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Buy American? Sounds Great! Can We?

I know this one will be a bit controversial. That’s okay; I’m no stranger to controversy. I’ve seen a lot of comments on Facebook, Twitter, and on LinkedIn saying, “When this is over, we all need to stop buying our stuff from China. Everyone needs to look for American stuff and buy it!” Sounds great. In theory. In reality, it’s anywhere from “extremely difficult” to “impossible.”

You see, many things nowadays simply aren’t made here – or are so expensive that most people can’t afford them. Start at your feet. I wear dress shoes a lot for work. The cheapest pair of USA made dress shoes – not a certain brand or quality, just the cheapest I can do, period – is Allen Edmonds, starting at $395 a pair. I do OK financially (or at least I did before this madness started), but I can’t spend almost $400 on dress shoes. Want sneakers? New Balance has some made in USA sneakers. They start at about $170. I found made in USA cowboy boots for $1500. Work boots are better – Wolverines are $120 (although not all Wolverines are made here) and Red Wings are around $300. The point is this – many, many people simply can’t afford that.

What about jeans? That’s not an awful situation; All American Clothing has men’s jeans for $55, and women’s for $140. Again, the cheapest I could find. I was surprised to find out that my “all American” Duluth jeans were actually made in Vietnam, at $70 a pair.

How about dress shirts? I wear a lot of those, and finding an American made dress shirt under $100 is impossible. Period. Again, that’s a big spend for most people. I have two dress shirts from a high-end Italian brand. I looked – turns out they were made in Bangladesh. If you wear suits, like I do, even spending $1000 or more is no guarantee it’s not made in China.

The point is, unless you have a LOT of cash to spend, and are VERY selective in your purchasing, you’re not going to be able to even get dressed in the morning without wearing Chinese stuff. It’s not a consumer choice that most people can even make.
Household goods are the same way, as are appliances. Even our food. I love Ritz crackers, and I’ve noticed that they have a tendency to crumble nowadays. As I was throwing away part of a box this morning, I looked. Made in Mexico.

And then there are the things we don’t even know about. I take Losartan for blood pressure. It’s probably made in China, my doc told me, and I have no control over that. If you live in a house built in the last fifteen years, it was probably nailed and screwed together with Chinese fasteners.

Why is this? Is it simple corporate greed? That’s the popular line, of course. Some might be, but more of it is due to corporate (and small business) SURVIVAL. Like consumers, businesspeople can only play within the rules that are on the table – and since 2000, when China got Most Favored Nation trade status, those are the rules. Think about this. China can import our raw materials, take our designs, make products, and ship them back to us far cheaper than we can make them ourselves. It’s not just the cost of labor, although that’s a part of it. We have massive built-in costs in taxation, regulation, and other soft costs that drive the cost of manufacturing in the US higher than in many other countries – and results in the fact that for many goods, small, high-end boutique manufacturing is all that can be done.

If we really want to make “buy American” more than a bumper sticker or a Facebook virtue-signal, the rules must change, and that’s out of the hands of consumers or corporate America. That’s in the hands of our elected officials. Whether we want that is a different story, and perhaps a conversation for another day (arguing about that is not the purpose of this post) – but until then, businesses and consumers can only play the hand they are dealt.

Buy Today, Dang It!

Growing up, in Topeka, Kansas, there was a furniture store called “Crazy Bob’s Discount Furniture”. Every decent-sized city had one of these. You’d see the TV commercials with Crazy Bob telling you about how the prices were so low because he was “CRAZY!” Well, ol’ Bob finally decided to pull out all the stops and put on a “GOING OUT OF BUSINESS SALE!” Of course, you had to get the great buys RIGHT NOW because it would be GONE SOON! It took Crazy Bob five years to go out of business!

Scarcity Close

I thought of this the other day, clicking through my LinkedIn feed when I saw a long discussion about one of the oldest, most manipulative, and one of the most hackneyed (and well past retirement age) techniques: the “scarcity close”.  You’ve probably heard it or seen it; it is based on the principle that there Just Isn’t Enough Supply of what you’re selling.  So if you don’t BUY NOW, you might MISS OUT.

