(Part -2 of the 3-part study on Customer Experience.)
As a customer I have always felt something’s amiss when the Salesperson rushes me to make a decision. Statements of the sort, “You have to tell me in the next one hour!” or “The offer lasts only till the end of the day”, made me smell a fish. How about you?
Prakash and Priya were buying a car – the need was a city runabout, a small car that would be easy on the pocket, on upfront cost and recurring cost. Priya would be the user, but Prakash, being the more car-savvy one of the two, did the buying. In Part-1 we saw them reach a decision and buy the car from a popular maker.
But in the run-up to that purchase Prakash had visited numerous outlets to test-drive cars and to gather information on the models that were priced in their budget range. The reception he got from the Salespersons at the dealership and the steps they took to acquaint him with the car and the process were worth further study.
There was one particular 3-day spell in the month-long exercise during which Prakash felt choked and haunted. He was analyzing a car that was at the higher end of the price range and the terrible episode was sparked by his first call to the dealership. The designated salesperson immediately brought a car for a test-drive and delivered the message in the sweetest manner possible. He increased the self-esteem of the potential buyer by remarking how smart Prakash looked in the car and how it would feel each day to use such a classy car.
After the drive the Salesperson requested Prakash to visit the showroom in order to check their facilities and also to get information on the finance and registration formalities. Prakash obliged by making the visit the very next day.
Prakash was not sure that he and Priya would buy this model – mainly on account of the acquisition / maintenance cost. But, the Salesperson wouldn’t take “No!” for an answer. He asked how soon they would make a decision and Prakash gave a vague reply because he had more or less made up his mind, after a quick chat with his wife, not to buy this brand / model.
But the Salesperson, quite obviously under pressure to make the sale, kept calling. He would call 3 – 4 times in the day and each time give some sort of inducement or speak about the benefit of an immediate decision. He would call when Prakash was busy at work and later when he is relaxing at home. There was no way of getting away from this person – and when he wasn’t calling there would be text messages to remind the customer about the pending decision.
Prakash had mentioned after the first day that although they had not decided yet they would going for another brand, but the Salesperson was not willing to give up. However his constant follow-up was actually driving his potential customer nuts.
On the third day Prakash had to use harsh words and threaten the Salesperson with dire consequences if he called again. He had been driven up the wall and couldn’t handle it any longer.
While enthusiasm and perseverance are good qualities it can’t be taken to the extent that customers feel annoyed or harassed. A professional sales person would know where to draw the line in this regard. He would stop following-up on the sale when he realizes that the customer has made up his mind to buy another product.
He also knows that the thoroughness of the work done by him will ensure that the customer would call him if there is any change of plan.
In fact it’s something he would do as a closing routine “I would have loved to get your sale, but I respect your decision to go elsewhere for the purchase. However, if you do change your mind feel free to call me. Happy driving!”
That’s the focus of your pitch – to make sure that the customer goes away having positive thoughts about you and your product.
Haste only makes a great waste!
Harish, the Business Head of Netwhizz Technologies, is presenting a portal solution to a client (MD & Sales Manager present). This is a follow-up meeting and the Tech Specialist is with him to provide inputs on the “how” bits of the solution. They are describing to the client, who is in the Education Services business, the component of the solution – how their portal concept would help to improve his online presence and the ways this investment would provide useful business returns.
The meeting has not been going well because the MD is not happy with the solution offered and he was not making any attempt to hide his displeasure. The solution seemed too plain and uninteresting. He didn’t see it giving him any of the expected results. He said that Netwhizz had not read his requirements well and were trying to palm off a second-hand solution.
The Bossman walked up to the white-board to explain couple of ideas he had thought up since the first meeting. He wanted to portal to be different from those of his competitors – it had to stand-out! He had thought up the flow (how a person visiting the website would interact with the elements seen there) and even conceived a catchy interface that would be in the form of a game. But it was not cast in stone, he said; if they could rework the idea with any other interesting concept which could make his portal interesting he was willing to play along.
