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If You Haven’t Already Updated, It’s Time.

Boy, has our world changed, am I right? Thirty days ago, we were rocking and rolling along with not a care in the world. Now, unless you live in a select few states, you’re basically on lockdown. Even salespeople in “essential” businesses are reporting that their customers either don’t want to, or can’t, see them face to face. This has huge implications for many salespeople who have, throughout their careers, relied solely on face-to-face sales calls to make their impact, show their value, and make their quota.

A couple of months ago, I was doing a training program and we discussed LinkedIn as a small part of the program. Half of the salespeople in the room basically said the same thing: “I just show up on the job site and do my selling there – I don’t need or want to know how to use that stuff.” Those salespeople are struggling right now. In fact, let’s be clear – if your entire sales approach is dependent upon in-person interaction, you’re dead in the water right now. What’s more, sales itself will change because of what we’re going through right now, so it’s time to adapt and update. Let’s talk about how.

Make no mistake. Selling is still happening, and people are buying things (and not just N95 masks). They are just doing it through different venues: Over the phone, by web conference, and yes, on social media. We’ll leave social media for another day, but let’s talk today about how to maximize your selling through phone and web conferencing.
“But, Troy, I know how to sell over the phone!” Do you? Maybe you do, and maybe you don’t. In any case, here are a few things you might want to understand:

1. Get a good phone. I know, that sounds elementary, but all phones are not made the same. Some smartphones are far more “smart” than “phone,” and leave you sounding like you are calling from the bottom of a barrel. When I go phone shopping, I take my wife with me, pick out a few possibilities, and then I have her go outside. I then call her from the demo phones so I can check out the quality of both incoming and outgoing sound. That plays a big role in my choice.

2. Also, get a headset. You should also have a quality headset. Mine is a blueparrott B250-XT. For the best call quality, I prefer one that actually covers at least one ear and has a microphone that goes in front of my mouth. Sure, there are smaller units, and ones that don’t make you look like you’re an unpaid extra on the old Battlestar Galactica TV show – but mine has great sound quality, and that’s why I like it. Full disclosure; I resisted a Bluetooth headset until two years ago when I was called upon to do a three-hour webinar. Now I seldom make any phone call longer than five minutes without using it. Why a headset if you have a good phone, as in above? The phone quality is for short calls and when someone calls YOU – this one is for longer calls when YOU are calling.

3. Don’t use speakerphone. Please. For all that is good and holy in selling, do NOT use speakerphone – your customers will spend a lot of time saying, “Can you repeat that?” If you can’t be heard, you can’t sell.

4. Remember that the phone compresses conversation. A sales call that would normally occupy an hour will now take 30 minutes. This is because a lot of the “small talk” that fills time tends to get tossed over the side in a phone call. Your ability to get to the point will be critical on a phone call, as will your ability to have a quality game plan for the call.

The phone is great, of course, but many customers will still want to see your face – and you theirs. If you aren’t already proficient, or at least competent, at video conferencing, it’s time to get proficient. I’m not going to discuss particular platforms here, for two reasons. First, that’s not my expertise, and second, many of your customers will have their own preferred platform. These are general tips that will help with most platforms.

1. Consider the background. The camera on your laptop (or phone or tablet) can see a lot more than just you. Think about what’s behind you, beside you, and in the view of the camera, and how that might distract from your image. I did a web conference a year ago with a guy who was doing the conference from his dining room. No judgment there – I do the same thing – but behind him, I could see a sink full of dirty dishes! That’s not a great image. Think about what’s in view; the background doesn’t have to be blank – in fact some objects can be interesting – but what’s behind you shouldn’t distract from the call.

2. Consider the view. Now I’m talking about the view of YOU. You don’t have to be in full dress clothes, but you should be in a nice shirt. The camera lens on whatever device you are using should be at EYE LEVEL. If you have a laptop on your desk, to get the lens aimed at you, the camera will be angled UP. Nobody looks good like that. Trust me on this. If I’m doing a webinar on my laptop, I will boost the laptop up with coffee table books (this is a highly technical process, folks) so that the camera is level with my eyes. The camera also shouldn’t be angled DOWN at you – so get rid of those habits you’ve developed for great selfies. You should appear level and eye to eye with your customer.

3. Look at the camera, not the screen. This is something I still struggle with. It’s only natural to look at the image on your screen, but if you do that, you will never be making eye contact with your customer; you’ll be looking down as if you’re reading from notes. This is a bad look. When you’re speaking, look at the camera, and when your customer is speaking, look at their image on the screen.

4. Remember the sound. I would advise not trusting the built-in microphone on your device if at all possible. Many times, on webinars, I’ll use the separate call-in number with my headset (hence the Battlestar Galactica reference earlier). I also have a USB microphone that plugs into my laptop in case I want or need to use the webinar’s sound system; again, the sound quality is much better this way.

5. Test. Have you recorded a video on your device yet? You should. Set it up exactly like you will in the web conference, record a video of yourself speaking, and then play it back. If you don’t like what you see, make changes until you do – whatever you see is what your customers will see.

