strategy and then brainstorm if needed to really build on their ideas.

    By consistently focusing on the overall sales process and on their performance, you will be reinforcing your approach to sales and setting strong expectations on what it takes to succeed – you have to be positive, encouraging and consistent for this to pay off, but nothing else you do as a sales manager can have more positive benefits than this kind of regular coaching.

    Have you ever done a detailed sales call debriefing with someone on your team? How well would this work for you? Where do you think you might get stuck? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

    Shawn Kinkade Kansas City Business Coach

    20 May
    Links in a chain

    Photo by Grant MacDonald via Flickr

    A successful sale – for everything but the simplest transactions – is a series of steps…and in order to reach a win-win conclusion you have to make it through all of the steps. But sometimes the most challenging part of the selling discussion is being able to link those steps together and keep everyone on the same page.

    Luckily there’s an easy answer to hold everything together – the best way to maintain control of your sales process is to use an idea that Larry Lewis from Client Builder Sales and Marketing calls an Advance Agreement.

    When it’s done properly, an Advance Agreement will guarantee you won’t have the potential buyer deciding to ‘Think it over’…or to have a perfectly good meeting end as a waste of time because the discussion got off track. It’s an invaluable concept and it’s pretty simple to start using consistently.

    What’s an Advance Agreement?

    An Advance Agreement is pretty much just what it sounds like – it’s the idea that before you have a sales discussion…or before you move on to the next step of your selling process, you reach an agreement with your prospective buyer on what’s going to happen in the meeting. At a high level, here’s what’s covered in an Advance Agreement – these are points that you BOTH need to agree on:

    • Decide the time, place and duration for the meeting
    • Agree that you’re going to respect each other’s time and limit interruptions
    • Agree on an agenda (high level, it doesn’t need to be point by point)
    • Agree on possible outcomes and potential next steps
    • Agree that if the overall relationship isn’t going to be a fit, that you’ll make that clear right away (again avoiding wasting the other person’s time).

    It sounds really simple – and it is…however it doesn’t happen very often and using it properly and consistently can have a huge positive impact on your sales. The reason this is so impactful is that it’s an engaging way to make sure you’re both focused on the same outcome. It removes doubts, it makes the whole process transparent and creates an environment where it’s easy to have a meaningful discussion.

    Pretty powerful – right?

    Sample Advance Agreement

    The details of any given advance agreement are going to be driven based on your particular situation – do you typically close a sale in the first meeting? If so, then your agreement would focus on getting enough information on both sides to be able to make that decision…and setting the expectation that there will be a decision at the end (and you both agree to that). If your process requires multiple meetings, then agreement just focuses on what’s needed in order to move (or not) to the next step.

    Here’s what a generic Advance Agreement might sound like as you start an initial meeting with a potential client:

    Tom – thanks for taking the time to meet with me.  When we set up this meeting we agreed to get together for an hour – does that still work for you?  (Make sure you’re on the same page)

    I also wanted to make sure this was a productive use of time for both of us – I don’t know if you’ve ever been in a meeting where you were constantly interrupted by calls or people coming in.  Is there any way we can make sure that doesn’t happen here?

    (Getting clear on expectations and behaviors)

    As we talked about over the phone, I don’t know if I can help you or not without knowing more about what you’re up against, so I’d like to spend a lot of our time really digging into the challenges you’re facing.  I also suspect you’d like to know a bit about what we do and how we do it – so I’d be glad to cover that with you.

    Is there anything else you’d like to talk about today?

    (Establishing a clear agenda that works for both of us)

    Based on our discussion, it should be fairly clear by the end of the hour whether or not it makes sense to keep moving this discussion forward or not. Can we agree that if there isn’t a good fit (for either of us) that we’ll be up front and candid about that? (Keep us from wasting time)

    On the other hand, if it does look like there’s potential here, the next obvious step would be to setup a follow up meeting and talk about your budget and how  you all make decisions – are you comfortable with that outcome…assuming that it looks like there might be a fit?

    Imagine having the above discussion, in a very comfortable open way with a potential client. You’ve established respect and everyone is on the same page and knows what to expect from the meeting.

    Have you ever used anything like an advance agreement in your sales process? Better question – do you use it consistently? I’d love to hear your thoughts – share them in the comments below.

