This video, called “This is Water” narrated by David Foster Wallace, reminded me that we all have a choice with how we perceive the world around us. The only variable is whether we have the guts to make the choice to be happy.
As a serial entrepreneur, I have learned a lot about myself and people in general over the years. The first thing I tell someone who’s interested in starting a business is DON’T! If that doesn’t deter them, I ask them WHY they want to start a business. The answers astound me sometimes.
“I want to open a sandwich shop,” a good friend said. My reply: “If you’re great at making sandwiches, then make sandwiches for your friends and family on a nice Saturday afternoon – don’t open a sandwich shop!” Owning a successful sandwich shop has VERY LITTLE to do with whether you make good sandwiches. You have to find a location, negotiate a lease, borrow money for equipment, hire and train staff (or work 18 hours per day), advertise, buy produce, deal with spoiled produce, deal with the health department, get a point of sale system…and you haven’t made a single sandwich yet!
There’s nothing wrong with working for someone else – some people get paid to taste ice cream all day! If in second grade someone asked what they wanted to be when they grow up, and the answer was “ice cream taster,” everyone would have laughed. Who got the last laugh?
My brother said it best to me, “Alex, the difference between you and most people is your capacity for pain.” It took me a minute to appreciate this compliment (at least I think it was a compliment), but he’s right. I thrive on multitasking, I love to build things. I enjoy putting ‘systems’ in place to grow a business. I not only LIKE the pain of running a business, I REQUIRE it to be happy. I know this about myself, and wouldn’t have it any other way.
Life is YOURS TO WASTE. Yes, you have a choice – and that choice should be based on what will give you joy in life, not on being afraid.
I’ve screwed up many times in my life, more than I care to admit, but even during those tough times, I took comfort in the fact that I tried my best and gave it hell. No regrets. I challenge you to do the same.
In Jeffrey Gitomer’s Little Red Book of Sales, one of the sections I like the most is the one on power questions. He goes in depth on how to engage your potential client with questions in a way that no one else is. These power questions will make you stand out among others.
When you are trying to close a deal, you need to be able to make the potential client stop, think and engage with you. That’s what power questions do.
What Gitomer says is true: “You become known by the questions you ask”.
Here are Gitomer’s 7.5 power question strategies known to result in success:
1. Ask the prospect questions that make them evaluate new information
When you think about it, the goal is to get the prospect to think outside the box and break away from the normalcy of their day. You want to ask them questions that no one else is asking. They probably have sales people coming through their door every day, so how are you going to break away from the monotony of sales questions and really impress this prospect?
2. Ask questions that qualify the needs of the buyer
Getting a good understanding of what the prospect goes through on a daily basis is so important. It’s about getting them to actually acknowledge their own needs and really break down to the core the specific things they want to accomplish. That’s what qualification is all about. Anytime you can get the prospect to be very clear about their needs and goals, you can hold them accountable for those goals later on down the road.
3. Ask questions about improved productivity or profits
This is where you are getting the prospect to really think about their day-to-day. The idea is to get a feel for the operations of their business. It establishes the relationship and the environment that we want to create with this prospect. Sometimes they will share information that really shows you what kind of business owner they are or what type of boss they are, and that will really help you with the sale.
4. Ask questions about company goals or even personal goals.
Imagine you’re a business owner and someone sits down with you and asks you, “Where do you see yourself in 10 years? How many locations do you hope to have 5 years from now?” Those are questions that will make you stop and think. You don’t have an immediate response to those questions because no one else has asked them. Even though those questions may not have anything to do with you or your business directly, they are the kinds of questions that build that relationship with the prospect. It demonstrates that you really care.
5. Ask questions that separate you from your competition, not compare you to them
You don’t want anyone to think that you are the same as, or even just a little bit better, than your competitors. You want prospects to think of you as entirely different than the competition. We can accomplish this by asking the right questions. You can’t force a buying environment–it needs to be created with the participation of the prospect. Make sure your questions are a whole lot different than what other sales people are asking.
6. Ask power questions that make you customer or prospect think before giving a response.
Questions that make your prospect stop and think prove that you’re getting through to them. Going back to the question “Where do you want to be in 10 years?”, this is the type of question that they don’t have the answer on the tip of their tongue. No one has asked it before, so they can’t just spit out some automatic response. They really have to stop and think about it.
7. Ask power questions that create a buying atmosphere, not a selling one.
Power questions expose the prospect’s needs and get them to shop YOU. You are asking them questions like, “What do you like about our service?” After you ask a question, be silent! Get them to say what they’re thinking. The silence exposes their feelings and their shopper mentality. You get them using the creative side of their brain, exploring your product, and you just sit back and let them talk.