6. Show up early. We all know about showing up to a face-to-face sales call ten minutes early, but web conferences induce the bad habit of showing up at the appointed time. Don’t do it. Instead, log on ten minutes early and test your tech. Some apps will require you to download an app before you start, and if you show up at 9:59 for a 10:00 AM call, you’ll be late. If you show up early, you can test the video and the sound and make sure all the tech is working. ALWAYS test the tech.

That should get you started, if you haven’t already started, on becoming more effective at selling on the phone and on the web. Make no mistake – selling will not go 100% back to where it was. These things never do. Some of your customers will decide that they prefer phone or web contact, as an example, and those salespeople who get good at those technologies now will be far ahead.

It’s time to update and stay relevant.

Want to book a Webinar on this topic? Click HERE and let’s make it happen!

How To Work “Normally” During Covid-19

Well, here we are in Covid-19 for what I will call “shutdown week two.” I know this goes out all over the world, but I’ll update on my situation, and then I have some thoughts about yours. The Kansas City metro area and surrounding counties have gone into a “shelter in place” order. Essentially, they mean “stay home.” If your business is classified as “nonessential,” your offices are ordered to be closed and your employees, if possible, must work from home.

For me, the “work from home” part isn’t a huge change; I gave up my office about seven years ago when I realized I wasn’t in it nearly enough to justify the rent. For many of you, however, that’s going to be a big change. If you’re a road warrior, a call center salesperson, a manager, etc., it may be a brave new world for you – so that’s the topic of this week’s Navigator. We’re going to talk about best practices for working at home, and for dealing with “crisis selling.”

  • Have a good workspace: This is first and foremost. Everyone’s definition of “a good workspace” is different, of course, but here’s mine. First, you should have a decent desk or table, something that makes you feel like you are “at work.” Keep it clean of anything that isn’t work. Second, you should be able to shut the door to shut out distractions. Full disclosure – the Sales Navigator World Headquarters is an office in a spare bedroom. But I have a nice desk, file cabinets, a bookshelf with sales books, a storage cabinet with office supplies, and other accoutrements of my business. There’s nothing in my office that suggests “man cave.” If you feel like you are going to work, you will work.
  • Get dressed: This might seem obvious, but it’s not. And, I know a lot of people can be productive in their pajamas. I’m not one of them. Now, that doesn’t mean that I put on a suit and tie for my home office, but it does mean that I wear a nicely pressed shirt, with khakis or my best jeans at a minimum. When I’m doing a webcam meeting, I’ll have on slacks and a dress shirt. And if you are on a webcam meeting, never forget that whatever is in your camera can be seen. Funny aside – last year, I was on a webinar that was supposed to be a cam meeting, but the client’s video tech wasn’t letting them see me. So, I did it strictly on audio, which was fine. Halfway in, we agreed to take a fifteen minute break, and during it, I got up and grabbed a protein bar. Just as I sat back down and took a big chomp of the bar, confident that I was unseen, they got their tech working. It was good for a laugh – but if I had it to do over again, I’d have eaten off-camera.
  • Take breaks: If you’re a road warrior like I was, the hardest thing about being office-bound is the perceived lack of freedom. I always used my time between sales calls to mentally recharge – windshield time was my mental break. When you’re in an office, flying solo, you have to create your own mental breaks. Don’t be afraid to do so. I get up and go play with my dogs, or do some other physical activity for 15 to 20 minutes when I need to, and then I sit back down and work. I take a normal hour for lunch. At the moment I’m either going and getting take-out from a restaurant near me (if the weather is nice, I might go to a nearby park and eat at a picnic table), or I’m whipping up something good in my own kitchen (I can also navigate a stove pretty well). Either way, I’m having a quality food and mind break midday.
  • Quit when it’s quitting time: One of the hardest aspects of working at home (or being self-employed, for that matter) is knowing when to shut it off. Work/life balance is important, and the temptation is there to work long past when you normally would. In the short term, that’s productive; in the long term, it’s not healthy. One of the things that I do is that, just like I have a task list in my office, I have a punch list of things to do on my cars – and I try to get items knocked out on those after work. That’s my “me time,” and it really does help.
  • Most of all, do what you can do: I talked with a realtor friend this morning. He had four showings yesterday, put in two offers (one of which he anticipates will be accepted without question), and has two closings today. He’s still doing business. If you can do business, do it. Make no mistake; as I always used to tell my salespeople, “Someone WILL buy what we are selling, today, in our market. Whether you will be the seller or not depends greatly on your action or inaction right now.” Don’t be afraid to make the sales calls.
  • Be respectful: One key to selling right now is to be respectful of your customers’ wishes. All of us are a bit nervous and distracted right now. Some more and some less. Some of your customers will view a sales call from you as a welcome distraction, and some won’t. When I showed up for that successful sales call on September 12, 2001, I first explained to my customer that, since I wasn’t a law enforcement officer, soldier, or firefighter, the only thing I could do was my job – but if he was uncomfortable or offended by a sales call, I’d happily leave and postpone. Instead, he looked at it as a distraction, we had a two hour meeting, and we did business. I had other customers who just wanted to chat with no sales pressure, and I accommodated that as well (and am doing so right now). Just be respectful, do no harm, and you’ll be fine.
  • MANAGERS: If you’re used to a face-to-face management environment, this is a big switch for you. First, follow the above advice. Second, and most importantly, you need to resist the temptation to micromanage and crack the whip on your people. Increase communication somewhat, but don’t bury your people. For instance, if you’re not already talking to them daily, don’t institute daily conferences unless they request them (a check-in call every couple of days is fine). Keep your normal sales meeting time, but do it virtually. Be available, but don’t smother. If you trusted your people before, trust them now. If you turn up the heat inappropriately, or distrustfully, it will be remembered when things to back to normal.
  • Work strategically: This might be a great time to work on those projects that got put off due to day-to-day needs. If you can’t fill your day with customer work, what can you fill it with that will make you stronger after this is over? I’m going through my website, page by page, and retuning copy. I’ve also had a couple of presentations I’ve been wanting to do – and now I’m drafting the outlines.

