17 Things Not to Do at a Networking Event

May 31st, 2017

17-things-not-to-do-at-a-networking-eventNetworking is a powerful sales and marketing tool. But like any tool, using it improperly or inappropriately can lead to disaster.

Here are seventeen things—all of which I’ve actually observed people doing—that you definitely don’t want to do at your next networking event.

1. Dress inappropriately

2. Show up late

3. Talk about yourself constantly

4. Complain

5. Fail to listen to others

6. Talk to one person the entire time

7. Sell

8. Talk only with your friends

9. Pass your cards out without talking to people

10. Get drunk

11. Use profanity

12. Discuss politics and/or religion

13. Run out of business cards

14. Insult the venue, food, décor, etc.

15. Tell off-color jokes

16. Hit on people

17. Leave early

Some of these mistakes are more egregious than others, but all of them can damage your sales efforts, not to mention your reputation. Remember, any time you’re interacting with others, look your best, act your best, and be your best.

Nine Ways To Improve Your Business Image

May 24th, 2017

nine-ways-to-improve-your-business-imageMay is International Business Image Improvement Month. In honor of that, I thought I’d tweet out an article on the subject. But when I did a search for “how to improve your business image,” all the articles I found contained such hackneyed advice as, “Be active on social media,” “Update your website,” “Launch an ad campaign,” “Use PR,” and ‘Target influencers.”

While those admonitions are not necessarily bad—and in fact, excellent companies do those things regularly—they’re not actually going to help you if your business isn’t already outstanding. If your company has issues—and nearly all companies do—the above advice is akin to putting a fresh coat of paint on house that’s leaning to one side, with broken windows and doors, in the middle of a mosquito-infested swamp.

If you really want to improve your business image—and thus, your sales—you  need to improve your business. And specifically, your customer experience. Because your image is defined by your customers, not by you.

Here are nine things you can do to improve how prospects and customers think of you.

1. Get Your Customers’ Viewpoint
The first thing you need to know is how your customers currently think and feel about you. So ask them. Create focus groups. Conduct surveys. Hire a mystery shopping firm. Discover the good, the bad, and the ugly about your company through your buyers’ eyes.

2. Hire More People
There are very few universal laws, but one of them is: Everybody hates waiting. Every minute a prospect or customer has to wait, the less they like you. (And one of the things consumers share with a vengeance on social media is how long they’ve been waiting in line or on hold.) So hire enough people to staff your call center, your checkout lanes, your office, to get their wait times as close to zero as possible.

3. Train Your People
Perhaps the only thing worse for a customer than not having enough people to serve them, is having to deal with an employee who doesn’t know what the hell they’re doing. Provide continual training for your people. And not just on your product or service! Train them on communication skills, customer service skills, teamwork, technology, creativity, leadership, problem solving, and more. The more skilled your employees are, the better they’ll perform, and the happier customers will be.

4. Empower Employees
Training employees doesn’t do much good if they aren’t allowed to use their skills. Too many companies withhold the power to take care of customers from the people who most closely interact with them. When an employee isn’t allowed to solve a customer’s problem, both parties get frustrated at your company. Give your people the power to do whatever it takes to resolve customer issues quickly and easily. Buyers respect and appreciate it.

5. Appreciate Employees
Just as customers don’t like being taken for granted, neither do employees. And when employee morale is low, they don’t serve customers well. Take great care of your employees and they’ll take great care of your customers.

6. Keep It Clean
The cleanliness of your facility speaks volumes to prospects and customers about your attention to detail and your care for people’s health and comfort. That includes everything from your front entrance to your bathrooms.

7. Improve Your Product Quality
There are a number of businesses that I will probably never patronize again, regardless of their social media activity, ad campaigns, websites, or PR. Because their product sucks. How good are your products or services compared with your competition? How can you make them better?

8. Correct Other Issues
What other problems did you uncover in your customer research? What else bugs them or prevents them from buying more from you. Deal with those issues, whether that means streamlining processes or redoing your website or remodeling your facility.

