Sunday, November 27, 2005

Closing Time

While visiting my son in Chicago, I went to a Cingular wireless store in his neighborhood to get some help with his phone. The store I walked into was closing in 5 minutes. I was welcomed into the store like a long lost friend. I explained what I needed (which took a lot of ingenuity and patience) The customer service representative was amazing. He figured out how to fix the problem. This was NOT a quick fix at all. He needed to remove a sim card from his telephone and put it my son’s phone and then switch it back again. This took a few switches to get it right. All the time he was smiling and chatting. It was now 15 minutes after closing and I was feeling guilty. After all I hadn’t bought my phone from this store, nor was it likely that I would in the future. When I said “Thanks, but I can see I am keeping you from closing up and going home.” He let me know that closing time was when everyone in the store had their issues resolved. WOW!!! And he meant it! We stayed there for at least 30 minutes past closing time. And I wasn’t the only customer still there. His manager was setting up an account for another customer. Again, he was smiling and perfectly happy to be helping his customer. So what impact did that have on me and how I viewed Cingular? Simply put it made me want to buy from this store specifically, but it had a more global impact. It made me glad that I was a Cingular customer (not something that I always feel.)

Two days ago I had a very different experience. I went into a store that was part of a chain. It was 6:57 and the store closed at 7:00.There were four other customers in line. I was greeted with “We are closed now! You have to leave!” “WHAT???” I thought. I still have 3 minutes time left. The manager explained that when they were through “dealing” with the customers that were already in que that it would put them PAST their closing time. So even though the store was “technically” still open, the existing customers would make it so an additional customer would throw them past the time they could go home.

Was this a reasonable rule? Perhaps, it would be considered reasonable if you were an employee-centric business. I am not sure however you can grow a business being employee-centric in THIS manner. As a customer I would be more understanding if you said to me; “I am so sorry, my kid is sick and I have to get home to take care of him.” Then I have the choice of being generous and saying “no problem.” But telling me to leave was simply enforcing a rule for rules sake. It said to me that as your customer I have no value. Believe me I left there with the intention of NEVER coming back!

Walking into a business a few minutes before closing time will give you great insight into how much you are valued as a customer and a human being.

But of course you know I am going to challenge you to look at the messages you give your customers. How do you act when your customers come in at the last minute? If you want to keep them coming back and telling their friends and family about you, you need to welcome your customers whenever they arrive at your business.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Know to Grow Your Income

It is getting harder and harder to stand out from the crowd. What can you do so that customers know you, choose you and recommend you? However to make a quantum leap in your income you need to have satisfied customers referring you. Focusing on the following three points will help you become more successful.

Know Yourself
To powerfully communicate the benefits of choosing you over others you really need to know yourself and learn how to communicate what makes you unique in a few succinct phrases.

Begin by taking one of the many personality tests that are readily available, such as: DISC, Keirsey Temperment Sorter, or Myers-Briggs, among others. You can find these easily by doing a search on the internet. These tests can give you great insight into your strengths and weaknesses. They help you understand your core values and personality type. Understanding who you are may help you distinguish yourself from the competition and can be the foundation for communicating your unique value and your personal brand.

Your personal brand or image is a combination of your passions, strengths, skills and traits. Spend some time getting to know your self:

· Write a list of your personal passions. What do you love doing? (Is it interior design, teaching, art, music, golfing, football, reading, travel? Don’t worry about whether or not it is work related.)

· What are your skills and talents? (Are you perceptive, spontaneous, theatrical, detail-oriented, organized, do you speak other languages? Again, don’t limit these to your work).

· Write a list of your personal traits. (Perhaps you are punctual, or a “people person”. Are you optimistic, open minded, curious, determined, spiritual, or team oriented?)

Look at your list from your customer’s point of view. Which of these qualities that you have identified would be valuable to your customer? Take those items and use them to help you create a few concise sentences explaining your unique value to your customers.

Use this knowledge to also help you find a niche market‑‑ something you really love. Once you find your niche, become an expert in that area. That doesn’t mean that you can’t sell outside of your niche. However, the more expertise you gain, the more likely you are to become well known in your field. It is not uncommon for other customers even competitors, to say “Oh, you need Joe. He knows everything about new construction.” These personal recommendations can be the most inexpensive and effective marketing tools.

