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You are currently browsing the The WhiteBoard blog archives for April, 2014.

Good Advice I Never Followed

April 28th, 2014

Good or bad, you own the outcomes of the service you provide

Early in my career a boss told me, “Never apologize. It’s a sign of weakness.” Good advice I never followed.

Many people do follow that advice, like the presenter of a webinar I attended that became the webinar that wasn’t. Shortly after his introduction, the presenter’s comments were out of sync with his slides. He didn’t seem to realize that there was a problem. I sent a polite comment through the chat function but the problem persisted. A few minutes later, the slides stopped advancing entirely, and for the remainder of the webinar I sat eyeball to eyeball with a photo of Bill Gates staring back at me.

The webinar support technician eventually told the presenter that no one could see the slides he was referencing. So the presenter tried describing the unseen slides – an unsatisfying process for everyone. Finally, he gave up and moved to Q&A, only to be informed that all of the questions submitted by attendees had been lost.

I felt for the presenter. Like every business professional, I’ve been in situations where the best of plans for service delivery don’t unfold as intended. For a few days after the webinar, I expected to receive a follow-up email from the presenter acknowledging the issues, or at least an apologetic reference on his blog. Like the webinar, that didn’t happen.

Two weeks later, I received a broadcast email announcing the same webinar. I didn’t click through to register, and not because of the glitches in the first webinar. The presenter lost my participation because he didn’t own his outcomes.

Technology, logistics, information or preparation – regardless of the source of success or disruption, we own the outcomes of the service we provide. Ignoring the outcomes doesn’t change that. Disruption can be an opportunity to demonstrate your integrity and willingness to see the situation from the customer’s point of view.  All it takes is a simple apology and a good-faith effort to make it right. That’s not a sign of weakness; it’s good business.

Stuff happens, and everyone makes mistakes. The webinar that wasn’t is a vivid reminder of how your customers feel when you don’t deliver and don’t own it. A sincere apology may not be the most innovative customer service effort, but it’s often one of the most effective.

Thirty-Second Sales Catalyst

April 15th, 2014

A small change can make a big difference in your results

I recently sold newspapers on a high-traffic intersection during the Friday morning commuter rush – not for necessity or novelty, but for charity.

My Rotary club volunteers at this intersection every year on opening day for the Kansas City Royals, to “sell” papers in exchange for donations for children’s charities. It’s always cold and it can be a long two hours. To pass the time, I considered ways to maximize my newspaper sales.

At peak rush hour, traffic lights are red for about 30 seconds, with three lanes of 4 to 6 cars stopped per red light. I was averaging one or two donations per stop, with an average donation of 2 or 3 dollars per newspaper.

I watched how my colleagues on the intersection were handling the papers, which were pre-folded in half, and had a full-color front page. One person held the paper above his head in his right hand, and held half a dozen additional papers tight against his left side. Another person folded the paper into a quarter-page size and waved it at specific drivers.

What could I do differently?

I imagined myself in the driver’s seat of a passing car. What would I see most easily from behind the wheel? Would I look up and over the head of someone standing on the side of the street?

Probably not, I decided. If I were a driver, I would look at eye level to the left or right. I decided to try holding my papers with the front page headline facing the traffic at driver’s eye level – my standing hip level. I also decided to make eye contact with each driver, just for a second or two. 

The result?

Based on two simple changes, I increased my donations by at least 33 percent and doubled or tripled the average dollar value of each donation.  I averaged 2 to 3 donations per thirty-second stop light. Donations jumped from 2 to 3 dollars to 5 to 10 dollars per newspaper from approachable, friendly drivers.

Whether your sales venue is a busy intersection, a website or the C-suite, these take-aways apply:

  • Be willing to analyze one of your sales activities and focus on small improvements
  • Watch how others are handling the same activity and explore ways to do it differently
  • Put yourself in your prospect’s seat
  • Experiment by making one or two small adjustments
  • Measure the impact in outcomes– number of sales, value of sales and new relationships

Think about one of your sales activities.  What can you do differently? A small change just might be the catalyst for a big difference in your results.

Watch Your Language

April 1st, 2014

Three Signs that Your Sales Process Needs a Rethink

“Watch your thoughts,” wrote Chinese philosopher Lao Tsu, “for they become words.  Watch your words, for they become actions.” 

It’s good advice if your sales have plateaued. If you hear yourself or others making statements like these, it’s time to refine your sales process.

Who’s our target?  Any company that/ anyone who…

A few years ago I met the owner of multiple small businesses. He gave me his business card, printed with a deer’s head and the initials A.F.A.B. I asked what the initials stood for, and he answered with a smile, “Anything for a Buck.” I don’t remember his name or the services he provided. All I remember is his card, and that it did not inspire a business dialogue between us.

The A.F.A.B. approach won’t build brand awareness, your pipeline or a sustainable reputation for your company. It doesn’t allow you to play to your strengths and worse, prospects sense your lack of focus and interpret it as desperation. If your description of your target customer begins with “any,” take the time to review your best customers and frame your target profile.

Where’s the low hanging fruit?

A variation on this question is, “What can we do in the next 30 days?” If you’re looking for low-hanging fruit, you’re looking for an easy, short-term fix.  In most cases the results are scattershot execution and wasted efforts. The sales you close are often are not a good fit; your new customers have skewed expectations of your product, service and brand. Your time is better spent examining and refining your prospect qualification process.  

That prospect is still in process – it’s about 50% toward close.

Are the majority of your sales activities estimated at 50-65% toward close? It’s a sign that you need to take a closer look at defining the steps in the purchase process.

Percentage-to-close can be a helpful metric for projecting the likelihood of future sales and gauging their financial impact on your company. Whether you use sales management software to track lead-to-close progress or have an internal system, make sure that you are tying specific prospect activities to a spcific stage in the buying process. It’s easy to approximate percentage-to-close based on sales activities, such as sending a proposal or meeting with a prospect. Fifty percent toward close is only meaningful based on the behaviors of your prospect, and their answers to specific, probing questions that move the purchase process forward.

By the way, Lao Tsu didn’t stop with a caution about thoughts becoming words and words becoming actions. Here’s the rest of his advice: “Watch your actions; they become habit. Watch your habits; they become character. Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.”

Take control of your business destiny and your sales process.  It starts with watching your language.