We CAN make the best out of this. And this WILL be over. There’s no reason to pause our businesses or our lives right now; those who keep moving forward will be far ahead of those who go into a cocoon.

What I Won’t Be Offering During COVID-19

I don’t need to tell you, right now, that we are undergoing a huge upheaval in our society.  I obviously don’t know where you live or what measures are being taken during the COVID-19 crisis, but I can tell you that in Kansas City, where I live, the steps have been positively draconian.  Bars and restaurants closed, and public gatherings of more than 10 people banned.

As I scroll through my LinkedIn feed, I see basically three types of posts.  The first is outright panic.  No need to elaborate; you see enough of that already.  The second are posts on good health practices and common-sense adaptations during the COVID-19 issue.  It’s the third type of post that bothers me – and, to be perfectly honest, it’s a type of post I considered and then rejected.

I see a lot of opportunistic posts attempting to capitalize on the panic by offering ‘quick fix’ services.  And – again, full disclosure – I thought, very briefly, about offering some sort of “teleselling during COVID-19” online program.  And then I rejected it for several reasons.

First, I find that kind of opportunism crass.  It’s only a slightly more palatable version of the guy who filled a U-Haul with hand sanitizer and attempted to gouge the pricing.

Second, and more importantly, it goes against my philosophy that selling isn’t a quick transaction; it’s a long game.  And the long game for this thing is – back to normal.  The epidemic has already “nosed over” in China and South Korea, its point of origin.  In 60 days, COVID-19 will be over.  Perhaps 30. And when it does, the money spent on those quick panic fixes will be wasted.  Honestly, even if I offered such a program, it would be at least two weeks before I could put it on.  Figure, best case scenario, someone books me 3-4 weeks from now.  By the time they implemented, COVID-19 would be essentially nosed over, and we are getting back to normal.

Don’t get me wrong; I love working with my clients.  I’m coaching two this week.  We’ll spend some time, of course, on the short-term effects, but as usual, we will be working the long game, because that’s where the big wins happen.  But I won’t be offering any “Virus specials,” or the like (admittedly, if this is still going on in 60 days, I might change my tune, but I don’t believe it will based on the numbers and evidence that I have seen).

So, I’m not an epidemiologist, a doctor, or a health professional.  Nor am I an emergency services worker.  I’m a participant in the economy, in the area that drives the economy.  So, the best I can do is to keep doing my best.  And in that vein, I’ll dispense some sales advice.

Do your jobs as best you can.  On Wednesday, September 12, 2001, I made a sale – because I was the only salesman from my industry that showed up to the customer.  I didn’t do it to be crass; I offered the customer the chance to reschedule if he found the sales call offensive.  But, I explained, since I’m not a law enforcement or emergency worker, the best thing I could do was to help keep the economy moving – and so there I was.  He agreed, and we signed the deal. It wasn’t a huge one, but it was a very important one to me.

If you can continue to make sales calls (if your customer is fine with it and you are fine with it), do so.  If you’d rather make them by Skype, do that. And if you can’t make a sale, focus on offering your customer value DURING THE CALL.  Find a way to help make your customer’s life easier. Find a way to make your machines last just a little longer, work a little better, etc., and pass it along.  Your customer will remember it.

If you’re making your sales calls live and in person, observe all the normal good hygiene procedures.  Wash your hands well (do I really have to say that?).  Carry sanitizer in your briefcase if you can, and offer it to your customer.  Don’t shake hands if you’d rather not.  A speaker once gave me this advice to avoid getting sick when I speak:  “Shake everyone’s hand that wants to after you speak. Then, treat that hand as if it is radioactive until you can get to the bathroom and wash it thoroughly.”  I’ve observed that advice for ten years and it works.

But DO YOUR JOB.  This might seem overly dramatic, but as salespeople, we are economic soldiers right now, and anything we can do to help keep the economy moving, and people working, is a service to our country.

If you can (I can’t because of the aforementioned rules), be brave and eat lunch out.  Tip the servers – in fact, over-tip them.  They’re doing their jobs and struggling, too.  If not, maybe get take-out and tip whoever brings your food to the counter.

We will all get through this.  We all just need to do our part – and as salespeople, our job is to do business.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  Certainly, if you have loved ones that are especially at-risk, take all the extra precautions.