While his back was turned to the rest of the group Harish looked at his tech-man and made a funny face, as if to say that the client was talking utter rubbish. He had an expression of disinterest throughout and was not paying attention.
While the client was describing the process Harish butted in to say – “That is what I have been saying all this while.”
The MD had not seen the play of emotions on Harish face, but his deputy had. But when this intrusion came the MD stopped the discussions and said abruptly – “Harish, thank you for your time. I am not happy with what you have shown me. If you can think up something better do come back another day with it. But don’t waste my time. In the meantime I am talking to a few other service providers too”. With that he walked out of the Conference Room.
Harish’s face now looked like it had received a slap with a wet fish!
We often forget that even when we remain silent our face is telling a big story – what’s going on inside our head is presented through our eyes and expressions.
And our words reveal those thoughts and feelings. Harish could have remained silent and listened to what the MD way conveying, even if it was what he had presented earlier. Then at an opportune moment he could have presented it as confirmation of the client thoughts. After all, letting the client win is the big idea in Sales.
Harish should never have conveyed his disinterest and scorn through his expressions – even if he felt those were poor ideas it could have been said outside the room. But then any smart Sales Pro knows that there are no stupid ideas in this world and you get nowhere by calling your client a fool.
Beware! One wrong expression, or word, can cost you a fortune!
I walked up to the Convenience Store near my office to buy a packet of chewing gum – the man in charge of the store was seated at the entrance, gazing at the world going by. He reluctantly got up and fetched the item and extended it to me.
I paid him Rs.10/- and waited for the change – he smiled and said: “No change!”
There is a shop right next door and he could have easily walked across to ask for a small loan, just enough to pay me, if they didn’t have change for 10. The amount could have been returned later in the day.
But he didn’t do that! I stared incredulously at the man for a few moments and walked away. I am sure he expected me to fetch the change, because the need was mine. Well, he had another guess coming. One is never desperate for gum … Not me, for sure!
Have you seen this happen – you walk into a store and the Salesperson doesn’t seem interested in your custom.
In another instance I walked into a white-goods outlet and saw the entire team in the store gathered in front of the TVs on display to watch India play Pakistan in an ODI match. They were so engrossed in the proceedings on TV that my presence was not noticed till I called out to get attention. And then it was a reverse tug-of-war with each of them trying to coax one of others to attend to my needs – I am sure each of them was saying “Killjoy!” in their head – it was quite evident from their expressions!
(Purely as an aside let me ask, have you noticed how during cricket matches in India the Policemen positioned at the periphery of the ground are seated with their backs to the audience and enjoying the match, while in England you would see them with their backs to the playing area to make sure that law and order is maintained in the stands. Now, who is the smart cop?)
The margin available on a packet of gum would not be significant, but if the Salesman were to repeat such behaviour on a regular basis the consequent loss of income in a month would be huge. And in both the examples given above it is likely that over a period of time less and less customers would show interest to do business with them.
Often it’s because the person is totally demotivated and lacking interest in his job – for a variety of reasons. This little convenience store on a side road would not be receiving much business on any given day and hence it makes the owner’s behavior monumentally stupid. One hopes that he has read the writing on the wall and shows more enthusiasm and interest in his customers.
If the entire complement of staff in the white-goods store were to focus on a game or behave in a lukewarm manner when customers walk in, the outlet would soon be on the chopper’s block – the owners would have to shut shop. This outlet belongs to a retail brand that has a number of outlets across the city. Poor performance on a regular basis at one outlet could cause a lot of negative publicity in the market that can impact the entire chain and potential loss of revenue for the stake-holders. Are the Supervisors / Managers aware of the situation?
I hope for their sake that my experience was an exception, a minor aberration, and that the behavior is more energetic and correct at most times.
It is essential for senior managers in the organization to sense-check what is happening in their empire. It shouldn’t be that things were rotten and the smell reaches them only after things are way beyond repair.
Employees need to be reviewed, trained and coached regularly to ensure that they battle ready and eager to provide service – they need to stay motivated all day, all year round. There is no room for complacency and slackness.
Customers need to sense that their presence is appreciated and that their patronage is valuable.
