MANAGING THE “ITCH” CYCLE

MANAGING THE “ITCH

There is a study of habit known as the “Itch Cycle.” The Itch Cycle varies from topic to topic, and person to person. For example, once upon a time, comedians referred frequently to the “Seven-Year Itch.” Men were known for getting bored with what they have, and looking around. MGM had a famous movie starring Marilyn Monroe of the same title.

The Sales Cycle has an “itch” too. In the past, the cycle for small consumer goods was 18 months. Today, that itch cycle is much shorter due in great part, to the immediacy of the internet and mobile devices.

Customers are better informed than ever, and decisions to purchase (once the itch cycle begins) was once 10 days (small consumer goods). Today, that cycle is five days, or half of what it was 15 years ago.

This means we need to be in contact with our customers sooner, and more frequently if we want to be the  solution to their “itch.” During your one-on-ones, ask your manager to share with you the frequency of converted quotes, and the vast majority of them happen inside the seven-day window.

We are moving from the age of the seller to the age of the customer. Our customers are better informed, more aware, and able to engage with solutions providers at any number of portals that didn’t exist 10 years ago.  Customers have more alternatives for which to scratch their itch.  If you ignore this fact, you may rapidly become noise vs signal in their world

BUILDING THE ITCH

Through our Customer Contacts and followups, we generate an itch. By reminding customers we’re here and that we’re looking out for their best interests, they’ll think of us first. You can bet that the competition isn’t sending them followup emails every couple of months. If by some strange coincidence they are, it’s unlikely that the competition knows as much about the customer as we do, because we’re not only qualifying our customers, we’re always doing an informal Needs Analysis by knowing what they do with their gear, knowing what would best compliment their equipment and workflow, and keeping an eye out for their best interests, right? If you’re not doing these things, you should be. That’s what a professional facilitator/sales person does.  It’s a big component of building trust.

MANAGING THE ITCH

Once we generate a quote, we need to keep ourselves in the customer’s mind. We do this through phone calls and emails. We need to ‘scratch their itch’ every 72-96 hours. Therefore, if we generate a quote on a Monday, we need to be in touch with that customer by Thursday afternoon at latest.

Therefore, if we generate a quote on a Monday, we need to be in touch with that customer by Thursday afternoon at latest.

In your CRM software, set a reminder/followup to contact your customer within that four day window, and watch your sales grow.

Scratching itches brings relief, and relief puts money in YOUR pocket as a solutions facilitator for your customer’s needs.

 

The Trivia of “Sell”

SELL:

“to provide or transfer a product or service to someone in return for money”

– to some people the concept of selling suggests undue influence or persuasion of another person to buy with an imbalanced focus on the seller profiting from the sale. Vistek Sales Staff

Early origins of the word tell us that selling should aim to benefit the buyer more than the seller. This strong focus on achieving a positive outcome for the buyer features firmly in good modern selling methodologies, where empathy, integrity, trust, and sustainability are central to the sales process.

TO “GIVE”

The word “sell” is a very old word with even older origins. Before 1200 the word was “sellen,” evolved from “sellan,” which appears in the old English epic poem “Beowulf,” first seen 725 AD. At this time the word “sellan” carried the wider meaning of “giving,” and exchanging for money (i.e., selling). We see this broader meaning in cognates (words with the same root) of the word “sell” as they developed in other languages. In ancient Dutch the word “sella” meant “to give.”

In Old Saxon the word “sellian” meant “to give.” The Old Norse word “salja” meant to “give up” (something to another person). The old Gothic word “saljan” meant to offer a sacrifice. Related to these meanings, the Old Slavic word “sulu” was a word for a messenger, and the Latin suffix “selere” indicates the concept of taking counsel or advice.

This is often what customers and clients buy; our counsel or advice.

The original derivation seems to trace back to ancient Indo-European language, in which “sel” and “sol” meant “to take.” It is only in relatively recent times that selling has focused on the seller’s advantage and profit and not on fulfilling customer wants, needs, and desires.

