I’m your customer, standing in front of you. You’ve done all the right things so far, you’ve made me feel comfortable, you paid attention to what I need, you’ve asked the right questions, you’ve shown me the right product to fit my needs, you’ve answered my questions and made it simple for me. You found me the right product that fits all my needs, but I don’t want to make this that easy for you, it’s now up to you to ask for my business.
That’s right, the part that some many sales people either forget about or over analyse and psyche themselves out over. If you’ve done your job properly, you have a RIGHT to ask your customer for their business. That’s right, it’s your right and frankly your customer wants you to ask them, they need to be pushed a little to make that final decision. Guess what happens when you don’t ask them for their business? They leave your store, get in their cars and drive away confused as to why they didn’t just buy the damn thing right there.
This doesn’t have to be complicated, there are again no tricks or games to be had here. You have conducted yourself with integrity and all you have to do is ask. I usually do this one of two ways.
First is what is known as the assumptive close, you just assume that they are buying it and say something like; let’s go get the paperwork started or when would you like to pick it up? The other one that I use as well on a regular basis is the recap close. You simply recap what you’ve been talking about; when you came in you where looking for this that did this, this and this, this unit does these things and also has this that you really liked so is this your new whatever it is?
The worst thing that’s going to happen at this point is your customer brings up an objection, usually something that you missed during the qualifying process. At that point you simply clarify the objection by repeating it back to the customer worded slightly differently, empathize with the customer, ask permission to offer a suggestion and then offer a suggestion to overcome the objection. Then if you get agreement head back to the close.
So the last time we chatted about this whole sales stuff we looked at the greeting and the qualifying. Before we move on I am going to emphasize the importance of qualifying and it’s twin brother rapport building. These are arguably the most important parts of the process as you need the information you gather here to proceed to the demo or presentation. So once you have the products that you are going to present to your client narrowed down to 2 options proceed to the demo/presentation.
Just like qualifying, the demo serves more then one purpose. It serves to connect the needs and wants of your client to the features and benefits of your product. The rapport building continues on in these part as you are listening, watching and responding to your clients reaction to your presentation. You are also looking for buying signals, the non-verbal signs that you are moving in the right direction.
Connecting the dots between needs and wants and features and benefits, is the whole reason you asked lots of good questions in the qualifying stage and narrowed things down to two options. Now you need to prove to your client that your product meets or exceeds their expectations. One of the side effects of doing this is that your gaining trust as you do this as you are proving to them that you where listening. You need to not just show what your product does but how it relates to their needs and how it benefits them. Sometimes you might hear this referred to as FAB, features, advantages and benefits. What does it do, why is it better and how does it make my life better/easier. This is important to remember, when was the last time you went shopping for something and the sales person regurgitated a mile long list of all the technical features of product XYZ. Think about it for a second. Chances are you didn’t buy it because you left there wondering what the hell all those acronyms where, what they did and not having a clue if that’s what you needed. Here’s a quick example; this Harman Kardon home theater receiver has Dolby Digital HD, DTS, DTS-ES, Logic 7, Dolby Digital II, Dolby Digital IIx, Dolby Digital IIz, EX and Plus, HDMI switching, upconversion, 7.1 and 11 DSP modes. Any idea what half that stuff is? Nope, didn’t think so, you like most people need someone to explain these things to them and tell them what the advantage and benefit of those things. Here is the other thing, during your qualifying you would have figured out that there are two or three hot buttons, things that are non-negotiable’s as far as FAB’s go. You need to make sure that you cover those in your presentation and you need to tie them back to the customer. Remember you said that the most important thing that your new home theater receiver have was HDMI switching and upconversion. Well this receiver has 5 HDMI inputs that are capable of handling any high definition or 3D video sources and will also convert any non-HD signals to be HDMI compatible. This means you only need one video cable going to your TV and you will only need to use one video input on your TV making the system much easier to use for all of the people in the house. See, now HDMI and upconversion make some sense and you can see why you might need it, FAB.
