Often all our efforts to meet the key personnel, in some of the listed accounts, are stymied by the tactics employed by the gate-keepers – Secretaries, Security Staff and Receptionists – they repulse you so easily that you either end-up being frustrated or are left wondering whether you can ever get in.
Kimba, the cat in residence, is pregnant; the little kitten that opened its eyes to this world on June 29 last year is going to be a mom already – and the time to deliver the litter is nigh. I know this because she has been walking around our house, desperately seeking a way in. It’s wet and cold outside thanks to the monsoon and she needs a warm and safe place for her kids. Nature is fantastic! How does the instinct for survival and protection of its progeny get hard-coded into the animal’s genes? Uncanny!
I was particularly impressed by Kimba’s perseverance. Her place is on the verandah, adjacent to our drawing-room, and my brother had thoughtfully improvised a bed for it with a folded bed-sheet placed on a chair. He has even placed the rain-coat over the chair to stop the spray from reaching her and a cardboard box has been kept in readiness for the new litter.
Earlier in the day I turned my head from the computer screen towards the door on seeing a movement through the corner of my eye. Our mother-to-be stood there, heading poking out from behind the curtain of the adjacent room. She was sternly marched out of the house and the door latch fastened – nursing a bunch of kittens was not on my agenda, nor did I wish to lull myself to sleep every night by listening to their mewing from the loft in the room. So out she went. The windows were kept closed and there was additional protection from the plastic-mesh nets we had affixed on all windows to stop insects from getting in.
The nets were kept firmly in place with the help of Velcro strips – seeing her head pop out from behind the curtain I was amused; bemused, to be honest. How did she get in? Investigations revealed that the smarty had forced her way in through the only open window pane, by pushing the mesh-net out of the way. She had discovered that the net could be dislodged from the Velcro strips by constant nudging with her nose. Couple of hours after being thrown out she was inside once again via the same route. Now all the windows are firmly closed, but I still hear her plaintive mewing from outside my window at regular intervals. The instinct to survive and to protect is strong – she just won’t give up.
How strongly do you wish to reach the Top Cat in every organisation you approach? Have you studied their system and discovered any weaknesses? How big is your instinct for success and survival?
I asked a former colleague to introduce me to his Business Head. I wished to speak with the man regarding the training solutions I had on offer to help his team succeed. Since my friend reported to the H.R. Manager, he feared that the senior man would take offence if I were permitted to meet the Head directly. The H.R. Manager wished to be in charge of such matters. I stopped pursuing the matter with this friend and contacted another friend who was the Business Head’s peer in the organisation and got an appointment. After the Head heard me out he asked the H.R. Manager to join the meeting since the subject was training. The H.R. Manager could not object and now I had the attention of both decision makers. I had found my way in.
How does one find a way in?
- You can sweet talk the gate-keepers: It makes sense to be in their good books.
- Ask a friend who is working there to help you; but make sure you have an alternate route
- Get a junior member in the decision tree to introduce you to the senior: needs careful planning
- Find a senior person from another company to refer you to the top man in the target account.
- Use membership in clubs or professional bodies to meet senior managers in target accounts.
- Write a blog or articles in industry magazines to get the attention of decision makers
Do your research on the person you wish to meet and chalk out the best route. It is never easy, but you can get lucky too, because someone forgot to fasten the latch!
If you really, really wish to find a way in you will … Kimba is outside my window again, she won’t give up. Will you?
Is the telephone just a decoration in the office? Why are organisations ignoring this vital link to the world outside? Is communicating with customers a bother?
In the last two weeks I have made calls to a dozen organisations for various reasons – potential clients, banks, insurance company, courier service, training providers, telecom operators and hardware service just to name a few. Across all sectors, without exception, majority of the people responding (when they did answer the phone) were not equipped to handle the call professionally. The only exception being call centre agents – they are trained to handle calls and do a fair job; but their rituals can be very irritating, in particular the canned sign-off statements that just go on and on. My issue with call centers don’t relate to call handling skills, it has more to do with their awareness of processes and status of the work done on the complaint raised – we will deal with that another day.
Here are three examples of how companies are ruining their own reputation with poor telephone etiquette:
- The Call did not get deliverance
A few days back I had written about a courier service – three of whose franchisees in one city were charging different amounts to send the same letter to a given destination. To express my concern I called their Regional Office, on the phone number given at their website, and could not get through even once in spite of making a dozen attempts on four different days. Having given up all hopes I tried the number of a sister concern and got a response; but they could help me other than confirmed that the number has not changed. How can an organisation with a national footprint be averse to accepting calls from customers?