And no, I won’t be offering any specific services to capitalize on the panic (I’m not hoarding toilet paper, either – what the heck is up with that?).  Instead, I’ll be doing MY job.  If conventions are held that want me to speak, I’ll speak (with the aforementioned radioactive hand).  I’ll train salespeople – not to sell in the short term, but to build quality relationships and produce long term growth.  I’ll help companies hire salespeople.  I’ll perform the sales audits for my clients.  And I’ll continue to coach business owners and sales managers for long term profitability and growth.  And, if we all do it well, we can weather this storm and continue to prosper far more than any “MAKE SALES DURING COVID-19” seminar could ever do.

We’ve got this.

Stolen Credibility Kills Your Credibility

Because of what I do, I get ‘bad salesperson’ horror stories from a number of friends.  Some are just average – salespeople who don’t listen, salespeople who are too pushy, salespeople with bad manners, that kind of thing.  Some inspire posts and some are so routine as not to be worthy.

However, every now and then I get one that is SO bad that it makes for a lesson that all of my readers should have, and this is one such story.  It’s about stolen credibility.  What’s that, you ask?  Well, I define “Credibility” as “The characteristic that makes people believe what you say because it is you that says it.”  If you have to prove your words, you don’t have credibility.  But, did you know you could STEAL credibility (or try to)?  Well, you can, and this is how.

An email was forwarded to me.  It was a prospecting email, and it said (names removed to protect the guilty):

(Name), good afternoon. 

Last week I had a great conversation with (college), as well as (other college) about partnering together to improve student health on university campuses. I wanted to see if you’d have availability this Friday or sometime next week for a quick introductory phone call. 

My company works with universities to develop telemedicine programs that are focused on giving students 24/7 access to mental and physical healthcare. We’ve had robust positive feedback from the programs we’ve launched and I’d like to talk with you about how we could get involved with (your college)

Please let me know what time works for your schedule.

Thank you,

Bad salesman

So, what’s so bad about that?  Well, that became apparent by reading the email chain that was forwarded to me.  One of the many recipients of this email contacted the people from the two colleges that this guy talked to, and asked for input.  Here was his response – again sent out to a large group of recipients:

Apparently this vendor is using (college) and (other college) as a hook to reach out to all. Frankly I dislike this kind of sales maneuver.

He had one conversation with me and now is emailing all using our one conversation as a hook. It looks interesting but at this stage no more than that. (contact from other college)

Now, the problem becomes obvious.  The salesman started a sales process with two colleges, likely was unable to move the sales process past the initial conversation, so decided to name-drop the two colleges he’d spoken to in order to attempt to gain credibility for more sales calls.  He probably figured that what he was doing wouldn’t get back to the contacts that he was trying to leverage – wrong – and used their names without permission.  Bad move.

That’s what we call “stolen credibility.”  When is it proper to use the name of a customer or prospect?

When they give you permission to do so.  Period, end of story.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ll use the names of clients if we’ve had a successful experience AND they’ve given me permission to use their names.  The only time I’d use the name of someone who wasn’t a client yet would be if they gave me a specific referral during the conversation – and if I have doubts, I’ll confirm it with a question, making sure it’s okay.

This guy didn’t do that, and let’s look at the result.  First of all, the message got broadcast out and forwarded.  He won’t get the appointment with the prospect who received the email, and if the sales process with the prospect he did see and named wasn’t dead before, it is now.  His ethics, credibility, and integrity are now damaged.  And since his target market is a fairly highly networked world, he’s damaged his reputation with prospects he’s likely not approached yet.

The person who forwarded this email to me wasn’t even personally connected to the salesperson, the intended recipient, or the prospect who dislikes this sales tactic – it made it all over the world.

My guess is that the salesman knew that he was doing something shady, but figured he wouldn’t get caught.  You can’t think that way in today’s world.  Hitting “reply all” or “Forward” is entirely too easy these days.  Not only did he steal credibility, the theft got known all through his target market and ruined whatever credibility he had.

The new rule:  Whatever you send by email, assume that it will get forwarded around beyond your recipient.

Questioning is the SECOND Most Important Sales Skill

I’ve said for years that the most important skill in selling is the ability to ask great questions that get great answers.  In fact, I’ve gone further and said that 80% of your chance to win or lose the sale is determined by the time you ask the last question.

I think I may have been wrong.

At this moment, those of you who have been trained by me are saying, “Wait, WHAT?  When do I get my updated training?  And what is the most important skill – prospecting, presenting, closing?”  Relax.  Your training is still intact.

The most valuable skill is the ability to LISTEN to the great answers generated by your questioning, and to react and respond appropriately.  Recently I spoke with a friend who had not one, but three encounters in the same day with salespeople who refused to listen.  She had filled out some contact forms on three websites asking for more information on a particular software solution for her company.  Each form asked for her preferred method of contact.  On each, she selected “Email only.”

All three companies had a salesperson call her without emailing.

Despite being mildly annoyed by the phone calls – she prefers to deal with people through email – she spoke to each salesperson.  The conversations were virtually the same.  None of the salespeople had looked at her company’s website, and two hadn’t even read any of the details that she provided in the contact form.

All three made assumptions about her company that were wildly incorrect; she was looking for a fully-featured version of their software for a small amount of users.  They assumed that, because she had a small company, that she was looking for a less-featured product.  Wrongo.  And in assuming that, two of the three managed to make (hopefully inadvertent) disparaging comments about her organization.

The worst part is that she knows my sales philosophy, and she even said emphatically that all three salespeople asked quite a few questions and pretty good ones – they just didn’t listen to the answer.

