How “Intensive Listening” Can Help Your Sales and Customer Service

July 29th, 2010

Intensive Listening for Sales and Customer ServiceWhen we have something important to say, we not only feel a need to express it, we feel fear that we won’t get the chance, because so often we are interrupted, drowned out or brushed off.

A tactic I call “Intensive Listening” alleviates that fear for the person with whom you’re talking.

Intensive Listening goes beyond Active Listening in that it ignores the standard rules of conversation: you talk, then the other person talks, then you, then the other person, and so on.  When you are engaged in Intensive Listening, only the other person talks. You just listen.

Don’t interrupt.  Don’t argue.  Don’t judge.

Keep steady eye contact and use plenty of non-verbal cues (head-nodding, smiling, frowning, raising eyebrows). You can throw in an occasional verbal cue (“Mm-hmm.” “Right.”  “You’re kidding.” “Really?” “I don’t blame you.” “That’s awful.”), but otherwise, say nothing, even when the other person appears to finish talking.

Most of us feel compelled to fill any conversational gap immediately because we’re uncomfortable with silence. But that silence gives the other person a chance to think, to reflect, to uncover buried concerns and feelings before continuing on.

And when your counterpart does not have to fear losing the floor, they can relax and feel more comfortable, both with you and the issues being discussed. And perhaps most importantly, they perceive that you really care and you truly understand them.

What you are doing is giving them the gift of undivided attention, a thing so rare, we forget what it feels like. In return, the other person will give you several gifts: their respect, their trust and the information you need to best help them. (Although sometimes, the best way to help them is just to listen.)

Intensive Listening is not always appropriate. As its name suggests, it is best reserved for situations in which there are intense emotions, or there is a need for deep, detailed information.

Intensive Listening is especially useful when dealing with extremely angry customers, when there is little or no trust or when someone has experienced a loss, such as a divorce, a layoff or the death of a loved one. Also, note that this approach works best face-to-face, although it can be applied over the phone.

Try Intensive Listening the next time you sense a need for deeper communication. You’ll be amazed at how beneficial it is for both you and your counterpart.

Great Thoughts on Sales, Business and Success IV

July 23rd, 2010

Great Thoughts on Sales, Business & Success 4Great quotations can make you think, laugh or persevere. Sometimes all three at once. Here are some more of my favorites:

“No computer network with pretty graphics can ever replace the salespeople that make our society work.” —Clifford Stoll

“Any business arrangement that is not profitable to the other person will in the end prove unprofitable for you. The bargain that yields mutual satisfaction is the only one that is apt to be repeated.” —B.C. Forbes

“Success is a state of mind. If you want success, start thinking of yourself as a success.” —Joyce Brothers

“Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.” —John Wesley

“I respect faith, but doubt is what gets you an education.” —Wilson Mizner

“Never dull your shine for somebody else.” —Tyra Banks

“Defeat is nothing but the first step to something better.” —Wendell Phillips

“A little knowledge that acts is worth infinitely more than much knowledge that is idle.” —Kahlil Gibran

“If you aren’t making any mistakes, it’s a sure sign you’re playing it too safe.”   —John Maxwell

“Yes, I sell people things they don’t need. I can’t, however, sell them something they don’t want.” —John O’Toole

“Experience shows that success is due less to ability that to zeal. The winner is he who gives himself to his work, body and soul.” —Charles Buxton

“I can’t believe that God put us on this earth to be ordinary.” —Lou Holtz

“The majority of men meet with failure because of their lack of persistence in creating new plans to take the place of those which fail.” —Napoleon Hill

“Fortune favors the brave.” —Publius Terence

“Never again clutter your days or nights with so many menial and unimportant things that you have no time to accept a real challenge when it comes along. This applies to play as well as work. A day merely survived is no cause for celebration. You are not here to fritter away your precious hours when you have the ability to accomplish so much by making a slight change in your routine. No more busy work. No more hiding from success. Leave time, leave space, to grow. Now. Now! Not tomorrow!” —Og Mandino

“Growth demands a temporary surrender of security.” —Gail Sheehy

“An idea that is not dangerous is unworthy of being called an idea at all.”         —Oscar Wilde

“Men are born to succeed, not fail.” —Henry David Thoreau

“Some regard private enterprise as if it were a predatory tiger to be shot. Others look upon it as a cow that they can milk. Only a handful see it for what it really is: the strong horse that pulls the whole cart.” —Winston Churchill

“Fear is inevitable, I have to accept that, but I cannot allow it to paralyze me.”   —Isabel Allende

“We want consumers to say, ‘That’s a hell of a product’ instead of, ‘That’s a hell of an ad.’” —Leo Burnett

“Thinking is the hardest work there is. That’s probably why so few people do it.” —Henry Ford

For more of my favorite quotations, check out Great Thoughts on Sales, Business and Success; More Great Thoughts on Sales, Business and Success; and Still More Great Thoughts on Sales, Business and Success.