Apparently, based on the discussion, some salespeople still have some success with this approach. To me, it’s always seemed like “Crazy Bob’s Furniture Going Out of Business Sale”.  The thread drew a number of salespeople commenting, as well as other sales authors and trainers, and (as usual) I was the contrarian in the group.

You see, here’s my philosophy on the “Scarcity close”.  It’s designed to play on customer emotions – fear of missing out, fear of losing a once in a lifetime “deal,” and other anxiety-based emotions. To me, that’s not the right reason for a customer to buy.

I will also fully accept that scarcity does actually exist in some situations. For instance, when I bought my Harley, it was a used police motorcycle from Daytona Beach, Florida. That was important for a couple of reasons; first of all, it had a higher-performance engine than a standard Road King. And second, it had a special Mystique Green and Pearl White paint scheme that cop bikes around Kansas City didn’t have.  When presented with this one bike at a good price, I chose to buy because I didn’t want to miss it.  I’ve never regretted it.

Also, when I bought my first house in Topeka, it had some very specific characteristics that were hard to find in my budget at the time – so I moved fairly quickly.

What made both of those instances work, however, was that the SALESPERSON didn’t use a scarcity close. Instead, enough value had been built over the conversation that I recognized the value of the purchase. I also recognized that the opportunity wouldn’t be there forever, so I more or less closed myself.  I never regretted either one, because I didn’t buy because of external pressure.

As a salesperson, I only had to use this close a few times before I recognized that smart customers could quite literally shove it down my throat. “So, what you’re saying is that, if I come in and want to buy this car on Monday instead of Saturday, you WON’T honor that price?” I stammered, knowing full well that we would, in fact, honor the price.

Or, there was, “So, if someone is going to buy that from you regardless, why do you care if it’s me? Why are you bothering to apply this pressure?” Again – stammering.

Here’s the truth. The “scarcity close” is designed to INJECT urgency into the buying process. The problem with that is simple. If that urgency doesn’t already exist, then the close you use won’t matter. A sale happens when need meets solution meets timing, plain and simple. If you’re having to use scarcity as a “buy now” tactic, you’ve missed something in the process that you can’t make up later. It smacks of desperation and people don’t buy from desperate salespeople.

The scarcity close – when it “works” –  is a great instigator of buyer’s remorse, and can greatly harm your relationship going forward. Customers know when you’ve played their emotions and they don’t like it.

Like many cheap sales tactics, this is a “patch” for poor work early in the sale. My advice – do the work early. Ask great questions. Present to the needs. Truly understand your buyer, the buying process, and the timing thereof. And, the all-time greatest defense against needing to use these types of sales tactics, always keep your funnel full enough that you don’t NEED the next deal.

What’s Your Career Level?

When I was recruiting, and even now as I work with clients on hiring salespeople, I see salespeople referring to their “career level” and getting it wrong. Mostly, it’s salespeople who call themselves “Senior Salespeople” but who in reality aren’t even close.

One of the least understood aspects of sales achievement is the correlation between job tenure and profitability/productivity for the company. In most sales environments, a salesperson does not become profitable for the company until somewhere between 13 – 18 months.  Hence, if a stint is shorter than that,  the salesperson was a sunk cost for the company.

Additionally, most salespeople do not reach maximum productivity until at least year three or four on a job.  So, if you have someone who has never lasted three years, they don’t even know what maximum productivity looks like.

For that reason, I’d like to offer up my own guidelines as a recruiter, hiring manager, and sales coach, on what the various career level look like. I’d also point out that these are not industry-specific; industry changers fit here too.