9. Admit Your Failings
Once you’ve improved in the above areas, then you can launch a PR/advertising/social media campaign. But the first thing you need to do in those campaigns is to admit your problems. People value honesty and authenticity. A good mea culpa goes a long way. Then you can communicate what you’ve done to improve and invite people to experience the new you.

Your business image is not like a pair of shoes that you can simply shine up with a can of polish. You’re creating your business image every single day, with every single thing you do, both positive and negative. Create more positive experiences for your customers and they’ll have a more positive image of you.

Are Your Salespeople Too Cheap?

May 17th, 2017

are-your-salespeople-too-cheapWhen sales managers and business owners hire salespeople, they’re typically looking for sales experience. Frequently, industry knowledge. And sometimes—although not often enough—attitude. But there’s another quality you need to be screening for: Are they cheap?

Because if they are, they’re not going to be an effective salesperson for you. In fact, a cheap salesperson costs you money. Because cheap salespeople sell cheap.

Don’t get me wrong—everyone loves a bargain. But a person who is, shall we say, “hyper-frugal” cares about spending as little money as possible in the short term above all else. They don’t value things like quality, durability, speed, accuracy, dependability, consistency, service, customization, taste, freshness, performance, and comfort. (Which you might recognize as the very elements your company is using to position your product or service.) And if they don’t value those factors, they can’t sell those factors.

Because of this, cheap salespeople resort to selling on price, with the result being they either lose the sale to a competitor who can sell on value, or they discount like crazy, eliminating most or all of your profit margin. Neither is a good outcome for your business.

So how do you determine if a current or prospective salesperson is a cheapskate? Find out a few things about them. Like:

• What kind of car do they drive?

• What kinds of clothes do they wear?

• Where do they go on vacation?

• What are their favorite brands?

• Do they buy generics/store brands or do they buy name brands?

• Are they brand loyal or do they buy whatever’s on sale?

• What is their approach to spending?

• What are their attitudes about money?

• What stores do they shop at most?

• Why do they buy what they buy?

• Why do they shop where they shop?

Learning a person’s approach to buying will tell you a lot about their approach to selling. If they value the qualities your company prides itself on, they’re potentially a good fit for your sales team. If they don’t value those items, odds are they’re not a good fit, even if they have loads of experience.

In fact, you many discover you have one or more “ultra-thrifty” people on your sales team. Evaluate their performance and—since you’ve already invested in them—train them in how to sell on value rather than price. If they can alter their sales approach, great! But if they can’t, you’ll need to reassign them or let them go. Because they’ll keep costing you sales and profits.

Cheapskates aren’t bad people—they just don’t appreciate value. And because of that, they’re not your customer. And they shouldn’t be your salespeople.

Tell Better Stories, Make More Sales

May 10th, 2017

tell-better-stories-make-more-salesStories are extremely powerful. Not only can they can be informative and persuasive, they can also be engaging, entertaining, and memorable.

That is, if they’re told well. A poorly told story can lose the audience, and even lose the sale.

So how can you improve your storytelling prowess?

1. Collect Your Stories In Advance
The time to work on your stories is not when you’re sitting in front of the prospect. Gather your company’s sales stories. Make an inventory and categorize them by client size, industry, problem, etc. Then you can work on honing them.

2. Open Strong
Your opening is your opportunity to grab your prospect’s attention. Don’t waste it with unnecessary words like, “Let me tell you a story,” or “Perhaps I can illustrate it for you.” Get right to describing the client and the problems they were facing. A simple, yet engaging way to start is to say, “We have a client who was in exactly the same situation you are…”

3. Go Chronologically
While starting a story in the middle (in medias res) can be a great technique for books and movies, it doesn’t work as well in a sales presentation. Keep the structure simple: beginning, middle, end.

4. Know Your Role
Everyone wants to be a hero. So it’s natural for salespeople to emphasize how they—or their company—saved the day. Except you’re not the hero—the client is. They’re the ones trying to solve a problem or achieve a goal. You’re the sidekick, providing ideas, support, and resources. You’re the trusted aide, enabling them to accomplish their mission. You’re the R2-D2 to their Luke Skywalker, or the Gandalf to their Frodo.