Know Your Customer

To be able to truly meet and exceed a customer’s needs and wants you have to know that customer. In your effort to gain this knowledge you need to gather information. The more you know the more you can meet your customer’s needs, both stated and unstated.

Start broadly and then get more specific.

Then, start to narrow your research. Learn about the community in which you sell. Become involved in community events. Pitch in, support and help your community grow, while learning about its unique qualities. These activities not only help you learn about the community, they bolster your image as a valuable member. People like to do business with helpful people they know and with whom they can identify.

After you understand the broad information about your customers and their communities, you need to listen to what they say. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? Customers often complain about feeling the consultant didn’t listen carefully to their requests or needs. Listening is an art. It goes beyond the obvious. Customers aren’t always great at communicating clearly; they sometimes don’t even know what they really want or need. You need to listen with all your senses in order to unearth and translate their true needs and wants. It isn’t sufficient to just hear the words your customers say. You need to watch body language, be sensitive to tone of voice and try to interpret their sometimes vague descriptions. By asking carefully constructed questions you can actually help the customer better understand his or her needs.

Know Your Team

Customers are becoming more and more demanding. You need a team that meets these ever increasing demands. Customers expect you to recommend the RIGHT person for their needs. These people must not only match your personal brand/image (they are in effect representing you), they also must have unique qualities that meet the needs of your customer. I know of one Realtor who has three mortgage brokers he trusts and recommends. He has a “three piece suit guy,” he has a HOG (Harley owners group) and a dynamic woman. He mixes and matches the team member to the specific customer. This is done so that each customer can feel totally comfortable. You should also have a trusted team of insurance providers, painters, plumbers, and stagers to call on. Basically, the more one-stop you can be for your customers the happier they will be. Spend time with each of these people. Ask questions. Get recommendations. Do research and background checks.

Be sure to spend time each day learning more about these three keys to success. They are the most powerful way to be a consultant that others want to do business with and refer to their friends and family. Remember you need to Know to Grow Your Income!

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Perfect Customer Service

This morning I went into my local Kinko's to pick up an order that I had placed earlier that day. The store was pretty busy. A cashier was directly in front of me, setting up the till. As she was counting out the money I asked her if "I should come back later?" She snapped at me "I am doing the best I can!" as she walked over to another customer.

Perhaps you are thinking "Laurie, you are calling THIS 'perfect customer service'? Boy, you must be easily amused." Actually the story goes on...Even though I was taken aback I waited patiently for her to return. When she did I said "I am really sorry, I wasn't trying to push you, I really wanted to know if I should come back later." Her face softened and she replied" I am so sorry. I shouldn't have taken it out on you. I am frustrated that there were not enough people scheduled for work."

Again, you might think "Laurie, an apology does not make "perfect customer service". Well you are right--so far it wasn't perfect but how she handled the rest of the transaction made it perfect.
She rang me up and took my money. But I realized she charged me less that my bill stated. "Um, excuse me" I said " You undercharged me." Her answer delighted me. "Oh, I gave you the rude salesperson rate!"

She managed to turn a very unhappy situation to a great one. She had followed the simple rules for customer service and then some!
1. Apologize with empathy
2. Take care of the problem
3. Symbolic atonement
4. Be light hearted

It is so interesting that a bad experience can turn around so quickly into a great experience. I have been telling everyone (including you) about how great Kinkos is.

Think about the last time you created a problem for your customer. What could you have done to make it better and in fact make it "PERFECT"? Try to think on your feet the next time and turn it around.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Three times a charm

Recently I received three thank-you's for a relatively inexpensive product I purchased from a website. Now perhaps you are thinking that three thank-you's are a bit of overkill for purchasing a $29.95 item. Not at all. Each thank-you was different. And each thank-you had a different impact.