7.5 A critical success strategy is to enhance your listening skills.
As the customer is giving their answers to your BRILLIANT questions, write them down. Writing your customers answers proves that you care, preserves your data for follow-up, keeps the record straight, and it makes the customer feel important.
When the customer sees that you are actually taking note of the things they are saying, you build the relationship and create the buying environment.
Keep in mind, none of this is stuff that will come naturally to you. It takes practice and it takes preparation, but these are very important elements that you absolutely MUST be hitting in your sales presentations.
Case studies and testimonials help get your prospects to really empathize with what your business is doing and understand your services in a real world context.
Think of Apple’s commercials for the iPad. You don’t see them going into detail about gigabytes, chips and pixels. They strive to show you what the experience is like. And that’s what matters to your prospects—the experience they will get from your service.
Prospective customers don’t need to hear about the nuts and bolts, but rather how your product or service is going to benefit them. There’s no better way to do that than telling a story—and there’s no better way to tell your business’ story than having a customer talking about how your service benefited them.
If you had a 20 second video testimonial from a customer that you could play on your iPad when you walk into a sales meeting, do you think you’d close that deal? Absolutely.
You probably have tons of customers out there who speak very highly of you to others, so why not try and get that feedback in a written or video testimonial?
Well, the problem is no one likes to ask for testimonials. However, you’d be amazed to see how willing people are to help when you ask for it—and when you ask for it in the right way.
Here are some tips that will help you avoid some of the anxiety that comes along with asking for testimonials:
Ask for Feedback
Instead of asking for a “testimonial”, position it as asking for feedback on your business’ services.
Say, “Would you mind providing me with some feedback on your experience using our services? I’d love to hear what you have to say.”
Then, once they give you their feedback, you can ask them for permission to use their quote in a testimonial. For example you can say, “That’s great! Do you mind if I quote you on our website?” or “Do you mind if I forward your feedback to our prospects?”
It’s less invasive and aggressive than asking someone for a testimonial. Plus, leveraging the positive feedback from customers should give you a huge confidence boost when you walk into a business and try to close a deal.
It’s Not THAT You Ask, It’s HOW You Ask
When you ask for a testimonial, ask the right questions in order to elicit the response you want.
Ask questions like, “How have our services changed the way you engage with your customers?” or “What would you tell a friend who was thinking in investing in our services?”
Prompt the customer to say exactly what a prospect would want to hear.
Ask for Permission
Permission is key. Just because someone gives you positive feedback does not mean you have permission to use it in any way you want. You never want to get into a situation where your customers find out you’ve been quoting them on your website or in published documents without their consent.
You probably know the quote, “It’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission.” Well, that isn’t necessarily true in this circumstance. If for some reason the person doesn’t like the way you phrased something or thinks you took something they said out of context, that will directly affect your credibility to that person.
You don’t want to have to ask for forgiveness of a customer. By the time you do, it may already be too late.
Don’t Be Afraid to Rewrite
Sometimes customers may submit written testimonials that need a little bit of tweaking. There may be grammar issues, awkward wording or bad punctuation. You certainly don’t want to publish a less-than-perfect testimonial because it will make both you and the customer look bad.
Feel free to rewrite testimonials appropriately using similar language and wording, but make sure not to take anything the customer said out of context.
Also, make sure to get the go-ahead from the customer on the rewrite. Just let them know you cleaned up the quote they sent you and have them approve it before you publish or send it anywhere.
Give Back When You Receive
When someone gives you something like a great testimonial, find a way to give back to them.
If your customer is a business—go on their Yelp Page and write a review about them.
Whatever you do, make it personal and make it from you.
Almost all sales people know what they should be doing in terms of prospecting and closing more sales, but sometimes spending the time to develop and plan the right structure can mean the difference between success and failure. I have seen this many times in my own professional career and thus decided to increase the output of our efforts towards helping our clients with the development and time management aspect of the sales process.
We put together a “Client Planning Worksheet” to help each of our clients set a weekly schedule of their efforts (calls, prospecting, admin, etc), in order to help them understand how much time spent impacts sales results.
How It Works:
The first part of the worksheet features a daily time management schedule, which is where you can fill your calendar with various sales activities, including calls, appointments, and prospecting. For example, maybe on Mondays you make calls from 9:00-12:00 a.m., take a lunch break from 12:00-1:00 p.m., prospecting from 1:00-3:00 p.m., and schedule your appointments from 3:00-5:00 p.m.
