What’s Today’s Challenge?

In just the last week we have encountered the following sales client challenges:

  1. How to find qualified, self-motivated sales staff?
  2. When to hire, who to hire?
  3. How to manage the post application process for internal candidates who applied for sales positions but did not get selected for the position?
  4. Who to send to a major international trade show?
  5. Do I hire a technical sales representative to take over part of my sales responsibilities or an executive assistant to leverage more time to sell?
  6. I don’t have enough sales horsepower but I have 200 qualified leads in a company whose average sales is 5mm/sale?

Read more

Are You Prepared To Handle the Unexpected?

Steve RizzoI don’t know if you know this but your natural state is that of joy and inner peace. Everyone is born in that state. It’s your responsibility to make sure that you stay connected to that state throughout the course of each day.

It’s your humor being’s™ job to help you stay connected. Your humor being is of your higher self it’s the part of you that brings out the best in you when times get really tough.

The first time I can recall when my humor being™ had a dramatic if not miraculous effect on my life was when I was in the third grade. I was performing in the play “Alice In Wonderland”. No, I wasn’t Alice. I was Humpty Dumpty. You know the egg guy. It was opening night and the auditorium was packed with parents, teachers, students and their families. That’s a lot of pressure for a 3rd grader.

There I was sitting on this wall in my egg costume. My opening line was “I’m one who has spoken to a king, I am.” Well, I guess I said it with just a little too much enthusiasm, because I lost my balance and fell over the back side of the wall. All the audience could hear was a giant thud! I didn’t get hurt, not physically anyway. But, I remember how humiliated and embarrassed I felt waiting behind that wall. All I could think of was that I messed up big time. I was going to be the laughing-stock of the entire school. I thought the rest of the cast would berate me for ruining the play. And how, I wondered, could I ever face my parents? I wanted to run off the stage and hide, but I was literally frozen by fear.

At the same time that these negative thoughts were running rampant in my mind, the teacher was running up the steps from the first row and called out “Steven, are you okay?!” Without missing a beat I yelled out as loud as I could “Yeah, but I think I cracked my shell. I hope Alice doesn’t mind scrambled eggs!” Much to my surprise the entire audience was howling with laughter. Hearing the laughter, I slowly stuck my head above the wall to check out what was going on. As soon as they saw my egghead the laughter turned into cheers and everyone in that auditorium including the cast was standing and chanting, “Humpty! Humpty!” Being the ham that I am, I jumped on top of the wall and took many bows. The teacher was begging me to please sit down before I fell off again. But I couldn’t help myself. I was totally blown away by the attention I was getting. The cheers and the laughter grew louder as I took one final bow. Eventually I sat down and the play continued. And what a great success it was!

Question: What happened here?

Answer: That was my humor being™ coming to the rescue. In a matter of seconds, there was a major power shift in focus. I literally went from a klutz to a hero. Just by blurting out “Yeah, but I think I cracked my shell, hope Alice doesn’t mind scrambled eggs!” An emotional transformation took place. I went from the most humiliating moment in my life (at that time, because believe me there have been many more since that time) to being the star of the show. I’m not exaggerating when I say star. When the play was over, I was actually signing autographs.

Question: What would have happened if I would have allowed fear and other negative thoughts to be the dominating factor that night?

Answer: No doubt would there have been a totally different scenario. When you allow your humor being™ free reign to work its magic, you can take control of events and circumstances that can otherwise infringe upon your happiness. Sometimes laughter or even a little levity seems to be the only remedy to all of the madness that attacks us every day.

HIGH POINTS TO REMEMBER

• Allow yourself to make conscious choices to utilize your humor being™ on a daily basis at home and at work.

• Humor ignites creativity. Creativity leads to productivity. Productivity can be contagious. Why not start an epidemic in your life right now?

• Utilize your humor being™ on a daily basis and notice a shift in attitude towards life challenges.

Steve Rizzo is The Attitude Adjuster. He shows people how to acquire the attitude they need to succeed on all levels of life – while enjoying the process. He’s the author of the critically

acclaimed book, Becoming A Humor Being and the executive producer of his own nationally syndicated PBS special. Steve Rizzo’s keynote speeches and seminars are invaluable in learning

about the power of choice, the power of your humor being™ and the power of your thoughts.

