Better Attitude For Better Results

I closed 2017 in a rather down frame of mind.

Yes 2017 was better, business wise than 2016 but I did not meet several of my 2017 business goals. I felt I was off track, unfocused and that my Mojo was missing or at least very off.

I took time off over the Christmas/New Years break to reflect, consider and evaluate this. I also talked in depth with my partner, friends, co-workers and my mentor and my counsellor.

In the end the only real problem I could find was me.

I had/have fallen into the age-old trap of “entitlement”, I mean, hey, I have already done the heavy lifting, been working at this for three straight years, so why was I not already enjoying all the results I wanted and driving off into the sunset with my hot redhead beside me in my Ferrari convertible?

“Entitlement” is not a millennial problem, nor is “poor attitude” or “false expectations”. It is a flawed state of mind applicable to all and at any age.

In this, I am reminded of the “Law of the Wood Stove” in which a man stands in front of an empty woodstove demanding it give him heat, and the longer he demands, the colder he gets, right up until he freezes to death.

To get the heat, one much source the trees, fell them, buck the fallen tree into sections, split the sections into fire wood, cure the wood, make kindling, start a small fire, coax it up into a full flame, bank the fire for the night and then and only then do you get to feel and enjoy the heat and then only for a short while.

To keep the heat, one must stay ahead of its need for wood, feed it, care for it and give it balance, not enough and the fire is gone, to much and the fire will burn down everything you hold dear.

My mistake was not in failing to start the fire, but in not keeping it fed, and properly supplied/nurtured.

I liken this to the “turning of the wheel” we learned about in Good to Great and to the lessons of executive boundaries we learned about in Integrity, in that we will only get what we build and what we tolerate.

I had lost touch with these facts and gone astray in thinking that I had done enough. What we focus on will and does change as we move forward, however the level of focus, effort, resilience and determination will never be less demanding and to think it will be is a fatal mistake.

So, did 2017 have great results?   Yes, it did, my number one goal, to be in a solid and meaningful relationship with my gal was both realized and is happily ongoing. My number two goal of dropping at least 25 pounds, was also met.

Were my business goals met?  No. And the sooner I accept this, get my act together and put my shoulder to the wheel and my axe to the woodpile, the sooner I will be on the path to realizing even greater goals and accomplishments in 2018.

Will I take my eye off these accomplishments or take them for granted? I do not plan to.  I have realized they must be invested in daily to bring life to their accomplishment and to myself. Will it take a never-ending focus, effort, and heart ache to gain further on my business goals? Yes, but if not me, then who?  So, here I go into 2018. Entitlement at zero, effort to maximum.

What about you?

Sales Velocity 101 for the WIN.

In the non-capital industrial sales business (sales with a unit value under $25,000.00), speed counts.

In fact, very often the supplier with the fastest response to both an inquiry and the ability to accurately quote & deliver will get the sale.

Here’s Why:

This may not be a budget or cost management process, but it may be a “Do You Have…” process.

Here is a key to understanding this. If the customer starts with this question, “Do You have _______ In Stock?” Something has happened on his or her end that has moved their need into a near urgent or potentially urgent state.

Understand that the customer does not want to appear to be in need of what you are selling because they do no want to be taken advantage of.  However, if they did not NEED IT NOW, they would not have asked whether you had it in stock.

So, with this understanding of your customers need now uncovered, you have the opportunity to become the hero to your customer.  Just with a few simple words.  “Yes, we do have that in stock”, or “Yes when would you like it delivered?” and the sales is in motion.

The next step is simply to close the sale and fill the order.  This is done by capturing the customers contact info and forwarding them the quote to be signed off on as quickly as possible.

If you are going to win, you will need to have to have a high-speed quoting system. It could simply be a form to fill out and fax. Or a spread sheet  in which to enter data into and fax/email. It could even be a server or cloud based quoting system.  (I personally love the cloud based quoting program Whatever your method, it is important to get the order confirmation delivered within 5 minutes or less to avoid competitors to quote ahead of you and win the sale.

Following sending the quote to the customer, is important to now use a soft touch.  Do not push the order process too forcibly. You will need to assure them the product will launch upon order confirmation and that you will be ready to act with the speed that they require.

In no time, you will get the order confirmation back or a request to process the payment.  If they are on account, get that order in motion.  If they do not have account, run their credit card and get that order in motion.

Be sure to let your customer know all the way along the sales process that you are being proactive in filling their order and never use language, vocal tone or body language that gives them the idea that you have them over the barrel.