The next part of the spreadsheet factors in the sales activities you put in your calendar to show you how much of each activity you will be doing per week. You can enter variables including the percentage of calls and prospecting that typically become appointments, which will then be applied to figure out your weekly totals. For example, if you put that you make 15 calls per hour, and 5% of calls typically become appointments, you will get 1 appointment per hour. Going further, if you make 15 calls per hour and you scheduled yourself with 12 hours of calling each week, you will be making 180 calls per week.
The next part is where sales revenue comes into the picture. The financial projections section forecasts how much revenue our clients will be making based on how many calls they make and the percentage of calls that turn into the appointments, as well as the percentage of appointments that turn into sales.
The worksheet is designed so that our clients can edit their schedule to either add more calls or prospecting per day, which in turn impacts the revenue that will be generated. It is amazing how much your revenue can increase just by adding a few extra sales calls a day.
Things to Remember:
Sales people—if you take away anything from this, understand that your time is extremely valuable. Make the most of it by coming up with a system that helps you organize your time in the most efficient way possible.
Also, understand the methodology of closing sales. We are visual people. Sometimes it’s hard to conceptualize things until you see something tangible. This worksheet helps our clients visualize how much their activities within the sales process directly impacts the results.
If there’s anything I have consistently noticed throughout my professional career, it’s that there is no substitute for core sales fundamentals.
Sellers as well as buyers are taking stock of priorities as the economy continues to show weakness across most industries. As a result, most sales organizations are pursuing new business—which often means taking advantage of competitors’ complacency or mistakes in providing service to customers. In the face of relentless competitive pressure, sales leaders are looking for smart answers to an urgent question: How can we protect our customer base from erosion as competition intensifies?
While there are a variety of potential answers to this question, most fail to get to the crux of the problem: a lack of understanding of how customers want to buy, and a subsequent failure to apply the right resources in the right accounts to ensure protection from predatory competition.
The following discussion offers three effective strategies for strengthening your relationships with your most profitable customers. The goal is to first free up resources that may be tied up in unproductive accounts. These resources can then be applied to create value for your best customers, which will make them resistant to even the most persuasive cost-cutting competitor.
Strategy 1. Assess Your Portfolio
To strengthen ties with your best customers, start by making sure you know who those customers are. Analyze the type and quality of business delivered by each account, and assess the cost of sales compared to revenues. Are some customers using resources that could be better spent on securing more profitable relationships? Are there customers with the potential to provide more business? And what is the status of your relationship with your loyal customers who offer a steady flow of good opportunities? Are they getting the attention and level of service they expect and deserve?
When it comes to the less-productive accounts, sales leaders are sometimes surprised to discover how much it costs to keep customers who are not consistently providing good sales opportunities. Often these same customers demand value-added services they don’t want to pay for. The resources spent to keep these accounts might be better applied to building value for other customers.
As you evaluate your better, more profitable accounts, look for those that were more productive in the past. These may have the potential to provide more business again in the future. And look carefully for customers with whom you have a relationship, but where business may have fallen off due to benign neglect or a lack of adequate service. These should be viewed as “at risk.” With renewed focus and a greater investment of resources, some of these customer relationships could be the source of more revenues.
But how do you determine which customers are too costly, and which should be kept and strengthened?
What is needed is an objective way to evaluate which customers are your real “keepers,” and which ones should perhaps be “fired.” Below are some questions you might want to ask to get a more systematic analysis of your account portfolio.
Questions to Ask About Your Important Accounts
• How do you know which accounts are the most profitable?
You are probably tracking sales per customer, and know the sales and revenues you are gaining per account. But how recently have you compared the cost of sales for key customers? Do you know what you are spending in terms of time and other resources to gain those revenues? If you are tracking COS you may have this data, but many sales leaders say they have focused primarily on the top line and do not necessarily compare the COS to revenue per account.
• Are you aware of which accounts are regularly providing good, winnable opportunities?
As you review your customers, look closely at the quality and quantity of opportunities in each account. Ask these three questions:
o Is there a consistent flow of real opportunities?
o Do the opportunities tend to bring true value for both your organization and the customer?
o Do you generally win the opportunities you identify, or are you competing for business at the cost of discounting and providing value-added services the customer doesn’t pay for?
• Do any of your current customers have potential to deliver more sales?
o Did any of your accounts previously provide more business?
o Are there accounts that have been neglected or taken for granted?
You may find that some of your long-time customers, even key accounts, are taking up resources such as technical advice, consulting, and other services they don’t pay for. And some of these customers are not yielding a comparable amount of good business. Consider cutting your ties or pulling back from these accounts, and re-allocate the resources to build stronger connections with genuinely profitable customers. Also look at renewing relationships with accounts that have potential for increased business.