When sellers fail to focus on the customer’s benefits, the concept is not operating at its best and short-changes our profession.

Selling is truly sustainable – as a profession, a career, and a business activity – when it focuses primarily on the customer benefiting from the relationship. A true salesperson is one that enables, facilitates, or directs their client or counterpart on a mutually beneficial path.  This is truly a professional aspiration that merits pride.

WHAT CLIENTS BUY (hint; it ain’t what you think)

There is a very old saying; “Sell the sizzle, not the steak.”

Clients and customers truly don’t want your product.

Seriously.

Our customers buy what our products DO for them, or what our products allow them to do.

They want more profit, experiences, ego-boosts, greater productivity, or memories.

It’s likely you have had some sales-training by now, and understand that people don’t buy what we manufacture, develop, or concept. They buy what our products allow them to do/experience.

As a reminding example; people generally don’t buy cars; they buy the self-reliant ability to get from Point A to Point B.  People don’t buy skiis; they buy the thrill of rushing down a mountain grade, or perhaps they buy a social experience with other friends that own skiis. What they DON’T buy is the physical object/device itself.

Selling “facts” or “features” is meaningless. Overall, selling on “facts” is counter-productive and may be construed as arrogance.

Selling “fuel-injected, or Quad-core processor, or 4K display” means very little unless these facts are tied to the benefits of what the fact/feature provides.

  • Fuel-injected allows for better performance both in terms of fuel consumption and greater power from the vehicle engine. “Would more power and greater fuel-efficiency be something that interests you?
  • The benefit of a Quad-core processor means not only faster computing, but also greater ability to have multiple applications open without bogging down the system. In turn, this results in greater productivity. “How do you suppose a faster processor might benefit your workflow?
  • A 4K display means the user experiences a better image, sharper in low light, smoother color transitions/contrasts, and less eyestrain/fatigue. “Do you think you’d enjoy not having a headache at the end of a long day in front of a computer screen?

Business clients don’t purchase software because it’s written in SQL, Java, whatever. They don’t buy that it’s got 512 bit encryption. They don’t buy module-ized systems. Business customers don’t even buy 24/7 tech support. But they do buy products that allow them to use software on whatever OS platform they have, they do buy secure information, and they do buy a product that can grow as their business grows. They buy peace of mind, knowing that their data systems will always be up and running 24/7, thanks to your company and the assurances your support team offers.

Either way,clients generally don’t care much about specifications; they care about what specifications/facts/features DO for them. If you know WHY they’re buying, it’s easier to direct the conversation of benefits to fit their particular dominant buying motive.

Each time you present a fact, tie it to a benefit.

Try to target the benefit to their dominant buying motive.

“This camera has a full-frame sensor which allows you to shoot better pictures in low light.  Would better images in low light be something you’d appreciate from your camera?

The SalesBurger is a device that helps me remember to sell the sizzle, not the steak. The “meat” of a salesburger is the primary part of a hamburger that people purchase; the meat is the “benefit.” The meat is the tastiest part of the burger, right? When presenting, try to invoke the Lettuce of Enthusiasm, and go easy on the Mustard of Intimidation.

  • FACT-Describe the fact/feature/spec of the product.
  • BENEFIT-Describe what it DOES for the customer.
  • EVIDENCE-Demonstrate the benefit (when possible).
  • NAIL DOWN-Restate the benefit in the form of a question. “Would this be important/valuable/useful to you?” (A nail-down is merely another form of a trial close)

Try using the “salesburger method” when presenting a product. Tie benefits to facts/features. You’ll increase sales as a result!

SalesBurger-LG

salesburger ©1981 dse

The Rhythm of the “YES”! (Trial Closing)

“Yes.”

A simple word that plays a complex and critical role in the sales process.

We need a “yes” after each presentation of a benefit (or feature) before moving on to the next qualifying question. Small yeses bring us closer to the big “yes” when the deep close comes up.

