Friday, November 21, 2014

Business Lessons: Buffalo Blizzard 2014

The greater Buffalo, NY area has been socked with 6-8 feet of snow in the last 4 days. The first 5 fell in the first 24 hours.  Most of the southern half of the area has been under a travel ban. The interstates are closed. Over a thousand motorists were stranded in their vehicles according to local news casts. Buildings are collapsing under the weight of the snow, and there is a substantial flood risk for over 200,000 people. So naturally, businesses have had a very unusual work week. What are we learning?

The good lessons:

1) Take advantage of technology! Many companies changed their websites and voice mail systems to a message like, "We are sorry for the inconvenience, but we are closed today due to severe weather conditions. We look forward to serving you as soon as we are able to reach the office." Some had calls re-routed to cell phones. Many others listed home phone numbers of employees to manage customer service calls and take orders which will be fulfilled after the state of emergency passes. These calls are being answered, and business ties are being maintained.

2) We love the companies who were able to stay open, and made creative use of their time and their space. Serving customers isn't just about making money at every moment. In the first two days of the storm, some folks slept at work, and kept their buildings open to people who were walking in from abandoned vehicles. They offered food, drink, and shelter while the storm raged on. These companies instantly became cornerstones of their communities.

3) Companies have supplied "good Samaritan" goods like food, water and blankets to rescue crews who are snowmobiling into the hardest hit areas. Other companies are donating to the rescue crews themselves, trying to keep the thousands of first responders fed, clothed, and comfortable. Using your professional network to support your community is a classy act. The kindness will be remembered for years.

4) Some companies have called employees and explained that employees will be paid for the missed work time, and that checks will go out as soon as weather allows. Employees are, understandably, very relieved. This is another classy move being made by some of the larger employers in the area. Some small, family businesses cannot afford this benefit, and are calling to check on the well being of their employees. Recipients of these calls feel very appreciated and respected. They will reap benefits in future employee loyalty.

5)  People are walking in to work, sometimes miles, and shoveling, manning phones, and clearing emails so that the company will be ready get back to work when the weather clears. These are the employees we all wish we had, and most of us aspire to be. This level of dedication and service, even in the face of disaster, makes their companies benchmarks of reliability and professionalism.

6) Business people have cleared email from home, called colleagues to postpone meetings and deliveries, and telecommuted whenever possible to keep up with, or get ahead of, their workload. These employees set an example, and make their businesses the standard to beat.

The bad lessons:

1) Bureaucratic red tape held up the ability for people to access the nearby pharmacies if their prescription was already housed at a different (unreachable) pharmacy. If your community needs medical care, execute emergency protocols as soon as possible.

2) Appointments are not being kept, but no one called or sent an email to their colleagues to let them know. With the amount of technology available, most could have made contact if they had tried. For those they were supposed to be meeting, their time was wasted. Keep in touch whenever possible!

3) Phone messages and websites have not been updated to indicate the business has temporarily closed. People have walked for miles to find gas (for generators and snow blowers) or food, only to discover the business was closed. Update your phone message at a minimum! Most systems can be accessed remotely for this purpose.

4) Although they are located in an area where snow makes travel impossible at least once, and sometimes several times per year, many companies had no emergency protocols in place. This left management and staff scrambling to create a cohesive and effective plan on the fly. Guess how well that worked out? Create an emergency plan, and communicate it to all levels of management. Your emergency may not be snow, but fire, floods, earthquakes, hurricanes, and tornadoes are just some of the emergencies faced by communities every day.

5) Lastly, many bosses insisted their staff report to work in spite of the travel bans. Bad idea! Those employees who tried to drive in were rewarded with some very expensive tickets from police, and many were stranded in impassable road conditions. People are angry. It will take a long time to rebuild goodwill among these employees. Respect local law enforcement, and let your staff do the same.

The difference between the good and bad lessons, in general, is thoughtfulness.  Those who view themselves as in service to others have made their customers, employees and businesses a priority in any way they can. Those who did not will pay the price.