Another very important part of any demo is finding a way to involve your client. Get them in the car, truck, boat, Ranger, get on the ATV, motorcycle, get in the home theater grab the remote etc. Why is this important? The mental cost of ownership. When someone is buying a boat and they sit in it, they start thinking about all the good times they are going to have in that boat, the smell of the lake, the wind in their face, the feeling of speed, the laughter of their kids because they managed to throw little Johnny off the tube and he went flying in the air. That’s the mental cost of ownership, trust me there is a lot more information about this that we could talk about but I think you get the quick picture.
Lastly, the non-verbal signals that your presentation is hitting the right buttons and that your moving in the direction you want to be. This can also mean though that you pick up on something that doesn’t seem right, you need to look for this as well and when you notice it, stop. Stop and ask the question, come right out and ask if you missed something or maybe they didn’t understand it and you need to explain it again in a different way. It’s important to pick up on these things now so they aren’t barriers later on in the process. It also helps your customer understand that you are listening to them and trying to fulfill their needs. This is a tough skill to learn, it takes constant practice and refinement. Practice with your spouse, your kids, your friends, your co-workers.
Read this on the Forbes website and couldn’t agree more with all of these comments.
1. The most enduring innovations marry art and science – Steve has always pointed out that the biggest difference between Apple and all the other computer (and post-PC) companies through history is that Apple always tried to marry art and science. Jobs pointed out the original team working on the Mac had backgrounds in anthropology, art, history, and poetry. That’s always been important in making Apple’s products stand out. It’s the difference between the iPad and every other tablet computer that came before it or since. It is the look and feel of a product. It is its soul. But it is such a difficult thing for computer scientists or engineers to see that importance, so any company must have a leader that sees that importance.
2. To create the future, you can’t do it through focus groups – There is a school of thought in management theory that — if you’re in the consumer-facing space building products and services — you’ve got to listen to your customer. Steve Jobs was one of the first businessmen to say that was a waste of time. The customers today don’t always know what they want, especially if it’s something they’ve never seen, heard, or touched before. When it became clear that Apple would come out with a tablet, many were skeptical. When people heard the name (iPad), it was a joke in the Twitter-sphere for a day. But when people held one, and used it, it became a ‘must have.’ They didn’t know how they’d previously lived without one. It became the fastest growing Apple product in its history. Jobs (and the Apple team) trusted himself more than others. Picasso and great artists have done that for centuries. Jobs was the first in business.
3. Never fear failure – Jobs was fired by the successor he picked. It was one of the most public embarrassments of the last 30 years in business. Yet, he didn’t become a venture capitalist never to be heard from again. He didn’t start a production company and do a lot of lunches. He picked himself up and got back to work following his passion. Eight years ago, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and told he only had a few weeks to live. As Samuel Johnson said, there’s nothing like your impending death to focus the mind. From Jobs’ 2005 Stanford commencement speech:
No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.
Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.
4. You can’t connect the dots forward – only backward – This is another gem from the 2005 Stanford speech. The idea behind the concept is that, as much as we try to plan our lives ahead in advance, there’s always something that’s completely unpredictable about life. What seems like bitter anguish and defeat in the moment — getting dumped by a girlfriend, not getting that job at McKinsey, “wasting” 4 years of your life on a start-up that didn’t pan out as you wanted — can turn out to sow the seeds of your unimaginable success years from now. You can’t be too attached to how you think your life is supposed to work out and instead trust that all the dots will be connected in the future. This is all part of the plan.
Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.
5. Listen to that voice in the back of your head that tells you if you’re on the right track or not – Most of us don’t hear a voice inside our heads. We’ve simply decided that we’re going to work in finance or be a doctor because that’s what our parents told us we should do or because we wanted to make a lot of money. When we consciously or unconsciously make that decision, we snuff out that little voice in our head. From then on, most of us put it on automatic pilot. We mail it in. You have met these people. They’re nice people. But they’re not changing the world. Jobs has always been a restless soul. A man in a hurry. A man with a plan. His plan isn’t for everyone. It was his plan. He wanted to build computers. Some people have a voice that tells them to fight for democracy. Some have one that tells them to become an expert in miniature spoons. When Jobs first saw an example of a Graphical User Interface — a GUI — he knew this was the future of computing and that he had to create it. That became the Macintosh. Whatever your voice is telling you, you would be smart to listen to it. Even if it tells you to quit your job, or move to China, or leave your partner.
