Customer Loyalty—A Bargain

August 25th, 2009

Remember when 25 cents was really worth something? Here are a few things you can’t buy for a quarter anymore:

• Loaf of bread
• Candy bar
• Deck of cards
• Shoe shine
• Can of soda
• Newspaper
• Ice cream cone
• Birthday card
• Comic book
• Cup of coffee
• Baseball cards

But 25 cents is still enough to buy a heaping helping of customer loyalty.
A recent example: I stopped at a downtown store to make a purchase, but didn’t have any coins for the parking meter.  When I mentioned this to the store owner and asked him for change for a dollar, he replied, “The enforcement on the meters ends in 20 minutes, so you only need a quarter.” He then opened the cash drawer, took out a quarter and handed it to me.

Was I surprised? You bet. Was I impressed? Absolutely. Did the gesture more than pay for itself? Well, I ended up buying more than I had planned to, and I definitely intend to return there. Oh yeah, and I’m obviously telling a whole bunch of people about the place, too.

You don’t need a lot of money to secure your customers’ loyalty. A little time, effort and generosity is all it takes. Just show your customers you care about them. When people feel cared about, they feel important. And when they feel important, they buy more.

Can you think of a better investment for a quarter?

Sales Going to the Cats

August 20th, 2009

I saw something in the grocery store yesterday that caused me to wonder if perhaps the apocalypse is nigh. A nationally-known pet food company has introduced a line of appetizers for cats.

I’ll repeat that in case you thought it was a typo.

Appetizers.

For cats.

Not being a cat owner myself, I was unaware that the world’s feline population had begun demanding multi-course dinners. Can dessert and coffee for the whiskered set be far behind? (Cattucino, anyone?)

I have to give the company credit though. It’s a bold move. And it’s exactly the kind of innovative thinking we need more of to pull ourselves out of this recession.

It’s a well-researched move too. Surveys consistently find that large percentages of pet owners place a high priority on pampering their pets. One study I read recently found that, in these economic downtimes, more than 2/3 of respondents were willing to switch to less-expensive brands of eggs, milk and over-the-counter medications, but less than 1/3 were willing to switch to a cheaper brand of pet food. So while launching this new line during a recession may be a gamble, it’s a pretty smart gamble.

This brings up two questions:

1. How well do you know your market?
What do they want or need that they’re not getting now? What do they value? What are their priorities? What do they want more or less of?

2. What innovative actions are you taking?
Are you introducing a new product or service? Have you initiated a new marketing campaign? Are you training your sales and customer service teams?

If you want strong sales now and in the future, you need to understand your market better than anyone else does and you need to take more innovative actions than your competitors. (Which shouldn’t be too difficult, considering how uncreative and risk-averse most companies are.) If you haven’t begun these two processes already, the time to start is now. Before your sales go to the dogs.

Good News About Bad News

August 18th, 2009

There’s plenty of depression about the recession.

The National Federation of Independent Businesses just released the results of their latest monthly survey, which showed that, despite the reports of “green shoots,” small business owners are increasingly pessimistic about the economy. The NFIB’s Optimism Index fell for the second straight month, reaching its lowest point since March. Not too surprising, considering the survey of nearly 2,000 members found that earnings in July were down for the 37th straight month.

The single most important problem right now? Of ten possible choices, 32% of the respondents (by far the largest percentage) said poor sales.

This is actually good news. How? Of all the problems the survey asked respondents to pick from (including taxes, inflation, interest rates, government regulations and insurance availability), sales is the only one which you can directly influence!

Which means you have a choice: You can moan and complain along with everyone else or you can do something about it!

What can you do? Here are some actions you can take immediately:
    • Increase your marketing efforts
    • Get back in touch with your customers
    • Launch a publicity campaign
    • Read a book
    • Attend a seminar
    • Hire a consultant or coach
    • Go to more (or different) networking events
    • Make the most of social media web sites
    • Create a budget version of your product or service
    • Train your sales team

Yes, the economy is bad right now. Yes, the outlook is still gloomy. Yes, things could get a lot worse before they get better. Are you going to simply throw up your hands in defeat or are you going to do what you can to succeed despite the harsh conditions? The choice is yours.

Click here to read the full NFIB August survey.

Why People Buy

August 13th, 2009

If you want to increase your sales, it helps to understand why people buy things. The more you know about a prospect’s motivation, the more effectively you can position your product or service.

Be aware that I’m not talking about features. When determining why people buy, features are irrelevant. Because when a person buys a product or service, the purchase is merely a means to an end. It’s the “end” you’re interested in, and that varies from person to person and from situation to situation.

So why do people buy? Lots of reasons. Here are a few. People buy to:
• satisfy a basic survival need
• make their life easier
• make their job easier
• save money
• make money
• save time
• eliminate problems
• improve their safety
• reduce risk
• educate themselves
• impress others
• gain social acceptance
• stand out from the crowd
• improve their health
• enhance their image or appearance
• overcome their fears
• have some fun
• create memories
• feel loved
• express emotions
• improve their quality of life
• satisfy their curiosity
• prove they are right
• feel better about themselves
• gain an advantage over competitors
• beautify their surroundings
• avoid unpleasant work
• create better results
• ensure their children’s success
• take care of loved ones

Here are the next questions for you: Using the above list as a guide, why do people buy your product or service? How can you incorporate those reasons into your marketing? And how can you highlight those reasons in your sales presentation?