    Shawn Kinkade  Kansas City Business Coach

    06 May
    photo by ClintJCL via Flickr

    photo by ClintJCL via Flickr

    Did you know that one of the best ways to communicate your value is based on your common complaints?

    Well actually not YOUR common complaints, but the common complaints of your best / most likely customers.  One of the key tenets of great marketing is that you are always answering your prospective customer’s question of What’s In It For Me? (WIIFM)  And the best way to get their attention is to speak their language – in other words, start with their biggest problems, their common complaints.  Until  you can clearly get their attention with their own problems, you’re going to have a hard time getting them to listen to  you at all.

    However, when you use their own common complaints, you’ve got a great trigger for all sorts of conversations – starting with networking and marketing and all the way into the sales process.  If you’ve found the right problems, your best prospective customers will say something like “Wow – I’ve got that exact issue…tell me more about how you help with that!”.

    What are my customer’s Common Complaints?

    Unfortunately your customer’s top complaints aren’t always obvious – there’s generally not a published list and they’re not very likely to just tell you, so you’re going to need to do some homework and figure it out for yourself.  The good news is there are several places to start your research:

    Your Existing Customers – the best place to start is to think about your existing customers.  Imagine your best customer…before they met you…hanging out at a bar or coffee shop after a long day talking to one of their peers.  Imagine them sharing their biggest frustrations – “I wish I could find a way to ______” or “I am really frustrated by ______ – how do you handle that?“.   The stuff in the blanks are your common complaints.

    What problems have you solved for your best customers?  Why did they go with you rather than a competitor? Is your relationship strong enough to sit down and ask them?

    Industry Changes – Another possible source for common complaints are changes happening in your industry.  Take healthcare benefits as an example right now – you would be hard pressed to find a business owner who’s not concerned about the rising cost of healthcare and confused about where the industry is going.  Do you have something along those lines in your industry?  Do you solve problems that fall into those industry changing discussions?

    Do you have major competitors in your industry who have rolled out some new ideas?  What are they addressing?  Is it the kind of thing your best customer prospects might be worried about?

    Your Existing Marketing – Finally, look at your own marketing materials.  At some point in time, you pulled together a brochure or had the marketing guy write up your website and filled it full with all of the great features and benefits that you provide.  To find the problems, imagine pulling those features and benefits away from your clients – what would they complain about?  What problems do your features and benefits solve?

    However you do it, finding your customer’s common complaints likely won’t take to long – the hardest part is to put yourself into their shoes and to simplify things down to how they see the world.

    Some quick examples of common complaints:

    A CPA’s Clients - We are paying too much in taxes and not keeping enough of our money in the business.

    An Online Marketing Company’s Clients - We have to be able to generate more leads from our website, but I don’t even know where to start.

    A Business Coach’s Clients – As the business owner, I’m working really long hours and I never seem to get ahead…and I can’t find good help!

    A Personal Trainer’s Clients – I know I’m supposed to exercise and eat right, but I don’t actually know what that means or how to get started.

    Finding the most effective complaint for a situation is usually a matter of trial and error – and often depends on the setting and who, exactly, you’re talking to.  However you don’t have to have the BEST issue, you just need one that is generally going to apply to who ever you’re talking to.

    Your NEW complaint based 30 second commercial

    Now that you’ve done the hard work and developed 2 or 3 really compelling issues that your best customers are struggling with, you need to start using those to engage your prospects.  One way to do this is to use them in your introductory pitch – you know…how you answer the question “So what do you do?”.  Here’s a quick suggested format you can use:

    I work with ________(person in the company – CEO, CFO, etc.) in the ________ industry who are frustrated by the fact that (Common Complaint #1) and (Common Complaint #2).  You’ve probably already figured out the solutions to those problems a long time ago, haven’t you?

    It can take some practice to sound natural, but If you’ve found the right issues, there’s a great chance that the person you’re talking to will respond with something like “Actually we struggle with that.”  Leaving  you with the opportunity to ask your new prospective client to tell you more…and jumping right into a sales discussion.

    Do you know your best ‘common complaints’?  Do you use them when you introduce yourself at networking events or to potential customers?  We’d love to hear your thoughts – share them in the comments below.

    Shawn Kinkade   Kansas City Business Coach

    15 Apr

    Defiant little girl!