You’re probably guessing how the conversations ended.  Abruptly, and with some bad feelings on my friend’s part.  And a need for software remains unfulfilled, just because salespeople don’t listen, and didn’t prepare for the calls.

An Epic Customer Service Fail

We’ve all heard the phrase, “Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.”  It refers to a moment of almost complete success that turns into a moment of complete loss.  I have, of course, seen it in sales and service, but rarely have I experienced it to the degree that I did last week.

A week ago, I was in Las Vegas for a conference on video marketing (for a change, I was attending and not speaking).  It was a great conference, and I learned a lot about marketing with YouTube.  I had planned to check out of my hotel and fly home on Monday, but some changes to my schedule led to me rebooking my flight (no problem there, thank you, Southwest).  I needed to extend my hotel stay by a night, and I figured I’d just wait and do it on-site.  That’s where the trouble started.

I was staying at a popular casino on the Strip.  Let’s call it Harrah’s, because that’s what it was.  I’ve stayed at numerous Harrah’s properties in Vegas and elsewhere and always had great experiences, but this was different.  Harrah’s now offers an ‘expedited check-in’ process whereby you fill out an online form and then you can just use a kiosk to get your room assignment and key.  So far so good, I’ve used these at other Harrah’s properties.

I arrived at about 2 PM, used the kiosk, and found out that my room wasn’t ready, but that they would send me an email when it was and I could return to the kiosk.  Great.  Except by 3:30 (check in time is 3), I hadn’t received an email.  I went back and used the kiosk again, and again got the same message.  I considered getting in line for check in at the desk, but the line was long and they only had two people working at the desk.  I waited for the email that never came.  Finally, at 5:15, I returned to the kiosk (the line was still long at the desk), and the kiosk gave me my keys.  I was annoyed at the late check in and the fact that the email didn’t come as it was supposed to, but it was no big deal.  I still planned on visiting the front desk to extend my stay at some point when the line was short.

The problem was that the line was never short at any point.  Nor did they ever man more than three of the ten stations for check-in, at least when I was walking by. There seemed to be no urgency toward getting guests checked in.

On Sunday night – my last scheduled night to stay there – I returned from the conference to find a letter on my bed inviting me to extend my stay by one night for free.  All I had to do was call the number on the letter, use the promotional code, and they’d extend my stay.  Great!  This way I could get the extra night I’d planned on, get it for free, and not have to mess with the desk.

So I called the number, used the code, and the person put me on hold.  After five minutes on hold, my call was disconnected.  I called back, explained to the NEXT person that I had been disconnected, and was again put on hold.  This time, after seven minutes on hold, I was informed that they could not extend my stay via the phone (so why have me call?), and that I should take the letter to the front desk and perhaps they could help me.

I got in, yes, another long line with only two people working the desk.  In twenty minutes, the line barely moved.  By now, I was checking rates at other hotels on the Strip, and discovered that for the Monday night that I needed, rates were very cheap.  Specifically, the night at Treasure Island (one of my favorite places on the Strip), the room would be $49.  It would be, at the current rate, at least another 45 minutes, if not an hour, to get to the desk, and I figured my time was worth more than that.  I reserved the room at TI, got out of line, and went back to my room.

In the elevator, I saw another man with the same letter.  I asked him about his experience, and he said that they had told him that they couldn’t keep him in the same room – thus, to get his free night, he’d have to check out at 11 A.M., wait, then check back in at 3 P.M.  He’d had a similar experience to me at checking in, and had no faith that he’d actually even be able to get his room at 3.  We agreed that it wasn’t worth it, and in fact, we both said we’d never be returning to that hotel.  We were actually more disgusted with how badly the ‘free night’ offer had been handled than if we’d simply tried to pay for another night.

I realize this has been a long story, but there are some lessons to be learned in it.  Harrah’s screwed up, big time, and made a negative impression while trying to make a positive.  I’m serious when I say that I will never stay there again, and I’m a frequent visitor to Las Vegas.  Multiply that by the hundreds of other people who likely got that letter and tried to take them up on their offer, and they’ve put a lot of bad impressions in the marketplace.  So, how did they mess up so badly?

  1. They relied too much on technology. The first bad impression was at check-in, with the fiasco with the emails that weren’t sent and the late room assignment.  They were clearly pushing as many people as possible to the check-in kiosk and understaffing the front desk as a result in order to save money on personnel.  The problem is that the kiosk wasn’t working correctly, and a kiosk can’t answer questions.
  2. They made an offer they weren’t prepared to fulfill. This is crucial.  When a hotel offers an extra night for free, the logical assumption is that the guest doesn’t have to pack back up, check in and out, or do any of the other silliness involved with redeeming the offer.  For whatever reason, they weren’t prepared to back this offer up.  The offer actually made their impression worse.  If I’d had to go to the front desk to extend my stay a night (paying for it as normal), I likely wouldn’t have stuck it out in the long line and would have gone to another hotel – but I wouldn’t have been nearly as disgusted and might have considered returning.
  3. They don’t care about the customer. Anyone in Harrah’s management could have seen that they needed to plug in more people at the front desk.  People were angry and disgusted by waiting in the line, and I’m sure that they were giving the employees an earful when they finally got to the front of the line.  Logic would dictate that a hotel manager, seeing that, would have found another couple of people to expedite check-in.  Not doing so was basically an upraised middle finger to the guests.