Author Steve Rizzo, This article originally posted on Craneblogger.

Tips on Great Customer Service

customer-service-rating

How would you react if…

… you got a call from your car dealer service manager a week after having some repairs done just to make sure everything is okay? You got a call from your doctor the evening after treatment just to check up on you. You got a questionnaire in the mail from a restaurant you dined at soliciting
your comments and suggestions.

Some business people tell me that’s looking for trouble. I disagree. I think it’s looking for rapport, loyalty, satisfaction and repeat business. If follow-up turns up a lot of dissatisfaction, you need to make some changes. The dissatisfaction is there whether you discover it or not.

How would you react if you got a thank you note a few days after buying a new suit from a clothing store, you got a birthday card from your insurance agent, you got a free dinner gift certificate as a thank you from a hotel chain, you got a personalized luggage tag in the mail as a gift from your travel agent?

Recognition and appreciation can be very powerful and very inexpensive as a marketing strategy. It is true that comprehensive follow-up and follow-through may reveal some inadequacies in your business operation and that’s good if you use those discoveries as impetus for improvement.

Of course every business, no matter how well-managed, will have to deal with dissatisfied even angry customers from time to time. Sometimes the customer is justified in his complaints other times he is not, but the handling of the dissatisfied customer can have far-reaching impact on a business.

This article originally posted on Craneblogger.

The Sales Essays Volume #1

The Sales Essays: Introduction

For quite some time now I have been thinking about doing some business writing. I wanted to write about past experiences both good and bad and what lessons I have learned from these experiences.

I read a lot (at times up to three books a week) and so I know what I like and do not like in business writing. I love real world case histories and testimonials and I hate dry text-book stuff.

Unfortunately, one needs both and not just one or the other to maximize ones learning curve. Sometimes I end up reading two or three books on the same subject at the same time just to create a balance of these factors on a given subject. Sometimes however we are very lucky and the author can give us a good mix of both in one package (Tipping Point, Blink and the Outliers all by Malcolm Gladwell being great examples). To me this is the best type of business writing and so it is the general style I am going to follow.

Now before I get going on this series of essays I want to thank a few people for giving me the ability and motivation to start writing.

First of all thank you to Bill Gates and the Microsoft Office team. I have mirror vision dyslexia, resulting lousy spelling, grammar skills and terrible penmanship. The use of Microsoft’s word processor and presentation software literally has allowed me to have a business career that I am sure I would not have without their software.

Moving on I want to thank Jack Stull the owner of Jcrane Inc. for always making me feel like the tidbits of knowledge I share and throw around are worth discussion and application. I also want to thank Jim Barkman who I work with and for. Jim has taught me to be direct in my communications and every day lets me know that my work in sales, marketing and business development is not too shabby and does provide good value to those people and businesses I interact with.

So without ado here is my first essay.

How not to treat a cash customer

About eight years ago, I was in the process of developing my own business which supplied B2B marketing and business development services to companies in the Metro Vancouver region of British Columbia.

As a part of this I had set up and outfitted a home office. I bought a state of the art PC from IBM and a small printer. A few years into the business I was in the market for a very strong small business printer as, making strong and crisp presentations was critical to my ongoing success. After doing some basic research and looking at a few office supply stores and retail technology shops, I had decided to buy a multi-function office printer. In fact, I specifically wanted to purchase a Brother MFC 8600 which is a six in one business tool (printer, copier, scanner etc…) that had good reviews, a low-cost to own and operate and could be purchased and serviced locally. This purchase would cost me about $875.00 plus taxes. All in I was going to spend about $1,072.00 on this unit which, at that time, was a sizable amount of money to me.

I needed as opposed to wanted the unit and so I went out to purchase the machine and put it to work. I thought that I would pick it up at the local office supply store and in so doing would get a cash rebate through their loyalty program (never underestimate the hooking power of those loyalty programs), after all I knew a few folks at the local office supply store, they had helped me out with other purchases and I valued their expertise and support.