The first thank-you was an auto-response email. That thank-you let me know that my payment was received. Although it was impersonal (as all auto responders are) I felt safe in knowing that the site got my order. Then awhile later I received a personal email from the person I purchased this CD from, Joan Stewart, The Publicity Hound. This thank-you was more personal and I felt that she appreciated my purchase. It allowed me to fell more connected to her. But it was the third thank-you that really made an indelible impression on my heart and mind. When I received the CD that I had ordered there was a hand written note on her stationary. It said "Laurie, Thanks for your order. Have fun submitting articles! Joan" Great note, but the best part was at the top of this note. Her cartoon mascot the "Publicity Hound" had a cartoon balloon that read "Hi Laurie" coming from the mascot's mouth.

This note was fun. But the other great thing about the note is that it had Joan's contact information. Address, fax, phone, email and website ( This meant that I would be able to call her or reorder without a lot of problems trying to find her.
I asked Joan about her process and how much time and money it cost her to do her thanks. Needless to say it cost her very little time and even less money. Even so she has found this extra effort has been noticed by her customers. Who, partially because of these efforts have become loyal, repeat customers.

Now this is not an advertisement for Joan, but I must tell you more about her. She is the perfect example of what I have talked about in these blogs. A great combination of generosity and gratitude. She has an email newsletter that she sends out that is jam packed with great free publicity tips. She often speaks for free to members of her organizations and she has great products.

Think about your own thank yous. Do you even thank your customers once? Do you take the time to hand write a personal note? Whether your customer buys a $50,000 car or a $30 CD they deserve to be thanked. I believe that a simple verbal "thanks" is not enough anymore. There is too many places to buy our products and services. We must set ourselves apart by the simple yet extraordinary acts of gratitude and generosity.

So write at least three thank-you's today to your customers, whether they have purchased from you recently or not. Oh and by the way when you do thank them, make sure your contact info is on the card or note.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

The Price Game

Ask yourself a question. What business are you loyal to and why? When I have asked this simple question to thousands of my students, I hear statements like: "They remember my name", "They listen". "They know what I want and need", "They go the extra mile". Not a single person has said "They had the lowest price!" Amazing isn't it?

It would seem from this informal survey that the key to loyal and repeat customers who recommend you to their friends and family is NOT the lowest price. Why as sales people do we spend so much energy in the "lowest price" game? Because that is what it is...A game. The customer comes in and says "Give me your lowest price!" And if you fall into their gameplan they have derailed you from your real job which is to build value.

Think about it...If you offer the "lowest price" isn't there somebody somewhere that can offer a LOWER price? Probably. And there is no way to win with a price shopper. They will leave you the minute that someone else offers a lower price. Customers play the price game because they don't want to feel stupid.

So start building value in your business, in your product and most importantly in doing business with you. Find out what your customer needs. Really listen to them. They don't need the lowest price! They do need a fair price!

Show them what they get when they buy "you". What services are you able to provide that sets you apart? Give them the kind of service that they can brag to their friends about: "My sales consultant makes my service appointments for me! I don't ever have wait for the service advisor to get to me!" My sales consultant set up my TV for me without an extra charge!" "My insurance sales consultant remembers my birthday with a hand written card."

And remember everyone loses when you play the price game. Everyone wins when you build value!

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Managing Expectations

Everyone talks about exceeding your customers expectations. It is true. It is no longer good enough to just meet their expectations, you DO have to exceed their expectations to succeed. Today's customer is very well educated and demanding. The internet has opened up a whole world of possibilities. They want high quality, exceptional service and low low prices. I am reminded of a sign I once read at a printers office... "Fast, cheap, good..Pick two." However customers don't want to just "pick two", they want the whole enchilada!

There is a simple way to exceed your customers expectations most of the time. And that is to manage those expectations. Be in control. To put it simply, it is like competing in a race, AFTER you decide where the finish line should be.

Often times you don't know what their expectations are. It is almost impossible for you to win without this knowledge. If you help to establish the expectations you are far more likely to impress your customer.

Last week I was looking for some real estate in Chicago for my son. On Sunday I called a realtor. He told me he was at an open house, but would be back to his office later that afternoon and would email me some listings. He never sent me any emails that night and he didn't call me back until the next day. Clearly he set up an expectation that he didn't meet. Now the interesting part of this story is that I had no expectation about when he would get back to me BEFORE he set one in my head. At best since I was calling on a Sunday I assumed that he wouldn't get back to me before the next day. But he set an expectation in my head and he didn't follow through. He would have done better by saying " I will email you the listings tomorrow" and then email them to me that night. He would have set up my expectation and then exceeded it.