The story has a happy ending – for me, at least.  I packed the next morning, went right up the Strip to TI, and within three minutes of walking up to check-in (no line to wait in), I had my room keys and had a pleasant night’s stay.  I highly recommend that hotel.

HOW DID THOSE LIGHTS GET THERE? SALES.

I’ve always said that in a society like ours, our profession – selling – is the tip of the economic spear.  We are economic drivers, not passengers, and our profession produces real good and real growth.  Particularly in instances where new ideas, concepts, and products need to be brought to market, someone has to persuade someone else to write a check.

This effect, of course, has been somewhat diluted during the age of Internet vendors and product introductions – but it’s still valid.  I had a very vivid illustration of this concept presented to me last month in Las Vegas.

For those who don’t go to Vegas, for time immemorial, the huge Strip casinos used to have free parking. Valet parking, self parking, didn’t matter – it was free.  That changed about a year ago; now parking on the Strip is paid-for parking.  The only casino that I know of that still has free self parking is Treasure Island – but I digress.  I’m sure there were a lot of customer complaints.  Who, after all, wants to spend their time driving around a parking garage looking for a spot after paying for the privilege?

Thus, when I entered the garage at Mandalay Bay last month, I saw something very surprising and very cool.  They now have a system which senses, highlights, and counts the available parking spots in the parking garage.  When you drive in, there’s a little display above each turnout that tells you exactly how many spaces are available in that direction.  When you go down a row, there’s a row of lights overhead from each parking spot – they are red if the spot is occupied, green if it’s open.  You find the green lights and there’s your spot.  Easy-peasy.

I marveled over this innovation – and as I went to other Strip casinos, I saw that nearly every one had implemented one such system.  It was like a quick wave.  Doing what I do for a living, I immediately thought of the salesperson who made the first sale.

You see, someone had to invent this system – but then someone (inventor, company owner, salesperson, makes no difference) had to sell a casino operator on buying and installing it – it couldn’t have been cheap.  I bet they had to ask some very tough questions, and make an amazing presentation to make what was easily a seven-figure sale and maybe eight figures.

They extolled the customer friendliness of the system, explaining that they’d likely get fewer complaints.

Then – I’m betting that their trump card was some sort of set of statistics showing the cost of each minute a person spent driving around the parking garage instead of gambling, shopping, or eating in their hotels.  ROI figures were presented, a proposal was shown, and then they closed.

And then, after the first one was installed, they probably went up and down the Strip, explaining to other operators how their resort would be left behind if they didn’t install this.

Somebody made a LOT of money.  And, more importantly, somebody solved some headaches for their customer – and did so with a product that didn’t even exist a year ago (or at least didn’t exist in Vegas).

Somebody probably had a lot of people telling them why this wouldn’t work, why the casinos would never buy, why it didn’t make sense, etc.  But they persevered.

Whenever you get a bit discouraged, or your boss rolls out a new product and you’re skeptical, think of those red and green lights and understand that there’s a business case for everything, that there’s a buyer for everything, and that it’s our job to make it happen.

SIDE NOTE:  Is your company going to make its numbers?  Why or why not?  If you are the owner of a company and you’d like some input, I’d like to make you an offer – I’d like to offer you a complementary Sales Strategy Review session.  You can access my input on how to grow your company, completely without obligation, for the next two weeks. We’ll spend about 45 minutes to an hour on the phone (unless you’re in Kansas City; then we can meet in person), we’ll go over your sales approach, staffing, process, compensation, and other issues affecting your sales success.  You’ll get at least 2-3 good take-aways that you can implement completely on your own, even if you never spend a dime with me.  It’s my way of helping my friends, and if you’re reading this, you’re my friend.

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Are Your Salespeople Engaged?

How many of your salespeople would you describe as “engaged?”

Before you answer that, let me define “engaged” for you.  The “engaged” salesperson is one who sells (for you) because of a passion and love for the job, for your company, and for the activities in sales.  “Engaged” salespeople do what’s right because it’s right.  They may have to be managed – most salespeople do to one extent or another – but they seldom have to be MOTIVATED.  Oh, and they’re also not out looking for another job.

NOW answer the question.  How many would you describe as “engaged?”  If you said “All of them,” please contact me.  I have some great oceanfront property in Kansas City and I’ll make you a great deal.  Here’s reality, based on national surveys:

  • 30% of salespeople are truly “engaged” at their jobs.
  • 50% are “disengaged.” This means that they’re going through the motions, doing enough to keep their jobs, but not giving it their all in any way, shape, or form.
  • 20% are “actively disengaged.” This means that they’re mad and they’re trying to hurt you.

Now think about your sales team, and ask yourself where everyone fits.  I’d caution you to not use performance as a yardstick; I’ve seen some very talented salespeople who could perform very well without being truly engaged; I’ve also seen some of the most engaged salespeople in the world struggle to make quota every month.  Not all salespeople have the same abilities.

First of all, if you have an ‘actively disengaged’ salesperson, get rid of them.  NOW.  There’s no way you can recover from that.  It is possible to re-engage a “disengaged” salesperson, but not when they have become “actively disengaged.”  Once they decide they want to damage your business, you have to cut that cord.