So I went to the store and sought out Mark (name changed to protect the innocent) and asked him to set me up with the Brother MFC 8600 I talked about earlier. Mark then proceeded to advise me that they had in fact sold out of this unit and replacement units would not be in for some time.

I was disappointed but not beaten, I knew they had the same unit just down the street at the local electronics superstore. In just a few minutes I was in the superstore and standing in front of my beloved Brother MFC and that is when the whole story got very interesting for me and very expensive for the superstore.

I waited and waited for a sales person to come and help me out and after a while I had waited so long I had to go and find a sales person (Lesson 1) and get him to come over and help me out. Once I found him and got him to come back to the display area I informed Sam (Name changed to protect the guilty) that I wanted to purchase a Brother MFC 8600 just like the one on display. I was standing their plain and simple asking him to take my money when what does he do? He left me with my wallet, literally, in hand and proceeded to go have a conversation with another sales associate (Lesson 2)!

Now I am starting to get a little ticked off but I am a patient guy and I needed the unit so I waited and then I waited a bit more and sure enough Sam comes back to me and we start-up the sales process again. I confirm I want the Brother MFC 8600 and he went off to find me my new unit and get it to the sales counter, I am a willing buyer (Lesson 3) and frankly happy and excited about my purchase.

But instead of a bringing back a big new shiny box with my new business unit inside Sam tells me they had not properly cleaned up the display area and are in fact also sold out of the Brother MFC 8600 and will not be getting anymore in as they are upgrading to a newer and more expensive unit… did I want to purchase anything else?

I informed him that I did not want to purchase anything else and instead I asked if I could purchase the display unit at a discount price. Well off he went again (Lesson 4) to find someone who could help him figure out my request. About 10 minutes go by and I am frankly running out of patience at this point, but just when I am down to my last ounce of patience along comes Sam with his sales manager in tow. Now I have to go through the whole thing again, at the end of which I tell him I want to purchase the display unit and ask him what the price discount will be for the display unit. He proceeds to tell me that the unit price is the unit price and that…

Hold everything in the middle of our conversation he stops talking to a paying customer (me) and HE TAKES A PHONE CALL!!! (Lesson 5) for what seemed like an hour but was in reality about five minutes.

Upon returning to our conversation he advised me that if I wanted the display unit it was the same price as the list retail price and that the software and a paper staging piece were both missing. It was my decision (Lesson 6).

I challenged him on the price and he quickly pointed out that they had a price matching policy and that if I could show him a confirmed price from a competitor at a lower price for the exact same make and model that he would be pleased to sell me the unit at the lower price.

Well I was not impressed, I was out of patience and out of luck with my desired purchase and frankly I was rather pissed off at how I had been treated, been talked down to, leveraged by the sales manager and pressured on the sales price even after I was willing to take a display unit with a missing software package. Did I buy the unit under these conditions? Not a chance.

I left the store empty-handed but not with my brain turned off. I was now fully awake, engaged and in a bad mood, and without my Brother MFC 8600. But what was a person to do?

I sat in my car for a little while and thought it all out. I recalled all my facts and lessons learned (more about those later) and went over everything from start to finish. I formed a new plan and put it in motion (Lesson 7).

Here is what followed in the next 60 minutes:

1.      I went back to my local office supply store and found Mark;

2.      I told Mark all the details of my electronics superstore experience;

3.      I asked Mark to give me a written quote on his companies standard computer print out form for their COST on a Brother MFC 8600 and to include his name and phone number on the printout;

4.      I advised Mark that he would soon be getting a call from the sales manager at the electronics superstore and to simply back up his written quote;

5.      I told Mark I would protect his anonymity when I told this story in the future and that I would refer others to him because of his support in my time of need (Lesson 8);

6.      I now went back to the electronics superstore and presented the sales manager with a written quote from my local office supply store for the exact make and model of Brother MFC 8600 multi function printer but this time the price was $525.00;

7.      Now I told the sales manager to honor his own policy and demanded the unit be brought to me and that I would only pay the price as now dictated by the written quote from the office supply store;

8.      He promptly refused

9.      I then demanded to speak with the store manager who came out and reviewed everything;

10.  There was a mini conference between the store manager, the sales manager and Sam my sales associate;

11.  A call was made to my friendly office supply store and the quote issued by Mark was discussed with Mark who advised the electronics superstore manager that I was a very loyal customer who they would have been happy to supply if they were not waiting to be restocked ;

12.   I was very begrudgingly told I would be allowed to purchase the unit at the price set out by the office supply store;

13.  I paid the $525.00 plus taxes for a total of $598.00 and collected my now hard-won Brother MFC 8600;

I then went home and set up my new machine with software downloaded off the internet. That night I went to bed with a strong feeling of accomplishment and many lessons learned.

