Hal Becker

Wednesday, 23 February 2005 19:00

Batteries not included

When I started my sales career at Xerox Corp., I was taught a few things that have stayed with me for 27 years. These basic principles allowed me to be the No. 1 salesperson at Xerox out of a national sales force of 11,000, and have continued to bring me success in the businesses I have owned during the past two decades.

True salespeople -- of which there are very few -- follow six rules of selling that mirror the basic themes of every notable sales book. These principles have not changed in more than 75 years, and probably will not change in the next 75.

I learned the first three in 1976 at our Xerox training facility. I picked up the second three over the next 20 years. If your sales team isn't following these rules, it's time to change your sales playbook to include them.

* Know your product. At Xerox, we knew our copiers inside and out. We dreamed about them. We were responsible for having all of the product knowledge possible. We showed our customers that we knew it, portraying a strong sense of confidence. When you go shopping, how often do you find salespeople who take pride in their products or memorize information about what they are selling?

* Know your competition. You have strengths over your competitors and you also have weaknesses. So do they. Learn them. Then you can sell against your competitors without knocking them. Don't give a customer the chance to say something nice about a competitor.

* Work harder. Our quota at Xerox was simple: 10 new business contacts per day, whether a cold call in person or over the phone. I said to myself, "Hey I can do more than that." So I set a new plan: 20 calls per day. The key was that I made those calls every day. I doubled everyone else's effort at more than 100 calls per week, 400 calls per month, 4,800 calls per year. A simple but effective consistent plan that worked.

* Be organized. Use your planner. And I mean really use it, so if you lost it, you would freak out. Stay in touch with all prospects and existing clients. If you're not doing so, your competition probably is.

* Be aggressive, not is the sense of being pushy or closing hard but in terms of being on top of the game plan. The more you do each day, the bigger the payoff. Remember that the sales game is made up of customers you know and customers you haven't yet met.

* Be honest. All you have is your reputation. There is not a single sale you will ever make that will change your life. Oh, it might ensure a better month or even a better year, but it will not change your life. Everybody says they are honest, but how many people are really, truly honest? People buy from people and, in most cases, from people they like and especially trust. Those are the people we want to mention to others.

There are no better sales than referral sales, where all you do is check your voice mail and find messages from people who want to buy from you. To close the sale, all you have to do is call them back.

Go back to the basics, work on the fundamentals and stay with them. While it may sound simple, Sales 101 is what we discussed in this article. But more important, Sales 202 is going back to Sales 101 and practicing.

Your company can't afford your sales team not to be doing it.

Hal Becker is a nationally known speaker on sales and customer service. He is the author of two best-selling books, "Can I have 5 Minutes of Your Time?" and "Lip Service". Reach him at www.halbecker.com.

Friday, 30 September 2005 08:24

Panning for gold

In today’s marketplace, there are plenty of average salespeople but few who are really outstanding. Don’t believe me? Ask any top CEO. Or look at your own sales team. Odds are, you know you could use a couple more “A” players.

So why do you — and your peers -struggle to find the very best of the best to fill every open slot on your sales team? Part of the problem comes down to your recruitment process and, specifically, the interview.

The skill of interviewing takes time to learn — even for the most seasoned CEO — because we all love to talk. The secret is in our ability to sit and listen. These tips work just as well for hiring your vice president of sales as they do for hiring members of your sales team. Used properly, you will reap rewards from high-quality hires.

  • Forget the resume. Applications are a must. No exceptions. They must be filled out in complete detail. If candidates do not do this correctly, imagine their paperwork later.

    Don’t bother with the resume. Resumes can make anyone look good on paper — especially salespeople — and forget about references. Do you think someone is going to include as a reference their parole officer or a previous job where he or she failed to perform?

  • Look for passion. Ask lots of questions. Go over applications in detail — name, address, where the person lived previously, education, major. You must ask, and more important, listen, to the answers.

    Remember, you’re trying to make decisions about people’s lives and about your company’s most important area — sales. You can only find out about people by asking good questions. If they talk about their hobbies in dry, boring tones, how well do you think they will sell your product or service?

    The more someone talks, the better — or worse —they become.