Entry Level

Most people think that “entry-level” means that you are just getting started in sales. It means that, of course, but it also has to do with your level of achievement in sales. Here’s my guideline. Unless and until you have at least three years of sustained success ON THE SAME JOB, you are entry-level. “Sustained success” means that you have spent at least three consecutive years AT QUOTA OR BETTER, not that you’ve merely been employed for three years. You can have had fifteen years in sales, but if all your experience is 1-2 years and out, you’re entry-level as far as I’m concerned. In fact, a salesperson with a number of short stints is actually LESS marketable as a candidate than a person right out of college, because a smart hiring manager will assume that the job-hopping will continue.

Mid-Career

A mid-career salesperson, in my opinion, has at least eight years’ experience in sales with at least a five-year successful stint at quota or above. You haven’t established the gold-plated track record of success that gains you entry into the high-end sales pool, but you’re on your way. The trajectory of your career is definitely up.

Senior Salesperson

Here’s the one that too many people misunderstand or fake. A “Senior Salesperson,” to me, is one with fifteen years or more in sales, with progressive experience and achievement. At least eight of those years should be spent at one company with a successful (quota or well above) track record. Promotions can also come into play. Outside of that eight-year stint, you need other success as well (if you have multiple companies in your fifteen years); if all your success is with one company, your skills might not be transferable. Yet, I see salespeople all the time with short careers and short tenures who refer to themselves as “senior salespeople”.  If you want to be a senior salesperson (with all the money, perks, and opportunities that entails), you have to put in the work; it’s as simple as that.

Too often I see salespeople attempting to package and pretend their way into a job that they aren’t qualified for. Sometimes they do get hired (managers make instinctive hires rather than logical ones), but they fail badly. If you’re in that boat, you are far better off to be realistic about your career level, find a job that’s appropriate, and decide that you are going to make a stand and be successful. Put in the work, put up with what you have to put up with, and you really can turn a career around. I’ve seen it happen, and I’ve seen it NOT happen. The choice is yours.

Are You Focused On Your Competitors Or Your Customers?

I had an interesting conversation last week. I was talking to a prospective client and toward the end of the conversation, he said, “You should know that I’m talking to one of your competitors, too. Would you like to know who it is?” I think my response surprised him.

I said, “You’re welcome to tell me if you like, but it won’t change my behavior. My offerings are dependent on my clients, not my competitors.” He was surprised by this, and I understand why. In sales, we are constantly having our competitors being used as leverage against us by customers who want to gain better pricing, terms, etc., and a potential service provider that won’t play that game is anathema to many people. But, why did I say that? Therein lies a window into my philosophy, as well as some hard questions you might want to ask yourself.

I find that too many companies are too focused on the competition and need to focus on the customer. This shows itself in any number of ways. Below are some of the most common examples:

Pricing

When a sales manager demands to know “who we’re up against” before issuing pricing, you have a problem. I’ve seen that in a number of my clients, and I always ask the same question: “Why?” Dithering over pricing based on your competition is one of the dumbest and least customer-friendly things you can do. You know what your costs are. You also know what your acceptable profit margin is. And you know or should know, what the common market pricing for your services is. So, why not offer a deal you are comfortable with? If your pricing is dependent upon having fewer competitors for the business, aren’t you incenting your customers to bring in multiple vendors?

Proposal presentation strategy

Recently, I was presenting a training program when a salesperson said, “I always like to be the last person to present my proposal.  That way they have everyone else’s numbers when I go in.” Seriously, what difference does that make? From a strategic perspective, I actually prefer to be FIRST, for a couple of reasons. First, the first person to propose is the first person to have the chance to close. I’ve seen, and sold, many deals where the second person never had a shot because the first person got the business. And second, if you’re communicating to your customer that you will have a sense of urgency in servicing the business.  Focus on the customer by demonstrating that same sense of urgency when proposing the business.

Your offering

I see many companies and sales teams that want to alter key pieces of the offerings.  Such as product specs, service frequencies, contract terms, and more, based on who their competitors are for a given deal. This makes no sense. Value and solutions are driven by your customer’s needs,  not your competitor. Focus on the customer by offering to solve your customers’ needs, and your competitors become irrelevant.