All totalled I saved $474.00, a whopping 45% price reduction!!! (Lesson 9)

At the start of the process I was willing to pay the full retail price plus taxes. But the players in the process got greedy and violated the basic respect a seller should have for a customer. As a result they got their own policy handed to them on a silver platter.

Here are the lessons I learned and feel are worth sharing:

(Lesson 1) Making customers wait is a poor business practice:

Never, ever leave a customer unattended or waiting unnecessarily. Always hook up with the people who are in your place of business, they are there for a reason and if they do not buy today they will buy tomorrow. Further, people like to tell others about their life experiences and if they were treated well they will tell others; like wise if they were treated poorly they will usually tell many more people about their bad experiences than about their good ones.  This is even more important if you are on a sales call at their place of business; where you are both a seller and a guest, act accordingly.

Keep in mind, people are very fast to tell others about their experiences good or bad, there is an amazing power of peer influence involved here; if you neglect to show and provide the proper respect to people you do so at your own peril.

(Lesson 2) Do not disrespect your customers with your actions:

Once you have started a sales process with a prospect they are yours to lose. They are engaging with you as you represent something they want and it is your responsibility to prove its value. This is a simple business truth and I fail to understand why any seller would rudely disrespect their prospect by leaving to start a conversation with someone else.

In sales, the relationship is everything; it does not have to be a buddy, buddy relationship. Lord knows I am not a strong relationship seller and more of a technical and/or value seller, but you must use basic politeness and stay on point from start to finish in your sales process.

(Lesson 3) Don’t ignore opportunities to enhance the sale:

Willing customers are hard to earn and easy to lose. People hate to be sold and love to buy (Jeffry Gitomer). When you have a qualified buyer and you have the product and/or service they want to buy it’s the time to sell some fries with that burger, up sell your customer with added or related items in support of or protection of their purchase. Be a focused helper and increase your sales while making your customer happy that you are helping them out.

In this experience, the opposite was true and additional sales opportunities to sell additional items like toner, paper and extra warranty were lost.

(Lesson 4) People want to deal with people in authority:

People like to deal with people who are educated and informed about their products and/or services and want their sales person to have the power (to a reasonable degree) to be able to help them. Delays such as playing out the “Limited Power to Act” aka “I have to talk to my sales manager (often the invisible sales manager)” or telling people “I don’t know anything about this product” is a sure way to raise the anger of a customer and bring on the full risk of customer loss. If you need to consult another person, deal with this up front so as to set and control the expectation of the customer. This can be used to engage them deeper into the sales process. In fact, informing people of about your sales process is usually a good thing, it shows transparency and integrity.

If you literally do not know what is required then do one of two things.

In a short sales process go find someone who knows what is needed to help the customer and then make a professional transfer. Tell your customer that the person you are getting is more knowledgeable than you are and will give them a better insight and better service. Tell them that if they do come back you would be very happy to help them out with any other area.

In a long sales process turn the situation into an interview by telling your customer that you need to know all their questions, issues and concerns. Be sure to write each one down as you talk to your customer. When you have the entire list ask these questions:

1.      Is this all the questions, issues and/or concerns you have?

a.      Take down any and all additional items;

2.      If we can get you satisfactory answers to these items will we be doing business together?

a.      Ask the qualifying and obligating question and get an answer; otherwise why do all the homework;

3.      When can we meet again to review the answers I will be researching for you?

a.      Get a firm date, make sure you have enough time to do proper research and craft a good to better presentation but not so much time as to allow the customer to lose the positive energy and emotion they have about the sales process (two to three days max);

Then book an appointment, get busy finding out the answer to each item as well as related details, and build a killer presentation.