  • Sell your company. Now is the time to sell your company’s features and benefits. Don’t forget that this is a sales presentation for you as much as for the candidate. If you have a good candidate in front of you, don’t lose that person.

    Also, make sure candidates know exactly what you expect from them. Do not, and I repeat, do not talk too much about your company. The more you listen and the more applicants talk, the more you find out about them and whether they’ll bring another “A” to your sales stable.

  • Don’t settle for No. 2. Conduct as many interviews as possible to ensure you get the right person the first time. This should not be a one-person show. Get other people — including your top salespeople — involved to interview candidates. Others will see different things with a different perspective.

    Take notes so you can refer to them when you all meet. When you review your notes to discuss what each of you felt, your chances of hiring the right person increase exponentially.

  • Practice always trumps theory. When you believe you’ve found candidates who would be strong fits for your team, take them into the field with you for a half-day or full day. This way, applicants can see if this is really the right position for them.

    And, more important, if you send them with your best salespeople, those people will have the insight to tell you whether they think the candidate can do the job.

    The bottom line is that you’re panning for gold during the recruitment process. You want to keep the best nuggets for yourself and let the silt return to the soil. A consistent plan, combined with an eye for talent, will ensure you’re always scouting for the best.

    Remember, your company’s sales team is only as good as your weakest link. By spending the time up front to ensure your weakest link is strong, you will ensure that your sales team always performs.

    HAL BECKER is a nationally known speaker on sales and customer service. He is the author of two best-selling books, “Can I have 5 minutes of your time?” and “Lip Service.” His newest book on negotiating is titled “Get What You Want!” Reach him at www.halbecker.com.

Monday, 22 July 2002 09:56

At your service

From the editor: I was having lunch with Hal Becker a couple of years ago to discuss the regular column he was writing for SBN at the time. He asked for a small salad. “Our lunch salads are pretty big,” the waiter said.

“Can you just make me a small dinner salad?” Becker asked again. “You can charge whatever you want [lunch was on the editor that day], but I’m really in the mood for a small salad.”

“I’m sorry,” the waiter said. “We can’t do that.”

We placed our orders and my entrée was preceded by, you guessed it, a small salad, which Becker stared at hungrily.

He turned to me and said, “I’m writing a book on bad customer service. This restaurant just made it in.”

A year later, Becker sent me a signed copy of the book. The inscription: “Look at story on page 101; sound familiar?”

Well, now that I’ve told you the story, we’ve dispensed with page 101. But here are other excerpts from his book, “At Your Service: Calamities, Catastrophes And Other Curiosities Of Customer Service” ($17.95, Wiley and Sons). It offers examples of bad service and interviews with 10 companies that provide top-notch service.

Trouble at the electronics store

People ask me, “Which is your favorite horror story?” This definitely has to be one of the top contenders. [But] in this case, I got lucky. I actually thought of a snappy comeback. And whatever you think of me, (I am not an evil guy, really), it was fun. I could imagine the expression on this clerk’s face when her boss informed her that I was not who I said I was. And then I could imagine her boss asking her, “What is this all about?” She would have to say something about what she did and backpedal out of the situation.

Great customer service is not an accident. It takes thought, planning, and, of course, the right players to make a winning team.

Brain Dead Electronics [no, of course that’s not the real name] sells electronics and miscellaneous stuff. I went in, got the new Steely Dan Live CD and took it to the checkout counter. The clerk’s name was Tiffany, and I don’t know when I saw anyone move more slowly. And she was talking to her buddy. Tiffany and her buddy weren’t really ignoring me. But I definitely got the impression that I was more of a nuisance than a customer.

I said, “Excuse me, I’m kind of in a hurry. Will you be able to ring me up?” So now, Tiffany decided to ring my sale up very, very s-l-o-w-l-y. All the while she kept talking with her buddy. I said, “Excuse me, I’m really in a hurry. Can you cut your conversation and do it a little bit later? I don’t mind if you talk, but why don’t you do it as soon as I leave.”

I could see the cash register drawer, which was open right in front of me. I saw every quarter, dime, nickel and penny. Instead of giving me the loose ones, she decided to break open every new roll of coins so that she could go even slower.