If it appears that you are taking advantage of the customers need for your product or service, the sale will be on one-time deal.  They likely will not become a repeat customer.

On the flip side.  If you treat your customer with respect, understanding, precision and solid communication, you will be respected as the supplier who got them out of a jam. Your positive actions will earn you respect, trust and referrals.   Your attention to their needs and the promptness of your actions will also earn you the ability to sell at full price.

After all, the value is in what the item they just bought will do for them! It is not in what it cost them nor what it is. Those are just the minor details.

Change your value, change your world.

To learn how to apply this strategy to your business, click to get in touch.

It must be nice… To Not Need Business

Here are two simple and highly productive sales lessons that will go far in improving your customer relationships and making more sales.

Answer your voice mail.

I have been trying to get a hold of a seller to connect him with a client of mine for a solid week, all without a response. Wait that is not true, I did get a response from his voice mail system telling me that his mailbox was full and could no longer take new messages.

It must be nice, when business is so strong that you can ignore phone calls, let voice mails go without reply and build up until there is no room left for new messages, customers or opportunities.

Now do not get the wrong message here, I am and will not be a proponent of dropping everything to take a call any time the phone rings, but that said, it is good practice to check your voice mail 3-4 times a day, return meaningful calls promptly and never, ever let a voicemail box fill up to the point where there is no room for new messages.

The seller in question is making deadly mistakes, after all if you cannot even manage a voice mail box why should I let you manage my several hundred thousand dollar a year account?

Here is another simple and highly productive sales lesson that will go far in improving your customer relationships and making more sales.

Check and return Email messages.

Turns out the same guy will not respond to or in fact even check his own email account…? I have sent him no less than three emails, two with read receipt notices (telling me for a fact my messages have not yet been opened) and a Linked-In in-mail message over the past 3-4 days all of which have gone without any reply.

Again it must be nice to have so much going your way that you can afford to not respond to a willing buyer, or perhaps…

He has not come to realize that there is a direct correlation between responsiveness and customer perception. Now let’s this clear, this person represents a highly credible company the reality is that I have every reason to want to connect this seller to my client and my client will most likely become a major client of his going forward, however this deal may never off the ground because the “Perception” being built is that the seller does not care about even the smallest of things, voicemail, email etc…

I am of the philosophy that if one proves he/she does not care about the small things, they should not be trusted to look after the big and truly meaningful things.

In this I think I am like most of you. So here is the sales lesson, show respect, be prompt in your replies and take advantage of every possible opportunity to listen to your customers and prospective customers.

If you are going out-of-town and cannot answer or respond to an inquiry just use a telephone service, leave a message say you are away or program an auto responder to flow back to incoming email.

A “DO NOTHING” strategy will directly bring a “GET NOTHING” result.

Strange thing is, in my career, the more I learned to shut my mouth and open my earns the more sales I made.

How about you or your sales team, have developed bad sales habits and taken on a pattern of missed calls, un-answered voice mails and ignored emails? If yes, you have a major opportunity in front of you, get proactive with customer communications and watch your sales grow and grow.

If you want to learn more, get in touch.

The Whistle Dog Factor

Or how $.25 destroyed a customer for life

The facts have not been changed to protect the guilty.

Gourmet Grilled All Beef Hots Dogs with Sides and ChipsOK, I admit it I have a secret love of hot dogs, to be specific an A&W Whistle Dog, Onion Rings and Diet Root Beer. Now don’t get me wrong this is not a daily or even weekly thing, but it was a twice a month thing. So you say, “OK you like some fast food every so often, what’s that got to do with a sales based blog posting”. Well this is where things get interesting. My regular Whistle Dog fix costs me about $11.50 a hit and I go twice a month so that’s $23.00 a month or $276.00 per year.

I am a nice, quiet, very predictable, repeat customer and I bus my own table when done. This makes me pretty much every A&W shop owners dream customer right? You bet right, so then why am I now being charged $.25 for one little plastic disk of BBQ sauce to go with my onion rings? I mean WTF. I am seriously miffed.

I think it was Robert Burton (and not Ben Franklin) who coined the phrase “penny wise and pound foolish” and that’s exactly what is going on here. I just dropped $11.50 on a hot dog, badly cooked onions rings and $.03 worth of root beer and they have the nerve to put the touch on me for a single serving of BBQ sauce?