But how does one achieve “small yeses?”

In sales, the “Trial Close” is how we win small and win early.

upwardIf we can win small, we’ll win early. If we can win early, we’ll win often.
This is known as the “Upward Spiral.”

What is a “Trial Close?”

It’s more simple (yet more complex) than one might think.
A trial close is merely asking our prospect’s opinion of what we’ve just shown them. For example, we’ve just shown the fact/feature of our product, and then more importantly stated the benefit of the fact/feature we’ve just demonstrated. After we’ve shown and explained the benefit of what we have to offer, the sales professional asks the customer for their opinion. Some examples of the trial close;

 “Would it be important to you that this does XXXX for you?”
“Is this an improvement over what you’re using now?”
“Do you think this XXXX (benefit) will save you time?”
“How do you feel about the payment terms?
“Does this fit into your budget?”
What aspect of this product do you like the best so far?” 
“How do you feel about what we have discussed so far?”
“What do you think about the features I’ve shared with you?”
“How does what we’ve talked about sound to you?”
“Based on what you’ve heard so far, do you have any questions?”
“Based on what we’ve talked about, I’ve put together this quote for you. Are there any changes you’d like to make?” 
“Does everything we’ve talked about today make sense to you?”
“Are we on the right track here?”
“Does this seem to be the kind of solution you are looking for?” 
“Do you see what I mean?”

The unprofessional salesperson asks “What do you think?” Avoid being “that guy.”

A powerful Trial Close, “Is there anything that’s really important to you that I haven’t shown you or answered yet?” encourages the customer or client to share any specific thoughts, questions, or concerns they might have related to what you’ve shown them. 

Trial Closes are merely taking the “temperature” of our customer. We want to know how they feel about what we’re showing, and backstop ourselves from going too far down the wrong road, or from travelling too far if they’re not in the right space to make their purchasing decision at this time.

There’s a time and a place for your closing action question. The purpose of the trial close is to see if you’re on track, and to have a chance to adjust BEFORE you ask your closing questions. It’s important to ask these trial closing questions; they set you up for the actual closing question.

The point of the trial close is to set up the customer to give you a buying signal.
If/when you receive a strong buying signal, the close should naturally happen. If you get something other than a buying signal you should start thinking that you have a shopper and not a customer.

Trial closes also help to clarify the conversation. With roughly a third of what you say to a customer being misheard or misinterpreted, trial closes allow us to correct perceptions or missed points.  Once you’re comfortable with this technique, you’ll be surprised at how much information customers actually misunderstand or miss altogether.

Trial closes are NOT closing questions any more than Qualifying Questions are closing questions.

Closing questions involve pressure, and force the customer into making decisions.
Trial closes are merely asking for and confirming a shared understanding of the product and its features/benefits.

If you’re uncomfortable asking closing questions (the mark of a weak salesperson), try asking more trial closes. Test the waters. It won’t take long before the actual close comes naturally and easily (and you’ll quickly increase your closing ratio).

Simply asking questions, followed by actually listening to the response, is one of the most important traits and tools of a successful sales professional. More importantly, knowing which close to use after listening, and having that “inner-sense” of how to best manage the closing question is the mark of a true professional.

Your Business is Tanking; Wanna Know WHY?

Several years ago I was brought in by a friend to consult on a new product being offered by a new company. My partner and I helped the new entrepreneur set up his marketing department and sales scripting/messaging, and off to the stars he went with his new product. Fast forward to the present, his company now offers 50 products aimed at a high-demand market with average competition. His product is outstanding, has brand-recognition, fair prices, and a market that wants his product. The company has been very successful and on the surface, still appears to be so.

