Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Key Reasons Customers Spend Money

Let me ask you two questions.

1. Assuming money is tight, for which of these will you find a way to pay somehow:
A. A tooth ache.
B. Teeth cleaning.

2. Which of the following will get greater attention from you?
A. News of significant upcoming "reductions in force" to take place within your department.
B. News of your employer making a profit, resulting in year-end bonuses.

If you're like most people, you answered A to both.

There are 3 main reasons people spend money, in this order:

1. Alleviate current pain.
2. Alleviate potential pain, i.e. fear of what might happen.
3. Gain, to make something better.

With this in mind, as you are meeting your clients and prospects, carefully look and listen for what's paining them today and what they fear might happen.

This is where your opportunities are, particularly #1 and #2. Where you can help your clients the most, for which they will pay you, and areas in which they will take actions quicker.

By the way, these don't have to big things. It's often the little things that cause great deal of pain. Let me share an example.

Once I was working with a client who was putting together a very large conference program, a highly time sensitive mission critical piece for their organization. Her frustration was that she was getting ad files for ads that were to be placed in the program and these files were coming from various sources in variety of formats. Given her limited knowledge of software programs, she had no way of checking these files, let alone work with--causing her lot of stress. One day she reached out to me asking me if I knew of anyone who could help her.

As this was a source of pain for her, I offered to have one of our designers help her, simply out of goodness to help. Long and short of it is because we helped her in time of need, to our pleasant surprise she later asked us to produce these programs, which we ended up doing not just that year but also many times in the future, adding tens of thousands of dollars in very profitable revenue to our company. Furthermore, as the relationship strengthened through such "little things", we received more and more work from this client over many years.

Therefore continuously ask yourself, what can you do to make your clients life easier, to take their pain away, no matter how big or how little. It's not only good business, you'll feel much better too for then you'll also be working towards a higher cause, to make this world a better place by helping others.

On a side note, yet in connection with this post, I want to share with you something I learned from David Blanchard, CEO of The Og Mandino Group. As it inspired me so much, I now start my days, everyday, with this. It goes as follows:

"Lord, if there is anyone I can serve today, put them on my path and I will serve them".

I personally can not think of any thing more joyful and fulfilling then to help another in their time of need, helping them alleviate their pain. The feeling is priceless.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Knowledge: Introverts Secret Weapon to Sales Success

I am a firm believer that knowledge truly is power. Not only does it boost self-confidence, it increases your value in the marketplace, within both the company you are employed and with your clients and prospects. Therefore it's very important to learn from those around us.

When you come to be recognized as an expert, you'll find walls crumbling down and lines of communication open up. In fact, you'll even find yourself being invited into prospects' offices, asking you to do business with them. Just be careful not to give all of your expertise away.

Exhibiting deep understanding and insights into your target market immediatily will set you apart from majority of the sales people. It'll position you, the introverted sales person, as a serious, customer-focused professional, as a valuable resource, someone who can help solve critical problems.

It is my personal experience that clients ultimately want to deal with professionals who can help them succeed. Sure it is important to have a nice personality for given two sales people of equal caliber, customer will choose to do business with the one they like. Therefore being likable combined with possessing extensive knowledge and expertise will lead to your sales success, over time.

When I speak of knowledge, I am referring to 3 kinds. They include:

1. Knowledge of your target market--your customers and prospects;

2. Knowledge of your competititors;

3. Knowledge of your organization, products, services, solutions.

In this post, I want to touch on item #1 and in subsequent posts I will write about the others.

In the area of customer knowledge, spend the time and energy gathering (via for example, listening, asking probing questions, quietly observing, reading) following types of information:

1. How your clients define success and the challenges they face in achieving their success.

2. Walk in the shoes of your customers, and even their customers, understanding the supply chain and how your offerings fit into that overall chain.

3. Understand what happens to your products and services at your client site. Sometime what appears to be minor elements will surface, other times major. For example, when I was in printing, we were labeling our boxes on the long side of the box. Upon visiting clients, I observed they frequently stacked boxes with the short side showing, causing our labels to be covered, causing immense frustation to the clients. As a result, we switched the lable position to the short side, leading to increased client satisfaction. Many such simple steps contributed to high client retention and higher then industry profitability-steps we would not have known to take unless we walked in the shoes of our clients.

4. Get to know as many people within your client organizations, at various levels. Often silos exist where departments don't talk to each other, causing significant communication gaps. If your solutions cut across various deparments, you'll be in a great position to "connect the dots", build bridges, and adjust your solutions accordingly. Furthermore, additional opportunties for you are likely surface. Equally importantly, the more relationships you form, the stronger your foothold within your clients organizations.

