I 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:
A 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.
The movie Billy Madison has got to be one of my all-time favorites, scene after scene has some of the best and most memorable comedy moments. I was watching this the other day and caught the “Shampoo and Conditioner” scene. I laughed out loud not due to the silliness of Adam Sandler’s performance but to the simplicity of a potential lesson here.
How many times have you had sales people struggle to connect with their internal partners? I’m sure the answer for most of you would be “Too many to count”. Not being able to properly manage your internal partners can spill over into many areas of the business and can create a lot of managerial headaches. The common term for this is a “Silo Effect” where each department only focuses on their own objectives and needs. The reality here though is that all areas of the business need to function as a unit in order to succeed. Each department with their own objectives find themselves only willing to focus on their own world and not the overall contribution to the end result. What you get is tension, low morale and mediocre production.
This Sales vs. Service battle has been going on forever. Even with all the tools available today we still find ourselves having to manage the personalities that create these environments. Believe it or not it is an easy fix and can be easy to manage. It can also help build confidence in your individual team members that you are looking to make into future leaders. Most departments will have their own organizational structure, management and objectives. All these departments need to work together for the company’s overall success. Here are a few tips to bridge the gap between yourself and your internal teams.
- Show that you care about their success: Understand their process, learn more about the tasks they are responsible for and the skill it takes to complete those tasks. When it’s crunch time offer to help them, its all about building trust. Remember, they are your support team and the nuts and bolts of your product. If you genuinely want to be a part of their success they will want to be a part of yours.
- Share Resources and Fill Gaps: If you are helping each other stream line the process and supporting each others weak areas you will both get ahead together. It’s about building value and if your support team is a part of that your product will be that much stronger to the end user.
- Participate in each others projects: We all want to feel part of and contribute to something creative. If your project allows it involve your support team. Make them part of what ever it is you are doing well and are proud of, share in the recognition. Trust me it will go a long way.
- Build a strong external image: Depending on your industry your support team might be a customer facing partner. It’s important that your customer has a positive perception and that everyone takes ownership when problems arise. It can be real easy to play the blame game and fall back to sqare one when these problems occur. Stay positive and champion your support teams. Work together to rectify and fix any perception issues. They will appreciate it and so will your customers.
- Praise, Praise, Praise: Make sure that the efforts of your support team get noticed. Their career goals are no less lofty than yours, appreciate that and run with it. Say positive things to their boss and their peers. Again, it’s about building value and if your support team feels valued it will pay dividends.
When I walked into the dealership for my interview, I was met at the front door by one of the senior sales people. He seemed mildly interested in me as a potential customer, but I could tell, as he eyed my Dockers and skinny tie, that it was pretty obvious to him that I was not going to be his big sale of the day. The store was your stereotypical old school Lincoln Mercury dealership. Its 1960’s style showroom with wood paneled walls housed a few other sales veterans standing at the entrance dressed like they were getting ready to audition for WKRP in Cincinnati. I told the salesman who greeted me that I was there for an interview with the general manager. He immediately turned around and yelled across the showroom to the two other salesmen sitting at their desks, “He doesn’t count!” and then disappeared into the back office. I felt awkward, like a lost dog, standing in the middle of the showroom not sure which way was home.
Finally a friendly face came out and said hello. I told her who I was and she then walked me over to the General Managers office. I stood at the door as he proceeded to finish his phone conversation or, better yet, his grinding session with a local advertiser for some print ad mistake. He got up immediately shook my hand and closed the door. He did not waste a single moment. He looked me in the eyes and got right into the interview. He talked about how much he loved the car business and everything that went along with it. He talked about all kinds of things about the business including his desire and intention to own the dealership one day. He talked about the thrill of closing a deal and, of course, the financial rewards that can follow. He assured me that succeeding in this business would be all up to me. This was exactly the kind of passion I wanted in a job. I kept thinking to myself about how great it would be to get that excited when talking about what I did for a living. I didn’t have that for anything in my life. Throughout the interview I didn’t really get to talk very much and thank god I didn’t because this guy was on a roll and I certainly didn’t need to blow another interview for myself. Despite the chaos of sales people coming in and out looking for his help on deals, we finished the conversation and the deal was done. Yours truly was going to test his metal and learn to sell some cars.
First day as a Sales Consultant:
It was a Monday morning, I showed up at the store at 8:15am gearing up for the weekly sales meeting. I’m sure anyone can relate to this feeling, it was one of those moments in my life where I felt the most vulnerable; uncertain as to how everything would work itself out. The idea of the auto industry defining who I would become and the path my career would take was so far out of mind I might as well have gone through the day with a blind fold on. There were two other guys starting with me so at least I was not the only new kid on the block. I was one of 7 sales people, 6 of which had been in the business so long you would think they were around slinging cars the day the earth cooled.
We all piled into this tiny conference room around a rectangle table covered in donut dust and half used pink and blue sugar packets. The room felt as old as the stained and worn out white board on the wall next to the door. I looked around the table feeling like the odd duck because everyone around the table wore a sport coat except for me. I had to wear the same outfit I wore 3 days prior in my interview. I had nothing else to wear and couldn’t afford to buy any clothes because I blew all my money buying the $50 1979 Toyota Corolla that drove me to my interview. 8:30am on the nose the GM walked in the room, stood in front of everyone and said “Good morning everyone!” The staff returned the salutation in an unmotivated tone. He paused for a second and glanced around the room clearly annoyed at the lack of enthusiasm. He turned and started to write on the board, he wrote in big letters “Customer Service = More Sales“. He began to tell a story about how he lost 3 potential sales in one day because he was so concerned about the next deal walking through the door that he would lose focus on the deal he had in front of him. He talked about how he was so concerned about the next “up” that he would skip steps in the sales process. Half way through telling the story he stopped, turned to the door, opened it, stuck his head out, looked both ways and shut the door again. Then he pointed right to me and said in one of those sarcastic locker room tones “Leigh! What was the best blow job you ever had??” I was stunned; everyone in the room was looking at me as to how I was going to answer this crazy question. If you’ve ever seen a horror movie when the camera zooms in on the character and everything behind the character zooms out, that is exactly what it felt like.