The Customer Head Manager has not replied yet to the detailed email I sent 3 days back.
- “No incoming, Please!”
Calling the Okhla office of an IT training company I got a person who could speak only Hindi. That wasn’t the problem – I can speak a bit of that language and understand a lot more of it. A conversation with the Sales Manager was my quest and this person, who probably was the Security Guard, told me that they don’t like to be disturbed and that I should send them an email. I told him that the Sales Manager had already spoken with me once and this was a follow-up call. He wouldn’t note my number or inform the person concerned.
Couldn’t they have trained the Guard with a bit of telephone etiquette – or can’t the call be routed to another person when the Operator is away. But the responses heard from the Security Guard also hint at other cultural issues in the organisation.
- “Loan Call” to a bank
Following up a request for copies of some Property – related papers (which I had pledged with the bank while applying for a home loan) I had reached a dead end. The mobile phone of the person I had met was switched off for days and the landline number given on his card wouldn’t be answered. I visit another branch of the same bank and am told that Managers have instructed Officers to keep their mobile phones switched off during office hours – those were the Customer Service Executive’s words. What are the phones for then? Why present the numbers on the business card? It took 2 more days for me to get a response on the landline.
Why would a leading bank permit the incoming phone calls go unattended for days on end?
What is the situation – are Indian organisations complacent or unaware or they don’t think this is a problem? Are they so overloaded with business opportunities that they don’t need any more of it?
Here are some simple things they can do to satisfy customers:
- Train everyone, including the Security Staff and the Maintenance Staff, to handle incoming phone calls
- Answer all calls – there used to be a 3rd Ring policy in operation the days I worked with Corporates; now, one is lucky if the call is answered in 3 days.
- The least one can do is take down the name and the phone number of the caller and the name of the official they wish to speak with.
- A ringing phone should not be left unattended – if the person using the cabin or cubicle is missing the passerby answers and notes down the name of the caller.
- A lot of times officials don’t respond and the caller has to make one more attempt; the employee just does not have the time to return a call.
It may be a big enquiry from that prospect you have been chasing for months or a major customer seeking resolution for an issue or some emergency information from home. Don’t ignore the phone!
Can we risk losing our customer …. Take that call!
Many Sales Professionals end the business period – month, quarter or year – with a shortfall in their quotas; what causes this? A quick review would reveal that some of the “sure fire” orders they were expecting did not materialize – either the prospect said that it would take more time or they need more information to decide or the Decision-maker indicated that the purchase need not be made now!
So what was it that the Sales Professional had seen that made him or her believe that the order will be closed as per his expectation?
Flip this situation and think “What would make you purchase a product or service?” or “Why do you postpone a purchase?”
The answer would be one or more of these:
- Although inconvenient, the present solution is still serving your requirement
- The new solution seems to be over specified and is not required now
- The new solution will mean retraining or re-adjustment – which can upset life / work
- You do not have the requisite funds.
- You do not have the approval to make the purchase this year.
- For now you have decided to tolerate the problem and carry on without a change.
Is it possible that your customer isn’t buying for the same reason? Usually people buy when they can’t go on any further with the situation remaining the way it is at present – change is warranted; when that happens organisations and people would go for the purchase regardless of the expense and the re-adjustment needed.
How can you as the seller make the prospect foresee the situation as given in the previous paragraph and take action to counter any potential problems?
If the prospect is only casually interested in your solution – he is in information gathering or window shopping mode – you will not be able to close the deal. Only when there is a major concern or worry about things getting out of control that people make the decision to change. Have you assessed the real situation? It is not enough that the client is friendly, eager to know more and seems inclined to buy.
Can you take the prospect to that point where he understands and accepts unequivocally that he needs what you have on offer?
Your classification of prospects into Cold, Warm and Hot would depend on this factor – he is weakly interested, he is strongly interested or he cannot do without it.
While on a Sales call your interest should be to understand as quickly as possible where the prospect can be placed on the above spectrum and until you can get the person to Stage–3 there is low chance of any business materializing.
So the next time you achieve your target or fall short check where you get your business from and where you had slipped – analyse the reasons for purchase or for dropping the plan – and you would get your answers.
As Sales Professional it’s your job to take the Prospect to “I do!” But before you pop the question study the mood and your chances of getting an answer in the affirmative.