The problem with all of these approaches, and other competition-dependent sales tactics, is that you are allowing your competitors to set the arena and the rules of the game. One of my favorite sayings is, “You can’t BEAT your competitors if you’re trying to BE your competitors.” When you are as reactive to your competitors as in the examples above, you’re simply trying to be a less-effective version of your competition. And worse – your customers will sense it.

Here’s the best strategy for dealing with your competition: Act as the best possible version of YOU. Focus on the customer and their needs. And act as if your competitors don’t exist – you’ll be surprised how often this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

If you would like to book a program on this topic for your company, contact us today!

“My Customers Won’t Give Me That Kind of Time!”

In my training, my writing, and my speaking, I promote and advocate a very comprehensive level of questioning of your customers. One pushback I always get is – “Come on, Troy, my customers are far too busy for that! They can only give me ten minutes – they’d never sit still for all of these questions.”

I have a simple answer. YOUR CUSTOMERS SPEND THEIR TIME WHERE IT IS VALUABLE. If your customers choose not to spend it with you, it’s because they don’t see, and you aren’t showing them value. Want to spend 30 minutes talking with them about football? You’re done in ten minutes. Want to spend 30 minutes asking them great questions that uncover business issues, not only for your benefit but for theirs? That’s time you can get. That’s value for time. The choice is yours. But, how do you create that value?

No Fake Rapport

One of the weakest of the old sales tactics is what I call “Fish on the Wall” selling. That’s where you walk into the customer’s office, look around at what they have on their walls, and attempt to establish a connection based on something you see. Let’s say they have a mounted fish, or a picture of themselves fishing. “Hey, do you fish? I fish too,” and then you hope that you become buddies talking about fishing. Or football.  Baseball. Whatever. Sometimes it does work – but more often it annoys a busy customer and guarantees that you’ll be spotted as a time-waster.

Ask Good Questions

In fact, the more pressed for time your customer appears to be, the better your questions need to be. Ask questions about their goals, their business, how they are rewarded and how they reward their people and stay away from the “me too” questions that everyone in your industry asks. Your duty is to make good use of whatever time you have; if you think you have ten minutes, forget the “Brochure barf” and instead use that time to ask three absolutely killer questions and get good use from the answers.

Present specifically to their needs

Present specifically, to the point, and tied directly to their needs, as stated in the answers to their questions. For every major product and service group, you should have a short, powerful “modular presentation” with at least three very strong solution statements that can be delivered in a concise fashion but will be made impactful. And make sure you are PRESENTING rather than just telling; there is a difference and your customers can feel it.

Ask for more time

Don’t be afraid to ask for more time; if you make good use of ten minutes, you have earned the right to ask for a half-hour or an hour.
The point is that, in today’s world, it is incumbent upon the salesperson to earn their time with the customer. It’s not just granted by default. If you’re not getting the time you’d like to have, maybe instead of thinking that your customers won’t “give” you the time, you should figure out how to create value. No matter what your industry – I work with all sorts of industries all over the world – customers will give you time if you’re making it worth their while.

Would you like to book a workshop for your company on this topic?  Contact us here!

Your Messaging and Lewis Black

Lewis Black is one of my favorite comedians.  Not only are his routines hilarious, I love his “angry guy” delivery.  It’s good catharsis and good laughs at the same time.  Now, Lewis isn’t known for giving business advice, but he gave some great advice back when Enron collapsed.

He said, “I have a way to prevent future Enrons.  If you have a company, and you can’t explain in one sentence what it does, it’s illegal!”  It’s good for laughs, but there’s more than that.  In my years as the Sales Navigator, I’ve encountered many companies whose messaging wasn’t geared around a quick explanation of what the company actually DOES for money.  If yours is one of those companies, here are some guidelines for implementing what I call the Lewis Black Rule:

  1. Avoid acronyms:  One of the biggest mistakes I see in company messaging is the incorporation of acronyms.  The problem is that not everyone knows what the acronym means – and if your potential client doesn’t, they are no longer your potential client.  One big example I see is in the copier and reprographics industry, where “Managed Print Services” is currently a big deal.  I’ve seen a number of companies that simply represent themselves as “MPS Specialists.”  If you don’t know what “MPS” stands for, you’ve lost the customer.