Most companies and salespeople are too fixated on the features of their offerings, resulting in a disconnect with buyers. When you focus instead on the real reasons people buy, both your marketing and sales efforts will be far more effective.

Are All Salespeople Scumbags?

August 11th, 2009

I’ve been cringing every time I’ve seen an ad for the upcoming film The Goods. If the commercials are any indication, the movie promises to reinforce every negative stereotype the world already has about salespeople being pushy, sleazy, manipulative, underhanded hustlers, willing to say or do anything to make the sale.

I don’t typically wish ill toward anyone, but I hope this movie dies a quick death. It would be great if it does very little business over opening weekend and disappears immediately, never to be heard of again. (And judging from the early buzz on the web, that could conceivably happen.)

Whenever a movie or TV show depicts salespeople as slimeballs, it further etches that image in the minds of buyers everywhere, causing them to distrust every salesperson they encounter. And sadly, too many sales training programs today still teach manipulative, heavy-handed approaches from yesteryear that justify that painful image in the prospect’s mind. All of which makes building rapport and trust more difficult than ever.

So what can you do to differentiate yourself from the stereotype of salesperson as scumbag? Start with the following:
    • Be respectful, polite and courteous
    • Ask good questions
    • Listen well
    • Be warm and genuine
    • Eschew high-pressure tactics
    • Deliver on your promises

While you’re at it, get yourself and your sales team some modern, enlightened sales training that will help you sell in a more ethical, virtuous manner. (Click here for details.) Everything you can do to distance yourself from the negative expectation your prospect has of you, makes your job—and the sale—easier.

Always remember: It’s better to be a good salesperson than to be a salesperson with “the goods.”

Nine Words You Should Never Use with Customers

August 7th, 2009

Words have power. And while many words have the power to help you make the sale, some words have the power to sabotage it. If you want to increase your sales, here are nine words you should avoid using with prospects and customers.

1. “No”
People hate to hear no. They love to hear yes. So whenever you’re tempted to say no to someone, stop and think how you might be able to yes to their request. This is not to say you should give away the store. Rather, look for ways to make things happen instead of automatically justifying why you can’t.

2. “Can’t”
Speaking of “can’t,” this is another word that can anger and frustrate prospects and customers. Instead of dwelling on what you can’t do, focus on what you can do. Provide options and alternatives. Remember, you’re there to assist and serve your customers.

3. “Policy”
Here’s a news flash: I don’t care what your policy is. I only care about what I want and need. If you can deliver that, you’ve got me as a customer. If you quote “policy” as the reason you “can’t” do something, you’ve lost me. Probably forever. (See What’s More Important: Your Policies or Your Customers?)

4. “Don’t”
The human brain can only process a negative by thinking of the positive. Which means, when you tell your prospect “Don’t judge a product by price alone,” what they really hear (on a sub-conscious level) is “Judge a product by price alone.” When you say “Don’t worry,” they hear “Worry.” Tell your prospect or customer what you want them to do, not what you don’t want them to do.

5. “But”
The word “but” negates whatever came before it. (“You did a good job, but…”) Replace it with either a simple pause or the word “and.”

6. “Why”
Questions that start with “why” sound accusatory and judgmental. (“Why did you do that?” Why do you think that?” “Why is that important to you?”) As a result, they cause prospects and customers to raise their defenses. Instead, rephrase “why” questions into “what” or “how” questions. (“What caused you to do that?” “How did you come to think that?” “What’s the reason that’s important to you?”)

7. “Honestly”
Whenever you use the word “honestly,” you imply that some or all of the other things you’ve said have not been honest. Strike the word from your vocabulary. The same goes for words like “truthfully” and “frankly.”

8. Any Term of Endearment
While words like “buddy,” “pal,” “baby” and “sweetheart” are fine with your close friends, they’re not okay to use with prospects or customers (unless you know them very well and they call you by similar nicknames). You should always be polite, courteous and respectful. The best thing you can call a customer is their name.

9. Profanity
I shouldn’t even have to mention this. I’m astounded, though, how often I hear salespeople swear. If you’re looking for a sure-fire way to offend a current or potential customer, this is it. Never chance it. You’re not a stand-up comic in a nightclub. You’re a sales professional. Speak accordingly.

Selling Christmas in August

August 5th, 2009

Santa Claus is coming to town. About five months early.

Harrods, the legendary department store in London, has already unveiled it’s Christmas display, hoping to stimulate shoppers’ Christmas purchases. And many other retailers, both in Britain and America, have begun sending out Christmas catalogs and running Christmas promotions on their web sites.

Promoting a product or service off-season can be a powerful sales strategy. By getting your potential customers to think about you during a time of year they normally wouldn’t, you create buying opportunities that wouldn’t exist otherwise. And you can increase sales during your slow time, enabling you to better plan and use your labor and production resources.

Is your product or service seasonal? Is there an opportunity for you to promote what you sell during a time of year that all your competitors have written off? If so, seize it! You may find that Christmas comes early for you as well.