We can work with “disengagement.”  The first question is, how do “disengaged” salespeople get that way?  Well, the overall statement is that the job – or the company – or the manager – isn’t meeting their needs.  The next statement is that, most of the time, management doesn’t KNOW what the needs of the salesperson might be, or how those needs could be met or unmet.  Hint:  it’s more than just money.

We’ll talk in a moment about how to re-engage a disengaged salesperson, but first, let’s talk about how to engage them from the start so that they never become disengaged.  Here’s the reality – while we spend the first 90 days of a salesperson’s tenure deciding whether they are for us, they are spending the first 30 days deciding if we are for them.  For that reason, it’s essential that we begin engaging our salespeople from the very first day of employment.

How do you begin the onboarding period for new salespeople?  Well, if your company is like most companies, it works like this.  You start with HR paperwork.  Then you give a quick tour of the facility, with quick introductions to other managers and department heads.  These introductions are quick because the other managers make it clear that they have other, better, things to do than meet a new salesperson.

Then they meet the rest of the sales staff, who eyes them suspiciously.  With some luck, they are taken out to lunch by the sales manager, and then it’s into training.  All of which leaves the new salesperson feeling….meh.

NOW think about how you entertain a great customer or potential customer when they come to visit.  The colored lights and the brass bands are turned on.  There’s a welcome sign in the lobby.  There’s a tour, and those managers that were too busy to spend much time with the new salesperson suddenly have all the time in the world to entertain and show off for the customer.  There’s either a very nice lunch in a restaurant or a catered lunch in-house.  The customer leaves feeling that this company is by far the best vendor they’ve ever seen.

These two experiences shouldn’t be different.  Especially when you consider that your new salesperson will be responsible for bringing in those new customers.  When you bring in a new salesperson for their first day, it should be colored light and brass band time.  Roll out the welcome wagon just as you would for a new customer.  Assign a ‘buddy’ within the sales department to mentor them and bring them into the fold.  Begin creating the internal networks they need.  And when the day is over, have them going home thinking that they just made the best decision of their lives.

Beyond the first day, your sales skills are essential to engaging (or re-engaging) a salesperson.  When we sell, we discover needs and present solutions.  We should do this with salespeople as well.  Starting close to the first day of employment, and periodically thereafter, we should be doing a quality discovery with them – asking them what their needs are, what they want to get out of this job, out of their careers, out of their lives.  Helpful hint:  It’s not just money.

Once we know those things, we can work toward solving those needs as we would for a customer.  For instance, if your salesperson wants to progress into management, what can you do, on a periodic basis, to groom and prepare him/her for the next step?  Little efforts like this can make all the difference between “disengagement” and “engagement.”

We spend a lot of time worrying about whether the salesperson is meeting our needs – but if you really want to succeed, put yourself under the microscope and ask yourself if the job is meeting the salesperson’s needs.  The answer might surprise you – and help you re-engage your salesperson.  An engaged salesperson is a performing salesperson.

The Best Tool for Customer Comfort

A few nights ago, I had what is called a “sleep study.”  For those who haven’t had it, this is a tool for diagnosing issues such as sleep apnea (which I’m pretty sure I have).  It’s, um, an interesting experience.  They hook about 25 wires to you (I lost count at 20 but there weren’t many more, and these wires are TINY) and then tell you, “Okay, go to sleep.”  Yeah….I got right on that.  Without getting into detail, it was not an overly comfortable experience but hopefully a productive one.

In the morning, the tech came in, unhooked me, handed me a clipboard, and said, “As soon as you fill this out and leave payment for your copay, you’re free to go.  There’s a shower and bathroom if you’d like to shower up before you leave (I did, the great gobs of adhesive in my hair used to attach the wires took about 20 minutes to wash out).”  But….that was it.  No guidance on what happens next.  And here is the lesson for salespeople and business owners.

After a couple of days of hearing nothing, I emailed the person at the sleep institute to ask what happened next, and he replied that someone would be getting ahold of me soon; it typically takes around 7 days to process the sleep study.  That’s good to know, but frankly I would have been much happier to know that the morning after – or even the evening before – the study.

My mantra, as you know, is “Comfortable Customers Buy.”  It’s a truth in any business.  The more you throw customers off-kilter, the more reluctant they are to buy.  In my case, of course, NOT buying wasn’t an option.  I suppose I could have run for my life when she got the wires out, but that’s what I was there for.

Your customers, however, have the right and ability to run for their lives – and sometimes they do, when they get uncomfortable.  Salespeople, of course, have many hackneyed old techniques for making them uncomfortable, but if you read my articles often, you know how to avoid those.

The best way to keep your customers comfortable is this:  Tell them what you’re going to do with them.   Give them a road map of what lies ahead.  The most vulnerable a customer can feel is that moment when they have given commitment and/or payment for a service that’s about to be rendered.  That’s where buyer’s remorse sets in.  You can nip buyer’s remorse in the bud by telling the customer, step by step, what happens next, how it happens, and who is responsible.  You already have these processes in place; why not share them with your customer?

Want to REALLY get brave?  Share your sales process.  (I can hear people fainting all over the country right now.)  Yes, I know, your sales process is a carefully guarded secret, and customers aren’t supposed to know that they’re in a sales process.