  2. Connote value:  In crafting a quality one-sentence message, you need to explain what VALUE you provide to your customers.  It’s not enough to say that you are a distributor of X; how do you solve your customer’s problems if they need X?

  3. Avoid price or price synonyms:  Your Lewis Black sentence is going to be the customer’s first impression of you.  If you include price, or terms such as “cost-effective,” or the like, your customer automatically positions you as a low-price provider, even if you’re not.  Setting expectations upfront is important.

  4. Explain what you actually DO:  Euphemism is as bad as acronyms.  Today’s customer demands simple, upfront communication.  You don’t have to give away your process, but you do need to allow the customer to mentally slot you in to fit his/her needs.  Explaining your business function is the best way to do that.  “We are a multi-functional communications platform,” for instance doesn’t really say what you do. 

  5. Don’t be afraid to ask for outside help.  Full disclosure – I used to have a similar problem to #4 with my own business.  And I’ll give a shout-out; Jesyca Hope of Hope Communications Consulting partnered with me and helped me figure it out.  Asking for help was difficult – but the results have been more than worth it, and they will be to you too.

  6. Consistency is key:  Once you have your Lewis Black sentence, align the rest of your messaging behind it.  Then, push it out across all your communication platforms – Sales, Marketing, Social Media, etc.  If your salespeople are giving a different story than your website, you have a problem.

Lewis, of course, didn’t get his law passed – but the idea is a great one for simple, straightforward business communication.  Take a good look at your own messaging and how it follows the Lewis Black Rule.

see how it fits together.

Sell to the Buyer, not their type

You’ve probably seen the articles:  “Discover the four buyer types,” or “How to determine your buyer’s buying signals”.  Or if you just figure out which bucket your customer falls into, you have the road map to sell to them.  There’s only one problem.  The road map doesn’t have nearly enough exits on it.

You see, all of those methodologies about “buyer types,” or categorization techniques, are less about selling YOU and your product. They are more about selling the trainers who offer them.  That’s why I’ve never offered them, and I refuse to incorporate trainers who do offer them into my work.  I discovered a very handy technique for learning how many buyer types there are in the world:

You count up all the people and multiply by one.  That’s it. To be successful in selling, you have to treat your buyers as individuals and meet them where they are.  Sell to the buyer, not their type. Trying to “type” your buyers prevents that because you’re gearing your actions and reactions around discovering which quadrant they go into.  Instead, here’s the approach to use, based on meeting your buyer as an individual:

Tabula rasa or Blank Slate

Start out each meeting with a new buyer on a tabula rasa basis.  That’s a Latin phrase meaning “blank slate,” and it’s commonly used in organized debate and legal proceedings.  Essentially it means that nothing is assumed until it’s proven in court (or debate) with evidence.  In selling, it should mean that you enter a meeting with no preconceived notions about the buyer’s needs or the anticipated solutions – instead, you’ll gear your recommendations to how they answer questions and state their needs.  That leads us to the next step.

Comprehensive Questioning

To sell to the buyer, you discover their needs through good and comprehensive questioning.  Make sure you ask about their current situation and their desired situation. Probe the gaps between  the current and desired situations.  Gain understanding not only of the needs but the prioritization of the needs and the buyer’s own perspective on why those needs exist and why they are prioritized as such.  LISTEN to the answers.  Your buyer will give you the real road map to selling in this phase.  And you must remember that this road map only pertains to this buyer.

Present to Needs

Then, present specifically to those needs.And be honest – if your products and services can’t meet their needs at the current moment, tell them that.  If your presentations tie directly to what they have stated as their needs, you’ll be way ahead of salespeople who lead with their product.

Pricing

Handle pricing in a straightforward manner – don’t be afraid to make a profitable deal, and don’t hide details.  The fewer “fine print” moments you have, the better off you’ll be.

Ask for the Sale

Ask for the sale in a direct manner. And remember to sell to the buyer. 