My orthopedic surgeon, when looking at the xray of my broken ankle, told me that this was a "good" break and there was no damage to the ligaments and that when the bone healed there would be no other problems. Imagine my surprise to still be limping four months later. He didn't manage my expectations well. If he had said "It looks like a simple break, but only time will tell how fast you get better" I would have been less unhappy with the outcome.

Think about what you promise your customer. Are you sure you can fulfill that promise? If not DON'T make it. Give yourself some wiggle room, give yourself some ability to "under promise and over deliver." Set your customers expectations so that you can always exceed them.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

The Grump Factor

You are sitting at your desk, reading your email and open the latest missive from your boss. Once again the bonehead has come up with a new direction for your company. You clear your throat and ask the person next to you "Have you seen what the idiot has sent us now?." In the cafeteria you sit with your co-workers grossing about how stupid this company is. But this doesn't just happen today. Everyday you find yourself at odds with the management. And while you have always been a "good soldier" and done exactly what was asked of you, you can't help but let your feelings be known.

Or perhaps you are the more silent type. Sighing, rolling your eyes, and simply showing through your body language that you are greatly put upon.

You might think that if you are really good at your job, and you do everything that has been asked of you that you will remain, in the eyes of your employer, a valuable member of the team.

However, in these times of cutbacks, more and more employers are considering the "grump factor." Simply put, the grump factor is a measure of how difficult it is to deal with an employee. How grumpy you are.

Recently a Fortune 500 company had to make a 20% cut in their workforce. The management chose the people that were going to be laid off. Every single employee was a hard worker, in fact some off them were the best at what they did. Each employee tried to figure out why THEY were chosen? What was the reason that the more incompetent employees were left standing while they were let go? Was it that they earned more money? Was it a personal vendetta against them? Was it sexism or ageism? Each employee failed to look at where the blame lay. Which was at their own feet. In a discussion with the management they stated that they used the "grump factor." Employees that had a bad attitude were considered expendable.

Obviously when it comes time to downsize many factors are considered. But more and more employers want to work with people who are easy to deal with. Employees who love what they do, and show others that they love it. I am not talking about a saccharine sweet phony attitude, I mean a sincere joy.

When Barbara Walters is asked by young people "What do I have to do to get ahead?"
She tells them "Don't complain, don't whine. Just make yourself so good that they cannot let you go. And don't be afraid to get the coffee if they ask you to get the coffee."

Not sure if you're being perceived as a grump, take this simple test.

Do you find yourself very easily identifying problems with your company and/or co workers?
Do you share that information with others? (including family, friends , co-workers)
Do you discount possible solutions as unworkable?
Is your criticism a validation of your over all perspective?
Do you often hear others with similar complaints?
Do you lend a willing ear to their complaints?
Do you sigh, roll your eyes or otherwise display your negative feelings using body language or tone of voice?
Are your creating less because of your displeasure?
Are you late to work or meetings?
Do you resent helping others finish their work?
Are you waiting for a change to happen?
Has anyone pointed out your negative behavior?
Do you have "good reasons" to be unhappy at work?

If you answered yes to more than 3 of these questions you may be a grump. I can guarantee that you will limit your growth unless you work on turning your attitude around.

Today, look at the three things you like best about your job. Try and focus on the good. Let others see and hear your positive comments. Start turning it around today.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Reject their Rejection

I just had a conversation with a friend of mine who owns a very successful business. He was hoping to expand his workforce so he placed an ad in one of those online job listings. He said that he was getting one resume about every 10 minutes. He said that about half of them were qualified for the job. He then said "I am turning them all down." I was shocked. I knew he needed to expand his sales force. He just got through saying fully half of them met his expectations. Yet he was rejecting ALL of them. "Why?" I asked. "I want to see if they continue to pursue the work." " But you just told them that you were rejecting them." "I want them to reject my rejection! If they take 'no' for an answer, without some sort of followup they are not going to be the kind of sales force I need."