To avoid failure and pain it’s best that you assess the situation thoroughly before making a forecast.
A fisherman goes fishing every day – there are no off days; yesterday’s harvest is gone – it won’t get him any more money today. If he has to earn today he better go out to the sea again.
In Sales if you don’t Prospect you are nothing – how much of your present activity will translate into business in the immediate future can be answered by studying the size and status of your prospect list?
You will have prospects that are turning into customers right now, some that would provide you business in the weeks ahead and a longer list of people whom you can convince after a little or a lot more of work. This would the message from your prospect list if there is regular activity in your accounts / territory.
I met a young Sales Executive today – it’s been two weeks since he joined a new organisation. When asked to explain the activities done in the last fortnight he said there had been 2-3 joint visits with the senior Sales Executives but for the rest of the time he had been indoors studying the customer list and product catalogues.
Quite surprised by the revelation I asked what he’d done in his previous assignments – my intention was to understand whether he had any Sales experience. He had close to 2 years’ experience as a Sales Executive – he knows what needs to be done.
Usually young Executives are inhibited to meet prospects for the following reasons:
- They are not sure how the meeting would go (Fear)
- No experience in making a Sales call (Lack of training)
- They do not know what’s to be presented during the call (Poor preparation) and
- They are afraid of the questions the prospect might ask (One or more of the above reasons)
These issues can be handled with training, coaching and some confidence building. But there are a few, like the young person I mentioned above, who are waiting for a favorable alignment of celestial bodies to start working in the market. His concern was not the product or the customer, but that he did not have a motor-cycle yet and that he had not studied the clients list of the organisation thoroughly. The man obviously was hoping for miracles while he shammed.
This young man needed a thorough talking to and I did just that today. My message was this:
- A Sales Executive’s core task is to meet prospects and promote business
- Don’t be afraid to make mistakes; that’s how you learn
- If you can’t answer the customer’s queries you can always call the office
- Use the public transport if your motor-cycle is not available
- If you don’t meet customers/prospects you are shirking your primary responsibility
By avoiding visits to the prospects this young man was writing his own obituary – business will not pour from the heavens, he has to go out there and find it.
Sales Executives, if you wish to see a steady inflow of business, be prepared to cast your net daily.
And the fish is available in the sea every day …
To receive Updates regarding all the articles published at Sales Coach Blog you only need to ’Like‘: https://www.facebook.com/Sales.Coach.Blog
“Do you have an email ID” is passé! You don’t even ask that question or do it at the risk of being classified as an outcast. Having a mail ID and a Facebook ID are de rigueur – the conversation begins beyond that!
- How many hits are you getting at your website?
- What is your blog ID? And what’s it about?
- Who does your SEO work?
- Have you made an infographic with your findings?
- How many Followers do you have on Twitter?
- Responses at LinkedIn Answers improves visibility!
All in a day’s work!
When everyone is playing the SM game and busy jockeying for positions it may seem futile to think of an entry into that realm. But how many of the players have got their game organized – is there a method to the madness?
1. Define and fine–tune your message: It does not help to spray and pray; one hit is all it takes and do you have the weapon to land that blow? Use the right words and forcefully deliver a message which has to be built using the techniques I described yesterday.
2. Define your audience and chase them relentlessly. Don’t run after every person you can connect with on the SM Platforms. Define the customer or target segment and work on building a network consisting of such profiles. It will give you better returns.
3. Are you present where the customer is? Today there are multiple avenues for delivering your message – computers, smart devices, in-shop interactive devices. So choose your medium based on the impact that can be created by using it.
4. Get your timing right? I have noticed that the number of hits I get at my blog does not go up dramatically if I post the link to my daily article earlier in the day. There is a time slot in which people are available and if I post the link then I get maximum impact.
5. Provoke a response: Your message must get them to initiate a conversation with you; which then can be developed into something useful. Your message has to instigate action or it’s a waste.
It’s nice to have a presence on the Internet, but it’s great to have a play that generates business results. Is your Social Media effort lost in the clutter or is it standing tall?
Today I wish to address start-ups and small businesses with some ideas on business promotions – many of you may be marveling at huge budgets some multinationals have earmarked even for promotion of mindless products like Fairness Cream and Baldness Cures. – the outlay could even exceed the annual turnover of your small venture.