I ran into my former client and his new partner/investor at CES this past January and was disappointed to find that their sales are tanking. He invited me to lunch and we discussed what was going on. Several flags began waving the moment we sat down with our trade-show sandwiches and Gatorade.

red-Flag“Sales are so bad, we’re planning to lay off a couple of sales people.”
WHAT?? Do they really suck? Are they stealing? Are you grossly overpaying them?
“No, but we need to cut overhead. We’ve contracted some athletes connected with an energy drink to help raise our profile, and I think they probably sell more than our sales guys.”

I held my tongue until more information was shared.

red-FlagWhat are you doing on the social media front?
We have a Facebook page, we tweet about our new products, and we share our press releases through a few social media outlets.”
How are you engaging end users to bring them into the dealer stores? What kind of marketing opportunities are you providing your dealers?
“We can’t really afford to do much, so we provide them with sales literature and they can always use our YouTube videos.

By now, I’m almost speechless.

red-FlagHow are you tying marketing to sales promotions?

“We’re really not doing anything, what the dealers do is up to them so long as they observe our MAP (Minimum Advertised Price).”

What are your sales people doing to generate new channels, bring on more dealers?
“Our dealer network is great, we don’t want to water down the product by selling it to just anyone, we like the concept of remaining the big name, available only through prime retailers. We feel the exclusivity inspires dealers to sell our product first.”

I kept peppering the partners with questions, but one thing became apparent; in the process of having a great product, a great brand, and a great opportunity, the concept of great sales has escaped them. Instead of reaching outwardly, their ego has allowed them to reach a point where they expect business to come to them. That concept worked really well in the 90’s, but let’s face it, the world of Amazon and iTunes, 3D printing and overnight delivery have changed our world. The internet has both broadened and narrowed our customer base. But the attitudes that many business owners have hasn’t changed with technology or innovations in communication/messaging. This is a recipe for corporate death.

Many companies suffer from what I’ve long called the “Field of Dreams-itis.” If you build it, they will come” doesn’t hold true in the shifting world of sales. Engaging customers, whether direct sales, dealership support, B-to-B, or indirect sales has never been easier yet is very frequently ignored for a variety of reasons.

Another problem this company is facing is that they’re relying on “industry experts/athletes” to draw attention to the products. This simply isn’t enough.  Putting up a Facebook page that remains static simply isn’t enough. It’s like hiring a clerk to stand at the door and wave, vs directing customers to wherever their needs will be satisfied.
Add in that the sales staff are “clerking” (taking orders vs actually selling) and it’s no wonder sales are diminishing.  Sales is an art form, and expecting non-sales people to sell is like expecting a non-mechanic to know how to change the gaskets in your car. Industry experts are great, but if they can’t sell, they’re useless in a rough economy. They’re more about the ego of the business owners to be associated with big names and their big-name sports drink than they are about creating a profitable environment in which the business can grow. The first priority of any business is to sell. Whether it’s selling an intangible service, a physical product, or a method of operation, sales is always first because sales generates the revenue that drives the rest of the company. If the company is struggling, bolster the sales and marketing team instead of diminishing them. They are the next most important investment after the cost of goods.
Many business owners forget that one may have a trailer load of gold bullion in the middle of the desert, yet without a tractor to pull it, the bullion is of no use to any one and is as valuable as a trailer load of lead.

However, all is not lost for this company. Perhaps some of their problems are yours, too. Their hope is what spawned this article. 

  • We laid out some very basic sales strategies.
  • We laid out some very basic customer/end-user and dealer support scripting and practices.
  • We laid out how to monitor this process without using expensive CRM software.

It’s only been about 50 days, yet there is already a discernible difference in both the result and workforce. Of course there is the initial surge of energy and re-vitalization that occurs after any significant shift in how sales people and customer relations are managed, yet the excitement is sustainable when results are measured and realized.
None of the basic strategies laid out over lunch will save this company, but have so far offered up a slower decline and one salesperson has improved their numbers using elementary 101 techniques coupled with appropriate sales management strategies.
Fear is not a motivator. It destroys morale, generates concern for “will I have a job tomorrow?” and overall is destructive to a comfortable atmosphere.