6. Expect a lot from yourself and others – We have heard stories of Steve Jobs yelling or dressing down staff. He’s a control freak, we’ve heard – a perfectionist. The bottom line is that he is in touch with his passion and that little voice in the back of his head. He gives a damn. He wants the best from himself and everyone who works for him. If they don’t give a damn, he doesn’t want them around. And yet — he keeps attracting amazing talent around him. Why? Because talent gives a damn too. There’s a saying: if you’re a “B” player, you’ll hire “C” players below you because you don’t want them to look smarter than you. If you’re an “A” player, you’ll hire “A+” players below you, because you want the best result.
7. Don’t care about being right. Care about succeeding – Jobs used this line in an interview after he was fired by Apple. If you have to steal others’ great ideas to make yours better, do it. You can’t be married to your vision of how a product is going to work out, such that you forget about current reality. When the Apple III came out, it was hot and warped its motherboard even though Jobs had insisted it would be quiet and sleek. If Jobs had stuck with Lisa, Apple would have never developed the Mac.
8. Find the most talented people to surround yourself with – There is a misconception that Apple is Steve Jobs. Everyone else in the company is a faceless minion working to please the all-seeing and all-knowing Jobs. In reality, Jobs has surrounded himself with talent: Phil Schiller, Jony Ive, Peter Oppenheimer, Tim Cook, the former head of stores Ron Johnson. These are all super-talented people who don’t get the credit they deserve. The fact that Apple’s stock price has been so strong since Jobs left as CEO is a credit to the strength of the team. Jobs has hired bad managerial talent before. John Sculley ended up firing Jobs and — according to Jobs — almost killing the company. Give credit to Jobs for learning from this mistake and realizing that he can’t do anything without great talent around him.
9. Stay hungry, stay foolish – Again from the end of Jobs’ memorable Stanford speech:
When I was young, there was an amazing publication called The Whole Earth Catalog, which was one of the bibles of my generation. It was created by a fellow named Stewart Brand not far from here in Menlo Park, and he brought it to life with his poetic touch. This was in the late 1960′s, before personal computers and desktop publishing, so it was all made with typewriters, scissors, and polaroid cameras. It was sort of like Google in paperback form, 35 years before Google came along: it was idealistic, and overflowing with neat tools and great notions.
Stewart and his team put out several issues of The Whole Earth Catalog, and then when it had run its course, they put out a final issue. It was the mid-1970s, and I was your age. On the back cover of their final issue was a photograph of an early morning country road, the kind you might find yourself hitchhiking on if you were so adventurous. Beneath it were the words: “Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.” It was their farewell message as they signed off. Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish. And I have always wished that for myself. And now, as you graduate to begin anew, I wish that for you.
Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.
10. Anything is possible through hard work, determination, and a sense of vision – Although he’s the greatest CEO ever and the father of the modern computer, at the end of the day, Steve Jobs is just a guy. He’s a husband, a father, a friend — like you and me. We can be just as special as he is — if we learn his lessons and start applying them in our lives. When Jobs returned to Apple in the 1990s, it was was weeks away from bankruptcy. It’s now the biggest company in the world. Anything’s possible in life if you continue to follow the simple lessons laid out above.
THIS IS NOT A GAME, THERE ARE NO TRICKS. That’s right no games and no tricks, anyone that ever tells you otherwise should be avoided. Tricks and games remove all integrity, respect and trust in the sales interaction and only serve to piss people off. Wait a second though, the title says The 7 Steps, doesn’t that imply some kind of game or system and there fore tricks? Nope, the 7 steps are there to help guide you through making sure your customer makes the right choice, has a great experience and refers more business to you, it’s a path that the two of you need to walk together.
