Don’t Break The Stool

In today’s business world, more and more sales professionals have to manage through multiple channels to be effective in their daily work. These professionals are the face of their products. Underneath this glamorous front, however, are many others that contribute to the overall success of the organization. The work of a sales professional in the field has evolved from expectations of independent performance to an expectation of team performance. Team performance requires cutting across multiple channels internally to provide a complete product with which to service the clients. Today’s sales people must align themselves with various departments, all of which come with their own vertical silos, reporting structures, work flows, responsibilities and geography.
Not only do these folks need to manage through these complex corporate structures, they also need to present themselves as a unified front to their customers. This involves working closely with other divisions within the company. Since each department has its own, individual responsibilities and organizational structures, this can create extra work and unnecessary challenges for all involved. Without each of these moving parts working together, however, success can never be reached. The product or service your organization is trying to deliver will be doomed to fail. Don’t be doomed to fail.

We live in a fast paced world and we deal with customers every day that want quick, efficient products and services. To do that we must coordinate and collaborate with the many channels required to help us put it all together each day. Think of it like a 3-legged stool. The seat represents the support of your product. That individual seat is supported by three legs that are the nuts and bolts of the people that put it all together. You take one of the legs away and the seat falls over. Without the support of all three legs pushing and working together to hold up that seat, there is no success.

So, what do we do from here? How do we get everyone on the same page so that, when we face our customer, all facets of our internal teams are working together as the legs toward a common goal?

Here are some suggestions:

Build Trust and Rapport:

This is very important. If your teams don’t trust you, they will not support you. Get to know who the movers and shakers are of each channel and educate yourself on what is important to them and the challenges they face every day. Be a resource, support their goals and objectives, shine light on their achievements and help them when the pressure is on. Be willing to understand their frustrations and consent to elevate them as best you can. Talk is cheap. Acts of being genuinely interested in someone else’s success will speak louder than words.

Let Your Partners Play a Role in Your Activity:

Do your internal partners have a customer-facing role? If they do not have a customer-facing role, are you including them in your activity to maintain customer-facing value? Ask them how they might handle a situation, a problem, or a task that is customer-facing. Gather ideas from those that may be hiding in the wings. Having structural mechanisms in place that allow your internal partners to improve on the customer’s experience will greatly improve customer service. You do this by keeping an open line of communication with all involved. Start with sharing your calendar and communicating through weekly collaboration meetings to share ideas on improving the quality of your service. Remember, these meetings are not top down meetings, they are growth meetings and a place where your team can contribute.

Remember, teams that collaborate with one another will always be more productive than teams that do not. Don’t break the stool.

Happy Selling

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Customer Expectations

HeadacheI find too often that new growth initiatives get derailed by the unimportant, at least what appears to be unimportant among my circle of priorities.  Regardless of the industry our customers tend to make things urgent for us and sometimes their emergencies become our emergencies and it’s real easy to get caught up in the whirl wind of panic as the end of the world nears in the minds of our customers.  The perception is always the same; yet in every circumstance somehow it’s entirely your fault and it needs to be fixed now.  Sound familiar?? 

All too often the causes of these emergencies tend to be self-inflicted and could have easily been avoided with the right communication for both you and your customer.  As sales professionals it’s up to us to walk that tight rope and determine what levels of action need to be taken and when.  We want to maintain a strong level of customer service; however we also don’t work for free and want to maintain a high level of productivity while delivering great service.  A lot of this can be handled in the beginning of the process by level setting the customers’ expectations upfront.  You know the old saying “Under Promise and Over Deliver” somehow seems to ring true here.

With that said there are circumstances in every transaction that warrants a little customer responsibility.  This needs to be pointed out in the beginning otherwise you may find yourself on the receiving end of some pretty heated e-mails, phone calls and worst of all lost business.  If the facts of the deal are not communicated effectively upfront; the customer’s expectation of your services could end up being a lot higher than what you are capable of delivering on.  When that happens the happy euphoric world you successfully filled your customers buying experience with really does come to an end.

