Just what the world needs: Another podcast!

change

So I launched a podcast today.  I’m in a unique position to meet, work with, and become friends with exceptional individuals both in and out of the trades.  The purpose of the podcast is simple:  Add value.  Learn how people are reinventing sales and customer service in a modern economy.  What are their habits?  What lessons have they learned?  How are they balancing personal and professional lives?  How are they staying at the top of their game?  My guests are real people doing real work in an exceptional manner.  You can find the podcast here, Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.  It will be on iTunes shortly as well as Stitcher.  Thank you listening.  Please send me any feedback or critique.  There will be a new episode coming in the next two weeks.

Your friend, Matt

Podcast #1: Kyle Cline

Welcome to The Thank You Note podcast!  For the very first episode of the podcast I interviewed my friend Kyle Cline.  Kyle is a Director for Locke Supply and is part of of the service industry’s future.  He’s innovative, disciplined, and brings a unique perspective to the trades.  Plus, he’s a super good dude.  Hope you enjoy it and thanks for listening!

Fear is the Real Objection

A gentleman said something very truthful to me yesterday.  “I’m going to talk to a few more contractors before I make a decision.”  I asked him why.  “I don’t want to make a bad decision,” he explained, “I don’t want buyer’s remorse.”

He’s entirely correct.  The salesman I was with was asking to disrupt his life.  Financial disruption.  Time, space, schedule, people.  Lots of temporary disruptions.  And because the gentleman had never been through this process before it made sense.  He doesn’t want to look back on the decision and kick himself.  Bear in mind the salesman did an exemplary job.  Still, the customer may have been asking himself :

“Is he being truthful?”

“Is he over-promising on the results”

“Am I confident in my understanding of this process?”

“Does the value exceed the sacrifice he’s asking me to make?”

“Am I compromising existing loyalties?”

“Are the recommendations improving my current quality of life?”

“What are the risks?”

None of these questions are going to be answered with a “take away close” or a “first person who talks loses” or “hand them the pen and be quiet” attempt.  They won’t.  Buyer’s remorse is motivated by fear.  Fear is the real objection and understanding a consumer’s fear is the key to resolving nearly every objection.

Gaining this level of understanding often happens during the beginning of a sales call.  Salespeople should slow down, ditch the predictable questions and stop looking for pain or, worse yet, inventing it for the customer.  Have an authentic conversation about priorities, aspirations, and yes–the things that worry customers the most about disruption.  Allow customers the opportunitiy to tell stories that are rich in detail.  Encourage the customer to co-create the value proposition.  Identify the risk/reward considerations that the customer is weighing.  After all, people don’t buy products they buy progress.

People buy things because it makes them feel good.  It’s that simple.  Successful salespeople understand that their job has a little to do with nuts and bolts and more to do with helping customers attain safety, calm, peace-of-mind, and progress.

“I have asked to not have a TM”

“Lately I have asked to not have a TM, just give me the bigger discount . . . since they can’t provide added value and are simply wasting time calling on the business.”

A business owner shared this candid opinion of TM value with me yesterday.  Territory Managers who cannot add value to their clients are more likely to struggle with price bake offs.  More likely to lose business from friends.  And more likely  watch their margins erode.  Lastly, sub-value service harms the TM’s company brand.  However, there are five things that a Territory Manager can do to prevent their customers from questioning their value:

  1.  Learn how your customers make money.  They don’t make money buying your products.  They make money selling your products, installing your products, managing labor, controlling inventory, reducing work-related call backs, retaining customers, and cross-selling products and services.  Smart Territory Managers can utilize this advanced insight to thicken their value.  In lieu of this insight the TM-to-Customer relationship will most likely remain transactional.
  2. Improve your business acumen.  Salesmen speak one language.  Business owners speak a different language altogether.  Theirs is the one that matters most.  You don’t need an MBA to improve your acumen.  For example, here’s a link to an accounting and financial statements course from The Khan Academy: https://www.khanacademy.org/economics-finance-domain/core-finance/accounting-and-financial-stateme.  It’s free and it’s good: IF you’re one of those insatiably curious professionals.  Your ability to speak a business owner’s language increases your credibility.
  3. Teach your customer’s how to sell your products.  Leave the spec sheets alone and please don’t rely on a brochure or product tear-down.  Very few homeowners care about motor bearings or heat exchanger construction.  Teach your customers how to sell your products using homeowner-friendly retail language.  You can’t expect a retail salesperson to know how to sell your products if you can’t do the same.  If you’ve never made a living at the kitchen table then this will probably be an eye opener: are you able to sell your own products?
  4. Know your customer’s customer.  Spend time with homeowner’s–ride along with retail salespeople.  Listen to homeowners.  Learn about their interests.  Learn about their concerns, objections, questions.  Reverse engineer the field experience in to value-added coaching sessions.  If you’re guffawing: “My customers would never let me go with them on a sales call” then ask yourself why.
  5. Do your job intentionally.  Plan in and out of every meeting.  Focus on short, medium, and long-term development goals.  Agree to shared accountability.  Always ensure that loose ends are tied up.  Follow-up.  Honor your promises.  Make it easy to do business with your company.  Add value, add value, add value.  If you want to know how to add value then simply ask your customer.

If you’ve every lost business from a friend then you also know that “friends buy from people they like” is a hopeful strategy at best.  In order to improve top line results, protect margin, and secure loyalty a Territory Manager must gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of a customer’s definition of value-added services.

Green Apron Cards: Put your culture in your hip pocket

Green Apron Cards

Many front line employees struggle to communicate their company’s value proposition to their customers.  Harder still if the company itself hasn’t invested the time and thinking in to clarify its core behaviors (not principles, not vision, not mission…be-haviors).  The Starbucks solution: Green Apron Cards.  Each card defines one of the company’s core behaviors.   They’re smartly designed and simply worded.  Each card has a “Thank You” on it.  The original intent was that barista’s would carry their values with them.  More than that, they would live them.  And although the cards are not a known product among consumers, barista’s are encouraged to share the cards with us.

Culture and customer experiences are not a “to-do” list, although too many leaders mistakenly think this way (here’s how to answer the phone, here’s the playbook for greeting a customer).  Culture is not a standard operating procedure.  Culture is the be-havioral DNA that turns the ordinary in to the extraordinary.  Culture starts with “being” and becomes “doing,” never the other way around.

Which be-haviors define your company’s culture?  How does a customer experience these nuances?  How does your team communicate them?  And are they concise and clear enough to fit in your pocket?

 

You’re not selling. You’re applying for a job.

homeless

Not to sound superficial but I dig these transformation pictures.  It’s touching to see a person’s dignity restored after they’ve fallen on rough times.  Right or wrong we’re judged on our appearance: Is this person successful, happy, confident, competent, educated. Often times our own conduct changes accordingly.

I took a visual survey of my clients yesterday.  15 professional salesmen.  Lots of black shirts (when did black become the official color of the service industry?).  Tennis shoes.  Carhartts.  Jeans.  Polos.  A few hats.  A few goatees.  The uniform of the trades.

I asked the group: Would you wear these clothes to a job interview?  Someone said, “We’re not applying for a job.”  And then the point hit home.

When you’re in sales you’re always applying for a job.  

A sales appointment is an interview.  Customers are interviewing candidates–searching for the right fit, the person that will be the greatest asset, help them make the most progress, and is the most credible.  Salespeople should prepare for an appointment as if they’re preparing for a job interview:

Step up your appearance game.  People rationalize their way out of improving their appearance (“I have to get in an attic” or “Dressing like a service technician helps me build trust.”).  But when you apply for a job you design your appearance in order to make a positive and professional first impression.

Prepare for the interview.  Before an interview you research the company, double-check your facts, bring relevant materials, rehearse sample questions, get a good nights sleep, and show up early to the appointment.  If you want to be hired, because you want to be hired, you work hard to be better prepared and crisper than other candidates.

The WOW factor.  It’s important to share your uniqueness when interviewing.  You want the potential employer to know that you’re bringing skills and experience that are uncommon and valuable.  You demonstrate scarcity.