But it would be stupid and strategically flawed for a beauty product maker in a remote corner of the country to consider TV as the primary medium to promote her range of beauty products, based on the success of a Lakme or a L’Oreal – the smart route for her would be to reach the potential customers using a see, touch and use methodology where the potential buyer experiences or understands the benefits first-hand.
Unlike the international companies who have products that have been in the market for many years hers is an untested product and she an unknown entity, even though her products could in reality be better than the ones the bigger players are offering.
The money earmarked for marketing can be spent in the following manner:
- Give free treatment / samples to a group of influencers – this group can in turn bring you the next set of customers. Develop brand ambassador(s) from this segment based on the success achieved – Seeing is believing.
- Put a small business development team / promoters in place who would visit locations where the target group can be found in suitable numbers and conduct a demo cum sale campaign – use the brand ambassadors to provide Success Stories. Nothing like the assuring words of a happy user from the local community.
- Create a demo video of your treatment or product application and upload it on Youtube; promote the video among your existing / potential clients; have an action item included in the video, such as getting people to call or to visit for a trial.
Remember, the money spent by the big players may not be translating into big returns; and many of these products are running way beyond the maturity stage in their life-cycle – don’t get conned into copying such ideas – that may not be the route best suited for your product.
We can discuss other products too – beauty products was only an example used to illustrate my point.
Use the direct approach and engage the customer in a conversation – you get to show them your product, hear their responses without dilution – such inputs could provide valuable insights that you can then use to fine-tune and improve your product and services.
This twice before you throw good money after bad promo schemes!
These are some of the alternate spellings for the word …. OPPORTUNITY!
How often have opportunities come your way and you have not noticed – it strikes you later when someone else achieves huge success.
You then go, “Damn, isn’t that what my friend had offered me the other day and I refused!”
Don’t be like the devotee who refused to take help offered by a boatman because he felt God would personally save him from the flood waters! Well, to cut the long story short …. He drowned!!
It’s not often that opportunity comes your way – when one does, don’t refuse it outright. Usually it does not carry the label “OPPORTUNITY”; like I said earlier, chances are that they come labelled ”PROBLEM”!
Give it a thorough examination …. Don’t give up!
I remember dealing with a Major Account while working with a telecom company. It was one of the major players in the IT space and had over a thousand employees. We made a pitch to sell them a large number of connections – a special offer was approved by my Senior Management to win this account. It was a NEVER BEFORE offer.
But the organisation refused to bite; they were not willing to take connections for all employees in the Corporate Name. We ended up getting less than 25 connections for just the Top Management of the company. But since this technology company had clients in the USA we earned a lot of revenue on Roaming – those accounts gave us good revenue.
But that wasn’t the opportunity – we refused to give up the large business opportunity that still existed in this account. The terms of the deal were reworked and we offered separate accounts to each employee with the employer assuring us that the dues would be deducted from the employee’s salary, if not paid directly. They also agreed to inform us when the employee left their roles.
This gave us the necessary leverage and guarantees – we closed over 200 new connections in that scheme that yielded consistently high revenues for us each month.
This opportunity was capitalised by reworking the strategy to create a solution that was convenient to all concerned.
So next time, don’t pass up an opportunity because it wasn’t spelled the right way!
And then like a bolt out of the blue you hear from a fellow Sales Rep that a competitor has walked away with a fairly large chunk of business from an account you had put in cold storage. You meet this guy in the field and he tells you how a mutual rival had been awarded a plum order last week without much of a contest!
In Sales people usually work on what is urgent – the fires that burn the brightest get highest attention. And since the manager torches your backside for not achieving targets your focus is always on accounts that are going to mature into business in the immediate future. The middle term opportunities get low attention and the long – term bets are ignored.
Prospects are classified into Hot / Cold / Warm based on time needed for conversion and a little extra focus is given to the large opportunities. The dormant accounts, the ones where nothing seems to be happening for a while are given scant attention by the regular players.
It is the smart one that senses opportunities even in the seemingly inert accounts – anything can change the situation:
- A sudden decision by management to expand the business
- A decision to shift the office to a new location
- A new Government legislation that prompted a foray into previously untapped area
- An infusion of employees to fill the shortfall that has been accumulating for a while
- The management decides to deploy fresh funds received
There could be a number of catalysts to change the dynamics – and unless you have the ear to the ground and are constantly on the lookout it could be missed completely.
There are innumerable ways to stay abreast of the changes:
- The obvious one is to keep visiting, with less periodicity, right through the lean period
- Build strong relationship with key officials to ensure that they call you when the situation changes
- Post lookouts who would inform you about any changes
- Always be aware of the changes in regulations and global scenario pertaining to your clients’ business.