Sales Pros, please put your best foot forward and give them your best smile. The customer may not knock a second time because he has other options today.
I used to read a lot – it was fiction most of the time and the love affair with tales had started early in life. My siblings and I were encouraged by our parents to read as much as possible. We read every book we could lay our hands on. I guess we were fortunate that the TV was a relatively unknown and expensive gadget those days – the ubiquitous radio belted out the latest songs and brought us news. Computers and the World Wide Web were things that we read about in Scientific Journals and Sci-fi books and the mobile phone as we know it today had not been invented yet. So other than fun and games with our friends and stories from our parents books were our permanent companions.
That liking for words has remained strong throughout and somewhere along the way came the desire to express myself in words. Though I usually wrote essays a few poems have escaped from my pen – I would be terribly embarrassed to show them to anyone today. And I was not very systematic or determined those days – so that desire to write remained on simmer most of the time. When I started working people discovered this ability and asked me to compose business letters and some of my dad’s friends asked me to help their kids write essays.
And then the skill went into cold storage for an extended period till four years ago when someone suggested that I start a blog to express my thoughts. Thus commenced my first attempt at blogging – the articles presented at the blog on Blogspot were interpretations of current news and things I observed. After a while the fire died and the blog went into a long slumber – it remains dormant even today.
The current productive spell got sparked when I was in Oman. A bit more than a year ago, over a coffee at Qurum City Centre, Muscat, I was discussing ways to get myself established as a Trainer / Consultant – across the table sat my new friend Shantanu Sengupta. We got connected on LinkedIn and decided to meet each other to discuss strategies to get entrenched in the Oman market – like me he was new there too. It was Shantanu who stuck a lit matchstick between my toes and jump-started this blog. No, he didn’t actually torture me to get this blog going but he fired my imagination by creating a wonderful picture of what the blog can do for my practice. Shantanu didn’t let it go at that – he made me set targets and list down topics that I would write on. He even helped to choose the blog design and fine-tuned the layout. No amount of thanks would be enough for the help he provided.
It was Shantanu who hit the Like button first when articles were presented and posted encouraging comments to keep me interested and motivated – he shared feedback and useful tips too.
A few months after the Sales Coach blog got going I left Oman to resettle in India and he moved to Delhi. But Shantanu kept checking on my progress and gave many more useful tips. The last few months he has got stuck into a new job and the responsibilities of parenting and I have not been hearing from him so often.
The push he provided a year back and the vision he created remain alive and exciting – I enjoy writing and remain committed to doing it regularly. I may not have written an article a day as initially planned nor did I write short articles as suggested, but write regularly I did. In the last 365 days I have presented 243 articles including this one.
Shantanu had made me me activate one more useful and important feature to promote the blog – A Page on Facebook. Thus started the Sales Coach Blog page on Facebook in Feb 2012, a little over 2 months after the blog was launched.
That Page became the main platform to promote the blog on Social Media and it has 173 subscriber now. I post links to the articles on Indiblogger, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+ too, but its Facebook that helps to drive readership.
I must recognise a set of friends who are regular readers – Jamy Latheef, Raji Sumanth, Shoba Sriaiyer, Sajan Nair, Sourav Das, Uma Shankar Pandey, Jayashree Vats, Kailash Acharya, Sunil Menon, Catherine, Anatha, Raaj, Vasant, Prem, Jithin …. I can go on. Thank you, Friends!
I am aware of their unstinting support thanks to the comments posted after reading the articles. But then there are as many or more who regularly read but don’t leave a message in any form afterwards – but read they do. I am extremely thankful to them too, every one of them!
There are those who send a discreet note when a typo or a grammatical error is noticed – without their support this blog would be a mess!
Although the name suggests prevalence of articles pertaining to Sales Management and Selling Skills I have blended in articles on Managerial Excellence, Entrepreneurship, Career Guidance, Nature and Hobbies.