Well first I asked the sales clerk if she was serious, and she was so I very politely paid the lady the $.25 and have not been back for two months, those two months will just keep going and going as I have now started my one man boycott against dumb sales policies and practices. Be warned from now on if I see them, or experience them I am going to write about them.

Yes, the A&W shop owner got their $.25 and now I am going to keep my $276.00/year times the next 20 years and believe you me that $5,520.00 plus inflation is going to by me… well I guess I am on the lookout for a new hot dog shop. Oh and I do hope that the A&W shop owner comes to realize that no matter how many coupons you give it, it will never make up for “Taking Your Customer For Granted”.

OK, my rant is over, now let’s look at the sales lesson, you have a fully qualified customer, who is paying their bills on time, every time, so what happens? Some number-cruncher in the organization says we are losing money on (enter your example of the BBQ sauce here) and we have to pass this charge onto the customer no matter what.

If you agree to start doing this; congratulations you have just joined the Penny Wise, Pound foolish club. You will lose customers by the dozen all because you did not follow one of most primal product pricing policies… Thou shalt not insult your customers by “nickel-and-diming” them.

There are dozens of pricing strategies to not only get incidental costs covered but to use them to build customer loyalty (none of which appear to be covered in the A&W shop owner’s operations manual).

Now apply this our daily industrial sales reality, we are busting our back sides, to make sales worth thousands of dollars a unit. Getting sales, providing great service and earning customer loyalty is hard work. Are you losing sales, sometimes big sales over policies and practices that are seen by your customers as them getting nickel-and-dimed?

Three key questions:

1. Are you’re pricing policies and/or practices triggering negative emotions in your customers, compelling them to go shopping?

2. What if your biggest barrier to more sales is the pricing program you are following?

3. Are you taking the $.25 as asked for and trading away loyal customers for life?

If you want to know more get in touch.

The Trust Factor

When I have dark moments of self-doubt (and I do) and question my direction, value, skills etc… I cut the negative process short and head instead for the “Red Tin”. In this “Red Tin” I keep the original copies of every recommendation and/or testimonial I have ever received going back to the 80’s.

If you read these you will quickly note what they do not say is… you said you would… and then sort of came close. Instead they say, you listened, understood and then just shut up and did the right thing, and you did it over and over to earn my trust.

These documents are all past tense, they speak to what was done, not what was promised. They speak to listening, little talk, and much action, they speak to investing in learning the real needs of the customer and meeting them head on, they speak to putting others first to then gain the reward of a long-term, profitable relationships.

Today, too many sellers are just pitching the stuff they are “told” to sell, they are not sales professionals, they are order takers. A sales processional seeks to understand a true need and then fill it. They seek an honest relationship, one in which they earn an equal voice with the buyer and can either agree or disagree with the buyer to truly define needs and then fill them.

Is todays, wham bam, thank you man, sales approach what is missing is “TRUST”, trust that the seller actually cares about the buyer needs, and trust that the seller is actually looking out for the buyers long-term, best interests.

The overriding problem is time, companies looking to grow and their sales people do not understand that developing real relationships takes time, and is much more about hearing and not about pitching, it’s about listening and not about talking.

ThisSales Statistics chart, to my experience is brutally true. Most sellers quit round about the 2nd call when in fact the sales magic happens in the 5th to 12th call or direct contact with the buyer.

It may appear counter to what you are being told today, but taking time to get to know someone and their needs, while slower and far less fancy is in fact a clearer path to more sales and thus more commission that any other sales approach.

Being a genuine human being, caring about others first, is in fact the fastest way to forming a trusted relationship, and in the cold light of dawn, buyers will always choose to do business with those they know and trust above anyone else.

All I can say is that anything worth doing, takes time. Relationships take time, understanding takes time, but from relationships comes trust, and from understanding comes sales orders. From meeting needs over the long run comes reputation and from a positive reputation, the testimonials and letters of reference. All hard-won and of deep value, that endlessly reaffirm that I took my time and did it the right way.

Are you an order taker or a sales professional?

Get in touch today.

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

Marketing Strategy – Four Simple Marketing Ideas

As a part of a winning Marketing Strategy you need to review the use of a frequent contact program to communicate with customers in order to gain a larger share of their business.

When doing so, here are some simple ideas to carefully consider:

1. Most businesses invest too much in chasing new customers and too little in doing additional repeat business with their existent customers;

2. The satisfied customer is predisposed to purchase again. Purchase more and purchase something different (not to mention refer you to people he knows);

3. It costs less to motivate a known customer to purchase again than to acquire a new customer;

4. Customers are only fickle because a new competitor (or the previous company you got the customers from) is paying more attention to them than you are.