By the way, what are some of your favorite quotations?

The Retail Doctor’s Guide to Growing Your Business

July 15th, 2010

Retail Doctor’s Guide to Growing Your BusinessThe last couple of years have been grim for retailers. The still-vacant shopping malls that dot the landscape like 21st century ghost towns bear silent testimony to the difficulties of trying to keep a retail operation going during a recession. Those retailers that haven’t yet succumbed to the precipitous drop in consumer spending are working harder than ever just to survive.

Fortunately, a new book will help retailers keep their doors open. (And no, smarty pants, I don’t mean by using it as a doorstop.) The Retail Doctor’s Guide to Growing Your Business (Wiley, $19.95) by Bob Phibbs presents loads of practical, real-world advice that any retailer can put to use immediately.

What distinguishes this book is that Phibbs doesn’t just cover the topics you’d expect, like merchandising, signage and sales skills. He also touches on less obvious, but equally critical areas of running a successful retail business.

Phibbs devotes an entire chapter to hiring the right people, with savvy insights and clever ideas. (Wait ‘til you read how you can use the weather to help you make better hiring decisions!) Another chapter focuses on building and coaching your team, a topic most retail owners and managers don’t get anywhere near enough education about.

While I would have liked to have seen more material on marketing in this book, Phibbs does provide a good overview of how to use social media and other web strategies to attract and retain customers. It’s devoid of computer jargon, so even a devout technophobe can understand it and see the benefits of embracing web marketing.

My favorite part of the book, though, was a relative blip: Phibbs spends two pages discussing pricing philosophies and strategies. Those two pages alone are worth the price of the book a hundred times over. If you do nothing but digest what Phibbs says about pricing (it’s similar to what I share in my program, The Myth of Price), you will make your retail operation instantly more profitable.

If you’re in retail, whether you’re an owner or a manager, whether you’re responsible for a single outlet or an entire chain, you need to read this book. The economy may get better or it may get worse, but either way, you can survive—and even grow—if you put these ideas to work.

Six Things Manufacturers and Franchisors Can Do to Boost Sales

July 8th, 2010

I regularly talk with executives in a number of different industries, and while I’ve heard a variety of reports about sales trends so far this year, one consistency is this: Virtually everyone I’ve talked to recently has said they’re hoping things will get better.

Well, I’ve got news for you:

Hope is not a strategy.

Successful companies don’t sit around waiting for circumstances to improve. They take action to create improvements.

So what are you doing to make things better? Because whatever the state of the economy, you as a manufacturer or franchisor have enormous potential to impact the sales of your retail or franchise network, which of course spurs your own sales.

Here are six specific strategies you can implement immediately to help your sales channel sell more of your products and services.

1. Increase Your Corporate Marketing Efforts
Whenever things get tough and companies are looking to slash costs, one of the first line items they cut is the marketing budget. Which is one of the dumbest things they can do.

Because effective marketing generates sales. Conversely, when you reduce your marketing efforts, your sales drop.

Marketing is an investment, not an expense. For every dollar you invest in marketing, you should see a return of two, five, ten (or more) dollars in sales.

If your marketing isn’t providing a substantial return, it doesn’t mean marketing doesn’t work—it means your marketing doesn’t work. Either your message is wrong or your tactics are wrong. Possibly both. Don’t cut it—fix it!

Study after study has proven companies that maintain or increase their marketing budgets during recessions see higher sales both during and after the recessionary period. Where do their increased sales come from in a shrinking market? From their competitors, who cut back on their marketing!

2. Launch a Publicity Campaign
Publicity has two distinct advantages as a sales and marketing tool:
    1) It’s free.
    2) It carries more credibility than an advertisement.

While you can’t say the same things in a press release that you can in a sales letter or commercial, you can use publicity to increase your company’s name recognition and create awareness of your products and services.

The key is to recognize that the media needs you. An editor’s job is to fill space. A radio or TV producer’s job is to fill airtime. Both are looking for entertaining stories or useful information that will make people want to watch, listen or read what they produce.

That’s where you come in. You can create press releases about anything as long as it’s of potential interest to that media outlet’s audience.

So what’s your story? What information do you have that would be of interest to potential buyers? What have you, your retailers or your franchisees done recently that people should know about? What tips can you share that could improve people’s lives? What newsworthy ways have your customers used your products or services?