Monday, November 17, 2014

10 Best Client Communications Skills

The brass tacks of a successful client conversation come down to 10 points. They are simple to list, but take a little practice to master. Don’t worry! Each one leads naturally into the next, reminding you of where you’re headed. These techniques are effective in person and on the phone. Practice each one for a full day. You’ll be a better salesperson in 10 work days. Here they are:
  • Start with a smile and a warm greeting. You know the smile you give when you unexpectedly see a dear friend out of the blue? That’s the smile to share with your prospect the moment you make eye contact, before either of you have said a word. You’re setting the tone for the entire interaction. (You can even tell if someone on the phone or radio is smiling when they talk!) How do you feel when you receive that smile? It’s the same relaxation you experience when you are welcomed and respected. Give that smile, and mean it. Humans tend toward reciprocity. This means people usually respond in kind to the way they are treated. If they’re treated pleasantly and in an agreeable way, they’ll tend to react in a pleasant and agreeable way.
  • Call every prospective customer by name. People feel more important when called by name. If you don’t know their name up front, shake their hand, introduce yourself, and ask them. Repeat their name once you have it. “It’s great to meet you, Mr. Foster. Thank you for meeting with me today.” When you need to address Mr. Foster, use his name once every 2-3 minutes. It keeps him involved, and keeps you from forgetting it! If you believe his attention may be drifting, call him by name in your next sentence or question.
  • Listen and mirror. Listen to your prospective customer. Listen to their words, their tone of voice, and their style of expression. If they are speaking quickly and gesturing with their hands, they are probably excited. Mirror that behavior. Likewise, if they are speaking slowly and deliberately, be sure to enunciate and speak at a slower pace. Don’t copy their voice or hand gestures exactly. (That annoys people!) These mirroring techniques have been shown to make people feel understood and respected, even when no words are spoken. Putting your body in the some of the same postures they use will help you understand their mood and attitude. If your customer has a slumping posture, slouch just a little, and see how it makes you feel. Are their arms crossed tightly across their body? Cross yours loosely, and see how it feels. Once you correctly perceive their mood and attitude, you’ll address their questions more effectively.
  • Talk about your client. The only context that matters to your client is how to meet his own needs, achieve his own goals, and solve his own problems. Most people prefer to talk about themselves. Encourage them to talk by using probing questions. As they talk, you’ll be learning about what product to sell them, why, and often how. Everything they share tells you something about their needs, their qualifications, and about their buying process. Do not interrupt. It’s good stuff. Apply what you’re hearing to your sales pitch.
  • Thou shalt not speak ill of the competition. Never, ever, ever. Putting someone else down doesn’t make your product or company look any better, it just makes you look petty and like a gossip. It’s unprofessional, and in some companies it will get you fired. Most importantly, you are not talking about your product or your customer! Bring your attention back to where it belongs. Youcan emphasize that your product wears longer, or that your service is backed with a guarantee. Ex: “You can make this purchase with peace of mind. We’re proud of our guarantee. It’s the longest and most complete in the industry.”
  • When your shopper finishes a thought or asks a question, be ready with the next concept or question you want them to address. This is the most important skill in contact management. Ex: Client: “...and that’s why I’m in the market for a new system.” Short pause. You: “Mr. Client, we have a large selection of systems that will meet your needs. Tell me about how your staff uses the system. What do they need the system to do more effectively?” Back to Mr. Client: “Well, if the system could scrape data from a number of different applications and generate reports, that would be ideal.” Short pause. Now you:“That seems reasonable. Think of how much stress that would relieve! We have solutions that do just that. How many staff members will be working on this system?” Again, an appropriate response is tied directly to the next probing question. This technique should be employed on most or all occasions that you speak in the sales process. It makes you efficient, responsive, and most importantly, keeps your prospect talking. Conversational control usually fails if you have not mastered this skill.
  • Praise/thank your prospect. There is always a sincere reason to praise them, and it shows them you think they are important. Ex: “It’s a pleasure to meet you.” “Thank you for seeing me today.” Even when they call you, work it in. “It’s good to hear from you. What can I do for you?” Your client is, and should feel like, the most important thing you have going on right now. Ever come across one of those salespeople who treat prospects like they’re an interruption or an annoyance? Giving the impression you find your agenda more important than you find your client is a sure way to see to it they don’t “bother” you again.
  • Be well and fine and happy. Sales is a customer focused activity. If they ask how you are, you’re fine, or great or terrific. Now turn the focus back to your shopper. No one cares if your feet hurt, if you broke up with your sweetheart, or if you’re in a lousy mood. Well, at least, your client doesn’t. Clients want service. Pleasant service. Make sure they get it.
  • Try to avoid saying “NO.” Your shopper sometimes will ask you for things you can’t deliver. If they ask, “Can you give me another 20% off?” You say, “What we can do for you is this -.” When they say they want lifetime service free of charge, you can say, “We usually meet that need by doing this -.” Addressing the question with the available choices is usually enough to bring the customer back to discussing the possible. If you are forced to deny a specific request, be gentle but clear: “We don’t offer that option. We’re happy to offer this.” "No" is always a last resort. If you have to say it, don’t leave it hanging in the air like a bug you want to swat! Follow it up immediately with the solution you do offer.
  • Create a “Yes” frame of mind. In your discussion with your client, ask questions which lend themselves to “yes” answers. Ex: “You appreciate a good value, don’t you?” Or, “Your family is the priority here, right?” Follow these questions up with immediate facts that serve the subject. Ex: “This insurance policy protects your family in the case of a tragedy, and also creates an investment tool to make the good times even better.” Once a person sees that you’re on the same wavelength, they relax some of their defenses. Feeling understood helps people build relationships. Prospects stop resisting and start problem solving, which means buying.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Keeping Management Happy (And Off Your Back!) In 2 Emails