Step 1 – Greeting. Sounds easy enough right, greet the person, it can be that easy but there is a problem. As consumers we are pre-programmed for some odd reason to always reply to a sales person asking if we need help with “just looking”. Don’t ask me why, I’m sure there are a number of explanations for it but the truth is we do this, even if we actually need help. Listen to yourself the next time you walk into a store to look for something and someone asks you for help. You automatically respond with, nope just looking, but wait you went in there to look for something and actually NEED help. So, here’s the way to make the greeting simple and effective, be happy, be clear and use something other then can I give you a hand/help you.
Wait a second though, your reading this and maybe your already a sales person and you already have a habit of using “can I give you a hand/help you”. No problem, truth be told, I catch myself doing this all the time. The way out of this is to simply ignore the automatic response of “just looking” and ask something like “was there something specific you where looking for” or make it product specific “did you maybe have some questions about _______?”.
Step 2 – Qualifying I’m only going to say this onetime, this is the most important part of the entire process, screw this up and you are setting yourself up for failure. This is where you need to find out the hopes, dreams, expectations, reasons for, shape, size, color, configuration, power, etc that the person standing in front of you is looking for. This is the part where you through open ended questions and careful listening find out what the person is looking for. Allowing you to determine what you have that best meets or exceeds their expectations. Get used to the word expectations, it’s going to come up a lot in a bit.
The goal here is simple, get as much information from the person as possible to be able to narrow down your presentation to two or three choices at the most. If in your mind you aren’t down to two or three choices then you aren’t done qualifying. If you don’t do this and instead move on to presenting choices to the person you are simply going to confuse them and make things more difficult for you both.
There is a brilliant gentleman named Dan Ariely and if you are involved in sales or customer service in any way then you need to read his books, Predictably Irrational and The Upside of Irrationality. He’s a Behavioral Economist and the books look at decision making processes and are incredibly interesting. One of the chapters called “Keeping Doors Open” looks at how we make decision when presented with different options and the take away from it is this. When we are presented with two options it is fairly simple for us to weigh out the pros and cons and make a decision, as soon as just one more options is added the decision becomes infinitely more difficult for us to make. Another of the chapters in Dan’s book talks about imprinting and this reinforces the importance of also finding out what else the customer has already looked at.
The other goal of qualifying is to build a rapport with the customer, it’s about them getting the feelings of trust, honesty and integrity from you. By listening, asking lots of good questions and genuinely showing interest in the other person you gain rapport. The fact is that you could write an entire book about qualifying and again I emphasize that is because it is the most important part of the process. I’m not going to do that here though, this is a more compact conversation we are having dealing with bigger picture ideas. On that note, that’s enough for today I think.
As a pre-cursor to this series I have decided to write about sales and customer service, let me tell you why I’m qualified to do this. At almost 38 years old I have professionally been involved in sales for 20 years. In reality though if I consider one of the first jobs I had, I’ve been in sales since I was 15. Here’s the other part of the equation, the part that I think makes me unique. Up until 7 years ago, I had never had any sales training, none. Despite this I had done very well for myself and received praise from customers and employers for my sales skills. Then about 7 years ago I found one of employers putting all their sales people through a sales training program. You want to know what I learned? I learned that on my own through trial and error I had developed the habits of a successful consultative approach to sales. It was a really good experience and confirmation that I was going the right way. Shortly after this I started working on the wholesale side of selling, this was a little different but I found that I really only had to make a few small adjustments and the results came in.
Big deal right? That’s what your saying at this point or how about, I hate salesman they are all slimy money grubbing losers only interested in screwing me over for commission. Right? Well I’m here to tell you that at least in the case of how I conduct myself and view sales and customer service that that is wrong. I believe that sales and customer service are strongly tied together and that if you do things the right way then the money side of the equation takes care of itself.
The sales process is based on a relationship and it’s about trust, if you don’t trust the person you are dealing with chances are you aren’t going to buy from them. It’s also based on respect, I as a sales professional have to respect my customers and you as a customer owe your sales person respect if they do a good job. Sales and customer service is a two way almost symbiotic relationship, or at least it should be.
So, there is the beginning and there will be more on this topic. I’m going to write about what it is that a good sales person should be doing, what is good customer service, expectations and the role that you as a customer play in this.
