Friday, February 14, 2014

Sales Fulfillment Issues

I hear this one lament over and over from fellow salespeople: "I did my job and sold it, and then the back end screwed it up."  Has this happened to you?  Doesn't it drive you crazy?

First, make sure the weak link isn't you!  You may be terrific in the field, and not so great on follow-up.  You may make wonderful presentations, and make errors on your paperwork.  If you aren't squeaky clean on your process, when the time to comes to solve the problem, you may be considered part of that problem!  Confirm everything you can in a bullet-pointed email to your customer, including your scheduled follow-up calls and dates.  Make sure all relevant addresses and phone numbers are in that confirmation email.  And make sure the same email goes to your fulfillment department whenever appropriate.  (Fulfillment will appreciate the heads up!)  If you've covered these bases, move on.

Second, don't jump the gun.  If the fulfillment department falls behind occasionally, or only when things are extremely busy, let it go. Or better yet, ask your manager how you can help the fulfillment go more smoothly during crunch time.  Life gets easier for you AND fulfillment, and you're recognized as willing to pitch in and help the team reach its goal.

If it's time to address the issue, look at the big picture. The messenger of bad news is never received with open arms.  Management is interested in facts and solutions, not counting up problems.  If you present things well, you'll supply both facts and solutions.  Make the news as attractive as possible. 
Discuss fulfillment problems when you and your boss are on good terms.  If you discuss it when you're missing quota, late on paperwork, or have been late or absent for a couple of days, it will sound like an excuse for your poor performance.  On a day when you've delivered more than expected and the boss is beaming, mention your concerns.  Then, send them in writing.  Make your notes clear and without blame.  Make sure you indicate with whom you've spoken in fulfillment, and what supporting paperwork has been sent to them and received from them.

If you deal directly with fulfillment, send an email confirming the contents of every phone call or meeting.  Even if they don't write back, and insist on calling, write a confirmation.  You are creating a paper trail, which will allow you and the managers to identify where the communication breakdown or execution problem is.  If there are frustrated customers, forward their emails to your manager and the fulfillment department.  Keep everyone in the loop with the problems being faced by the customer, and offer to be part of the solution.  Things will improve!

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Foundations of the Sale

There are three foundations that make every sale succeed.  They are : 1) Client needs the solution you are providing.  2) Client has reasonable expectation of the product and the service you provide. 3) The client feels they have paid a fair price for the solution provided.  When the client sends a strong buying signal before these three foundations are in place, start the paperwork.  But understand that your job isn't finished.  Don't take the signature until all three conditions are met. 

Short of reaching for the pen and asking for the sales agreement, is there a clear buying signal?  Sure there is.  And when your customer starts to send the buying signal, can you rush the sale, or over-think it?  Of course.  So let's get it right.  It's much more profitable to sell the prospect correctly on the first try than to try to appease an unsatisfied client.

Customers send buying signals from the moment they agree to meet with a sales person.  They'll tell you what they want, what they need, what they have filling that need right now, and why they are considering a change.  They'll ask for a delivery or in-service date. Is that the right moment to close the sale? 

The answer is, only sometimes.  We want happy customers.  They become our advocates and sources of repeat business or referrals.  Still, no one wants to feel like they are part of your agenda. So when they ask, "when can we take delivery" or "what kind of deposit do you need" or "how do I bring my people up to speed on this" or any other classic buying signal,  it's time to stop any overt selling.  They're sold.  It's time instead to educate and advise. That will help ensure a happy customer.

Move to what using the product will mean for that client. Ask them questions about how they anticipate implementation working, and use that part of the conversation to set realistic expectations.  Make sure they understand the payment process.  Clients who can reach out and get immediate answers are usually the happiest, so make sure they have your number, the support number, and the address of the website.  Now you're ready for the signature.

Always send a follow-up email thanking them for their time and business.  If your client will be working with someone else for fulfillment of their order, make sure that you include all of the contact information in the email.  That customer is about to be an excellent referral source for you, and that will keep bringing you commissions as long as they are happy!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Shake Off Your Stale Sales Pitch

We all learn them: Long pitch, short pitch, elevator speech, card-passing catch phrase...  They are useful; they help us stay on track when we're nervous, and help us cover all the high points in the face of distractions.  And sadly, they can be total killers of a relationship with a current of potential client. 

Everyone wants to buy, and no one wants to be sold.  As sales professionals, we are the least likely to tolerate being "pitched" anything.  So why do we do it as often as we do?  The pitch is a last resort, a checklist, and definitely NOT the relationship builder we need in this competitive market.  So what works? 

Have the client sell themselves.  It's easier than it sounds.  Everyone wants to talk about themselves, their successes, their challenges, and the "obstacles" they have to overcome.  There are a series of questions most clients will find attractive enough to answer, even when they are pressed for time.  In general, they involve asking about current successes, future goals, and challenges to be overcome. When your client answers, they're giving you all the information you need to tailor your offerings to their current situation, and to where they want to be headed. 

Ask targeted probing questions.  We have all sat through dozens of seminars telling us to use probing questions, but no one seems to talk about targeting them.  Read recent press releases, and ask questions based on the image the company is trying to present.  "What made you decide to expand into the Syracuse market?"  Notice their differential advantage, and ask how that focus is working out.  "Your free delivery is the only one in the industry.  Have you seen a change in your customer retention?"  It doesn't matter whether these facts are related to your product or service - it matters that the client understand you are interested in the overall health and productivity of his business.  These questions make you an ally, not a salesman.  Now you're entering the "trusted advisor" stage of the relationship, and that's where you want to be.

Separate features from benefits.  When we deliver a feature and follow it up with a benefit, we can easily fall into a pitch.  When we start with a benefit, "Our customers hire us so they don't have to be experts in small business banking," it's easier to stay client focused.  "How much time do you want your people to spend managing your banking needs?"  Listen to the answer.  The client will tell you where he wants his staff focusing their attention.  Now incorporate those answers into a targeted outline of the features your product/service offers.  "Introducing a new product line in your company is what you excel at.  We would be happy to manage your payroll and credit card processing for you.  We'll save you time, money, and most important, take away that distraction from what you're in business to do."

Keep business and executive profile notes.  This is a must for prospective and new clients, as well as a great way to focus your meetings for existing ones.  If you have existing customers who aren't giving you enough of their business, it's time to make an appointment to "update their business profile."  What is the company's current focus?  What are they moving away from?  What do they see as their biggest strength?  Who are their primary and secondary competition?  Who are the key players, and what is their contact information?  Does their business run deadline-driven cycles?  What are those deadlines or cycles?  When is the most convenient time to contact the decision makers?  Point out that you want to be a resource to their company, and ask what else you should know to make that happen.  Don't sell in these conversations.  Let the customer come to you.  These questions encourage the most honest and creative statements on the part of the customer, and listening is what you need to do.  As you stand up to leave, offer to make a separate appointment to present solutions to their needs.  "I'd like to consider what you've told me and tailor some materials for you to address (this need)."  Your customer will ask you to stay if they have time, and make an appointment to learn more if they don't.