Sunday, February 27, 2011

Do You Love The Work But Hate to Sell?

From time to time, I am asked the following question: Vinay, I love what I do, but I hate the selling part. What do I do?

If you're like me, you don't particularly enjoy selling, nor the constant pressure of having to chase and close deals.  While I understand the sales process and the need to drive revenue, the use of war like language often used in sales (closing, chasing deals, breakthrough resistance, get 'em to say yes, etc.) is a turn off for me.

I am certainly not implying it's wrong but just that it doesn't work for me. You see, to me people aren't to be conquered, nor are they just deals to be closed, trophies to be won.  Rather they are real living human beings, just like you and I and therefore deserve to be served, to be helped. To me "selling" is the start of a relationship, not the ending, the closing.

While I don't particularly enjoy selling per se, I do love helping people.  I love becoming an expert in something and then sharing that expertise with others as well as using it to help.  So if you're like me, I say to you, stop selling and start helping.  Here are some of the ways you can do that:
  1. Write:  Write articles, start a blog, participate in various electronic discussion groups in which your target audience participate, write books, short booklets, and tips.
  2. Teach: Develop and deliver educational programs.
  3. Present.  Develop short talks.  Speak at conferences and other various gatherings.
  4. Serve: Get involved, serve on committees, boards, and other such groups.
As you get in front of those you want to serve and share your expertise in these various ways, you'll start to get to know people, and more importantly people will start to get to know you.  Through such efforts, your network will grow, leading to conversations, some of which you'll initiate and some others will initiate.  In due time work will flow to you.  Working this way not only leads to work, it also leads to more joy and fulfillment, for both you and the people you help.

Now some may question if this just a mind game for at the end of the day we still have to drive revenue.  After all, just helping with no returns doesn't work for too long either. What I do know and have experienced is that if you love your work but hate to sell, shifting the mindset from selling to helping can make all the difference, in both your own success as well as those you help.  So stop selling and start helping and you'll be well on your way.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Little Things Lead to Big Things!

When I was in printing, we did our best to ensure our products were done right, done beautifully and delivered on time.  Yet some customers were still unhappy with us.  What gives we wondered.  After all, we delivered what we promised. 

That's when we learned an important business lesson, among many others. 

Over 90% of our clients were women in their 20's to 40's.  Many were busy, going to school at night, raising families, juggling many things.  And many wore dresses and shoes with high heels.  As this became clearer, our thinking began to shift and we started to see our business in a new light, came to realize what business we were really in.  It wasn't just about delivering the products but also how we delivered what we did.  In other words, product delivery was only part of the overall total experience that was important to the customers.

As one example, in-terms of delivering our products, we would be packing them in big boxes, making them very happy to lift and move around.  They were heavy for men too, but they didn't say anything.  We would also label the boxes on the side.  This made it difficult for women, particularly those who wore tight skirts to bend and read the label.

Once we realized who are real clients were and the challenges they face, we started to shift how we looked at our business. Connected to the example I just shared, we started to use smaller boxes, ensured our drivers placed the boxes at client sites where the customers wanted them placed, and began to label the boxes on the side and on the top.

Result being through many such small steps, our client became happier with our service, thus helping us stand apart from other providers.  While we weren't always perfect and we made our share of mistakes, each and every day we strove to do better then we did yesterday. Overtime, small on-going improvements added up to big impacts.  Even in the competitive landscape, we became known for service and as a result, our clients stayed with us for long periods of time, purchased more and more, paid higher prices and provided numerous referrals.
The foundation for this shift though had to first take place in our minds.  We began to ask our clients what's important to them, beyond just getting products done right and on time.  We started to look at our business through their eyes, finding out what they wanted and what were those little things that frustrated them. In fact, I would turn to spending more and more of my time with clients, then internally.  I wanted my fingers on the pulse at all time, getting first hand knowledge.

We also shifted our thinking realizing that we really weren't in the business of printing.  While that's what we produced, we saw our business more as reducing stress, reducing anxiety, making life easier for our busy clients.  Once we saw our business through this new lens, what our business was really about, we continued to look at each and every aspect of our business, all with the goal of making our clients life easy and stress free as possible.  Rest, as they say was history. 

So, what business are you really in?  What do your customers want?  What are those little things that you can do and do more of that can lead to big impacts for you and your customers?  If you're unsure, I encourage you to talk to your clients.  Ask them, and they'll happily tell you.  Then apply what they tell you and watch your business and your profits grow. It's that simple.

After all, success is the sum of small efforts, done over and over on a consistent basis and in the process big things emerge from those little things.  

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Which Stool is More Stable?