Overall, build a positive customer experience and the customer will return and bring others with them!

(Lesson 5) Don’t strong arm your customers and don’t be a bad role model:

There are two lessons in one here. First the sales manager tried to leverage me on the price of an item that clearly should have been discounted. Overall, this a bad business practice and one that will always come back to bite you sooner or later. The second part of this lesson is a further extension of lesson 2. However the error is even more critical now as the sales manager has just modeled to his sales associate(s) that disrespect to a customer is an allowed business practice, fully condoned and OK to repeat at any time up to and including the abandonment of a paying customer. Business staff who are told one thing and see another will most often clone the actual conduct of the highest ranking person they work around, so conduct and culture come from the top down. Bad manners and disrespect for customers if shown by the business leadership will no doubt become the daily practice of all below him/her. So if you want an outstanding level of customer service in your business model it 100% of the time because everyone is watching you and you are their role model, whether you know it or not.

(Lesson 6) Do not give customers ultimatums:

In my experience, telling a customer to take it or leave it will usually not work out, most people will leave and go to another seller, they may even pay more elsewhere but they prefer this to a seller’s bad attitude and poor communications style.

Show respect and leverage empathy; “yes it is a lot of money but it does bring a lot of value. We do not have any ability to move off this price point but I do have other products of lesser quality/value, would you like me to show you some of these?” This is a classic and respectful presentation of the same facts which also gives your customer a soft choice instead of a hard-edged decision.

(Lesson 7) Don’t make hasty decisions and do value the thinking process:

Never, ever react or over react in any given business situation. Like the cagey old gun fighter played by Clint Eastwood in the movie “Unforgiven”, the gunfighter with the coolest and most levelheaded thinking who thoughtfully processes everything going on around him (even in a full on gun fight) is the big winner in the end.

Reacting emotionally will get you little and usually put you into a losing situation.  As a buyer or even a seller there is nothing wrong with taking a break to get some fresh air and think things over. Frankly, the biggest issues and problems in my life and in over 30 years of business have been thought through and resolved while I was mowing my lawn, not in the boardroom. Always reserve the right to make a clearheaded review of what is going on.

Seek council on big decisions and purchases. If you are not 100% happy with how things are going to proceed, back off or stop all together. The same is true with sellers, do not overpower your customer or bully them into a purchase even if you can. Buyer’s remorse can in fact be a major liability and much more expensive than the loss of profit on the sale (remember that happy customers tell others and refer new customers to you).

Finally if you come to a better conclusion or plan of action and it is well thought out then act on it. Propose that alternative idea, service or product approach, act out a different scenario if it will suit the situation and go for the result you are prepared to live with if it goes your way.

Think it out three times, plan it out twice and execute the final plan just once. If you are committed to a course of action, do it and be ready to win or lose, you may or may not make progress towards your goals but at least you will know you acted to the best of your ability and towards a better result than the one offered by someone else at your expense.

(Lesson 8 ) The impact on others:

Mark went out of his way to help his customer make a purchase with no immediate profit to him which resulted in a very profitable long-term relationship…

Mark put this customers needs ahead of his own and in so doing started a positive chain reaction which added positively to his reputation, gained a raving fan (me) and many new customers which I have referred to him, not to mention all the added sales.

(Lesson 9) Thinking about your options can pay off:

I saved a lot of money by not accepting a second best sales scenario and being leveraged for full retail price on a product not deserving of full price. Going ahead with their “only we win” sales process and poor customer focus did nothing for me. Stepping out of the electronic superstores let me form a new set of options which I then acted on allowing me to make a better deal for myself.

If only I had been treated respectfully from the beginning I would have no doubt paid the full retail price. It was their actions, lack of correct actions and poor customer focus and service that brought on the chain of events and this story.

Likewise I am forever indebted to my local office supply store where I have continued to shop to this day. I have spent thousands of dollars with this store over the years and referred many, many people to it. I know full well that I often pay more for the same items than at the electronics superstore just down the road but I place value on how I am treated, the service I receive and the product knowledge of the staff who serve me.

I am sure there are other lessons that I have learned and can pull out of this experience but this sets out all the main points.