People hire Progress.  Employers hire candidates that help them progress, move forward, attain goals and objectives.  During an interview you’ll talk about your wins, share success stories, illustrate unique solutions.  You’ll work very hard to demonstrate your ability to help a company move forward.

Follow-through.  Smart candidates follow-through with open issues, thank you letters, and respectful phone calls.  They demonstrate care and that they’re motivated to earn the job.

There’s nothing genius about these recommendations.  They’re tried and true for anyone applying for a job.  Unfortunately salespeople in the service industry disregarded them every day.  We’ve become lackadaisical about our pre-call preparation, our professional appearance, our presentation skills, our follow-through.  We’ve forgotten that before you can sell anything the customer has to hire you.

A recommendation: Stop trying to sell and start applying for jobs.

 

Make the Invisible Visible: Battling Asymmetrical Information

dusted

Asymmetrical information between a seller and a buyer can either stall a sale or result in downward price pressure.  When a seller makes an value assertion that a buyer does not understand then the seller is asking the buyer to take a risk–a leap of faith–that the seller’s product, performance, and service claims are credible.  Call it Used Car Syndrome.  Too often this results in a “trust me” scenario.  Among skeptical buyer’s “trust me” may be translated to “buyer beware.”  Nobody wants to buy a lemon.

Air filtration is a perfect example of this asymmetry.  Modern air filters are amazing!  Great salespeople know that these products provide legitimate benefits.  But for the everyday consumer the idea of spending good money on a fancy (read: expensive) air filter may seem unnecessary because air quality is difficult to quantify or qualify.  Information asymmetry occurs and the consumer opts out of a product that can significantly improve her quality of life or decides she wants the product at a reduced price because of the possibility that the salesperson’s claims are overstated.

Over the weekend I was staring at the canister in our vacuum cleaner.  It was filled up with the stuff in the picture.  Dust, gunk, dog hair, weird little cracker bits.  The Missus keeps our house very clean, vacuums all the time, yet there’s this mess of stuff.  To me, the sheer sight and smell of the muck illustrated the importance of great filtration.  I bagged it up in a sandwich bag.  It made the invisible visible and helped bridge the gap between information asymmetry and real-world progress.

In order to bridge the gap between knowledge and understanding, asymmetry and balance, a salesperson needs to evaluate her value proposition:

  1.  What claims or assertions do I make regarding my product (durable, quiet, easy to use)?
  2. What claims or assertions do I make regarding user-gains that may be unfamiliar to a buyer (saves money, quiet, even temperatures)?
  3. What claims or assertions do I make regarding my company (trained staff, responsive service, first class trouble shooting, honest)?
  4. What claims or assertions do I make regarding my character (honest, integrity, great follow-up, easy to reach)?

Next, a salesperson should ask a simple question: “Am I able to credibly illustrate my claims?” or “What proof do I employ to substantiate my claims that are themselves trustworthy?”

It’s very likely that a salesperson quickly concludes that her product, performance, and service claims sound terrific.  It’s equally likely that they’re empty when tested and that asymmetry is interferring in additional sales.  Making the invisible visible will improve that situation.

Make the invisible visible.  Identify the areas in which one-sided claims are unsubstantiated.  Supplement these gaps in order to improve information sharing, transparency between seller and buyer, trust, and mutual appreciation of products and services.

“Sell me this pen.”

montblanc-leo-tolstoy-writers-edition-fountain-pen-penna-stilografica-limited-edition

This is a Montblanc Leo Tolstoy fountain pen.  It costs around $850.00.  I learned this a few nights ago in an airport.  I dangled in to the Montblanc store.  The young salesman put on a clinic in professional salesmanship.