So what did I do? If you can believe it, I actually took him seriously. I sat there and thought about it. I wondered was it her? Oh no, maybe it was her?. Finally, the GM stopped me mid-contemplation and yelled “The one you’re having right now!!!” This may sound crazy and some of you may be thinking, wow! How unprofessional and you would be right. However, that was when I really got it. Not only did I get it, I got it on day one of my adventure into the world of automotive sales. You can’t think about a past or a future sale. The best sale you’ve ever had is always the one that is right in front of you. Honestly, I don’t think I would have gotten it any other way.
The purpose of that meeting was to get everyone to understand that the customer experience needed to be enhanced and if you are to succeed among your competition it is your responsibility to make that happen. I walked out of that meeting not knowing how to sell a car yet, but I did know that I would embrace every customer interaction as if they were the only one on earth. It would never matter how fruitful the next opportunity appeared. Each customer was the only customer. That level of service resonates with the customer. It guarantees more success; whether you close the deal or not. This has proved itself to me time and time again. This one lesson of service became the cornerstone of my career. Now, I don’t encourage using that analogy in today’s overly sensitive, politically correct world, however the moral of the story speaks volumes as to what kind of sales professional I would be in the years to come.
If 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.
While 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…
I have many pet peeves and the one pet peeve that sticks out the most is around preparation. I see this too often, sales people getting too comfortable with their assigned markets and making assumptions when it comes to putting together meeting content. They make the assumption that their relationships are so fantastic, they know exactly what that customer needs or doesn’t need for that matter. They have their pre-call plan excluding half their products that end up sitting in the trunk of their car still wrapped in plastic. It’s a costly trap making assumptions around your customers needs. I don’t care how good you think you are or how long you have been doing this you will never really know how many opportunities can present themselves during that meeting. You’re not a mind reader and the business climate is always changing along with your clients’ needs.
Here is how it usually goes; all of a sudden you see that hook, that golden ticket to move the business and you have to run to your car like an amature trying to organize material that if you were prepared would have already had it with you and ready to go. Don’t look like an amature, be prepared, have all your materials to maintain a good flow of the sales process.
Think of your job aids like a firearm, “It’s better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it.”
I’ve been very active in combat sports in one form or another for almost 30 years, specifically Wrestling, Judo/Jiu-Jitsu and Kick Boxing. Like sales all these sports require learned and continuous practice of a myriad of specific skills. When I was younger I wanted to learn it all and quickly. I would watch video after video go to seminar after seminar and see myself with the same mediocre results over and over again. I would take a lot of different skills and try to squeeze it all in a 2 hour practice and nothing would stick. When it came to competition everything went out the window because I was trying to focus on too much at once and I did not give myself any opportunity to really master any one skill.
My wrestling coach in High School pulled me aside one day in the middle of practice and asked me a question that has stuck with me my entire life. “Leigh!! Who do you want to be?” He said “A jack of all trades and master of none or do you want to master a few trades and jack’em all, your choice!” He finished as he walked away to tend to my other team mates. It took a while for that one question to really sink in. When I was a teenager my wrestling hero was a 6 time world champion and Olympic gold medalist by the name of John Smith. He had a single leg take down that was so solid the opposition would watch videos over and over again to look for weaknesses but very rarely could come up with a strategy to stop it. It was a single leg take down, the one you learn your first day the most basic of all the wrestling skills, he mastered it to a gold medal.
What does this have to do with sales and moving the business? Plenty, companies spend so much time and money to provide their field people with different selling skills and products that can be applied in the field. They spend millions of dollars filling our heads with corny acronyms and a multitude of selling strategies to get those products to market. Are they making the same mistakes or are you? Are you trying to be a jack of all trades and getting lost in the transaction only to lose the sale for lack of focus or too much focus on too many things? The three “It” strategy is just some silly easy to remember way to develop skills that today has accumulated into a very successful career for me personally. It helped me and I hope it can help you, so here we go.
1: Pick It: Hopefully you have a product line and selling strategy that you believe in and are willing to commit to it because if you don’t this will not work. Remember, whatever you decide to focus on, you own it. You need to commit to yourself that you will not only pick it but stick with it because you will make a lot of mistakes along the way. Giving up and setting it to the side and never picking it up again will be easy especially if it takes longer than most to master it. No matter what, stay committed!
2: Practice It: Reach out to your peers, role play. If you have been doing this for a while you probably have a good idea of the kind of objections you will face. If not ask your most experienced peers to give you a lot of push back in the role play. Write those objections down and think to yourself as to how you will answer to them while building value and providing a meaningful need for your product. Remember, it’s about sticking to your strategy until you get it right. It will feel awkward not to change course in the conversation, fight that urge, if need be start over again.
4: Master It: Winston Churchill once said that “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” When adding a new skill don’t expect every attempt you make to be perfect because it never is. It’s never “All or nothing” you have nothing to lose and everything to gain when you succeed. The end result here is to hard-wire a new behavior, you must push yourself and make it part of your routine, keep moving forward no matter how many times it flops. Keep tabs on your mistakes, take the time to evaluate them and continue to fine tune your approach. You will master it.
5: Repeat: The more you do it the easier it becomes and then it becomes part of you. Never let it go, once you are comfortable move on to the next one. Eventually you’ll have a tool box of some iron clad skills to make you a success in the field.