I’m sorry just might be the most over used phrase in the english language. It’s also one fo those things that really should hold a lot of weight when used but sadly in todays day and age, it really means nothing. It has become nothing more then a cheap get out of jail card, very few people really mean it when they say it. We have been trained that if we say it then person we are saying it to automatically has to forgive them. Well I’m here to tell you bullshit, I’ll challenge anyone who says that to me when I know that they really don’t mean it.
I personally take the phrase “I’m Sorry” very seriously, I use it very sparingly because when I say it to you I really mean it. What is it that I feel that phrase means? It means I was wrong in my actions or words and I will not do it again, I will consciously make the decision to be aware of my actions and not do it again to the best of my ability. Pretty heavy when you think of the phrase that way.
Sadly in todays culture it’s just a way to quickly end a conversation where you are being taken to task for something you did allowing you to avoid really dealing with the issue. Leaving you free and clear to do it again because, well, I said I was sorry. You don’t actually feel sorry about what you did just that you got caught and are you going to do it again, yup. No respect I tell yah.
Next time as those words form on your lips stop and really think about what your going to say, do you really mean it, are you really going to strongly try to not do that again? If you can’t answer that with a yes, then don’t say the words.
This blog is about to have two things happen to it, one it’s going to be a lot more active and two it’s going to change directions. It’s no longer about a business but my personal blog. It’s going to b e a wild ride so hang on.
It’s Saturday morning and I am reminded via my twitter feed that the Prairies Regional Barista Championship is today and being broadcast live on Ustream. I headed over to the website for the comp to check out the competitor list, first thing I noticed was that it was being held in Calgary. Since when the hell is Calgary part of the prairies, I’m pretty sure having grown up on the prairies that Calgary is part of western Canada and not the prairies. The prairies consist of Manitoba and Saskatchewan. Anyways, that’s a different rant for a different day. Today the rant is this…..as I looked at the list of competitors I realize that they are all from either Calgary or Edmonton. Not one single person from the actual prairies. Damn, is the state of coffee out here really that bad? Really? I guess it is because coffee out here really is that bad. There is only one cafe in Manitoba and Saskatchewan that I would want to have a drink in. I guess Jimmy O’ from Museo is too busy with his new roaster to compete this year.
I checked the rules just now and there is nothing in them about having to work for a cafe, so that means that if I wanted I could compete. I’m pretty sure that I would get my ass kicked though. There are some decent cafes in Alberta, people that pull more shots in a shift that I probably do in a year.
Oh and I am probably the only person from Manitoba and Saskatchewan watching the competition right now. So disappointing…..
Remember last year when I wrote the piece below about how Fair Trade coffee was a joke? Well today Mark Prince of coffeegeek.com fame was talking about just that on twitter today. Why? Well because right now the commodity exchange price of coffee is $0.35 higher then the Fair Trade price. So if farmers sell their coffee on the open market they are making more then selling it into the Fair Trade group.
But that’s ok, keep drinking your Fair Trade coffee you bought at Wal-mart or Starbuck’s it’s all good right? You feel good about yourself and the work your doing to help that poor lonely farmer in the Nabob or Tim Horton’s commercial. Right?
Think for yourself, don’t believe what they tell you.
So recently I saw a TV ad from a large coffee company think Na and apple bob(ing) that got me thinking and a couple of questions from people asking if the coffee I am going to be importing is Fair Trade. Just what does Fair Trade, Rainforest Alliance, Bird friendly and a few other classes really mean? I feel there is some disinformation out there so let’s have a look.
Coffee is the number one traded agricultural commodity in the world, that’s right ahead of even wheat or rice. Coffee purchasing for the bulk of the market works along these lines, the price is set on the commodity futures exchange of the New York Board of Trade. So the price is set there and that is the price that large brokers around the world sell coffee to companies for. The farmer does not get that price. Let’s say that coffee is currently at $1 per pound on the exchange, I work for a broker and we pay our farmers $.20 per pound for their coffee, Big multi-national food company comes to us and buys coffee for $1 a pound, roasts it, packages it and ships it around the world selling it for $7-18 a pound…..nice work if you can get it. The thing is that the price on the exchange is driven by supply and demand not unlike oil. So if the price of coffee drops on the market for whatever reason (recession) then the farmers will flood the market because they work on very slim profits and will try to make the some money by selling more coffee at a lower price thus flooding the market and causing the price to drop further. The farms are run not unlike a KFC chicken farm or maybe a big swooshy companies shoe factory in Asia. Child labour, poor living and work conditions, land is over farmed etc. Remember coffee trees generally only bloom once a year.