Now, I thought, it’s time to mess back with her. So, just as she finished, I said, “Tiffany, hi. My name is Jon Lief (my friend Jon and I always use each other’s names in situations like this) and I want you to know that I am from corporate. I am from the shopper’s program, and you have been shopped, which means that your customer service was atrocious.

“I want you to go to your manager as soon as I walk out, and tell him Mr. Lief was here from corporate. Let him know that today is your last day. Because as soon as I get in my car, I am writing up a report and I’m faxing it to the home office to explain why you will not represent our corporation any longer. Tiffany, have a really good day.”

And I walked out. You should have seen the look on her face. Can you imagine her going to her boss and mentioning Mr. Lief, and her boss saying, “Who? We don’t have a corporate shopper’s program. There’s no Mr. Lief.”

I ruined her day.

What Should Be Done? The answer is very simple. This person should go work at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, where employees can be as slow and as nasty as they want because they have a job for life.

A person like this should be let go. This attitude is totally inexcusable.

Managers need to get out of their offices and on the floor more often so they can observe their employees.

Actually, it goes back even farther than that, to the hiring policy. This episode is another case of management hiring the wrong person just to put a lukewarm body in a spot rather than looking for someone who has the right attitude — someone who can represent the company and create the desired image.

Two phrases that say it all

Forget the mission statement. All mission statements say the same thing, and they do absolutely nothing for the customer. If you and your company can live by these two phrases, and if you can actually implement them every single day, then you will be providing exceptional customer service.

1. Customer service is doing more than the customer expects.

2. Customer service isn’t what you think it is — it’s what the customer thinks it is.

Imagine that you own or manage a restaurant. You ask a customer, “How was everything?”

The customer says, “It was terrible.”

You say, “How about a free dessert?” Maybe the customer doesn’t want dessert, or is on a diet or is diabetic. If so, free dessert is not what the customer wants. The customer wants great service or to be compensated for poor service, either now or some time in the future.

Instead, you should simply say, “What would you like us to do for you?” Usually when the question is phrased that way the customer only wants half of what you expected to give. It’s surprising, but if you are not prepared to ask that statement, you have no business dealing with the public.

Learn from the masters

The best companies in the world have certain qualities in common. Whatever our business, we all can learn a lot from them. I have selected those that have impressed me most, based on personal experience.

Some of these are household words. But you don’t have to be big and famous to be successful, as you will see from the small companies I have included.

After I selected these 10 companies, I called each one and asked questions about their philosophy and practices in regard to customer service. A few factors really stood out.

First, in virtually every case, when these companies hire new employees, the most important attribute they look for is a positive attitude. The critical factor for every company is not a skill or an educational degree, but an aspect of underlying personality that is reflected in behavior.

I don’t know of any company that will hire a person without the appropriate attitude and then try to instill that attitude through training. Companies can only reinforce the right attitude with a positive environment. A corporation is a piece of paper, but a company is made up of people. And people with great attitudes make great companies.

The second area that really stood out — and this discovery really blew me away — was the absence of rules. Not one single company had a 100-page policy manual or book of rules. Instead, these companies have ongoing hands-on training to teach their people how to take care of the problems. Employees don’t have to worry about making mistakes as long as the customer is satisfied. And this method seems to be working quite well.

The bottom line is this: Train people well, empower them to do their jobs, and then let them go and not be afraid to make mistakes as along as they always, always put the customer first.

In putting together this section, I went right to the top in each organization and started with the CEO.

What amaz ed me was that the higher up I went, the nicer the people were. In many cases, the president referred me down to someone else — typically the public relations department or the vice president of sales, and that was fine. What really impressed me was that everyone returned my calls quickly, without knowing who I was or what I wanted, and they couldn’t have been more helpful.

It just shows that the best corporations are run with the best people. It all starts on top with being congenial, talking to people as individuals, and treating them as people.

JM Landscaping

Here’s a little company you have probably never heard of. A couple years ago, it did something that floored me. My house was one of the first built in a new development. So a lot of homes were built around me, with all the dirt that goes with construction and landscaping. I got used to dealing with it because it was inevitable.

