Two Knuckles

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“In the golf swing a tiny change can make a huge difference.” — Harvey Penick

I slice.  Badly sometimes.  Less lately (God willing).  But still, I slice.  Swing path, a stiff back, ball position, focus, not enough hip rotation, poor follow-through, chicken-winging, and an incorrect grip (I interlock, but Tiger interlocks so I can’t be too far off from a decent shot here and there.  I’ve tried the Vardon but it’s uncomfortable and my connection to the club feels unnatural and rigid).

“Roll your left hand over just a little bit, ” Dumbledore said.  I pay the The Wizard to turn my lead swing in to gold.  “You should see two knuckles on your left hand.”  I looked down at my left hand.  One knuckle.  Too prone to an open club face at impact.  My slice was happening before I even began my backswing.  In golf, in business, in life, most problems find a purchase well before they actually occur.

I’d be a lunatic to draw a poor and obvious comparison between golf and business.  Golf is far more difficult and instructive.  Like any worthwhile journey, however, the lesson is simple and the execution is very, very difficult: Treat the fundamentals of your craft with humility and dogged diligence.  Small improvements are transformative.  Small improvements result in more sustainable progress than all the “revolutionary” talking points out there right now (“10X your life little man!!”).  Fundamental progress is exponential.  So focus on your grip.  Be intentional and analytical.  Over-manage the details.  Save the goofy catch-phrases about success for your first hole-in-one.  By then you’ll have well earned it.

 

Sheeple Season in Sales

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A late afternoon conference call with a normally stoked sales team.  Their mood was austere:  “Leads have slowed down.”  “Lead quality has been pretty crappy.”  “Nobody is making a decision.”  “People are shopping.”  “There’s no urgency.”  “Tire kickers.”  “I ran one call today.”

Two months ago this team was a brick of Black Cats with a lit fuse.  Suddenly they felt like a wet Huggy.

And then El Dorado.  The Sales Manager prognosticated: “The Almanac says it’s going to be cold this winter!” (whimpering “yeeeeeaaaah” follows)

Teams can lift each other or keel haul each other.  Shoulder seasons are the true test of a team’s mettle.  Giving a shoulder season a free pass to gack up the mojo only means that the team will live and die by the weather, lead volume, lead quality, and leech-like naysaying.

Sheeple Season is here–when sales teams fall prey to a vampiric group-fulfilling weakness that too often allows uncontrollable externals to determine their total enthusiasm.  Active succumbs to passive.  Blind follow blind.  Sheep follow sheep.

Now is the time to work a pipeline.  Now is a time to conservatively manage open leads.  Now is the time to go person-to-person with neighborhood marketing.  Now is the time to give extra thanks to a Service Technician who is turning over leads.  Now is the time to call clients who haven’t been appreciated.  Now is the time to join networking groups  Now is the time to build that referral program.  Now is the time to let people know that there are new and improved products and services.  Now is the time to let people know about promotions and incentives.  Now is the time to work harder to close at the kitchen table.  Now is the time to focus on sales methods.  Now is the time to read that book you’ve been meaning to read, to listen to that pod cast you’ve been meaning to listen to.  Now is the time to shrug off complacency, bitching, waiting, hoping, finger-pointing.  Now is the time to get proactive and work on your business as a business.  We’re in a race for relationships…that’s not a seasonal Siren.

Sheep will run toward and through a gate regardless as to whether or not there is a fence around them.  They’ll fence themselves in.  But at least they’re not alone.

 

“it’s the words that sing”

“So speak to influence. Don’t speak to call a flower yellow. Speak to breathe spirit into an idea, to be enthusiastic, to convey emotion, to influence. This is the only way to have impact with your unique creativity.”

Our words are our tools for expression and understanding.  Words create commonalities and transcendent appreciation.  Words turn strangers in to friends.

Salespeople (hell, anyone who cares about being understood) must appreciate that brilliantly selected words are persuasive and transformative.  The ordinary becomes the extraordinary.  The invisible becomes visible.  Words are deeds when well-selected.

Amazing words bring products to life.  They bring Life to life!

Choose your words carefully, edit them mercilessly, use as few of them as possible, but use the best.  Yessir.

 

The Amazon Event Horizon

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In 2013 I read an on-line review titled: “Who buys an AC from Amazon!? Me, that’s who.”  It was glowing–positively gushing, really.  The author touted the cost-effective and effortless experience.  Not a scratch of regret.  That’s when I began talking about the implications that direct-to-consumer sales were going to have on the service industry.

