You’re approaching another quarter-end and your customer retention numbers seem to be headed in the wrong direction. You look around and come up with some quick explanations as to why you’re losing customers. The economy, your competitor that’s selling on price, Obamacare, and lack of sophisticated systems round out the top of your list of excuses. Hey, I get it. Those are the easy ones to point to. The excuses that you can’t control and those that make the blame game so much more tolerable. But if you really want to know why you’re losing your customers start by doing the following:
1. Ask a few that have already left. It always strikes me how apprehensive business people are to follow up with a former customer to inquire as to why they left. Doing this provides an opportunity to reopen the door and establish some goodwill in the form of listening to what’s important to them.
2. Walk the floors. Many executives still hide behind their glass or wood doors. They isolate themselves from reality claiming to work on the “important stuff” as they develop strategies to grow the business. The problem is that many executives don’t know what the issues are and therefore will never be able to develop an effective business strategy. The challenges and opportunities of your business are well known to the “rank and file” employees – the ones interacting directly with your customers. Talk to them and ask them what’s going on.
3. Get in the field. Another tactical initiative that is required to build effective strategies. Meet your customers, your suppliers, referral sources, and partners. Get involved, ask lots of questions. Focus on THEM. Listen. Forget show and tell. It’s not about you.
4. Establish a customer advisory council. Put together a council consisting of existing customers of different industries and sizes. Create a charter that tasks the council with identifying problem areas and possible opportunities. Bring the council together twice a year if possible and two other times during the year by phone. Listen.
The fact is that it’s probably an obvious reason why you’re losing customers. For most businesses and their leaders they just don’t want to listen. It’s easier to blame characteristics that are uncontrollable. But those leaders that roll up their sleeves, get in the trenches, and ask the tough questions are those leaders that have the best chance of reversing poor customer retention numbers.
Another meeting? Most days start with meetings and end with meetings. We spend our days running from one to another, whether in person or via the infamous conference call. Some companies can’t operate without having a meeting to discuss even the smallest of decisions or topics, while others work hard to minimize the number of meetings they schedule. It’s not that meetings are bad, it’s just that most of them are an ineffective use of time. Little is accomplished during these meetings other than wasting the time spent being in the meeting itself, as well as the time spent preparing for that meeting.
So how can you increase your level of meeting effectiveness?
Here are 5 things you should do before scheduling a meeting:
1. Create and include a clear meeting objective. Provide a brief summary of the purpose of the meeting. Be sure to state whether this meeting is meant to inform, solicit feedback, or make a decision.
2. Invite the right people. The key word here is “right”. Don’t get caught up inviting the entire company to make sure you’ve CYA’d yourself. Have the right people there. The type of meeting you have set will determine who you should invite.
3. Be clear on your time. If you need an hour then schedule an hour. If you believe that your topic may go over an hour then plan accordingly. People hate to attend meetings that consistently run over. You don’t want to create the perception that you’re a poor planner.
4. Provide materials in advance. Many people feel that meetings should be somewhat of a surprise. I can’t stand that approach. Time is valuable for everyone. Why wait until the meeting to drop a 20 page deck on people. Give them time to read through it and absorb it. Having the ability to formulate questions, thoughts, and opinions prior to the meeting is key to running an effective meeting.
5. Schedule critical meetings during the day before 4 pm. The fact is that human nature is such that most people find getting invited to a meeting that starts at 4 pm to be annoying. Hey I know you have to be in the office until 6 pm anyway but still in all, people look to the end of their day to wrap up items that were opened during the day. Many 4 pm meetings become nothing more than place holders to reschedule another meeting when people are prepared, ready, and engaged.
Try taking these 5 actions before scheduling your next meeting and see how much smoother your meeting runs.
Everyone wants to fit in. To be a part of the crowd. Some people go to extremes to remain invisible whether at school, the office, the gym, or anywhere else in pubic. Blending in is part of our culture. Why do you think brand names like Nike, Levi’s, Coke, Asics, Hollister, and Target are so valuable? They represent the main stream. Sure they offer quality and value but they also offer a strong emotional connection to safety. I’m safe if someone sees me wearing Nike, shopping at Target, or buying a Diet Coke.
But success doesn’t come to those who play it safe. Success isn’t for the faint of heart, or those who want to be part of the crowd. No. Success usually comes to those willing to take chances, to challenge the norms of society, to stand out and be remarkable.
Are you remarkable? Do you stand out at work or are you one of the crowd? Do your co-workers look at you as a thought leader? A progressive thinker? Or are you one of the many doers that get things done but not the one “cutting the edge?” Do you invest in building your personal brand? Are you working to create awareness around your ideas and opinions or are you silent, laying back, waiting for the next set of directions to come your way?
History is a great teacher of the correlation between remarkable and success. Thomas Jefferson, Steve Jobs, Donald Trump, and The Beatles all were remarkable for their time. Dimon, Reagan, Lincoln, and Gates made bold decisions, often unpopular, but remarkable in ways that led to great discoveries, financial stability, and peace through power.
We all have the ability to be remarkable. We may not all be Thomas Edison’s or Michael Dell’s but we each possess unique characteristics that if amplified make us remarkable. A great sense of humor, the ability to provide calm during turbulent times, or being able to rally people together for a common cause can be remarkable characteristics. What makes you remarkable?