One day I received a letter. At first I thought it was junk mail, and I was about to throw it away, but for some reason I read it. It started:

“Dear Home Owner, we would like to take this opportunity to thank you for being so patient with us since we first started our landscape development project for our all-time favorite customers, Tom and Joan Adkins. We fully understand the inconveniences we may have caused neighbors while we were involved in this project over the past several months. To show you our sincere appreciation for your tolerance, please find enclosed a little thank you for putting up with us over the past year.”

It was a gift certificate. I thought, “What do I want with a gift certificate for landscaping services?” But before I threw it away, I happened to look at it more closely. It was a $25 gift certificate to Outback Steak House.

Was this action above and beyond my expectations? You bet. If I didn’t have a landscaper, would I call JM? In a heartbeat.

So I called to thank them for the gift certificate. What they said really surprised me. I was one of the only people to thank them. Is this the kind of world we live in, where hardly anyone says thank you for going above and beyond the call of duty? The guy at JM was a very sincere guy, the kind of person who can go very far if he has the right plan and the right focus, and if he keeps his attitude going in the same direction.

Here’s my interview:

What is your philosophy regarding customer service?

My basic philosophy is that I absolutely want to treat my customers as I would want to be treated. If I start a project for a customer, I expect to stay on that job until it is completed and not be running around at 50 different jobs. It’s important that once I have quoted a customer a price, there will be no change in the price. If I run into any problems, they are my problems. I will always try to do something extra for a customer — unless that customer, of course, is a pain in the neck. Most of my clients are great people.

How do you make sure you provide great customer service?

I don’t take on a whole heck of a lot of work in a year because I want to be on every job. I feel that if I’m not on every job, then I will lose control.

Most of my 10 best companies are big companies. You are a small company, but you do have employees who work with you. Do you do any training, and if so, what do you do?

My training is basic. My new employees work with me, listen to me, and pay attention to everything. I encourage my employees to attend seminars if they are available or to read publications I have. I try to educate my employees as to the proper botanical name of plant materials.

Do you have any budget that you put aside each year for training?

No, I don’t, because this is a very small company. I never have more than five or six employees total.

Do you do anything special to motivate your employees in regard to morale, behavior, ethics, and similar things?

As for the motivational portion of it, I try not to belittle the people who work for me. I try to treat them as equals. But at the same time, I let them know that this company is not Burger King. Things have to be done my way. Also, I let my employees know that if I am going to chew them out for something, it will be a one- or two-minute ordeal, and the subject will never be brought up again. Along with this, I never attack my employees on a personal level, so they know that they shouldn’t ever take anything personally. It will be strictly job-related. It will be constructive criticism. It will be over in a minute or two, and the employee will never hear another word about it. On the other side of the coin, when employees do a better job than I expected of them, I give them a bonus in their paycheck or even that same day. I do little things to help reward them for work well done.

What do you think makes you the best in your business?

I think what makes this company the best is that I have very high values, very high morals and very high standards. I expect the same values and morals and standards of my employees. And I want to convey that to my customers.

What are the qualities that you look for in a potential employee?

I look for a good attitude. I believe in attitude. I believe that whether you pay someone $5 an hour or $50 an hour it boils down to having a good work attitude. If a person accepts constructive criticism well or if a person asks questions where they may be in doubt about something rather than trying to fake it, that all shows a good work attitude. A good work attitude also includes being on time for work as well as the willingness to work a little bit late, to spend that extra bit of time when we are not done at 5:30 p.m. If we might have to work until 7 or 7:30 in the evening, I expect my employees not to complain about it. I just had a situation that made me feel good. Last week I went to a big sports tournament in New York. My employees knew I wanted to be there and all three volunteered to work last Sunday.

Do you have policies regarding customer service?

I definitely have policies about customer service. Anything I do for a customer — and that includes material and labor — I guarantee for three years. I watch for potential problems developing in a landscape. Some plant materials will perish. When you put in 200 to 300 perennials, you are going to lose a few. I try to review a project at least two or three times a week for the first year. If I see a problem in a plant, even though it is not dead yet, I replace that plant immediately. It is my feeling that this policy serves customers in a number of ways. If customers had to replace that plant themselves, it would be an inconvenience, whereas it is easy for us to do.