If you don’t do that you can be caught napping!
“To hell with patience, I am going to kill something!” said a scrawny Vulture to the other; both perched on a petrified tree in an arid landscape.
That was just a cartoon trying to poke fun at one of nature’s toughest characters.
Isn’t it said that people often give up just short of success – a few more steps and they would be drinking sweet water from a spring; instead they give up and perish.
In Sales it pays off to be patient, and persistent!
A few days back I had mentioned that we should not waste too much time to win one big sale at the expense of the many small ones available in easy reach.
Today, I am asking you not to ignore the big ones – I only said you should not devout all your time there. They are tough to crack, but when their doors open eventually you can expect abundance. Play your cards right and you can win big!
During my various stints in the Major Account Sales I have had to work really hard to get business from extremely large organizations, some with branch offices all over the country. They were patrons of my competitors and these guys hung on for dear life because the revenues under consideration were huge – often just one account giving them 30–35% of the annual quota.
There are times when I wanted to give up. Absolutely nothing to show in spite of what seemed like a million attempts. It was frustrating.
But there was support from my team; I was advised by seniors to keep persisting – they knew. So, in spite of ZERO returns I kept plugging away.
- I would make periodic visits to make presentations
- Every year I would remind them to include my products in their purchase plan, knowing well that the business would go to my rival.
- When a senior official of my company made a visit to my branch I would take him to visit the top managers in these accounts.
- They were sent festival greetings and congratulatory messages when their organisation got any recognition.
- They were called to our Customer Meets and Special Industry Presentations.
In short, they were constantly reminded of our presence – we kept telling them how they would benefit by bringing their custom to us.
And then one day the magic happened – our competitor slipped. A large bank that was opening 5 new branches had relied on just one supplier and delay in supplies caused postponement in the inauguration of 3 branches. That meant a revenue loss for the bank and they did not take it lightly.
We were in! I had already got the news from one of my sources about the goof-up and was expecting a call. When the Purchase Manager called we kept our cool and heard him out. We knew that he had to save face and by helping him we would be in for good – he needed all the products for the 3 new branches in a short time - ranging from furniture, to storage equipment and security equipment. I’d hit the jackpot!
This opportunity could not be missed – we begged and pleaded with our manufacturing team, even got some items meant for other locations diverted to us and supplied all the items before the committed date.
It was a huge victory – the Purchase Manager thanked us for saving him from disgrace. I don’t have to say what happened afterwards.
If a Vulture can be patient, so can you …. And when the time is right you can make a killing!
In India a lot of film-makers are remaking Hits from the 70s and 80s – is it a dearth of new ideas or just smart guys squeezing out some more revenue from a good franchise. Let me attempt that stunt – but before alarm bells go off in your head let me promise that you won’t suffer a “Rocky-13 Reprise”! Am going to dwell on this subject for just one more post; there is bit more to be said on the subject.
Yesterday we spoke about selling opportunities being squandered by lack of synergy in the organisation. Here are some of the ways support teams can be co-opted into the Sales / Prospecting activity:
- Call Centers
Organisations have not realized that Offers put on auto-repeat and played while irate customers are on Hold can be a twin-edged sword. The customers hoping to register a complaint get further aggravated by the message droning in their ear. It can be self – defeating!
But Call centre executives can be roped in to promote schemes after successfully closing complaints. It’s can one of the After-Service steps they use to add more prospects into the sales cycle.
- Service Technicians
Asking for Referrals / leaving a product brochure or Scheme document behind – Sales Managers can get buy–in from their colleagues in Service by offering incentives for doing this activity. The Service specialist should get a share of the sales incentive for any sale closed through this route.
- Collection Agents
The Receivables Collectors too can be enlisted to do what the Service team does in #2.
- The back office
Members of the team who are not in the Sales function / who are not in a customer-interface role can also be roped in to participate in a referral program – they can promote the schemes among friends and relatives.
It is an activity that the support team would enjoy participating in – In a telecom company that I worked with we signed-up 31 new customers through leads provided by one Switch Engineer. Did he miss his true calling? We put his name up in Gold Letters!
The incentive scheme can be cash-based or non-cash – the need is to run a high visibility activity that recognizes and incentivizes the team–members who brings in useful revenue.
This is what all Sales Managers should do; like smart film-makers, expand your franchise … but know when to stop!