With this in mind my friends, I’d urge you to use the revitalizing spring season to your advantage.

MOTIVATE!! INSPIRE!!

Offer your sales people new sales strategies.
Show them how their lives, their jobs, their work experience can be more positive and exciting if they meet their goals.
Inspire them to dig into your product and learn more about how it works. Create an environment of trust. If your product is a physical product, encourage sales staff to take the product home (when possible) to learn how to use it. One of my clients held a contest for his sales staff; “Who can make the best 3 minute video using our POV camera product?” The winner received a small award, tradeshow swag, bragging rights, and 2 tickets to a Lakers game. The cost of exciting the staff (which resulted in staff training), was minimal but the impact was massive.

BETTER OPTIONS

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Listen to your sales and marketing team. They are boots on the ground. They are your soldiers. A good general and executive staff stays in tune with the man on the street through his infantry and forward operating base.

Incentivize. Support. Foster a fun environment. Recognize achievements.
Show your staff how their efforts improve the lives and well-being of your customers, and in turn, your customers will improve the lives and well-being of the sales staff. Employees will be more engaged when they truly believe that their work has a positive impact not only on the company they work for, but for themselves as individuals.
Keep symbols of success out in the open. Share letters, phone calls, or other instruments of communication that praise your staff. If there aren’t such instruments, create them through goal-setting and milestones of achievement.
NEVER stop training your salespeople. Even the best of the best of the best know this and implement fresh information. Zig Ziglar, Tommy Hopkins, even the ancient antiquated J. Douglas Edwards material is timeless and relevant to the modern world of sales.
While you are training them, listen to what they tell you they need for training, tools, techniques. Invest in your staff and they’ll pay you dividends in both attitude and revenue.

coaching

STRATEGIZE!

A good sales and marketing operational strategy similar to a battle campaign. A good battle campaign requires a smart leader, a general. A good general stays in touch with his Forward Operating Base, or the “boots on the ground.” Remember that at the end of the day a good general can win a skirmish with only soldiers and himself. Support staff is valuable, but not vital to short-term success. Good soldiers should be able to rapidly assess their customer needs, and the general and his executive staff (buyers, marketing, warehousing, etc) are all there for one sole reason; to win the battle that the soldiers are waging, fighting for every last dollar available within your industry.

Although this should go without saying, your business is ENTIRELY about the customer/client, and those that are the face of your business need to be empowered, supported, respected, and rewarded when they properly face your business and messaging.  It’s entirely about serving your customer’s wants, needs, and desires at a profit to the company, and the people best equipped to accomplish this task are your front line and messaging teams. Energy drink athletes are terrific marketing tools when properly matched with a sales team strategy, but these ‘industry experts’ are not ‘sales people.’

SALES-MARKETING-OPERATIONS:.

These are the irreplaceable pillars of every successful company.

Make no mistake. The sales and marketing team is by far the most important component of, and investment in,  to any successful organization. When losing the battle, the last thing a smart general would ever do is pull his infantry from the field and attempt to support the campaign via non-soldiers fighting the war.  In other words, lose HR, accounting, buyers, operations personnel, even janitors while leaving an effective sales and marketing team in place. If the sales and marketing teams aren’t effective partners then either inspire them to be so or replace them with people that are. A product-dumb sales pro is far more desirable than a product expert who cannot sell. A marketer that can execute co-opted campaigns with the sales staff and advertising staff is far more desirable than a PR person who can whip up fluffy, feel-good quips. Use what you have. Find intelligent ways to direct the staff to do more with less. Use community resources, develop video sales tools, use tools like YouTube, Vimeo, Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, Pinterest, etc to keep your messaging consistent and constant.
Sales and marketing=peanut butter and jelly. They go together. They are the front line. They are the rainmakers. Give them whatever tools necessary, even if it means cutting the company lunch budget or not being part of the next Warrior Dash event sponsorship.