Helpful hint – THEY KNOW.  When you start selling to them, they know they’re in a sales process.  But, what if instead of making them guess, you opened a sales call like this:

“Mr. Customer, thank you for meeting with me.  I’m here to establish if there is a fit and a mutual win from us doing business together.  I’m sure you’ve already figured that out.  Just so you know what I’m doing and there aren’t any secrets between us, I’m going to start out by asking you questions to gather information to see if we can help you score a win by doing business with us.”

“Assuming that there is a win, I’ll make a recommendation (or set of recommendations) of how we can create that win for you.  On the other hand, if we can’t help you, I’ll tell you that, too, and we will shake hands and part as friends.  If you like our solution, I’ll need to develop a proposal for you (or quote price on the spot, however it works in your company), and if you like the proposal, I’ll ask you to go ahead and do business with us.  That said, here’s my promise to you – I’ll ONLY ask you for your business if the purchase really does help you and really does create value. And either one of us can stop this process at any time if we wish.  Shall we get started?”

By the way, there is an old technique called the “Up Front Contract” that, if you know it, you may see some similarities to.  It goes like this (highly simplified version):  “Mr. Customer, I’ll be asking you questions and presenting some solutions.  If you like the solutions, and the price, you’re prepared to go forward with a purchase, aren’t you?” (The wording is different from trainer to trainer, but the intent is the same.) The key difference here is that the old “Up Front Contract” asks the customer for a commitment BEFORE they have heard anything you have to offer.  To me, that’s not customer-friendly and it’s designed to start down a path of entrapping the customer into a buying situation while keeping as much of the sales process a secret as possible.

The road map just tells them what your steps are and how you plan to accomplish them.  You can even couple them with a timeline; for instance, if this process requires multiple meetings, you might give an idea of how many meetings it will take and how long between meetings.  You might need to include steps like plant tours, on-site or online demos, etc.  The road map gives a customer a feeling of security and comfort from the start; the up front contract puts them on edge and has them preparing their defenses from the start.  See the difference?

The road map also helps manage customer expectations, particularly if you couple it with a timeline.  Explain to the customer BEFOREHAND that it takes two weeks to get the product in after you order it, and you won’t have an impatient customer.

The truth is that I’m still not comfortable with the sleep institute.  I just know that I might be getting a call in about 4-5 more days, and maybe I’ll talk to a doctor, perhaps there’s surgery, or CPAP, or God knows what else.  I have done some research, but my time to do so is limited – and they are the ones getting paid.

Don’t leave your customers uncomfortable.  Share your road maps.  Tell them what’s happening – before, during, and after the sale.  You’ll bring on more new business.  You’ll build stronger, longer lasting relationships.  You’ll get more testimonials and referrals.  It’s nothing but a win for you.

What’s Your Alamo?

I’m writing this from San Antonio, Texas.  A lovely city, if you’re wondering.  My hotel is about one block from the Alamo.  Yes, of “remember the Alamo” fame.  And no, I didn’t do anything that Ozzy Osbourne did at the Alamo (kids, look that up if you don’t get the reference).  The Alamo is a truly inspiring place – where about 300 Texans chose to stand off a Mexican army numbering over 6,000.  A fool’s errand?  Perhaps, in our modern world – but in their world, it was a matter of honor.

For those Texans, the Alamo was their last retreat.  One thing that strikes you as you walk around the original footprint is how small it was, and how little fortification there really was for those people.  But, mentally, they had left themselves no alternative – it was to defend the Alamo or nothing.  As you might expect, this brings me to a question that I often wonder – what’s our Alamo, in our careers?  What’s our ‘defend or nothing’ point?

I started my business nearly 14 years ago.  My official first day in business was September 1, 2004.  On that day, I made up my mind that I was never going to work for someone else ever again.  In doing so, I’d set up my own personal Alamo.  When it came to the question of success or failure (and I’ll be honest, there have been a couple of moments of potential failure), my only option was to succeed.  After all, if I’m not going to work for someone else, what am I going to do?

One issue I see in today’s world is that salespeople, confronted with failure, simply plan on moving on to another job.  “There’s always going to be another gig,” says the logic, “so if I fail here, it’s no big deal.”  And it’s not until that person has stacked up enough different failures to make themselves basically unhireable. And at that point, it’s too late for them.

That’s bad.  What’s worse is seeing business owners who are at their own Alamo, but are willing to fail rather than move out of their comfort zone.

Knowing that you’re at your own personal Alamo means that you have to have a willingness to do whatever it takes to defend your ground.  If that means swallowing your pride, so be it.  If it means learning a new skill, or changing your business model, or refreshing your sales model, so be it.  When you’re at your own Alamo, beyond the point of any retreat, you’re willing to do whatever it takes.

Here’s what I’ve learned, though, in nearly 30 years of sales and 14 years of owning my own business.  It’s almost always better to make a stand, decide that you’re going to do whatever it takes to be successful RIGHT NOW, and make it work, than it is to retreat and find success at some vague point down the road.

If you’re struggling, if you’re not getting the results you want, or even if the boss has you with one foot out the door, allow me to give you the advice that generations of Texans have taken to heart.

Remember the Alamo!