These effects: a high-level of brand trust, ease-of-use, competitive pricing, and speedy deliveries have only improved over the last three years.  So has the Amazon footprint.

Today, right now, Amazon has a warehouse within 20 miles of 44% of the US population.  Let that sink in for a minute.  Here’s the source:

http://www.businessinsider.com/amazon-replace-trips-to-stores-2016-9

The event horizon may be here.  Amazon’s forray in to full-home services and product offerings is legitimate, local, and expanding.

How will your business out-Amazon Amazon?

 

 

Thanks for the great referral letter!

Anyone who teaches for a living confronts existential questions: Is anyone listening?  Is this making a difference?  So when someone takes the time to write a note or an email about their successes it’s affirming.  This email made my day:

“Matt,

I wanted to take a few minutes and give you some feedback on your course from my perspective. I, being new and coming in with no field experience was quite nervous. I had heard of all of the role playing that would be required and quite frankly being so new I was very apprehensive to say the least. I can only speak for my experience in your course but I can tell you this, I had been in training for several weeks and was having some difficulty navigating may way through this change in career path. Through your 3 day course nearly everything we discussed resonated with me. The role play was a valuable learning tool for me, I took it serious and really tried to employ the methodology you were preaching. Asking fantastic questions and gathering information to help formulate a custom experience for the client in order to properly guide them down the path of purchase quickly became the foundation on which I knew that I wanted build my book of business on. I watched guys who had been doing this for a long time learn new things and new guys like myself have lights go on. If I was given the opportunity to speak with company owners around the country I would say ths. Invest i your people, invest in their future. Matt’s course isn’t about rehashing old techniques with a new spin, it’s not a canned pitch to be expedited and mve on. The content and the way it is delivered is unlike any training I’ve ever been in and I have a great appreciation for the genuine interest he has for making people better for having been in his course. He takes pride in what he does. I left the course and my first week in the field had 6 calls, closed 3 of them and wrote $30,000.00 in work. Week one, no experience at all. I am truly thankful and grateful for the owner of my company understand the value of this course and being illing to pay for me to attend it. I’m confident he will never question that investment.

Sincerely

Chad Smuin”

Then this afternoon:

chad 2

To everyone who supports my work, thank you very much.  It’s a pleasure working with you!  Your friend, Matt

Sell to who the customers are, not who you want them to be

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Attunement
noun
being or bringing into harmony; a feeling of being “at one” with another being

I’m sitting next to an experienced salesperson.  Across the table an older couple smiles graciously as we chat.  The customers are older.  He is 89 years old.  His wife is 81.  Their mobile home is orderly and cozy and filled with family photographs as well as the almost required chotchski cabinet.  They need a new air conditioning system.

“You know at 89 I don’t need anything that’s got all the fancy stuff on it.  We just want to stay cool and comfortable…”

The man’s thinking of the end game.  His wife continues.

“And the budget is a big part of this for us.”

Eventually there are limitations that we all face–always time and usually money.

I asked the couple: “Have you budgeted for this project?”  Normally I wouldn’t ask this question but this wasn’t a normal situation.  These wonderful people were undertaking an expensive home improvement project late in life.

“We’d like to keep the project around $8,000,” she answered.  The entry-level system on the salesperson’s price menu was around that price.

As if she’d said nothing of significance the salesperson began pitching a product that was nearly twice that price.  He discussed advanced filtration, zoning, solar options. His “expert” opinion concluded that the couple needed a home comfort system that was upwards of twenty-two thousand dollars.

The couple wasn’t smiling at that point.  “We need to think about it,” she said.

Afterwards the salesperson and I talked about his decision to ignore clear buying signs.  He felt that he’d done right by the customers.  After all, he argued, “knowledge is power.”  Moreover, his straight commission comp plan encouraged him to sell up, sell up, sell up!

Unfortunately he was trying to sell a square peg in to a round hole.  Not every customer is a premium product customer with a keen interest in accessory items.  Not every customer can qualify or chooses to qualify for financing.  Not every customer is staring down the business end of life.  Attempting to up-sell these people not only demonstrated a clear lack of empathy and attunement but jeopardized the salesperson’s credibility.

Sell to who your customer is, not who you want them to be.  Listen–really listen.  Listen for understanding–not simply as a trigger to another canned answer.  Pay attention to their home, their circumstances.  Exercise the highest level of empathy and attunement.  Serve as a mendicant with disciplined, mindful humility.