5. Highlight the Results
Don’t just say the business equivalent to, “And they lived happily ever after.” Be specific about the results. For two reasons: 1. The more details you provide about the results, the more credibility your story has. 2. Painting a picture allows your prospect to envision similar results for themselves.

6. Keep It Short
While most people will happily sit through a two-hour movie or devour a 500-page novel, you don’t have that kind of time to work with. The shorter your story is, the better. Edit out any and all extraneous details. Keep the story moving.

7. Practice!
No matter how good—or bad—you are at storytelling right now, you can get better with practice. And practice doesn’t mean merely memorizing your stories—it means practicing your delivery as well. Rehearse in front of your colleagues and managers, and ask for feedback. Record yourself and listen critically. Are you speaking too slow? Too fast? Is there enough emotion in your voice? Too much? Are you varying the rate, tone, and volume of your delivery? To really up your game, consider joining a Toastmasters club or hiring a presentation skills coach.

Stories are an integral item in a salesperson’s toolbox. And like any tool, they’re more effective when you know how to use them. Invest some time crafting your sales stories to make them as short and as persuasive as they can be. Then practice telling them so you can maximize your impact on your prospects. . The better your storytelling skills are, the better your sales will be.

Want to see a couple examples of sales stories? Check out “I got no value out of the program…” and From Order-Taker to Sales Star.

Eight Ways to Build Rapport with Your Prospect

May 2nd, 2017

eight-ways-to-build-rapport-with-your-prospectBefore a prospect buys from you, they need to be comfortable with you. They need to be confident in you. They need to trust you. The faster you build that comfort, confidence, and trust, the sooner they’ll buy. And building those three things starts with rapport—creating connection between you and your prospect.

How can you do that quickly and effectively? Here are eight ways:

1. Smile
A warm, genuine smile is essential for making a good first impression. Even over the phone. (Because a smile causes your voice to be warmer and friendlier.) Be sure to greet every prospect with a smile, even if you’re having a lousy day.

2. Touch
Touching your prospect is a double-edged sword: While multiple studies have proven that touch can create connection, improve people’s moods, and cause buyers to spend more money, touching someone inappropriately (or touching a person who hates to be touched) can destroy your relationship with that prospect irrevocably. So use caution. A handshake is always safe. If appropriate, a high-five or fist bump can be a good way to make physical contact. But avoid anything that has the potential to make the buyer uncomfortable.

3. Refreshments
Offering something to eat and/or drink changes the dynamic of the relationship from “buyer & seller” to “guest & host.” So whenever possible, offer food and beverages to your prospects. It can be as extravagant as a twelve-course gourmet meal or as simple as a glass of water.

4. Self-Deprecating Humor
Humor is another issue that can be tricky. Although sharing a laugh is a great way to bond, it’s ridiculously easy to offend your prospect with the wrong kind of humor. The safest humor to use is the self-deprecating kind. Additionally, jokes at your own expense show your prospect that you don’t take yourself too seriously and that you have self-confidence—two factors that cause people to like you more.

5. Questions
Too many salespeople rush to talk about their company, product, or service. Instead, ask your prospect about themselves: their situation, background, needs, goals, concerns, experiences, plans, priorities, values, preferences, etc. People love talking about themselves, and the more they talk, the more their defenses come down.

6. Listening
Asking great questions doesn’t do you a lot of good, however, if you don’t bother to listen to the answers. Give your prospect your complete attention. Look at them while they talk. Take notes. Give them verbal cues that you’re following them: words like “right,” “gotcha,” “okay,” “definitely,” etc.

7. Empathize
Buyers want to feel that a salesperson is on their side. So agree with them. Validate their opinions and concerns. Tell them about other customers who have been in the same situation. Identify with the emotions they’re experiencing. Share what you have in common with them.

8. Gifts
A gift both demonstrates and creates appreciation. And it doesn’t have to be big or expensive. It can be a white paper, a hat, a toy, a ticket to an event, candy, a bookmark, or almost anything else. And you can give the gift at the beginning of a meeting, at the end, or afterward as a follow-up.

Building rapport is the first step to creating trust. And it’s all about making the prospect feel good—both about themselves and about you. Use these eight tactics to help them feel good about both.