All managers have expectations, and you need to keep your manager happy.  In sales, this happiness is often measured daily or weekly.  Some managers tell your right out what their expectations are.  Others hint around it.  Still others say nothing, and hope for good numbers.  It is important to understand what the expectations are, because they will keep you from trying to reinvent the wheel.  No matter what your manager's style is, get clear on the expectations, and adjust when they change.

Most management expectations are built on history in your market, and they’ve discovered which ratios and activities yield the desired results.  Do as they ask.  Eventually, you may discover that management isn’t as married to each activity as much as it is to hitting their numbers, and you can change tactics to get there.  Maybe you’ll discover that the only thing that works is following their formula.  The point is, the decisions you make about how to plan your work need to take management expectations into consideration, and meet their needs.  If you don’t meet their needs, you will be replaced.  It’s harsh, but it’s true.

A very effective tool for spending time efficiently is to keep management in the loop is to write the broad strokes of your plan for the week in a simple email, and send it to your manager.  “I have follow ups with A, B, and C companies for sales calls.  X, Y and Z have closing appointments scheduled.  I’ll be cold-calling in Bergen County in the mid-week.”  Send it on Friday night or Monday morning.  No, telling her in a quick moment in the hallway isn’t enough!  If your manager has specific expectations, you’ve told her the highlights of how you’re planning to meet them.  If your manager has no expectations, she knows what you’re doing.  And when your manager wants you to focus in a different area, she’ll write back or tell you.  You’ll know before you blow your time on the wrong stuff.

This approach also seems to keep micro-managers off your back.  Just remember to send a follow-up email at the end of the week explaining your accomplishments.  If something went badly, admit it, and indicate how you plan to remedy the situation.  This should not be in the same email as the “Plan” email!  Identify each with the specific dates they cover so you can quickly reference them over time.  Ex: “X and Y closed as expected.  The contracts are in fulfillment.  Z is shopping the competition, and has concerns about the sales agreement.  Another meeting is scheduled next week.   Cold calls yielded 6 follow-up calls in Bergen County.  Company A was a one call close, and the contract is on your desk!  B scheduled a presentation for Monday morning.  C has a closing appointment with us Tuesday.”  This simple summary shows your boss what your piece of her team is doing, and helps her make effective management decisions. 

All of this communication creates a paper (email) trail that will be helpful to you at review time, as it will be easy for you and your manager to quantify your efforts and your results.  You'll also be able to look back and see patterns emerge around certain sales approaches and subsequent success or failure. All this in two emails a week!  Get writing!