Strategy 2. Strengthen and Protect Current “Big R” Relationships
As you assess your current business, determine what type of relationship you currently have with each customer, and what kind of relationship you want. First, it’s important to keep in mind the difference between what could be called a “Big R” and “little r” relationship. We define “Big R” as long-term relationships with strong company-to-company connections. The best of these customers are loyal to your organization—for reasons to be reviewed in a moment—and provide a steady flow of good business.
We define “little r” relationships as the networks of interpersonal connections sales reps must build with individual customers. These “little r” relationships—built on personal trust and confidence in the sales rep—are absolutely necessary, but not sufficient to protect a customer from predatory competitors.
As every salesperson knows, individual contacts may change roles, leave the company, or otherwise become unavailable to influence buying decisions. (One study suggests that as many as 33% of employees change jobs each year. ) When the relationship between your two companies is strong, the loss of even a key contact is less likely to affect the customer’s commitment and ongoing sales.
So one question to ask is: How many Big R relationships do you have among your productive accounts, and what are you doing to make sure these customers continue to do business with you? The advantage of having these customers in your mix of accounts is that price is usually secondary for them. Typically they are buying solutions from you that are more integrated into how they do business and for which they may lack expertise. Their concerns are with the kind of training and support you offer, your track record and stability, and your capability to grow with them. These factors create switching costs. This means it is not easy for these companies to change suppliers without incurring significant costs associated with re-training, disruption of their business, and other issues.
To retain these Big R customers, you need to:
• Provide high-quality support and service commensurate with the customer’s investment in your offering and the relationship.
• Keep them well informed about your organization’s technology, business direction, and development of new capabilities and products.
If you find that you have a lot of these types of accounts, make sure they are paying their way. If they are, make sure they are being well served and are completely satisfied with the relationship. Most salespeople can only manage a few of these accounts at best, as they do tend to require a lot of hand-holding and rightly expect quick responses to their questions, problems, or concerns. If they don’t receive the level of support they need, they may begin to question the wisdom of remaining locked into your solutions.
This is why it is so critical to make sure you are not neglecting the needs of these customers, and that there are adequate resources available to keep the relationship strong and thriving. As long as you are demonstrating your understanding of what these customers need from your organization, your competitors are unlikely to make headway, even if they offer the lure of discounted prices.
Strategy 3. Build a Strong Track Record with Your Important Transaction Customers
Think of your Big R customers as buying in a Relationship style. Then think of another set of customers you have who do not buy from you all the time, but buy regularly on a repeat transaction basis—order by order. These customers can provide very good opportunities, and may even be the “bread and butter” accounts you count on for a regular stream of profitable business. Unlike your long-term Relationship customers, however, these Transaction customers typically avoid getting locked in to a given supplier. Their business model and the products they buy make it possible for them to “play the field” if they wish, as they are not going to incur much in the way of switching costs. These companies are less dependent on a supplier for support, expertise, or long-term mutual growth. They are most likely purchasing a solution or product that is viewed as a commodity and are more likely to be responsive to offers of price reductions. How do you ensure you don’t lose these Transaction customers to competitors? By providing them with what they care about the most:
1. Price —These customers do care about getting a competitive price and are vulnerable to cost cutters.
2. Conformance to specifications —They may have quality specifications and other requirements they expect to be met; it’s important to make sure they receive exactly what they need, every time.
3. Delivery —How and when do your Transaction customers need and expect delivery? If you can be faster than your competitors or more able to deliver at certain locations at certain times, you will have a competitive advantage with these customers.
4. Availability —Transaction customers need to know they can rely on you to have what they need, when they need it. A supplier who runs out of stock or asks the customer to wait to receive the materials or products they need may not get another chance to fulfill an order.
So these Transaction customers have the advantage of being low maintenance and lower cost in terms of demands on your sales resources. At the same time, it is critical to pay attention to hitting their targets every time with quality and consistency. They need to feel you are providing them with a fair competitive price, a product or service that consistently meets their specifications, and delivery and availability that fulfill their expectations—without exception. Since they do have choices and it costs them little to switch from one supplier to another, it is imperative to be responsive to the concerns of these customers. If they are completely satisfied, they are far more likely to continue to give their business to you, rather than to a competitor.
With competitive pressures to contend with and finite resources, your best strategy is to focus the time and energy of your salespeople on building strong and lasting relationships with your most valued customers. Taking customers for granted is the enemy of retention. Make sure you know what kind of relationship you have with each account, and that your sales reps are aware of their customers’ expectations based on those relationships. Keep abreast of any changes in the customer’s business model and buying preferences. That will ensure you are providing Big R customers what they need from your company, while meeting the very different needs of good Transaction customers as well. If each customer feels you are providing not only valuable solutions, but selling to them the way they want to buy, your relationship with them will be a strong barrier to competitor encroachment.