    Have you ever had an experience with a little kid where you had to tell them they couldn’t do something?  If it’s something they’re really into, then the response you got was likely a strong look of defiance, maybe hands on hips and a spirited “No…you can’t make me”.  In fact, the harder you pushed, the harder they pushed back…until one of you collapsed into a tantrum.

    It turns out what that kid was demonstrating is something called “Psychological Reactance” - here’s a great article that really explains the theory:  Reactance Theory  In a nutshell, we are all wired (not just kids, but all of us) in such a way that if we perceive our freedoms are being curtailed unfairly in any way, we will push back and fight against the perceived limitation.  It’s not a logical thing, it’s an emotional thing.

    Here’s a good summary from Jack Brehm – the University of Kansas psychologist who developed the theory:

    “Whenever free choice is limited or threatened, the need to retain our freedoms makes us desire them (as well as the goods and services associated with them) significantly more than previously”

    Think about the classic Romeo and Juliet scenario of ‘forbidding’  your daughter to date somebody you don’t like?  What’s likely to happen?  You just pushed her into pursuing the wrong guy?

    Obviously with kids reactance plays out in a much more visible way, but it’s still happening with adults – and if you are trying to influence them…if you are trying to convince them of something, there’s a good chance that you are going to be perceived as limiting or threatening their free choice.

    So what does this have to do with Sales?

    All of this pulled together for me the other day – I’m doing a refresher course on sales training and one of the key principles from the training that really jumped out at me was:

    “You can’t convince anybody of anything.”

    This is based on Reactance Theory…it’s not possible for you to impose your will on someone else externally and have it stick (sure you could hold a gun on them, but I’m talking about in a normal, business influence kind of way).  In short, you can’t create the motivation for them to take action – that motivation has to come from within.

    For someone who’s uncomfortable with the idea of selling, this notion is really powerful – you don’t have to develop and deliver the perfect argument, the perfect sales pitch every single time.  Even if you could, it wouldn’t matter because “You can’t convince anybody of anything” anyway.  In fact, the harder you push on your idea, the harder they are likely to push back if they feel like you’re telling them what to do.

    You can’t make me buy your stuff…!

    If that doesn’t work, then what does work?

    The real key to sales is getting your prospective customer to convince themselves that it’s something they want to do.  That sounds like semantics, but from a psychology perspective there’s a huge difference between being intrinsically motivated (self-motivated) to do something and being extrinsically motivated (external push) to do something.

    Therefore, getting your prospective customer to move requires you to get them to engage…ask questions and have them supply the answers.

    “It looks like you’ve got a real problem with XXX, what do you think would help you solve that problem?”.

    Let’s say they do have some ideas on what might help them – by asking the question you’ve engaged them and they start coming up with possible solutions (internally).

    Maybe they legitimately have no idea what would help them.  If that’s the case, then you could present an example and ask them if they believe that might help them.

    “I had a friend of mine who struggled with XXX as well – in that case we used the widget 9000 to break up the noodles and that ended up solving his problem – do you think that would work for you?”

    Again the key is to engage them.  You’re not telling them what to do, you’re not threatening any freedoms but you are letting them decide for themselves what might work.

    Reactance can work for you as well

    Another implication of this idea is that people don’t like to be told they can’t do something.  So if you have a prospective customer who is clearly interested, but hasn’t been motivated enough to take action, a little Reactance might be just the thing to get them moving.

    It’s a fairly simple idea, simple push them towards the opposite outcome.  Here’s the picture…you have a prospective customer who has expressed interest in your help or product, but they haven’t been willing to commit to anything.  They want to ‘think it over’ some more or they continue to focus on details that don’t really seem very important as a way to avoid a decision.  To use Reactance you have to draw the line – in short, tell them you don’t believe you can help them and that you are going to close their file.  They are now feeling an emotional pull to prove you wrong…who are you to tell them that you can’t help them?  Often this will provoke new interest and will get the ball rolling again.  And realistically, if they weren’t moving before, you really don’t have much to lose.

    This idea / approach is also called Negative Reverse Selling and one of the first places I ran across it was via Sandler Sales training – here’s a good summary of The Reverse Sell per David Sandler.

    What do you think?   We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below, but I can tell you’re the kind of person who would never leave a comment on a blog.  (see what I did there…).  ;-)

    Shawn Kinkade   Kansas City Business Coach