Naturally, the 3-legged stool is more stable and more difficult to knock over.  Same applies to those who sell. Too many sales people rest on their laurels thinking they have a strong foot hold when they have an excellent relationship with their contact at their customer's organization. But what happens when that person leaves, or has a change of heart?

If your relationship with a customer rests on a single contact, you could easily be pushed out. While certainly enjoy the relationship, be sure to also cultivate additional relationships.  Do this both vertically and horizontally, going high, deep and wide. This will give you a much stronger foot hold, as well as potentially lead to additional revenue opportunities.  And the more people you know, the more referral potential as well. 

I strongly urge you to review your client list and ask yourself, in which organizations is your relationship like a 1-legged stool and then identify steps can you begin take to convert those to more like a 3-legged stool.  It's well worth the investment.  Don't delay.  Do today, as if your future depends on it, cause it very well may.

PS Similarly, actively strive to get more and more of your products and services into your customers organizations for this too makes it harder for a competitor to enter your space as well as for your customer to displace you. Moreover, it's easier to sell more to your existing clients then to get new ones.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Box of Chocolates or Unpleasant Surprises?

“Life is like a box of never know what you're gonna get.", said Forrest Gump.  While I certainly admire Mr. Gump's positive outlook, when it comes to customer service however, there is perhaps another saying that is more apt.  That is "Better the devil you know, then the devil you don't."

Nothing upsets customers more then receiving inconsistent service, never knowing what they're going to get.  While occasional unexpected pleasant surprises are nice, overall though, it's far better to provide consistent and predictable service.  


Case in point.  My wife and I run long distances over the weekends.  Given the times involved, naturally we have to make pit stops along the way.  On some of the "trails", along the way are 7-11s which also serve as a nice rest areas.  But that's when it all changes.  


Some have facilities for public use, some don't; some have them placed such that they are openly and easily accessible and some in the back hidden; some allow customers to use their facilities, others don't; some allow you to use their facilities regardless of placement (out in the open or in the back somewhere), others require you to first seek permission from the staff (talk about feeling as if I am back in kindergarten).  You just never know what you're gonna find. Depending on the situation, what otherwise is no bid deal can turn into a painful experience. 


I would think for a national chain such as 7-11, it would provide a consistent experience, regardless of location.  This is where chains such as McDonald's shine for no matter where you go, the offerings and service are consistent. But even if you're not a chain, it's still important to be consistent, boringly predictable even for there is great comfort in that.


So, how consistent are you in the service you provide to your customers?  Can they depend on you completely, or are they never really sure what they will receive at any given time?  If the later, what actions can you start to take to provide more consistent dependable experiences?  

Thursday, February 17, 2011

How Responsive Are You?

Many years ago, I received a bid request for a very small project, valued at only couple of hundred dollars.  Given my service orientation and nature to be responsive, I quickly called the requester for additional information and then followed-up with an estimate, in my usual very timely manner.

As it's something I have experienced with numerous organizations over the years, what started out with a small project, many more projects then followed, and became bigger over time.  Turning back to the client I refer to, not only did I keep him, as he moved around to other organizations, he took me with him, leading to additional clients over the years, as well as many referrals.

One day I asked Reggi what lead him to choose me on that original bid request.  His response: "You were the only one who responded."  Imagine, if I had ignored his request, I would have missed out on a beautiful friendship that we developed over the years, lost ten's of thousands in very profitable revenue, as well as numerous referrals. 

I am reminded of this because earlier this week, in my search for a ghost writer, I sent emails to 3 firms in New York City requesting additional information on their services, and a request for a phone conversation. 

Nearly 3 days later, 2 have yet to respond, and the one who did, did so in a very timely manner, responding with a very thoughtful reply and detailed information with what I requested. Since then we have exchanged several emails, all before we have even talked, and each of his responses have been timely, thorough and warm. From what I can tell from his communications, his firm is very successful.  Perhaps it's because one of his traits is simply that he follows-up on requests, whereas others don't?  

So, how responsive are you to the various requests you receive?  If you're not, what could you be missing out on?  And if you were, what more would be possible for you and your business? 

Monday, February 14, 2011

Lesson in Service Recovery!

No matter how good a systems and people are put in place, mistakes happen.  After all, to err is human. So what is one to do when something goes off course?

To me a sign of a service minded organization is not that they are perfect but more how they respond when something goes off course.  Do they fail to respond? Do they play the blame game?  Or do they step-up thank the customer for letting them know about the issue, apologize and offer to make it right, all in a timely manner?  The later is what I refer to as Service Recovery and it is a sign of a service minded organization.  In fact, here's real example from today that I want to share with you.

This morning you received my post entitled "What's Your Customer Experience Score?"  In it I site two examples, Sport & Health and Verizon. Well, to my pleasant surprise, within 12 hours of that post going out, I received a thoughtful email from Colleen Wolak, Email Marketing & Social Media Director at Sport & Health thanking me, apologizing for the indifference I wrote about and letting me know they are working on improving their service.  A great example of Service Recovery. Thank you Colleen.