My articles try to tell a story – I use this method because people love hearing or reading a good story; stories have hooks that ensure that the messages remain fastened on the person receiving them. I have also tried to keep it simple – there is enough serious stuff available in books and on the Net; so I thought it made sense to deliver the message differently. Feedback coming in from readers tell me that its the right approach.
The most heady feedback received – “My friend reads your blog before attending an interview; he gets motivated by reading your articles!”
Its been an amazing journey so far and I have barely started. There is so much left to do.
I have been able to stay engaged, committed and focused – my blog completes one year today. It would have been great to present 365 articles by this day, but 243 is not bad …. don’t you think so?
The Sales Coach blog has been noticed by prospective clients too and hopefully business will follow – but in the first year the main purpose was not business development. Now that the targets have been achieved I have to recalibrate and push ahead.
The new year begins in a few moments and the journey starts all over again – I have to create persuasive messages and experiment with interesting new formats.
There are many new ideas to be explored … watch this space! I do hope that in the new year the readers will stay engaged and connected with the Sales Coach Blog …. it’s my job to keep them interested with my Sales Tales!
The next story is on its way … Read on!
Bought a laptop! Nothing fancy – just a sturdy, middle-of-the-road, Samsung. My son endorsed the purchase saying, “Good choice! We had the least returns and complaints for Samsung laptops!” He should know, having worked for a year with India’s leading electronics retail chain.
Before visiting the outlets in town I did the following:
- Asked a few of my students – the young set should know these things
- Discussed with a friend who is a Software Engineer
- Checked a few online retail portals known for special prices and offers
The next step was to visit couple of good stores in town to touch and feel the models and maybe get a test drive too. But I was disappointed – the shops that I visited couldn’t demonstrate the model I asked for.
Now, isn’t that a major gap in Electronic Goods market – most of the Camera, Computer and Smartphone retailers don’t permit you to test the product. They either have Dummies or show you a catalog. The products are in sealed cases that are opened when the sale is complete. How stupid is that?
Add to that a set of Sales Executive who know precious little about the products or the software applications! At the shop where I eventually made the purchase the Sales Executive who met me first had been working for that outlet for just one week and his previous job was with a two-wheeler dealership. Wow!
I probably would not have bought from this shop either if this tyro had continued dealing with me; fortunately, someone who knew his job took over and I ended up taking a speedy decision on the purchase.
But before I go into those details let me describe the scene at the store I visited first; it is a popular one – they’ve been in business for a few years. I had short-listed 2-3 brands for further investigation, but curiosity made me look beyond that; since I was already there it didn’t hurt to check everything out.
But the Sales Exec in the store had other plans – the moment he discerned that I am Mr. Middle Class and looking for nothing fancy his responses turned perfunctory and cold. It was not as if there were other customers in the store – I was the only prospective buyer in their large showroom. But after showing me 2-3 pieces he moved away to talk to his superior and left me to fend for myself.
I did the obvious …. I walked out. And you know what, this boy did not even care enough to take my name and phone number! How unprofessional was that? I probably would not have shared information after that experience but it was his job to ask. It’s as if he had not even considered me as a prospect.
The store had lost a prospect for good!
Why didn’t I just purchase the item from a website and avoid undergoing such disappointments?
- Delivery Time for online purchases is a week
- Still worried about the lack of human interface for big ticket purchases
- The difference in price was not large enough to swing my decision
Maybe the concerns about buying things on the Internet would change when the online business gets better and more established – this is purely from the Indian context; so much hanky-panky taking place in the market. I guess websites are best for commoditized or low involvement products and impulse purchases – am not so sure whether customized products could be sold as well in this format?
The other thought that I wish leave with you is that the lack of connect on the Sales Executive’s part had left me cold. He didn’t make an effort to win me over. I felt like a car in cold weather, not ready to go!
To be continued …..
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A few years back I went on a sales call with a gentleman from Australia – we were making a pitch for Sales Training. The meeting was with the Sales Head of the Indian arm of a MNC.
The appointment had been arranged at short notice and we had a 15 minute slot in the busy man’s diary – the idea was to make a quick first impression.