  1. The sale starts at the front door.  Shortly after entering the store the young salesman greeting me courteously and professionally.  He was sharply dressed in a well-pressed suit, clean-shaven, grey knit tie.  He thanked me for visiting and shook my hand.  We introduced ourselves to each other.  “I’m Matt,” I said.  “Very nice to meet you sir.” He replied.  I remained “Sir” for the entire visit.  I was reminded as to the extent to which far too many salespeople have grown overly casual as well as the impact that professionalism has on a customer’s first impression.
  2. The presentation is part of the product.  My favorite pen is the Precise V7.  It costs a couple of bucks.  My second favorite pen is the Bic Round Stick Medium.  You buy them by the bag.  I asked the salesman to explain why someone would pay nearly nine hundred dollars for a pen he said, “Please let me show you.”  He pulled a pair of white cotton gloves from his jacket pocket and put them on.  He opened the case in which the pen lay.  As if holding an ancient artifact, a porcelain egg from a Russian monarch, he lifted the pen–almost cradled it–and softly set it on a blue velvet cloth.  Finally, he wiped the pen down and angled it “just so” within easy reach of my hand.  “See for yourself,” he followed.  How many times have I listened to salespeople introduce products in boring terms “We have lots of choices and here’s a brochure.” or “Here’s our lineup…”  A salesperson’s job in part is to make products come alive, to make them sing.  Bland presentations are antithetical to value building–especially for first-time buyers or skeptical customers.
  3. Benefits bring the product to life.  The salesman was absolutely impressive in his knowledge about the pen as well as his benefit statements.  “Leo Tolstoy was a passionate and devout man,” he began, “and was known for his unbelievable work ethic as a writer.”  He continued, “The silver barrel on this instrument (!) is hand hammered and symbolizes the skill and craftsmanship of a great writer (!!).  The blue marbling is actually lapis lazuli and was Tolstoy’s favorite stone (!!!).  The silver wrought band of intertwining cords symbolizes the author’s strength (keep going kid!).  The tip is hand machined and etched so that ink flows smoothly.  Finally, the tip of the cap includes the timeless six pointed emblem symbolizing the six mountains that surround the Montblanc factory.”  He must have practiced his pitch a hundred times.  All for a pen.  As a salesperson your words are your tools.  Used well, practiced and elegant, they transform the ordinary in to the extraordinary.  Poorly used and even the most beautiful item becomes clunky and unappealing.
  4. Be creative.  Much as I love to be sold I declined the pen.  The salesman was un-phased.  “Do you travel a lot?” he asked.  “Yes,” I answered.  He recommend a beautiful wallet and then explained that is was a security wallet that crooks are unable to scan.  He showed me very nice sunglasses.  He explained that Jonny Depp wears Montblanc sunglasses as does Jessica Chastain.  The salesman’s persistence was remarkable–more so in that he never became aggressive or desperate.  He was trying to move me to a yes.
  5. Keep a line in the water.  I did not buy anything.  At the end of our conversation we shook hands again.  He gave me his card and asked for mine.  He called me yesterday to inquire as to whether I was interested in the Leo Tolstoy pen or any other item that we had discussed.  He was polite and to-the-point.  Leads are like gold.  Managing them well builds a network and aides in closing sales.

Business owners often ask me: “How do I get leads?  How do I make the phone ring?”  There’s no silver bullet in any space.  But the surest way to convince people to talk about a business is to deliver a consistently exceptional sales presentation that is unforgettable.  Sales is a craft–there’s an art to it–and the young man selling $840.00 pens gets it.  A great salesperson is an alchemist.

“I dont’ have any competition.”

disney-competition

This afternoon someone in my seminar thumped his chest.  “I don’t have any competition,” he said.  He’s proud of his business and equally proud that he’s survived for many years.  Respectfully he’s wrong about the competition.  Every business has competition and that’s not a bad thing.

Instead of ignoring your competition I recommend contrasting your brand against the competition in a manner that specifically defines your company in terms of  contrast and advantage.  After all, if you’re perceived as a commodity you can only command a commodity price–and that’s no bueno.

Instead of dismissing your competition, ask the following questions:

  1.  What moves have your competitors made recently?
  2. From a customer’s perspective how might your competition be perceived as better than you?

Then craft your response by answering the following questions:

  1.  How will you treat your customers?
  2. Define your best customers and their commonalities–what do they have in common?
  3. What problems do they have in common?
  4. What are the reasons that they work with you other than price?

It’s ok to admit that your competition may be viable to some.  It’s doubly important that you supply a counter argument as to why your customer service model or your applicability/appeal to your best customers is magent.  Utilizing a set-up and delivery branding strategy creates contrast, scarcity, and positive leverage.