Now, as for Verizon?  Nothing.  Sounds to me they need to speak with the folks at Sport & Health and learn about service.  

Sunday, February 13, 2011

What's Your Customer Experience Score?

A chain is only as strong as it's weakest link.  Similarly, when it comes to providing outstanding customer experience, it is only as good as the weakest link in your service chain (series of customer touch points).  Please allow me to elaborate.

I belong to Sport & Health, a local gym chain.  Equipment is the latest, facilities are clean and well stocked, instructors are experienced and make exercising enjoyable.  Yet the person I see first nearly every time I enter the gym at this particular location has an attitude of indifference.

Too frequently she has her head buried in a book and therefore when I check in, I feel as if I am intruding.  Rarely does she smile, say hello, welcome, have a great work out, have a nice day.  In fact, she often doesn't even look up, no eye contact, no smile.  It's simply a transaction where she scans my entry card and she is so good she can do it without ever taking her head out of the book.  I hate it for it feels so cold to me. No warm and fuzzes what so ever. What otherwise is a good experience is dampened for me as I enter as well as when I leave. Please note that this does not mean she is a bad person.  In fact, I have found her to be a very warm and genuine soul whenever I have engaged in a conversation. Perhaps it's just a matter of wrong role fit,or lack of training, and so on. But that's another topic for another time.

As another example, we use Verizon Wireless at home for our phone, cable and internet service.  Verizon spends millions each year promoting their services. And their network technology is excellent, very reliable, which is important to me.  Yet rarely does a month go by when I don't experience billing errors. 

For Sport & Health, their front desk reception and for Verizon Wireless, their billing system are the weak links in what otherwise are fine organizations.  Improve those areas and the overall customer experience score would increase significantly-at least from my vantage point.  Therefore, to improve your overall customer experience, a great place to begin is to identify your weak links and begin to strengthen them.

So, how do you identify your weak links?

Easy, interview your customers. They'll happily tell you, if you ask.  And as you have interview your customers, patterns will begin to emerge providing you invaluable insights on where to begin.  As you start to improve those areas, your service chain will begin to strengthen, leading to better overall customer experiences, and ultimately higher retention and profitability.  It's the right thing to do and it's good business.  Everyone wins.

Go ahead, do it. It's a great invest of time and resources and the rewards well worth it.  I guarantee it.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Watch Your Language, Please!

An old saying goes: "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me".  From my experience, nothing is farther from the truth.  While physical wounds heal and are long forgotten, ill chosen words cut deep, with some such inflicted wounds never to heal.

I have found over the years that using positive words doesn't cost any more.  And using negative words doesn't cost any less.  Yet the impact each has, positive or negative, is huge.  Let's look at a business example.

In working with an organization some years back, a team spent some time reviewing various templates used in customer communications.  The wording in one of them really jumped out, worded roughly as follows (and the other templates weren't much different in tone):

ABC Manufacturing has reviewed your request and has determined that it does not meet our strategy.  Therefore we will not consider this request now, nor in the future.  We are closing out the request.  (Name of the client and wording have been changed/modified while preserving the essence.)

I don't know what your reaction was reading this but for me it felt like a door being slammed in my face.  It pained me just reading it - and it was not even a response to my request.  I can only imagine what the clients must have felt, when receiving such a response, and the (adverse) impact that must have had on the customer relationships and the business.

I am wondering if there would be another way to word this. For example, something like this:  "Hello , thank you for your request.  I have reviewed your request and unfortunately at this point in time, it does not fit the product strategy and therefore I am unable to address it through our regular support mechanism.  Having said that, I like to suggest our having a conversation so we can better understand what it is you're trying to achieve and then perhaps there may be another way we can help you achieve your desired outcomes.  If you agree, please advise when would be a convenient time for us to speak.  I'll wait to hear from you then.  Thank you kindly."

While this suggested reply is wordier and takes few more moments to write, don't you think it's much warmer, invites dialogue and leaves room for exploration and future opportunities as well as contributes to stronger relationship formation?

If you agree with the message of this post, perhaps it may be worthwhile for you and your team to review your own communications that take place with your customers, internal and external, and identifying ways they can be made more customer friendly, so they lead to more positive outcomes, for you and your clients?  In my experience, this is one of the ways to have a huge positive impact on your relationships and your bottom line, without spending a single additional penny.

What are your thoughts and experiences in this regards?  I would love to hear from you.  Won't you please take a few moments to respond?  Thank you so kindly in advance for your reading this post and for taking the time to comment and share your thoughts and experiences. - Vinay