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How Salespeople Can Maximize Their Time And Relationships During Covid-19

How Salespeople Can Maximize Their Time And Relationships During Covid-19

If you’re like most salespeople, you’re working as hard as you can to get a good path forward going during the Covid-19 crisis. Maybe you’re having more trouble getting ahold of prospects, or maybe you’re struggling with in-house interactions.  And, if you’re like me, you’re getting very tired of two popular video types that I’ve seen:  The “Sunshine and Roses” video, or the “Get off your butt and just sell” video.

I think it’s time to get real.  Let’s get serious about where we are in the sales profession, what’s available to us right now, and how we can best use our time and talents to recover from Covid-19 as best we can.  In this video, I explain my thoughts.

How to Get Veteran Salespeople to Use CRM (video)

This is the answer to a question I get asked frequently.  “Troy, my veteran salespeople (and maybe some of my non-veteran salespeople) don’t want to use my CRM program.  How can I persuade them to do it?”  I’ve seen a lot of people attempting to answer the question, but they all come at it from a tech-centric perspective, not a sales-centric perspective. Well, I’m a sales guy, so this is from a sales perspective.

When It Comes to Service, Don’t Put on the Ritz – 7 Ways to Improve Your Customer Experience

When It Comes to Service, Don’t Put on the Ritz – 7 Ways to Improve Your Customer Experience

In my experience, most customer service training is about “conflict resolution,” when in fact, it should be “conflict avoidance.” Many customer service issues – and the attendant harm to your customers’ experience with you – don’t have to happen. I was reminded of this when I decided to have a snack.

I love Ritz crackers. Well, at least I used to. For the past few years, I’ve noticed that far too many Ritz crackers turn into crumbs as soon as you open the package. I threw away a new box yesterday because I opened all four sleeves, and it was impossible to remove an intact cracker from the package. Although I’ve seen this a lot, and I decided to do a little research. My research, quickly, found that thousands of other people had posted about the same thing.7 Ways to Improve Your Customer Service

On their Facebook page, there is a thread that is six years, and over a thousand comments, old, of people reporting the same issue. Here’s the funny part. Someone at Ritz took the time to respond to every post. They said (paraphrasing; not all responses were identical in words but they were in sentiment):

“We’re sorry this happened to you. Please send us a private message with the batch number and the store where you bought the crackers so we can investigate.” Thousands of times, thousands of comments, and this was the response – essentially, pretending that it’s an isolated problem with just a few affected boxes, when in reality this is pretty much a systemic problem.

What’s happening is that someone at RJR Nabisco has decided that they have two options: First, they can figure out why this is happening now and didn’t before and fix the problem, or they can train some entry-level employee to type out rote responses every time someone claims, knowing people will continue to buy the crackers because of the brand. They have chosen option number two.

This syndrome isn’t just confined to big corporations, either. I see small and medium sized companies doing the same thing every day. Don’t do that. If you have a recurring problem, here are the steps you need to take:

  1. Be honest. Is this a real problem? In other words, is what the customers are experiencing a genuine problem with the product or customer service, or an isolated incident? If it’s happening consistently and repeatedly, it’s not an isolated incident. It’s like the person who has been married seven times – at some point, you have to admit that it’s not them; it’s you.
  2. Embrace transparency. You must realize that, whatever the problem is, it’s going to get out. That’s one of the ways that social media has changed the world. The old saying used to be, “If you do something good for someone, they’ll tell one person. If you do something bad TO someone, they’ll tell ten people.” Now, either way, they have the capability to tell the entire world. Ritz’s customer service person i
    s responding to those customer complaints as if they were communicating one-on-one. You have to recognize that not only will the PROBLEM get out – how you HANDLE the problem will get out.
  3. Why is the problem actually happening? Is it traceable to a human error (most are), a product or raw material error, a process error, or a customer error? Nearly every ‘service’ issue is traceable to one of those things.
  4. Fix it. Human errors or customer errors are fairly easily fixable by training and setting expectations; processes can be rewritten, and product or raw material errors can be addressed – but first, you have to know what they are.
  5. Individualize your communication. One of the aspects of this that really upset customers on the Ritz page was that, not only was Ritz pretending that these were isolated instances (hundreds of times over), they were giving the same rote response and not responding to individualized queries. When customers ask questions, answer THEIR question – not everyone else’s – and respect THEIR situation. Yes, you might be communicating with the entire world (see #2 above), but you’re still dealing with THEIR problem.
  6. Set customer expectations. Too often, customers are blamed for expecting “too much” of a product or service, when in fact, it was the seller who set that expectation in the first place. I once worked in an industry as a sales manager where our service manager said, “It’s your salespeoples’ jobs to sell fantasy; my job is to sell reality.” In other words, my team was supposed to paint an unrealistic picture of what the result would be, get a contract signed, and then turn them over to service, who would reset their expectations. Not surprisingly, customers weren’t delighted with this approach, and I left that industry not long after that conversation. If your sales or marketing is painting an unrealistic picture, you need to fix THAT – false expectations will damage your business far more than losing a few deals because someone else is “selling a fantasy.”
  7. Make it right. Find a way to make the customer “whole” again. This can be done any number of ways, but the worst way is to give them more of a flawed product. I’m thinking of the airlines who, upon delaying you for hours and messing up your plans, give you a voucher for more flying. Or Ritz, who offered to send a replacement box of crackers.

If you know you have a problem, you need to either fix it or acknowledge the problem BEFORE the customer buys, so they can make an educated decision about whether or not to buy.

In the case of my beloved Ritz crackers, all I want is something I can put cheese or peanut butter on. After reading that thread on Facebook (and throwing away many, many bad crackers over the last couple of years), I’ve decided to switch to a different cracker that holds together. Will I go back? Probably not. If you have a problem, don’t acknowledge or fix it, and your customer finds out, they probably won’t, either.

If You Haven’t Already Updated, It’s Time – 10 Social Distancing Tips for Salespeople

Social Distancing Tips for Salespeople

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.  That’s why I put together this list of social distancing tips for salespeople, to raise to the crisis at hand.

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:

Your 10 Social Distancing Tips for Salespeople

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.

5. 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.

6. 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.

7. 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. The 7th tip in our list of 10 social distancing tips for salespeople, is  when you’re speaking, look at the camera, and when your customer is speaking, look at their image on the screen.

8. 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.10 Social Distancing Tips for Salespeople

9. 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.

10. 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.

Social Distancing, Final Thoughts

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

Best Practices for Working at Home

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.  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, 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 one of the best practices of working from home. 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-related. 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 equipment for 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

Another best practice for working at home is to get dressed each morning. 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. Working at homeHowever, 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 story.  I was on a webinar that was supposed to be a webcam 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.  I got up and grabbed a protein bar, during the break. 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. 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 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.

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.


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.  People will remember the things you did or didn’t do when life returns to normal.

We CAN make the best out of this situation. And this WILL be over. Follow the best practices for working at home listed above. 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; But I Will Offer Sales Advice

Sales Advice I Can Offer For Today

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.

  1. The first is outright panic.  No need to elaborate; you see enough of that already.
  2. The second, posts on good health practices and common-sense adaptations during the COVID-19 issue.
  3. 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 price gouge.

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 Sales Advicethis thing is back to normal.  The epidemic has already “nosed over” in China and South Korea.  In 60 days, COVID-19 will be over.  Perhaps 30 days. 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.  I 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 keep doing my best.  And in that vein, I’ll dispense some sales advice.

Do your job the best you can

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 in law enforcement or an 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.

Continue to Make Sales Calls

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.

Practice Hand Washing and Social Distancing

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.

Continue to Do Your Job

The best sales advice I can offer is to 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’m sharing sales advice and 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.  If companies need help hiring salespeople, I’ll help. 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.