Here is an example of what I’m talking about:

CarA customer purchases a used automobile that is no longer covered under the factory warranty.  The Business Manager presents different Vehicle Service Contract options that are available for the customer to purchase.  The customer is presented with pricing options and chooses the product that best fits their budget.  They close the deal and the customer is happily on their way to enjoy a newly purchased vehicle.  Six months later in the heat of the summer the air conditioner no longer works and the customer discovers that they are responsible for the entire cost of the repair.  Why?  It turns out that when the customer purchased the vehicle the only product that fit their budget was the basic power train coverage of which the air conditioner was not part of.  Makes perfect sense when you break it down to the bare bones of the situation after all the coverage the customer purchased did not fit the problem.  However this is not how the customer perceives the problem, as a matter of fact the customer feels deceived and wants a new air conditioner stat.  This of course is not only a problem for the customer but a problem for the entire dealership and presents a huge customer service issue.  This particular customer left the dealership with a piece of mind that was not clearly communicated by the business manager.  A simple disclosure and explanation of coverage that fit the customers budget at the time could have ramped up the customers awareness of the risk and responsibility involved in the level of coverage they purchased.  This added communication could have alleviated a lot of the customer’s anger down the road especially when they get presented with a pricey repair order from the service writer. 

Is it possible the customer would never have bought the car to begin with if the Business Manager disclosed what kind of coverage they were really getting for the money?  Maybe or maybe not, the real question to ask is how many potential customers now do you think will be affected by the perception problem this Business Manager created overall?  I would argue quite a bit, probably more than we could possibly measure. 

Here are a few quick tips to keep in mind when managing similar situations:

1: Never Short Cut Your Presentation:  After a while if not careful a sales person can get caught up in a lot of assumptive traps.  If you have been in your role for a while it is easy to assume that the customer is familiar with the lingo, product and process.  What happens is the sales person is either in a hurry and wants to move on to the next deal quickly or wants to satisfy the customer’s impatience by getting them on their way quickly.  What they really end up doing is skipping very important steps along the way and quickly closing the deal.   As redundant as the process may feel on your side of the fence, remember that this may be the first time the customer on the other side may be hearing what you have to say.  So take your time and present your product in its entirety.

2: Always Balance Price with Value:  People don’t buy unless the value of the product exceeds the amount of money they will need to fork over to buy it.  Sometimes you may come across a customer that is so focused on staying within their stated budget that the entire interaction becomes all about price.  You may come to an agreement on price, however if what you’re getting is not laid out correctly the product purchased might not be what the customer is expecting when it counts.  The situation above may have been avoided if the sales person pointed out the limitations and recommended a product that both fit the customer’s budget and their piece of mind.  Sometimes that may require pushing them beyond their budget and if that is the case and the value is there they will buy it.

3: Review the Deal before Closing:  It is always wise to recap the conditions of any pending transaction and point out any holes that may affect the customer down the road.  This may open up a deeper discussion around the customer’s needs and bring the deal back to the negotiating table for added products and services in case the customers real needs were never addressed.  It’s very tempting to finish the close when you’re ready to “sign on the line that is dotted”.  Remember, the best and most successful sales people in today’s economy play more of a consulting role with their customers.  This will help your customer build trust and faith in your expertise.  If they have trust and faith in your expertise they will continue to buy even if problems occur. 

Level setting your customers’ expectation will allow you to hold your customers a little more accountable to the purchase decisions they make.  Problems that occur after the sale are never fun; however a lot of the pain can be mitigated with a few simple habits.

Happy Selling

How I Got Into Sales Part 1

HyperkidIf you were around in the early 80′s and stumbled across me as a child you would have come to the conclusion that there would have been no way someone like myself could ever succeed in life let alone a career in the field of sales.  I was a troubled child from a poor family living in a duplex in Lowell Massachusetts, my mother working as a waitress at a Howard Johnson’s and my father pumping gas while trying to complete school.  I was your typical kid; however everybody around me saw an out of control hyperactive wild child.  If psychotropic drugs came PEZ flavored my PEZ dispenser would have had a giant “R” for Ritalin while everyone else had Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck.  To make it all worse the Ritalin that I was prescribed was causing me to have a seizure disorder.  Throughout my entire childhood all the way up through high school I was misdiagnosed with epilepsy, even though looking back it was clear as day that it was caused by the medication I was taking at the time to keep me anchored.  I have no medical evidence to back this claim up; however the moment I stopped taking the Ritalin so did the seizures.  Don’t worry I’m getting to my point.  Growing up on the rough side of Lowell Massachusetts was tough in itself then you add a seizure disorder and learning/ behavioral problems to boot growing up is not exactly going to be a lot of fun.  Scholastically I was a mess, scoring in the lowest levels when it came to any math, reading comprehension or standardized testing.