After introductions I tried to build rapport by asking him some questions not related to business – the intention was to get to know the person better and to find some common ground. Since he is from the same part of the country as I a few questions focused on that aspect and he responded in monosyllables – the man just didn’t seem inclined to open up.
My friend diverted the conversation back to business and things went on normally; we closed the meeting promising to send him some more inputs to build our case. I did not visit that client again because this was just a one off case – the account was being managed by someone else in our team.
Post the meeting we did an analysis and my Australian friend was of the opinion that I had probably over-stepped and the client had snubbed me. It seemed so, but maybe not!
Dissecting the situation some more I came up with the following:
- Maybe my line of questioning could have been different. I had turned on the juice too much, too soon.
- This person was very business-like and liked to dominate the conversation; and here I was trying to control the conversation – he wouldn’t let that happen so early in the case.
- My Australian friend probably had a lot of experience in selling to Australian clients but he did not know India or Indians. He had not sold much here. But I did not tell him that.
My Indian readers will agree with me when I say that we ask a lot more personal questions than people from the West. I have had complete strangers ask me about my marriage and my income.
I am sure you have heard the statement “We are like that only!”
So it is OK in India to get a bit more personal than elsewhere given sufficient safeguards and limits – those who have lived or worked outside the country for extended periods of time would feel a bit uncomfortable or offended and some of the senior officials would probably not share too much information for fear of losing control.
But even they have a melting point – they are Indians after all. Just that we have to deal with each person and situation on merit and play our cards right.
It is also essential to sense check and retract if the situation is getting sticky – maybe I had tried the ploy with the wrong person on that day and used the wrong tack. It’s best to remember the context, the stage of the Sale we are at, the background and the position of the individual we are meeting.
I conclude by saying that it is essential for us to build relationship with our client in order to win business. One just needs to do it in style and in the right dose – get your foot in the door, not in the mouth!
A friend who runs a business in the IT Sector has appointed 2 young techies for the Sales & Support function.
From previous experience he knows that these guys won’t be able to make any big catches in the initial months – so they are used almost all the time for pre-sale estimates, post-sale support visits and to handle inbound queries on the phone.
Occasionally the tyros are sent out to handle sales enquiries – they take on such assignments with a lot of reluctance and almost always return empty-handed with more work for either the owner or for one of the seasoned campaigners.
These boys have a huge mountain to climb because the customers they are expected to sell to are in the Medium and Large Account categories. That means large ticket sizes and marquee deals, but it also means longer Sales Cycles, need for customisation in the Solutions and complexities in the Sales Process. It’s a bit like throwing minnows into the shark-pool with no warning.
They have sound technical skills and can deal with the problem with fairly high level of competence; but dealing with people is an absolute No-No! They do not know how to start and extend a business conversation. They are unable to ask the right questions nor can they convince the customer to buy a solution that’s on offer. They give up too soon and seem unwilling to visit senior level officials.
There is a a lot of discomfort and lack of confidence mainly on account of poor social, interpersonal and communication skills. Selling is an attitude, not just a skill.
My friend’s situation is not unique – it is a challenge faced by the market at large; there is an alarming drop in availability of sufficient talent for the Sales Function.
There are a number of other job options available in the market – Call Centres and BPOs are offering decent salaries to starters and then there is the added attraction of an air-conditioned work environment and a trendy crowd to work with. Even Event Management outfits and Caterers are able to entice people with attractive salary and perks. Modern Retail is another segment that is preferred by the young set. Most of these jobs are done indoors and entail less travel.
There is a huge drop in the the number of people interested in mainline Sales jobs that involve daily travel and 8 to 10 visits to customers per day.
Corporates and Businesses are exploring other ways to reach the prospects – there is a desperate need to maintain and improve the lead generation levels.
Some of the methods currently being added to the Sales Function
- Inside Sales – Using the telephone to generate leads and close sales. The entire process is done on the phone. This space is growing, albeit slowly, in India. But we have many Call Centres that are selling to the Western Markets.
- Inviting prospects to the office for a Demo cum Sale. Relationship Managers of Banks, Insurance and Holiday companies set up meetings with prospective clients on the phone and invite customers to visit them for a discussion.