5. Understand their organizational structures, who their ideal clients are, their products & services, strengths and weaknesses and so on. This will allow you to keep a look out for opportunities for your clients too as you're out and about. You'll come to know of various open positions available in your marketplace and your clients will start to even reach out to you to help them find suitable positions when they are in the market to make a change. You'll become in essense part of their team, their partner which is so much better then being viewed as just a vendor, a term which I personally hate.

Btw, I have been mostly using the term customer in this post. What I am writing also applies to your prospects. Since you are focusing on a particular niche, as I discussed in my post "Fish Where the Fish Are", the challenges your clients face, it's likley your prospects face similar challenges. Therefore, the more you know about your clients, indirectly you'll also be learning lot about your prospects too.

Finally, if you're managing others, I am a strong beliver that you also must have your own clients to serve and prospects to market to. This will allow you to keep your own "fingers on the pulse". Nothing is more powerful then having first hand information through your own experiences.

For both your own and your organizations long-term success, make market focus a personal, strategic priority. Have a learning mindset at all times. Continously looking, listening and learning holds the keys to success, both today and tomorrow.

One word of caution. NEVER assume you know "everything". As the more you learn, the easier it becomes to fall into the "I Know" trap. Nothing is ever constant, except change. Therefore, even when you think you know, assume nothing. Instead, keep an open mindset. Like a parachute, it'll only work best when it's open.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Sleeping with the Enemy!

Imagine, couples at conferences held at fancy resorts, networking, champagne toasts, fancy awards dinners, ladies in silky gowns, gents in tuxedos, the day culminating in a beautiful evening with the song "Behind Closed Doors" playing in the background. They are on top of the world.

Now turn your attention to the kitchen table. The couple sitting there in dead silence, exchanging glares and stares. Only if looks could kill. Tension so thick, you can cut it with a knife. Now imagine GI Joe and GI Jane at their worst behavior. Absolutely pissed off with each other. There is the shouting, the screaming, the feet stomping. It's an all out war. Short of hand-to-hand combat, anything goes. Weapons include feet stomping, tears, sobbing, shouting, glaring looks, stares, emotional blackmail, and even threats of leaving.

Finally, imagine all this happening in the life of the same couple--never knowing when which of these scenarios will show up. They are treading lightly, walking on egg shells. Appearing happy on the outside, miserable on the inside. On the outside they may pretend all is well. On the inside there is immense tension, frustration, and at times feelings of resignation, hopelessness and desire to just run away from it all.

In case you're wondering, no, this is not some thriller movie. This happens on a daily basis across the world, in numerous homes and businesses. It's the life of couples in business together.

Some go into business together with thoughts of love and thinking how nice it'll be to be together all the time. Others go into it out of necessity. No matter the reason, often it ends up in all out war and relationships even torn apart in the process. I have observed this all too closely. Not a pretty sight.

Given my first hand close observations over the years, if you're in this situation or know of a couple who are, I like to suggest some solutions--to save not only the business but more importantly the marriage and the relationship.

1. Spend time to discuss each others overall goals and desires. Too often business can become all-consuming and it becomes easy to loose sight of the fact that the business is there to support the life you want to live, not the other way around. Without such clarity and alignment, each partner can be rowing in different directions, which itself contributes to tension.

2. Take the time to clearly define roles, responsibilities, and authority levels. And then honor those, and not take each other for granted. At work, treat each other more as professionals colleagues.

3. Use assessments to better understand each other, e.g. behaviors, motivators, communication styles, triggers, and other personality traits. I know my wife and I went through this process, after being married for 27 years. Still, we learned so much and it has helped us improve our own marriage.

4. To facilitate difficult and sensitive conversations involve someone external, someone who will be objective, neutral and look for the greater good of the relationship and the business. Someone who understands business AND such dynamics. Someone who isn't afraid to ask the hard questions, to challenge and to hold the couple accountable.

5. Schedule and hold regular meetings where the "major" business issues can be discussed. Too often one assumes because the couple works together, they both know what all is happening in the business. My experience shows that unfortunately the opposite is more of what takes place.

There truly is a lot of joy in seeing couples in business together and there is immense power in such teams. And it can also be living hell. I have personally seen it all - the good, the bad and the ugly. To build lasting success in business AND the relationshiop, it starts with these simple yet powerful steps.