In my earlier years the schools did not have a clue as to where to put me.  I remember sharing classrooms with children with Downs Syndrome and speech impediments.  That’s no hyperbole, I really did!  If you were to put all of these short comings in a big soup can and stick it on the store shelves it would be called “FAILURE IN A CAN”.  There were certain realities I needed to face about my educational abilities, I simply learned differently than other kids.  This was a fact that I did not want to accept; I spent most of my childhood and teenage years refusing to accept it and desperately trying to change it only to see myself fail time and time again.  No matter how hard I tried I couldn’t escape the behavioral and learning traits that came along with an attention deficit disorder. 

After high school I really wanted to go to college and try to make something of myself.  I wanted desperately to break the mold of who I was going into my adult years.  I had a lot of doubters around me, too many to count then again I didn’t exactly prove to anyone either that I was capable of doing anything constructive.  Again, being stubborn and rebellious I refused to accept that mold and sought to reinvent myself.  I started going to school part-time at Rivier College that first semester after high school.  I could only afford to take two classes so I did and got two “B” grades.  I took those B grades and I applied for Plymouth State College now Plymouth State University and was quickly rejected.  I guess you could say my next move would have been my first field sales call.  I took my two “B” grades got in my car and drove to Plymouth State College unannounced and forced myself into a meeting with the head of admissions.  Not sure if I could pull that off today, however surprisingly my ambition paid off somehow during our exchange I was able to pull a Jedi mind trick on the guy and convinced him to admit me as a full-time student.  I tried the best I could, however my grades were mediocre at best and my finances were becoming grimmer.  Three years into my college experience I made a decision to take a year off and pay off some bills fully intending of course to return and finish.  I did everything I could to stay in school; I even ended up having my car repossessed in the process. 

During that “year off” I was working two jobs one waiting on tables while the other working part-time at a youth detention center.  I was working out at the gym one day and a gentleman that I ran into all the time sold cars for a living at a Volvo dealership.  He always drove around in a fancy new Volvo and I thought it was great that he had a new car every other week and seemed to be making a boat load of money doing it; well it was a boat load to me at the time.  That was when I started to consider getting into car sales but I wasn’t quite sure how to do it.  So I combed the newspapers for dealerships that were looking for sales people.  It was the mid 90′s and the country was coming out of a recession so finding dealerships that were looking for sales people were fairly easy.  I was so excited to have interviews lined up, had no I idea what I would say or do but boy was I excited.  Interview after interview in my Dockers, Button Down Oxford and thin Oak-Tree tie was told thanks but no thanks. They all wanted someone with experience, I was a little disappointed to say the least. 

JobSearchWhile I was working at the local Country Club I stumbled across an ad from a Lincoln-Mercury dealership in town looking for a sales person.  At this point I was ready to just give up but I drummed up enough motivation to pick up the phone and inquire about the job.  I dialed the number and it turned out that the general manager picked up the phone.  Without missing a beat I said “I saw your ad in the paper, I have no experience and never sold cars before.  The only thing I’ve ever sold was a bottle wine.  So far nobody wants to talk to me, so I don’t want to waste your time.  Is it worth me coming in and filling out an application?”  If having the worst pitch for a job was an Olympic sport I would’ve gotten the gold-medal that day.  Something was different this time though.  The person on the other end of the phone paused for a moment and said “OK…. hmmm… Leigh you know what selling cars is no different than selling a bottle of wine or a fancy meal; it’s just on a bigger plate. Come on in!

Whoa, what just happened?  Did I just land an interview?  Yes, yes I did and here was where the roller coaster of my career began…