So along comes the idea of paying fair pricing that allows better working conditions and more money for farm employees. Let’s call this idea Fair Trade. Fair trade looked at a few things, first it addressed pricing, the minimum price for Fair Trade coffee is $1.25 and add $.20 to that if it is certified organic. They also force the farmers to provide better health and safety standards as well as paying higher wages. Sounds good? Well there are a couple of issues, first this still works through a broker so the broker gets paid $1.25 per pound not the farmer, yes the farmer does get more as well but not $1.25. Also the farm has to be certified and that costs between $2500 and $10000 that the farmer is responsible for paying. That’s a lot of coffee at $.20 per pound just to get maybe $.30 per pound instead. Doesn’t really sound so great anymore.
Next let’s look at Rainforest Alliance certification, the one that big Apple Bobbing company talks about in their ad that shows happy kids with fresh water and school books. Well the Rainforest alliance is really a certification that prevents big farms from stripping the land bare to plant coffee trees to make more money, yes they do get paid a higher price for Rainforest certified coffee but there is no minimum price like there is with Fair Trade. Basically Rainforest coffee means that the farm must maintain 40% shade from Rainforest vegetation for the coffee trees. They also can not change the course of natural water flow through the plantations. Kids under 15 can not be employed and they can’t be forced to carry more then 20% of their body weight and all workers must be paid a fair wage. Oh and certification is free. Again, some good things here but not really addressing all the issues.
Up next is Bird Friendly, Bird Friendly addresses nothing associated with price or labor standards. It certifies that the farm meets Organic certification standards, maintains the forest preserving the bird and wildlife habitats and that’s about it really. So essentially it’s a fancy term for organic shade grown coffee..
Organic and shade grown, well see above, I think that spells that out for everyone.
The last one is not actually a certification method but rather a purchasing method being pioneered by a number of small roasters primarily in North America. It’s known as Direct Trade or Relationship coffee. So first things first, we get rid of the broker and deal directly with the farmer or a co-op of farmers. Second price minimum’s vary but usually they start at $1.60 a pound or at least 25% more then the Fair Trade price which would make Direct/Relationship pricing $1.94 for non-organic and $2.25 for organic certified per pound and this goes to the FARMER, all of it. So the farmer that is too small who can’t afford to pay for Fair Trade certification is suddenly getting 10 to 20 times the price he normally would for his coffee. Direct trade also although loosely, set’s standards for the workers living conditions, wages, child care, schooling etc. The roasters work with the farmers as well to improve environmental standards as laid out by organic or shade grown practices. These roasters also actually visit the farms they work with to make sure that the things they want done for the increased prices they pay go actually get done. In return these roasters get the very best beans from these farmers and of course the best beans result in the best coffee you can find. This method addresses almost all the issues of the other standards, the only problems being it’s not a set list of standards but a loose set of guidelines.
The point here being? Well there are some companies out there trying to make money off the increased awareness of global social and economic issues by saying look at what we are doing but, are they really doing it? Then there are some companies out there really trying to make a difference. Let’s not also forget that while this big company is touting it’s good business practices it is also producing things like disposable coffee capsules, right, because the world needs more plastic in the garbage? The same companies pushing Direct Trade or Relationship coffee’s are also trying to find better packaging methods. Methods that don’t use polymers or are biodegradable, some of them even do things like having their roasting facilities and cafes use only green energy. Have extensive recycling programs for everything from cups to bags to spent grounds the materials used in their facilities and low VOC paints. Seems like a pretty easy decision to make regarding who should be getting your coffee money if you ask me.
If you actually made it to the end of this, pat yourself on the back and thanks for listening. I tend to ramble on when I talk about something I am passionate about, ask my wife….