Before a salesperson can sell something he needs to be attuned to his customer.  Lacking that attunement he runs the risk of being perceived as a pitch man, hustler, and runner-up.

10 Ways to Close More Sales

The era of the “hard close” and the “ABC” mentality has, thankfully, long since passed.  Nonetheless, talented salespeople are always looking for effective and low-pressure tactics that will help seal the deal at the kitchen table.  Here are some simple ways to increase a close ratio while preserving one’s integrity with a customer:

  1.  Understand the customer’s specific priorities.  As a young salesperson I was given a list of closed questions designed to build rapport.  “Do you have any rooms that are too hot or too cold?”  “How old is the home?”  “How long do you plan to stay in the home?”  Closed questions or questions that may cause unnecessary pre-judgement are ineffective in a collaborative economy.  Instead, utilizing open-ended questions that allow the customer to tell stories, share personal insights, and do not limit value-building opportunities best position a salesperson to fully understand the customer’s key buying motivations.  In lieu of this quality of understanding a salesperson will often miss the mark during the closing stage of a call–shifting in to “spray and pray” mode.  An open-ended needs analysis is the foundation to a successful close.
  2. In-group bias.  Humans are hard-wired to want to belong to a pack or a tribe.  From cliques in high school to the types of people we surround ourselves with as adults, we are all searching for a form of like-minded belonging.  Successful salespeople often utilize client testimonials, customer service ratings, video sharing, and other types of evidence that their service is exemplary to encourage a customer to buy and thereby join a popular and exclusive tribe.
  3. Checklisting.  A specific needs analysis allows a salesperson to design a meaningfully specific value proposition.  That, in turn, allows the salesperson to checklist all of the gains that he is able to provide based on the priorities the customer shared at the beginning of the sales call.  Checklisting is the act of targeting these specifics and the equally specific ways in which the proposal meets or exceeds these requirements.
  4. Limiting choices.  Choice paralysis happens when a customer is presented too many products or services.  Successful salespeople understand that product menus that limit product choices simplify the decision-making process while allowing the salesperson to tightly focus his benefit statements on specific criteria.
  5. Go back to square one.  Oftentimes a customer may need to be reminded of the priorities that he or she was interested in accomplishing at the beginning of the appointment.  By the end of an appointment there may be an element of exhaustion–especially with high-ticket items or products that are technically complicated.  Returning to the original needs analysis as a reminder of the customer’s initial priorities refreshes the value proposition while reiterating the salesperson’s care and attention to detail.
  6. Tell a story.  Stories are incredibly effective in that they do the work of sending a message without the salesperson having to do so directly.  Understanding benefits by affiliation, performance by extension, and gains in a story-based context help the customer visualize their own situation in a narrative.
  7. Compare the pros and cons.  If a salesperson has done his job well then the pros of accepting his proposal should greatly outweigh the cons.  Listing the pros and listing the cons helps the customer visualize the tremendous gains and improvements that he or she will have over the limited number of downsides.
  8. Make it easy.  Nobody wants to work in order to buy something.  If the customer is confused they won’t buy.  If they’re overwhelmed with choices they’re less likely to buy.  If they don’t understand the financing terms they won’t use financing.  If there’s a rebate or an incentive that feels tricky or cumbersome they’ll keep shopping.  As the old saying goes, “A confused mind says no.”
  9. Compliment them.  People love to be told that they’re making great decisions.  Most people like to be told that they’re intelligent, responsible, and thoughtful.  Great salespeople understand the emotional impact that positivity plays in the sales call…especially at the close.  “You’re making a great decision” is a subtle way of saying “You’re making a great decision with me.”
  10. Ask and ask again.  Very few customers say “yes” the first time.  The salesperson needs to be patient (but not too patient) and ask for the order once, twice, and perhaps three times.  As long as the discussion is not becoming tense or awkward the salesperson should be prepared to ask for the order, resolve the concern, and ask again.  Just don’t quit too soon.  The sale may be one conversation away.

Business Politics Can Kill Collaboration and Sales.

From: Matt Plughoff

To: Project Manager

CC: Leadership and Marketing

Subject: The project is stalling out.

Team: I don’t want to overstep my bounds here but communication is breaking down and I’m unsure as to who is responsible for X, Y, and Z.  The clients are not on board and I’m worried that we’re not going to meet plan.  Please let me know how I can assist.