Are you accepting "no" from your customers? Or are you rejecting their rejection? Are you following up to find if there is any other information that you could provide them that might change their mind.

Now mind you, I am not advocating stalking your customer until they finally say "YES!" That would be a bit creepy.

But, if you really feel that you have a product or service that meets their needs why not take it a step further. Without being pushy, ask if they need anymore information about you or your product or service.

Reject their rejecting and see what happens! Let me know!

Monday, March 14, 2005

Gratitude, the gift that keeps on giving

Last night I was watching Boston Legal, and at the end of the show an announcer said "thanks for watching ABC" I was floored! Now maybe all television shows thank you for watching them, but I don't think so. But as I thought about it, they all should be thanking us. We are the reason they get to go to work everyday and we have a LOT of choices what to watch these days.

Last week an automotive sales consultant in my class said that he always thanks his customers for coming in. I didn't get the sense that this was a perfunctory "thanks", but rather a sincere expression of gratitude. And when you think about it we all should be grateful for our customers.

Gratitude is the gift that keeps on giving. Think about a time when you did something nice for someone and they didn't say "thanks!" You didn't need them to say thanks in order for you to feel like you did a good deed. You know that what you did was kind or thoughtful. You needed the thanks to know that they "got it." But the loser was really the person who didn't say thanks. It meant that for what ever reason they were not able to really get the fact that someone did something nice. Gratitude feeds us by allowing us to see the good around us. The more we can express gratitude, the more we are able to notice the good and then feed off it.

Your customer might liked to be thanked for coming in. In fact I am sure they would. But do you think that you also might treat a person differently if you felt grateful to them? I know I would.

And wouldn't your day feel better if you spent a few minutes in the morning thinking of ten things you are grateful for. Wouldn't that change your attitude?

I am grateful that you have taken time to read this blog. Let me know what you are grateful for!

Monday, March 07, 2005

Give to Get Back

I just read an article about Miuccia Prada, the men's clothing designer in the March issue of GQ. She said "Everybody wants love for themselves. I hear this all the time from the women I work with. I hear them say "I want, I want", I never hear them saying what they want to give." Now you might be thinking, great Laurie, I thought this was a sales blog, how does a fashion designer talking about women's love lives have to do with me and selling? Good question. Well, in the 18 years I have been training sales consultants I generally hear" I want more sales, I want more customers" and like Ms Prada I rarely hear what the salespeople want to give.

The more we think about what we have to offer, our value proposition, the more successful we will be. What sets you apart? What are you willing to do to make your customers life better or easier? What are you willing to give your customer. This giving can and should take the form of community involvement, volunteer work or just plain going the proverbial "extra mile" for your customer.

Customers are egotists (as we all are) and they want to know "what's in it for them?" Your job is to let them know what you are willing to give. It could be your time, your expertise, your understanding of their unique needs and wants.

So the next time you encounter your customer think to yourself "what am I going to GIVE this customer", "NOT what do I want from them?" Let me know if it makes a difference!

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Selling tips

I woke up this morning and started thinking about selling. The fact is we are always selling. We sell our ideas to our bosses or coworkers. We sell products and services to consumers. We sell ourselves to our loved ones. But most of us sell backwards. We sell our products, ideas or ourselves without knowing, or maybe even worse, caring about, what our customer, coworker, boss or loved one needs. Egocentric selling is only going to be successful some of the time.

The most important aspect to selling is to know your customer. Sounds simple doesn't it? But how much time do you spend learning about your customer BEFORE you start selling them? When you give a presentation do you interview members of your audience? When you start to sell someone a product or service have you taken the time to really understand their needs and wants? Do you understand their pain. If you can remove their "pain" the chances of a successful sales grows exponentially.

So how do you find their pain? By asking questions and listening carefully to their answers. I am a huge fan of the book "Spin Selling" by Neil Rackham. If you don't own a copy I suggest you buy one right now.

I will leave you with this thought: Tomorrow, before you start selling your idea, product or service, ask yourself, "Do I really know my customer?", and if the answer is "no", then make it your business to find out everything you can about that customer, co-worker or boss. I promise it will pay off.