Whatever the answer, that’s your press release. Write it down and e-mail it to every media outlet that might possibly be interested in your story. Don’t restrict yourself to industry-related publications. Since there’s no cost, you may as well include non-industry media to reach the widest possible audience.

And make it easy for your retailers or franchisees to do the same. Provide them with copies of your press releases for them to send to their local media outlets. Send them templates they can use for a variety of occasions. And encourage them to send you their stories.

Once you’ve begun, keep your publicity generator running! Don’t plan one publicity campaign and expect to ride that wave forever. Make a publicity calendar and plan something every quarter, or more often if you can manage it.

3. Optimize Your Web Site
When someone does a search for the type of product or service you provide, how high up in the results does your corporate web site appear? Do you know the terms people use to search for the types of products and services you make, and are those terms integrated well into your site? Are you making the best use of pay-per-click ads? When prospects visit your site, what percentage of them actually contact you or one of your channel partners, and how many leave your site never to return again?

If you don’t know the answers to these questions, you’re missing out on sales. And if you do know the answers but you’re not happy with them, you’re not any better off.

Optimizing your web site so it’s easily found by potential prospects and then converts those prospects into actual leads is tricky business. Do it right and you’ll have a never-ending supply of qualified prospects for your retailers or franchisees to talk with. Do it wrong and not only will you not get those prospects, you’ll waste huge sums of money in the process.

To complicate matters, the field of search engine optimization (or SEO) is constantly changing. Which means you don’t want to trust your site optimization to your web designer, in-house IT person or web hosting company. Hire a person or a company with proven SEO expertise and success.

4. Increase Co-op Funds
Just as it’s critical for you to bolster your corporate marketing, it’s critical for your retailers or franchisees to bolster their marketing. Unfortunately, like most businesses, independent retailers and franchise owners eviscerate their marketing budgets whenever things get tight.

To counter this knee-jerk reaction, encourage the marketing efforts of your retailers or franchisees by increasing the available co-op budget. Co-op funds are an investment in your sales channel’s success as well as your own.

5. Educate Your Channel Partners About Co-op
No matter what your co-op budget is, odds are most of your channel partners aren’t using all of it anyway. That’s because most independent retail and franchise owners know nothing about marketing.

So teach them.

Have your marketing director conduct a seminar, teleseminar or webinar for your channel partners. Buy a copy of Guerrilla Marketing (by Jay Conrad Levinson) for each of your retail or franchise owners and send it to them with a note promising additional co-op dollars when they send you an action plan based on what they read. Direct your district reps or regional managers to help your retailers or franchisees devise actual marketing plans and campaigns. Create a space on your internal web site where owners or managers can share their best marketing tactics and offer prizes for the best ideas.

6. Train Your Sales Channel’s Salespeople
More often than not, the sale doesn’t go to the business with the best product or the best service (or even the lowest price), but to the business with the best salespeople. If you want your retailers or franchisees to sell more, doesn’t it make sense to train them how to sell better?

Training has been proven to provide the best ROI of any sales investment. In fact, a 2000 study of 575 U.S.-based, publicly traded companies by Laurie Bassi, Jens Ludwig, Daniel McMurrer and Mark Van Buren found that companies that spent more on training (per employee) experienced a total shareholder return (change in stock price and dividends issued) in the following year 86% higher than companies that spent less, and 45% higher than the market average. Further, companies in the top quarter of the study group enjoyed an average of 26% higher price-to-book ratios, 24% higher profit margins and 218% higher income per employee than companies in the bottom quarter.

Findings like these make perfect sense when you think about it. Salespeople who get regular training are more adept at finding quality prospects, delivering effective presentations, holding their margins and closing deals.

(And such improvements can be immediate. I’ve had attendees of my seminars report back to me that they used what they learned the very same day to close sales.)

One Thing NOT to Do
You’ll notice there’s one strategy I didn’t include in the above recommendations: Slashing your prices. This is typically the first action companies take in tough times. However, it’s typically the worst thing a company can do.

Dramatically cutting prices rarely increases sales volume significantly, and even when it does, total profits still go down because every dollar shaved off the price was profit. Which means you’re worse off than if you hadn’t cut prices in the first place.

Worse still, dropping your prices sends a message to the marketplace that your product or service wasn’t worth what you were asking in the first place. That damages the perceived value of your offerings—damage that can take years to undo.

Instead of slashing your prices, take the money you would have given away in discounts and rebates, and invest it in marketing and training instead. You and your retailers or franchisees will see better results faster and it will set you up for increased sales down the road as well as right now.

You can’t control what the economy does. But you can control what your company does. Don’t just hope things get better. Employ these six strategies and make things better.