As for that Brother MFC 8600 that I was sure was the right purchase and worth fighting for it still does daily duty in my home office and has performed flawlessly all these years.

To date this unit has cost me less than $.02 per page and my asset cost is down to just $6.23 per month and going down every month. If ever I hear they are going to stop making toner cartridges for this unit I am going to buy a 20 year supply and ride this unit right into my old age.

This article originally posted on craneblogger.com

The Sales Essays Volume #2

The Tomatoes Ate Your Profits

Here is a tale of how to not lose your lunch and your profits.

Late last year I was in Calgary  touring some of our operations  where I met a potential new sales representative. An arrangement was made to meet at the local eatery and have a “get to know you meeting”. The meeting was going as planned right up and including to ordering lunch. Then crash,that’s when the wheels fell right off the proverbial bus.

The server came over and took our lunch orders, I ordered a cheese burger and I clearly specified to the server that I did not want any tomatoes on my cheese burger.In fact, I went so far as to have the server repeat my order back to me and to have her specifically confirm “no tomato’s” (Now I do in fact eat tomato’s, but I am a bit moody about them.When, where and in what form they are in are all items I take into account with tomato’s and rarely will they and my cheese burgers ever meet, but I have digressed, so back to the story).

10 minutes later and what did I have at my table? Well of course, I have my cheese burger and the tomatoes I had clearly asked and confirmed would not be on the cheese burger. I admit I was rather miffed, but it was not the end of the world, I simply removed the offending tomatoes ate my lunch and finished my meeting.

Well you say Gerry, come on, it’s not the end of the world its “just a tomato”. Remove the tomato and keep going, it’s not worth a second thought.

Well if it were only that simple there would be no issue, no life lesson and no business improvement opportunity. But there is a real issue, a serious life lesson and a specific and highly valuable business improvement opportunity.

Let me give you a little background on this supposedly “simple thing”.

One of my daughters has specific food allergies and if she comes into contact with these food items she can have very serious allergic reactions, up to and including dying. Everywhere she goes, she carries an  epi-pen and if she comes into contact with an offending food and develops an allergic reaction she has to ram the needle into her thigh and then get herself to the closest emergency room for further treatment. I have seen this happen first-hand right in front of my eyes and it is as scary as it gets in the life of a parent. Later you are then sitting around thinking about what just happened, and that a peanut or the touch of a tomato could have killed your daughter and what life would be like.

My daughter is in touch with all of this and is always making a point of not eating things that she knows are “risk” items for her. Likewise she asks restaurant servers to confirm recipe contents and at times orders specific menu items to be brought to her without certain ingredients to ensure that “risk” items are removed.  If the information she is provided with is incorrect or if the order she has placed is not followed correctly, the results for her could literally be fatal.  What’s worse is that this is the case for hundreds of thousands of people and their families.

The business lessons related to this on the surface appears simple:

  1. Know your product(s)
  2. Listen to your customers
  3. Be able to effectively answer any and all questions related to your product(s)
  4. Supply what your customers are specifically requesting when and where they want it
  5. Understand that custom orders are always a way to secure your customers long-term business
  6. Leverage your ability to be a “unique” product(s) supplier to special needs customers and others like them

The reality however is not so simple:

  1. Most company’s sales/service staff do not really know their product(s) and only know how to deliver their product(s) in a very standardized method, driven by corporate-mandated Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) of which, “listen to your customer and adapt to meet their needs” has never even be conceived of let along acted on.
  2. The skill of “listening” would appear to have died long ago with things like penmanship, common courtesy, and saying things like “please” and “thank you” (soon to be another sales essay all to itself).
  3. Having and training staff in product knowledge and how to apply this knowledge is fading fast.Yet customers wanting to interact with knowledgeable and informed staff who are empowered to assist them is a consistently top rated customer request when assessing how top performing companies act and succeed in the marketplace.I would hazard a guess that the same people who would tell you they cannot afford to hire sharp staff, let alone cover the cost to train these staff, are in fact the same business owners who say that the big box store ate their lunch and stole their business.If this is you, think it over and get yourself a service/value based business plan built on real care of customer and then see how you are doing.
  4. Most companies just want to sell mass-produced items, take your money, and then get lost. They play it out every day and you feel it every day. The very thought of building the ability to customize their product(s) and related services into the front end of what they offer is lost unless the business is a micro boutique literally built around the concept.While most companies have killed true customer service and thus listening to the customer’s needs, the companies who understand this on the macro level are clearly the front-runners in the sales business. Case in point, when was the last time you tried out the customer service at Home Depot or placed a customer order and McDonalds? Both are examples of mass product distribution with a customer first and always philosophy built on listening to the customer’s needs and then meeting them.
  5. Finally let’s come to terms with the value of a custom order. Have you ever tried to make a customer order at a big box store? In almost all cases you buy what they have and that’s it. Your needs are placed second to mass volume and the lowest price point. You are a consumer with the power to spend, but only to the point where you buy what is offered, after that you need to go to a whole new type of sales enterprise and sales process.Suppliers and sellers who can supply anything by way of a customized product and/or service should do so at every opportunity and should market the ability to do so as a major selling point.  In my business we know that price comes in at  a best 5th or 6th place down the list in why a customer chooses to buy. The values that rank above price all have to do with the breadth and quality of product(s) and services offered.

Supplying a customized product, service or better yet a product/service combination that is truly based on hearing your customer, listening to your customer and then enacting these desires into your offer, is what will truly set you apart from your competition.Rarely does a customer expect a customized product(s), service or product/service package for the list price.

Given the opportunity most people place great value on being heard and having unique solutions provided to them. These people will pay premiums and become loyal customers, not simply satisfied customers.

Now think it out; what if you could supply your product(s) and services in such a way that you were price competitive and left your customer with the feeling or perception that they have been treated in a way in which they felt heard, accommodated and valued. You guessed it; the people who can engineer their business to deliver in this way to their customers are today’s big winners in a terrible economy.
Now let’s go back to the tomatoes. Lets go back in time to just two months ago. Same eatery in Calgary, same lunch plans, different date. I again order the cheese burger (yes, there is a lunch pattern here I do need to address), but from a different server and I again make sure that I get the server to repeat my order back to me and again make sure they repeat back to me that I DO NOT WANT any tomato’s on my cheese burger.

And what do get at my table 10 minutes later, you guessed it, a cheese burger with tomatoes! This time I am just not up for this so… I call the server over, I tell her that she has A) not listened to me, B) not communicated my order right to the kitchen staff, or C) not checked my order prior to delivery to insure that good quality control was practiced as she delivered a defective product to me.

I then told her if I had serious allergies and had not noticed the tomatoes she had delivered to me that I might well be in the middle of a major allergic reaction at this very time and in this very place and as I did not have an emergency syringe with me that I might have literally died at the table in front of her and she would be personally responsible for my situation up to and including my death.  I then asked her (now a fully horrified server) if she would be so kind as to get me a completely new burger and to make sure that no tomatoes even come close to my burger, which she assured me would be the case, and it was.

Now let’s review the business case:

  1. Buyer orders product from seller
  2. Seller does not really listen to customer
  3. Seller produces product not in alignment with buyer’s order
  4. Seller delivers a defective product to customer
  5. Customer rejects product offering and demands new product
  6. Seller (now really listening) retakes customers order, produces correct product and delivers the correct product to customer
  7. Customer pays seller
  8. Seller has now paid at least 200% more in service costs
  9. Seller has now paid at least 200% more in product manufacturing costs
  10. Seller has lost all opportunities for staff to have sold to other customers (cost of lost opportunity)
  11. Server gets no tip so servers personal income is reduced by over 50% on this sale
  12. Customer decides never to return to sellers location
  13. Customer tells at least 12 other people (or blogs it to 30,000 readers per month) about their experience and influences their decision about doing business with seller

This trail finishes on the 13th point. I could have made a few more but somehow is just seemed proper to finish this line of thinking on the old unlucky number 13.