- Leveraging the Sales Team of another organisation – some organisations are offering a fat commission to other organisations for generating fresh business – even government departments, the Postal Department is one such, have got into this game.
- Usage of intermediaries to increase the size of the catchment area – Insurance Companies have been using banks as a channel to generate insurance business; even loans and other products of their sister concerns are sold by many banks.
- The Internet and Social Media are being used to pull the prospective buyer into a sales conversation – the early part of the sale or in many instances the entire sales happens on the internet.
My friend has had to resort to appointing people with poor sales talent on account of the huge dirth of talent in the market – he is more than willing to pay for good resources, but they just aren’t available. At present, he is busy sprucing up his website to make it more attractive, informative and user friendly and considering tie-ups to improve the prospect pipeline.
The business of selling is seeing a sea change!
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In Sales parlance we called it the Close – that is when the Sales Professional prompts the prospect to take a decision and reward her or him with the business.
It is a critical phase of the Sale and in some ways all the actions taken by Sales Professional during the sales process are intended to facilitate that event.
I have mentioned in the past that there have been instances where a sale developed by one member of my team was brought home by another member; and I don’t have to repeat here that it causes a lot of dissonance and as leader I have a tough time in restoring order and in pacifying the irate loser.
The buyer had been primed to make the purchase but the first guy just wasn’t able to clinch the deal. There are some critical activities to be done close to the business end of the sale. The man who got the business was more conversant with these than his team-mate.
1. Reduce complexity
Sales Professionals know that as the Sales Process moves forward they have to change the nature of questions and the way their responses are structured. The questions become more specific and tilt towards finding all the key elements of solution sought by the buyer.
It also makes sense not to give too many options to the buyer as they near the decision – increasing options can only confuse them. Hence, even if a number of options exist in your portfolio it is best to choose the most appropriate 2-3 and suggest them to the buyer – two would be ideal. If the buyer is looking at more than that you have to get them to eliminate a few based on the buying criteria.
2. Facilitate the decision
That uncertainties are an unavoidable accompaniment of decisions is well – known and that makes people postpone or pass-on the responsibility. It is either fear of a negative impact or the possibility of discovering a better option post the decision that clouds thinking.
Hence, the Salesman needs to work with the prospect and show them that the parameters they have set for making the purchase have been met and the necessary safeguards would be offered by the solution-provider. It is also important for the seller to show them what they stand to gain by taking the decision.
Let the customer know that there may be other solutions in the market, but since they have already seen enough and analysed each option it is time to move on – delay can only increase worry and loss that comes from running with a suboptimal solution.
3. Use language & tone that is assertive
While you show the client the benefits of buying it is also important to emphasis the negative impact of delays. The seller cannot be half-hearted here. A strong stand has to be taken to show that the client’s indecisiveness is stopping them from using something better.
But let me emphasis here that there is no room for condescension or ridicule or pushiness – and don’t ever sound desperate. Such attitudes can only annoy the customer or make them suspect your intention. A balance is needed to understand when to push ahead and when to slowdown to make the buyer comfortable. Also keep the language positive and be firm with what you suggest – no room for iffiness.
4. Build buyer confidence
Like I said earlier the buyers are worried about the consequence of their decisions and hence it is necessary for the seller to make them feel good about it and also show them that help is available at every step of the way before and after the decision.
When the decision is made, congratulate them for doing so and continue building confidence with appropriate actions and words during the Close and the After-sale steps.
A smart Sales Professional stays with the customer during this process and never permits doubts to creep in.
It is said that a good sale is one in which the customer ask for the solution rather than the sales person pushing him or her to take it. Victory for the Sales Pro is the knowledge that a series of smart actions and words used by her or him caused that.
But if that does not happen ask for it – you never become a good salesperson without making a sale. You need to feel good about asking for business.
If you sense that the customer is ready to buy, go for it … Close that deal!
Does giving advice without a fee pay off in the long-run? Should we help for free? Debatable, isn’t it?