Moments (literally) after I sent this email my phone rang.

Me: Hello?

Project Manager (PM): Matt?  You overstepped your bounds.

Me: That’s why I wrote “I don’t want to overstep my bounds.”

PM: But you did.

Me: How?

PM: You didn’t need to CC my boss and the marketing manager on that email.  I mean, the questions that you’re asking and the points that you’re making are right, but we don’t need anyone else involved in this discussion.

Me: Why?  Their teams were at the roll out meeting and maybe their perspectives can help get the project moving in the right direction.

PM: Well you’re right but now I have to explain to them why things aren’t rolling faster.  It’s just a slow process right now.  Plus I’m working with the IT team and that’s a long process too.  You should have just emailed me and not involved the others.

Me: I think it makes more sense to get everyone that has a say involved in the conversation–more transparency can’t hurt can it?

PM: Well no, and you’re right, I’m not saying that you’re wrong, I’m just saying that there are a lot of moving parts and we should just keep this conversation between us at this point…

Two days later, on a video conference with another client:

Me: We need to work at the branch level to ensure that their service reflects the quality that we’re promising to contractors.

Territory Manager (TM): I totally agree.  The service at my branch isn’t great and some contractors won’t even go in to the branch because of the crappy service.

Sales Manager (SM): Well, you know, we have a form that you can fill out and submit to the leadership team.  Every week we have a meeting with the district managers, purhasing managers, human resources, product managers, branch managers, the vice president and the president.  That’s when we review the forms and talk about improvements.

TM: I submitted one of those forms once and after I did the branch manager chewed me out and was pretty pissed off.  Now I won’t even bother filling out the form no-silos-640and I spend as little time in the branch as possible…

I see these breakdowns all too frequently.  Teams pitted against each other.  CYA politics that impede honest communication.  Accountability that is reduced to finger pointing.  The customer suffers without ever knowing why.

Regardless of a company’s size or structure, improving the sales process is systemic.  Exemplary sales teams need exemplary support from their teams.  Exemplary branch service needs exemplary outside sales support.  Improvement initiataives that involve multiple decision makers benefit from honesty and real-time communication.  Office politics and entrenched silos retard nimble decision making and accountability.  Replacing face-to-face dialog with sluggish forms and death-by-committee decision making erodes trust between all of the stakeholders.  Ultimately, the result is a lopsided and myopic belief that fixing the sales process is something that only concerns salespeople rather than sales systems.

 

Coach lands on the runway…

“Coach lands on the runway at exactly the same time as first class.” — Steve Jobs

Delta gave me first class upgrade today.  I went from 8B to 2C.  Past the curtain and in to an entirely “other” flight.  It was sweet.

There are two flights happening during every flight.  The first flight, the coach flight, is a jam packed mess.  The second flight, the first class flight, is nearly effortless.  That’s how the airlines want it.  That’s how they stack the deck.  First class travellers pay their bills.  Once they have a taste for first class service model they keep coming back.

We all arrived at exactly the same time this afternoon.  One big flying can full of people who want nothing more that to just get “there” and then get back home.  Yet we all had one of two experiences: Calm or calamity.

A curtain makes all of the difference.

The differences between coach and first class are simultaneously slight and significant.  A thin curtain between Us and Them symbolizes the divide between ease and strain.  A tumbler for your drink rather than a childish plastic cup.  A slightly wider seat as opposed to the elbow knocking turf wars that happen in coach.  First class snacks are marginally better, but marginal at best.  The differences fractional.

Here’s the real difference: a first class ticket (depending on destination and the time that the ticket is booked) will cost you significantly more.  Perceived value has a tremendous psychological, behavioral, and financial impact.  People willingly pay more for a first class ticket because of the perceived value and the small, subtle ways that the airlines makes a person feel…well…special.  In retail situations, customers who feel that they are gaining more than they’re sacrificing they will typically take action.

The question that every business owner and sales manager and sales person and installer and administrator and service technician needs to ask is simple: “Are you selling a first class ticket and delivering first class service? (nuanced as it is) or are you selling a coach ticket and delivering coach service?”

Any retail sales organization who is ready to stop battling price objections needs to honestly (and I mean non-cliched “our people are our difference” honesty)First+Class+Lounge evaluate the quality of the ticket that they’re selling.  Moreover, the quality of service that accompanies the ticket price.