Now you say “Gerry this is just a cheese burger it’s like $8.00 and it’s not that big a deal, so chill out”. Well not a chance, if the seller does this once in every 100 sales it’s a cost of doing business, but if this listening error is on the rise to say even one in 20 sales, then simple business calculations will show:

  • A rise in raw material costs with no corresponding increases in sales revenue
  • A drop in overall sales revenues as customers exit and tell others not to buy there
  • A decrease in employee earning and job satisfaction
  • An across the board drop in profitability and a loss of business viability

One day the seller wakes up and asks “where did the profits go” the answer:  The Tomatoes Ate Your Profits.

Overall this is very bad news for the seller and in this case all because the sellers service staff was not engaging with a positive customer service attitude and basic communications which if done correctly would have simply consisted of listing to the customer, hearing them and then giving them what they asked for.

Now let’s change the stakes and look at the same philosophy in action in another real life example.

This past spring I was in the market for a different vehicle. I called up an acquaintance of mine who sold (past tense) cars at a lot that specializes in late-model Japanese cars like Toyota, Nissan and Honda and after a short conversation to inform him of what I was looking for, he advised me he would go through the inventory and call me back with a few options.

Next morning he calls me up and gives me the run down, six or seven units later I am thinking that all the units he is offering me are a little too old and a little to plain, then he hits me with the real offer and I realize the first units where just to get me lined up for his real offer and what an offer it was… how about a three-year old Infinity Q35 with very low mileage for under $20,000.

Well that lunch hour we are out for a test drive and I am telling you this was one fine automobile. It had everything money could buy, all the electronic due dads you could ever dream of, a deep navy blue exterior and a gorgeous tan leather and burl wood interior.I It was simply a fantastic car at a very decent price point.

My only conclusion… something had to be very wrong with this car and/or the cars situation so I sat my friend down over lunch (cheese burgers) and we had a little talk. I told him I loved the car but something had to be wrong with the situation, was it a reposition, rebuilt, a drug dealer’s car bought off the police auction, what was the story?

Well after some further prodding the back story comes out, my friend had a customer who asked him to find her a particular car (make, model, age mileage and specific trim package) inside a specific price range. If he could find the right unit at auction and confirm it with his customer and then buy it for her, he would get a favorable commission for his services. For my friend this was an easy service to provide so he worked out the paperwork and proceeded to find the right car.  When he did he checked with his customer who he assured that the car he had found was as per the customer’s order and once confirmed the car was purchased at auction and delivery was set up with the customer.

Very soon the customer comes to the dealership takes one look at the car and tells my friend that the car is not acceptable as she had clearly outlined that the car was to have a gray leather and walnut interior.  His customer (not happy) left without the car and my friend now owned the car.

This car was well above the lots usual day trade and so he had none of his regular clientele looking at this unit. In fact this unit had been sitting around for a few months and was tying up a lot of the owner’s working capital. The car needed to go and I was his best opportunity to date.

It was the tomato episode all over again someone did not listen to the customer or thought the customer would not mind a small variation to what they had clearly outlined, the result business mayhem except we are now talking about a $20,000 listening errors and how many of those can any business afford to make? Did my friend (or the car lot owner) make any money on this deal or enhance his reputation (not a chance). The final result, I bought a new Jeep and last I heard he is  working at a different car lot.

All I can say about this is: The Tomatoes Ate Your Profits.

What are the lessons we can learn from the above and how can we apply them?

  1. Sales opportunities and good customer service both require active listening
    1. Developing good communications skills and using them at all times is a key element in any form of success
    2. Active listening is a developed skill, learn it, apply it and keep it sharp
  1. Measure twice, cut once (get it right the first time)
    1. Seek to understand (Covey) first and always and make no assumptions
    2. We honor the speaker when we ask intelligent questions based on their outline and we leave customers with the sense of truly being cared for
  1. Customization builds a locked in customer/seller relationship, do this whenever you can and market your ability to do this

The big finish:

You listen with the goal of hearing and understanding others in all situations, in business and in life, this is a critical skill and one that will always bring the user a significant return on investment. The more you learn to listen the more your relationships will prosper and the results of this in the form of intangibles like friends, reputation and integrity and tangibles like profits, lower costs and repeat customers will abound.

When you hear someone bad mouthing the upset customer who just left them, tell them “the tomatoes ate their profits and to go tune up their listening skills and attitude”.

This article originally posted on Craneblogger.