As a professional who makes a living by giving advice I have often wondered whether it makes sense to throw away a money making opportunity?
In the 21st century, business is about being smart and being professional and it is said that free advice is not considered worth much; hence my query would seem redundant, or worse still, downright stupid.
I met a Project Management specialist at an industry forum; after “Hello!” and preliminary questions about what each of us were doing the talk veered towards moved to how we were faring as Consultants in the Kerala market.
He said something that struck a chord with me – “There are so many occasions when I conducted demo programs hoping to reap a bigger deal from the effort. But it’s only later I realized that this guy was using me to train his team for free. He painted a rosy picture of what I could gain and then used my service for free. The pitch usually goes – We have a team of 50 (or 100) people who need to be trained this year. Currently we are looking for a suitable trainer and as a first step they are being asked to conduct a demo session (which would be 1 to 4 hours long). I prepare the material and conduct a smart session and the man is all smiles. He thanks me profusely, but other than that I have not received anything – they did not even offer transportation to the venue and back. I called after a few days but the man was busy and did not say when we could discuss the matter further. I felt cheated. I guess it takes all kinds.”
I have had people speaking with me about their concerns – it could be an issue in the Sales Process or something to do with the Sales Personnel. They would tentatively offer a possible solution and then ask for my opinion about it. I would provide the necessary advice and then suggest a next level meeting at their office to study the process or to meet the team. The man would nod with a lot of enthusiasm and even suggest a date. And then he would drop off the edge of the world.
The market for Training & Development Consulting is fragmented and unstable – very few organizations have a proper learning and development program. The local units of some of the larger national organizations and a few of the locally headquartered ones have a structured talent development initiative. The rest did it in fits and starts.
In these difficult waters the unsuspecting Consultant would encounter sharks that could eat them up if they aren’t wary. There are many clever guys out there who can take an eager training provider for a merry ride by showing them a glorious vision of the possibilities.
A Consultant has to play his cards right. He cannot be reticent or rude, but at the same time there is need not to give away too much and to smartly inform the smart-alec that advice can be offered once all the information is known and mutually acceptable terms are decided upon.
Still there are times when you may have to give inputs without gaining an immediate monetary return for it.
Give inputs and advice if you are sure about the purpose and the consequence:
- Help the genuinely needy
There are students or start-ups or new folks out in the market who are cash strapped – totally new and in need of guidance but unable to pay for it. The support you provide to such people can be considered a service or a social obligation – your contribution to the society.
I am sure such people will remember you and probably pay you back somewhere along the way by putting in a good word for you or by sending a potential client to you. Even if this does not happen the effort is worthwhile.
But don’t continue offering free advice when they have achieved stability – make them pay for any additional support that is offered. Would they offer their product or service to you for free?
- Use it as an investment
There are accounts in the market that you wish to work for. Having them on your client list builds your credibility and brings you more business. In such situations you can offer a demo or some free advice to create the right impression or to win some brownie points. It will keep you alive in their mind, build influence and credibility for you and probably bring you business subsequently.
But don’t give your best material away – offer a scaled down, but smart version. If there is any printing or purchase of material or travel involved you have to ask the client to pay for it. Just offer your advice or service for free – it is a trial run that can result in business.
- It’s a Proof of Concept or Confidence Builder
Maybe you are a new player in the market and this client has not seen you in action before nor have they heard about your programs; or maybe you are offering a service or training program that is new and is not very popular.
In such situations you can offer a demo to show the client how the program works or how you can help them solve a problem. This time it is more time a Business Development activity.
- You know it is a freebie
Maybe the client who is asking for the service is an influential person or is a friend / relative. You know you can’t ask for money or probably don’t want to receive any. You are doing it just as a goodwill gesture – for reasons other than business. Maybe it could bring you some business later but you aren’t doing it with that objective.
Make sure that you tell them it is a one-off gesture and nothing is expected as fee the first time; but if they expect more it makes sense to charge for it.
The clever guys we countered earlier in the article can be discouraged from taking you for a ride by asking them to pay a fee for the Demo session – you can offer to reduce the amount from the sessions they would sign you up for subsequently.