In business-to-business marketing many companies make the huge mistake of having all their contact with their customers go through the sales representative. This leaves the customers vulnerable to theft if the representative jumps to another employer. It also leaves too much opportunity for negligence on the representative’s part.

Regardless of the layers of distribution between you and your customer you should establish some direct link. The owner of a restaurant can do that by coming around and chatting personally with the customers. The chief executive officer of a large company can do it with a newsletter and maybe a hotline telephone number.

Here are some of the ways that direct mail or email can be used to communicate with established customers.

A. To introduce new products or services;

B. To reinforce existing products or services;

C. To give advance notice of and explain price or fee increases;

D. To offer special discounts or premiums;

E. To provide useful information;

F. To give recognition to top customers;

G. To announce seasonal sales;

H. To announce and introduce new staff and what they do.

I’ve rarely seen a business that could not increase and improve through increased direct marketing to present customers.

Now here’s a real marketing secret and it is a true secret. Most companies make a critical, crucial error in this area. I’ve personally made this error many times in the past and work hard at overcoming it.

Here’s the secret: When marketing to established existent customers you should still tell your entire sales story every time. Do not make the mistake of assuming knowledge on the part of the customer.

Do not take shortcuts with existing customers and do not feel that you are boring them by telling the same story repetitively. If you have quality, service, guarantee price or other advantages point them out each and every time you deliver a sales presentation.

American business desperately needs to place a new higher value on the customer. That’s been the message of Tom Peter’s initiated excellence movement. It’s the message behind the government hearings taking place investigating the airline’s industry of abuse of its customers. If your business is not performing as well as you would like it’s a message you should listen to also.

Bottom Line; communicate more with your customers and you’ll do more business.

This article originally posted on Craneblogger.

Three Business Lessons From The Drag Strip

I learned the following at our “Guys Night at the Drags.”

The cars were all in top form and as I sat enjoying the racing action I found myself reflecting on the similarities between the business world and the sport of drag racing.

Some key business lessons to be learned from the sport:

1. Be early

2. Think strategically

3. Consistency will always beat a one time wonder

Lets put a little detail into each of these three ideas:

1. Be early or miss the good seats at the show.

  • If you arrive late to the race, chances are you will be struggling amongst the crowd to get a good view of the action.
  • So often in business we have a great idea and spend so much time perfecting it, that by the time we get to market we aren’t alone. We are in fact late to the event and the best options for your opportunity have passed you by.
  • The business lesson – manage your time wisely to achieve your ideas while seizing your best opportunities.

2. Think strategically about how to position yourself.

  • If you show up at the races at just the right time, you get top pick of the good seating. For optimal viewing start on one side, where the glistening morning sun is warming your back; then midday, change over to the other side, keeping your back towards the warmer afternoon sunlight. This way you get a prime view all day, with just the right level of light to see, but not so much as to distract or blind you.
  • The business lesson – seeing what is ahead of you and then acting accordingly is what strategy is all about. You act based on your understanding of the lay of the land and how you interpret it. Knowing where you are and more importantly when to move, as well as whyto move, is what good strategy is all about. This is applicable whether you are cheering from the bleachers, racing the car, and really any aspect of life and business.

3. Consistency will always beat a hard charger with no depth.

  • Over and over I witnessed how a car would over perform and its is driven to run hard, beat the clock and lose;
  • During the bracket racing, the slightly slower but significantly more consistent car would win time and time again. The inconsistent cars were quickly eliminated and those who were both fast and dependable ruled the day.
  • In racing and in business it’s not just about being fast, it is also about being dependable and repeatable.
  • The business lesson – dependability matters and it is your responsibility in business and in life, to be both responsible and dependable. After all, just like racing, no one wants to back or engage with a one time wonder, we all want repeatable and dependable partners in all aspects of out life and business.

Overall it was a great day and a company outing I hope to repeat next year, maybe even annually.

Was the day fun? 100% yes!

Did we learn important lessons to take home and apply Monday morning? Also 100% yes.

See you track side.

Gerry L. Wiebe Founder | President

Tips on Great Customer Service

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 #2

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

The Tomatoes Ate 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

a. Developing good communications skills and using them at all times is a key element in any form of success

b. Active listening is a developed skill, learn it, apply it and keep it sharp

2. Measure twice, cut once (get it right the first time)

a. Seek to understand (Covey) first and always and make no assumptions

b. 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

3. 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.

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