Otherwise, one might as well just hire 16 year-old clerks to take orders, the same kid that thinks “Closes” are something they put on their body in the morning, one arm and leg at a time.

Check back in 90 days for an update on my friend’s company.

The Return of the Knot (Simple Pleasures)

25 years ago, my first solo album hit the Billboard charts. At the time, I was signed with Sound of America Records, and I was the second artist signed to the label. This was an exciting time, and both the label and I were thrilled to celebrate.
To commemorate the moment, the president, A&R guy, and chief janitor (all the same guy) and I went to dinner and at the dinner, he gave me a sterling bracelet, one of a kind, that he’d had from the early days of XIT (Google them, they were huge in the 70’s). Tom Bee’s gift rarely left my wrist. There are many photographs of me in concert, wearing this highly-prized bit of jewelry.

911 brought new airport security measures, requiring jewelry to be removed at the security checkpoint.

12 years ago, when going through the security line at McCarran Airport in Las Vegas, my bracelet disappeared between where it went into the machine and where it came out of the machine. It turned into a nightmare when I was arrested for yelling at a TSA officer, because I was quite certain it was in his pocket. It occurred just before a shift change, and the supervisor was loathe to ask her officers on that line to empty their pockets.

Regardless, my prized silver bracelet was gone and I’ve missed it ever since.

The original idea was to simply re-create it from photographs, and this should have been a fairly straightforward, easy task. This wasn’t the case. Custom jewelry artist after another tried and either failed, or admitted it wasn’t so easy to do.  Eventually, I gave up.

Given some recent circumstances and changes in my life, I picked up the sword again and decided I would not give up.

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This is the concept piece, since we didn’t have the original for creating a mold.

Burning up the cell phone, Google, and word of mouth eventually brought me to Charles Freshman of Freshman’s in Salt Lake City, UT. He seemed enthusiastic, although he cautioned me that this simple appearance was actually quite complex in the making, especially in sterling.
So, we set out to make a bracelet together and voila!

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Warmed wax knots up nicely (after several practice runs)

Since we didn’t have the original bracelet from which to create the mold,  I used a small bit of cord to create the concept in size.  Everyone else had wanted to actually heat silver and attempt tying the knot. Molding created a special problem, as the size didn’t really lend itself to the molding process. Charles came up with the idea of creating a long, thin mold that would later allow for the long ‘arms’ of silver to be re-formed into the ‘horns’ of the bracelet. The biggest challenge was keeping the wax cool enough to form,  while warm enough to properly allow for a knot to be tied in it. Several feet of wax was destroyed in the process of tying knots in it.

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The initial castings were quite different, based on the various knots we tied.

Next up came the casting process. Due to the way the mold pours, it was much harder than expected.

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The finished product

At the end of the day, I’m very pleased with the final product. Although this has been a long process, I’m reminded of how important some material things may be in our lives, not so much for what they are, but rather for what they represent.

The experiences with SOAR Records, Tom Bee, and the subsequent opportunities that first album led to,  will never be forgotten, but wearing a daily reminder of just that one experience alone meant to me at the time, is priceless to me.

Although it is a small thing, I’m grateful and happy that the reminder itself is replaceable, and that my memory of this special memento is no longer tied up in the pocket of a TSA officer in Las Vegas.

Small and simple, indeed. At the same time, isn’t life best a journey of small, simple pleasant experiences that culminate in a happy life?

Handling Hump Day

ImageYep, another Wednesday…and in the pre-sunrise hours a moment for reflection is called for (even though I’m running late).
Taking a second or two before rushing out the door doesn’t cost me anything, not really. Yet it sets the tone for the rest of the day.  It’s kind of like a good intro to a great song. Today feels like a good song coming on. Probably not a hit, but one I can tap toes to all day, and certainly a great hook (the recurring theme of any great song).
Flyin with friends on this beautiful morning…
Fear Zero,, take on the day with a determined smile.