That’s it.  The more direct, straightforward, and individualized your selling process, the more effective you will be and the stronger relationships you’ll build.  And you won’t be preoccupied wondering if your buyer is a Driver, an Influencer, or whatever other “type” they’re trying to get you to use. You will sell to the buyer.

Is Your Messaging Strong or Weak?

When most people think of “strong messaging” or “weak messaging,” they are talking about the quality and consistency of the messaging. But what if your messaging is consistent with quality and positions YOU as weak?

What brings this to mind is a company here in Kansas City selling business supplies. They had frequent radio ads for at least three years. The ads, very consistently, talk about how they are a locally owned company. When you spend money with a local company, it stays in the area, doesn’t go to some far off CEO, you get the drill. The wording changes but the theme never does.

Do you know what the ads never say?

  • The ads never say that they are good at what they do.
  • They never say that their products are of high quality.
  • They never say that their customers are happy or loyal.

Honestly, they never say anything positive about the company at all. It’s always just the CEO pleading with listeners to buy their supplies with them because they’re a local company. This is an example of weak messaging. “Buy local” isn’t a big driver of business for most people. If it was, Amazon would be bankrupt by now. The company’s message positions them as weak and begs customers to take pity on them because they’re not a huge company.

Now, I’m not against “buy local,” because sometimes it is a difference-maker – but it’s seldom a difference-maker at a primary level. That’s because “local” isn’t the first thing customers want.

What do customers want?

  • They want to know that your products are good and will solve their problems.
  • They want to know and expect that you will provide excellent service.

In short, customers want to know and expect that you are really, really good at your business. And IF you can convince them of that, then “buy local” might be what pushes them over the edge. The problem is that most people who attempt to use “buy local” do it at a primary level, and when they fail, they blame customers who don’t care about local businesses.

If you want to use “buy local,” do it in such a way that it positions you as a STRONG company, not a weak one. Make your primary message be your excellence at what you do. Use strong messaging. Then you can say, “and by the way, not only are we better at what we do;  we are a local business.” To do otherwise makes you a weak competitor.

How (NOT) to Preserve A Brand

One of the more common topics of conversation, in both sales and marketing, is “branding.”  Most of the time, people are talking about how to BUILD a brand.  Instead of that, let’s talk about how to UNDO a brand – and with those lessons in mind, we’ll give some tips on keeping a brand whole.

Essentially, your brand is how your customers look at you or how you want them to look at you.  And it’s true that sometimes, brands need to evolve.  That said, it’s important while you’re evolving, you don’t evolve yourself right out of business.  I can think of a couple of great examples I’ve encountered recently.

If you’re a regular reader of mine, you know that I’m a motorcycle enthusiast. I’ve owned several motorcycles and currently, I have a 2010 Harley Road King and a 1978 Honda CB750.  I’m also an avid reader, and I love motorcycle magazines.  A few years ago, I subscribed to Baggers magazine, which had as its focus custom touring motorcycles – primarily Harleys.  Notice I said “had.”  The magazine was part of a huge conglomerate called Source Interlink Publications.

About two years ago, Baggers changed its focus.  Whereas at first, it was focused on customized touring bikes (aka “Baggers”), the focus became overly tattooed guys in flannel pretending that their baggers were sportbikes.  Last year, I got a notice in the mail that my new issue of Baggers was to be the last, as the magazine was shutting down.  My remaining subscription was to be filled by Hot Bike magazine.  Well, that was OK.  While Hot Bike didn’t have touring bikes as its focus, they were going to incorporate Baggers content.

Except that Hot Bike also changed its focus to the same tattooed guys in flannel, now pretending that non-bagged Harleys were sportbikes.  Six issues in, you got it – Hot Bike was done.  Now my subscription would be filled by Motorcyclist magazine. Now we’re a long way away from my primary interest, custom touring bikes.  Still, Motorcyclist is a long time, established magazine.  Lots of coverage of new bikes, racing, that kind of thing, so I was OK with it.