Play it by the ear – get a sense of how it’s going, understand the prospective client’s intentions and analyze what kind of impact your pitch has made. Also consider what you stand to gain from offering the service or advice for free.
I have offered this advice for free – Did you found it useful? Make no mistake, I have been offering ideas these last few months to find new clients.
Here is that hoary old chestnut – There are no free lunches!
N R Narayanamurthy’s wisdom and sagacity is spoken about the world over, Ratan Tata is revered for living the values espoused by the Tata Group and Chanda Kochhar is admired for her business acumen – these are just three random names I picked up from the pantheon of Indian Business Heroes – but are these leaders the everyday face of the organisations they head?
How many customers of Infosys, Tata and ICICI actually interact with these highly respected and widely admired personalities – most times it would be a lesser functionary that interacts with the regular customers. In spite of the appreciation for the leaders mentioned earlier will the public hold their organisations in the same high regard if the interaction with the front end executives is less that satisfactory?
Imagine walking into the showroom of a luxury automobile brand, such Jaguar or BMW, and you are accosted by a badly groomed person who is not able to maintain a conversation with you because he is unprepared and ill-at-ease – would you continue the conversation or wish to meet someone else? Won’t your perception of the brand take a hit on account of this interaction?
In order to trim costs organisations are resorting to operations through dealers or outsourced staff; and this has huge implications for both the brand and revenue because poor implementation and adherence can wreck the best laid plans.
I walk into the Customer Service Centre of a telecom company to pay the month’s bill – on my way out I see an employee using the laptop and Internet Datacard that’s kept in the showroom for demonstration. While some employees in the Centre were in uniform this man wasn’t – he was either a new employee or a back-office staff. He was checking mail on the machine kept there for demonstrating their 3G services and working with such concentration that he failed to notice me standing next to him.
In order to attract his attention I asked – Is that a 3G Datacard?
He turns around, nods half-heartedly and continues working. I ask him the price of their Datacard (Modem) and the usage charges; seeing that I can’t be shaken off he stops working and turns to answer my query. All this while he does not mention that the Executive in charge of Sales has gone out and he is at this Demo Station only to check mail. I become aware of another presence next to me – while I am in conversation with the first Executive, another dark form started eclipsing his face. It was as if I was witnessing a celestial drama and I could hear voices too.
This new entrant was making a desperate bid to take charge of the situation; he did not pause to offer a greeting nor did he tell the other person that he is taking charge of the situation – this brave-heart just jumped in to man the breach!
I was startled and his own colleague was a bit nonplussed too – everything happened so fast. Sadly, the soldier was ill-prepared for battle; he made a famous entry and was felled by the first salvo. I asked the same question again.
He replied – “Sir, the modem costs Rs. 1600/- and there is a Active charge of Rs. 100/-.” I asked him to repeat that because during the 12 years spent in telecom I had not heard such a term. The term was Activation Charge and it is an industry standard. This youngster had not been told how to quote regular terms and he was not sure of the tariff either. I was shown a tariff card and asked to choose a plan.
The next question was an interesting one: “When are you buying?”
I admired him for that! In spite of all that he had (not) done this young buck thought I was ready to buy a product from him.
Customers buy from organisations because when they see value in the product or service offered and that happens only when the sale is convincing. This young man had not even started selling and I wasn’t there to buy – I was testing the organisation’s Sales Process. Obviously the organisation had chosen a youngster with poor social skills and they aggravated the mistake by not training him in product, process or behaviour. Shambolic is the word that readily springs to mind!
It is all very well to have leaders who are universally admired, but would it help to cover up the mess at the front-end? How much thought goes into definition of the processes running in the Customer Interface and what level of diligence is used while appointing and training front-office Executives?
What is it going to be? Shamefaced or showing the best face to the world?
Note – The names of business heads used in the article are there only for illustration; the organisations mentioned in the article are there only because the are popular names, but the situation mentioned in their context are hypothetical.
However, the interaction with the Executives of the telecom operator was an actual Service Experience … Real!