A common question from sales professionals centers around how long a prospect is kept active in the pipeline. There are several views on this topic and of course I have my own opinion. But before I share my view let’s look at the 3 major philosophies on keeping a prospect active.
- Always. Until they buy a prospect is always a prospect and you never give up trying to convert them. You continue to call on them until, by the sure will of your persistence or their exhaustion, they give you the sale.
- At the first “no”. Once the prospect says no, move on. Eliminate them from your call list. Forget about them. They don’t know what they’re doing. They’ll come back to me later down the line.
- Only until I have confirmed the following: they have a need for my solution, it’s currently an unmet need, it’s currently a met need but I can improve, they’ve engaged me in a professional manner, they’ve asked enough questions that I know they’re considering a change, they’ve brought others into our discussions, for whatever reason the timing isn’t right.
I do not believe in #1 or #2 above. The first philosophy is what I call “old school” sales. Keep at ’em. Ware ’em down. Go for the close. Often times the prospects that fit into this category and ultimately buy from you won’t last. They will either cancel the order before it’s fulfilled or change back to their original provider at a later time when they feel they’ve achieved a safe distance from you. Focus on establishing the value of your solution with the prospect. That means that you’ve done enough work to either identify this prospect as a viable candidate for your product or recognized that they’re not a fit. Great sales people are not just good closers but they are good assessors. They don’t waste their time on chasing ghost deals. They know that time is their most valuable resource and they use it in ways that help them achieve “effective success”.
At the opposite end of the spectrum from #1 is the “no” response followed immediately by a run for the hills. Remember Tommy Boy? We’re not gonna take no for an answer. “NO!”. “Okey Dokey”. This philosophy is just as ineffective as the prior one. Just because you’ve heard no doesn’t mean move on. Of course knowing whether or not moving on is the right approach depends on how well you’ve read the situation. Is it no for today, tomorrow, or no for forever? How can you tell? Did you present your value proposal and get buy in along the way only to be shut down when it came to price? What was the reason for the no? Did you ask at the front end of your presentation to be given a reason for any no you received during the presentation?
The best choice is #3. If you’ve spent time with the prospect and used that time to understand their needs and have taken an honest approach to aligning your product to their need then even if you get a no you’re in a good place to understand that no is not forever. You’ve identified the need, you know your product can meet that need, and you know a number of different value items associated with your product that will benefit the prospect. So if it’s no, follow-up. Get their agreement as to when your next check in will be. “I understand you’d like to stay put right now. I also know we both recognized and agreed that this ABCD will help you improve your XY and Z. I’m going to follow-up with you next quarter to see how timing may have changed to help facilitate this change.”
In summary, don’t keep a prospect a prospect just for the sake of old school thinking. Trying to force a sale or impose your will on another doesn’t work. If it does it’s short lived and ultimately you’ll lose the customer anyway. If that happens you’ve actually done damage to your company’s brand and profitability as it costs money to acquire a new client and fulfill them. Whether they stay 3 days, 30 days, or 300 days, if they aren’t on the books long enough to get to your break even you’ve lost.
I love Sales. I love positioning a valuable solution in a way that meets a prospects needs and improves their way of life. Whether the solution saves time, money, mistakes, legal action, or helps to improve employee morale, or puts more time back in the owners schedule to spend with their families or friends, I love the art of the sale. Over the years I have gone on hundreds if not thousands of sales calls with sales representatives, managers, and even other sales executives and have observed some pretty wild situations. I’ve seen sales representatives doing double duty as they attempted to sell a product from their personal business while on a sales call for the company they were employed by to a phone call I received alerting me of a situation where a sales representative ran into some trouble with The Law!
I have to believe that these crazy situations I’ve seen over the last 20 years are not exclusive to the Sales profession however it does make me think. Perhaps it’s no wonder that people in general see most sales folks as sketchy or even a little shady. Why is that? Well, I’ve compiled a list of my favorite things – I say this tongue in cheek – that I have seen sales people do over the years in selling situations. This type of behavior only perpetuates some of the attitudes and perceptions folks have of sales people. If only ALL Sales people STOP doing these things immediately. Check them out:
My Top 10 List of Things Sales People Should STOP Doing During a Sales Call:
10. Flipping your hair during a sales call – this isn’t a photo shoot…or is it?
9. Putting sun glasses on your head during a sales call – you’re not a movie star – if you’re not going to wear them put them away!
8. Saying “trust me” – if you earned it you wouldn’t have to say it!
7. Wearing crooked or snagged neckwear (ties). Rough night? I’m a mess!
6. Wearing clothing that doesn’t fit properly – this isn’t a site seeing expedition – too loose, too tight, too open, goodness gracious have some pride!
5.Immediately pulling out your favorite brochure – Hurray it’s show-and-tell time! Everyone sit on the floor and pay attention, I’m about to WOW you!
4. Degrading your competition. You know, I don’t like to say anything bad but they suck, not to mention all their employees have priors!
3. Not turning your phone off when in a meeting. Hang on, this is probably the Pres! You have no idea of how important I am.
2. Not knowing how much business the customer you’re visiting has given you already. So what products do you have with us? Um, I forgot…
1. Showing up late or just in the nick of time. The traffic was horrible, the sun was too bright, the clouds impaired my vision, I lost power last night, my electric toothbrush wasn’t charged, I just didn’t feel like going out.