However, they’d changed their format.  Now they had gone “upscale,” better production quality, more photo essays, more stories on rides that people were doing.  The racing coverage was nearly eliminated and the new bike tests were cut back severely.  Want to guess what happened next?  Motorcyclist lasted TWO issues.  TWO.  Now my subscription will be filled by Cycle World.  This is another long time legacy magazine – which, when I received my first issue, looked, read, and felt exactly like the Motorcyclist that had just died.  Honestly, I’m kind of hoping they lose my name on their mailing list.

You might be thinking that this is more a function of the changing motorcycle market than branding and content decisions.  You would be wrong, I think.  There’s a good reason for that.  Another magazine I read is called American Iron.  Exclusive focus on Harleys, both touring and non-touring, heavy focus on customizing and doing the work yourself.  And throughout this entire period, this magazine has stayed true to its format – and in fact, has INCREASED its frequency.  It’s now coming out thirteen times a year (every four weeks) instead of twelve monthly issues.  It is independently published – not part of the conglomerate, but in the magazine business, that should make their existence tougher, not easier.  Magazine distribution is very much controlled by the big nationals.

Another brand that has managed to trash itself through a very different process is Craftsman Tools.  Craftsman used to be the best- known brand of retail tools.  I differentiate “retail” tools from “professional” brands like Snap-On, Matco, MAC, and Cornwell.  The professional brands can only be bought through independent distributors who sell off tool trucks, and only call on shops and garages.  Craftsman could be bought at any Sears store.

Craftsman wasn’t Snap-On, but it was a good, high quality, American made tool with a lifetime warranty.  They were the choice of the home mechanic.  And then, several years ago, they started offshoring production.  Some brands can offshore production, even to China, and keep quality high. Craftsman didn’t do that.  Suddenly, a 9/16” wrench might not be exactly 9/16” anymore – and when you’re cranking on a bolt, a few thousandths of an inch can be the difference between properly turning a bolt or rounding the head off.  Plus they broke more often, particularly the ratchets and sockets.

Suddenly, Craftsman lost their reputation for quality.  Other brands, particularly Kobalt (sold through Lowe’s), made big inroads.  Kobalt is an interesting case.  They began as a brand made by Snap-On but sold at retail through Lowe’s, and the first few years, that’s how they stayed.  Kobalts of that age were within a tiny amount of being as well made as Snap-On, the standard of the industry.  I have a bunch that I bought back then.

Then, Kobalt did a funny thing.  They also offshored production of most of their tools.  But the quality stayed consistent.  A Kobalt made in China now is basically the same tool as a Kobalt made when they started.  This means that Craftsman quality didn’t have to drop; it dropped because of carelessness and inattention.  Now, Craftsman has announced that they will be retuning production of about half of their tools to the USA; but is it too little, too late?  Now they’re in recovery mode.

So, we have four brands (the three dead bike magazines, plus Craftsman) that have basically ruined their image.  All four did so by basically changing what had appealed to their customer base.  Three due to a desire to “reinvent,” and one by cost-cutting.  So, how can you evolve your brand without killing it?

  1. Start with situational awareness.  Are you trying to grow or survive?  If you’re trying to survive your existing customers aren’t as vital, because they aren’t keeping you afloat.  In this case, finding a brand new customer base is a necessity.
  2. Understand why your customers buy from you.  As long as you’re in growth mode rather than survival mode, you want to keep as many of your current customers as possible while adding new ones.
  3. Define the new customers you’re trying to attract while keeping #2 in mind.  Maybe the only thing you have to change is your marketing.  Is it possible that all you need to do is create awareness within a new market segment?  This can be particularly effective with legacy brands that are still viable, but not as well known to younger customers.
  4. Move gradually.  Big changes can disconcert legacy customers, which will run off the base you’re trying to protect.  Think evolution, not revolution.
  5. Whatever you do, don’t cut quality of your product or service.  If you cut your quality, all the branding in the world won’t help you.

Basically, you have some very good examples of how NOT to do it above, and if you find yourself in doubt, think “Bizarro Branding;” do the opposite of what they did and you’ll be fine.

Let’s Talk About Phone Work

One of the most basic elements of selling today is the ability to sell on the telephone.  I’ve said, and continue to say, that teleprospecting is still the best, most controllable, and most predictable, means of generating new business.  Yes, you can sometimes snag a prospect through email (if you’re willing to send out enough of them; the numbers have to be very large and the return rate is small) and social media.

For most of us, though, picking up the phone is still the best means of selling.  It’s also one of the preferred means of contact for many of your customers.  And yet – it seems that salespeople (and people in general) are getting worse and worse at dealing with actual, voice to voice, telephone conversations.  The list of guaranteed call-killers used to be small, but it’s getting larger and larger.  Here are some of the newer issues I’ve seen with telephone selling:

  1. Auto-dialers.  Yes, I hate auto-dialers with a passion.  There’s nothing worse than picking up the phone to answer a call, saying hello (or however you greet a caller), and then hearing a moment or two of silence and saying, “Hello, hello?”.  Then you hear that little click that lets you know that an actual person has come on the line.  Usually that click is when I – and most people – hang up.  And phone numbers get blocked.  If you are using an auto-dialer, STOP IT.  NOW.  Whatever you might gain from the efficiency of quicker dialing, you lose in terms of call completion.

  2. Unintelligibility.  This is the second big sin that I hear on the phones.  If your customer can’t understand the words coming out of your mouth, they will not buy from you.  Period.  DOT.  This is an issue that has a number of different causes.  One of the biggest causes is a phone that simply isn’t a good telephone; instead, it’s a pocket size computer that just happens to have a phone app.  When I shop for a new phone, I always position my wife outside the store.  I then call her cell on their demo phones, and we compare notes on call quality.  I’ll sacrifice a little bit on other features to have a good phone.

    The second cause is bad technology.  There are some calling apps that absolutely trash your phone voice and make it sound like you’re calling from the bottom of a barrel.  Going down Niagara Falls.  If you’re going to use some tech app, again, test the quality.

    The third cause is simply handling the phone.  When a voice goes in and out on the phone, I know that they’re probably not holding it like a phone, with the microphone toward the mouth and the speaker to the ear.  That can greatly vary the tone and volume of your voice.  There’s nothing worse than having to say, “I CAN’T HEAR YOU,” during a call when information is coming out that’s important. 

    The fourth cause is speakerphones.  Speakerphones can be just fine or they can be awful.  Most of it depends on where the participants are during the call, how close they are to the phone, and what physical objects are between them and the phone.  For instance, if there are a couple of books between the participant and the phone (or something similar, this can really hurt the call quality.  Again, TEST.

    My advice to be intelligible is to get a quality headset and use it consistently.  And by “a quality headset,” I mean one that has a good speaker and that positions the microphone in front of the mouth.  Mine is a blueparrott B250-XT.  And, full disclosure on my part – I resisted getting a headset for years.  Finally, last year, I had to do a 3 hour webinar and I knew there was no way I could do that with a phone held to my ear.  So I bought it – and now, on any phone call longer than about five minutes, I feel weird if I don’t use it.  And I’ve never had a client say they couldn’t hear me. In fact, more often, clients will comment on how it sounds like I’m right in the room with them.

  3. The last big problem I see is simply a lack of focus.  Technology can be a great aid in our work, but it can also be a problem.  It becomes a problem when we allow tech to get in the way of our dialogue.  If you’re returning emails and texts, or reading something on your phone while a call is going on, you’re misusing technology.  The exception to this would be if you are taking notes on your CRM on a laptop while talking on the phone (this, I highly encourage).  But let your customer know that you’re taking notes so that when they hear the keys clicking (and they always do), that they don’t think that you are answering email.

Now, does this cover the entire length, width, and breadth of calling problems?  Of course not – but these are the most common, and emerging, issues I see with salespeople today.  The bottom line is this – if they can’t hear you, they won’t buy from you.