In addition to “At Your Service,” Hal Becker is author of “Can I Have Five Minutes of Your Time?” and a nationally known speaker in the fields of sales and customer services. He lives in Solon.

This excerpt of “At Your Service” was reprinted with grudging verbal permission from Mike Hamilton, publisher’s representative at John Wiley & Sons Inc., New York, New York. It would have been reprinted with express written permission from the publisher, except that Hamilton and the other representatives we talked to never sent the promised letter of agreement and then failed to return subsequent phone calls.

Becker’s top 10 in customer service

Callaway Golf
Disney World
JM Landscaping
L.L. Bean
McKee Foods
Mueller Tire
Ritz-Carlton Hotels
Southwest Airlines

Wednesday, 29 June 2005 07:37

Cold calling versus phone sales

Salespeople are supposed to sell. That is the bottom line. Period.

Great salespeople are always on top of their game. That really comes down to two areas, the first of which is a constant awareness of their existing clients. This includes making sure that they keep in touch on a regular basis and being aware of the clients' needs. The second area is a consistent attempt to secure new business.

Volumes have been written on how to service existing clients but we're going to focus on securing new business, specifically, the difference between phone sales and cold calls.

Cold calls

A cold call is just what it sounds like -- a salesperson knocking on the door of a business without an appointment. Usually, this is done best in a geographic territory where the salesperson can do multiple calls in a given day. A realistic number is between 10 and 20 cold calls per day.

Selling is an art -- and also a science -- and different salespeople have different personalities, especially on cold calls. The most important is to be yourself, unless you are a jerk.

The goal of a cold call is simple -- introduce yourself, then request permission to spend a few minutes asking probing questions about the prospect's business to see if your product or service is a good fit.

If it is, the meeting turns into an opportunity to introduce the features and benefits of your organization and then request to set up a longer, more in-depth appointment.

Remember, your goal in selling is to build long-term business relationships. Most CEOs and buyers are busy and have other things to do than sit around and wait for salespeople to show up and interrupt their days.

Be conscious of their time and respect it. If there is an interest, they will want to set up another appointment and will be impressed that your sales team possesses good people skills. When your salesperson schedules another appointment, the prospect is expecting him or her, and both parties can be fully prepared.

The beauty of cold calls is that you have no idea what will happen next. Sometimes, everything turns to gold. Often, it doesn't. Cold calls are simply a game, and the numbers will work in your company's favor.

Getting through the screen is an article in itself, but just remember that the screen is there to keep you out. So be real, tell the person why you are there, and ask for just three to five minutes. If you are sincere and they like you, your chances of getting in are better.

Phone calls

The second area is the phone call, which is surprisingly similar to the cold call. The goal is the same, and that is to get the appointment, not to close the deal on the phone.

Again, it is all about building relationships and trying to get another appointment, whether it is face-to-face or another phone appointment.

The prospect clearly is not expecting your salesperson's phone call. So the agenda is to have him or her quickly get to the point of the call. People do not want to chit-chat unless there is something to chit-chat about. If you're going to teach your salespeople to schmooze, make sure they do it after the sales call.

Which method of sales?

Here are a few simple rules to follow when determining whether cold-calling on the phone or in person is best for your company.

* If your territory is Utah and you live in Cleveland, the phone is a good idea.

* It is easier to hang up the phone than to kick you out of a cold call.

* The phone allows you to make more calls in a given time, but it is harder to establish rapport.

* The cold call is not as productive as the phone call, but it is better at building a relationship by being there and noticing physical details about the prospect's business.

* The key to success in both cold calling and using the phone is to have fun. Since it's a numbers game, you can very quickly get tired of all the rejections.

Hal Becker is a nationally known speaker on sales and customer service. He is the author of two best selling books, "Can I have 5 minutes of your time?" and "Lip Service." Reach him at www.halbecker.com

Tuesday, 24 May 2005 06:17

Customers can be wrong

We have all heard that the customer is always right, but contrary to popular belief, I don't think it's true.

In fact, most times, the customer is wrong. But here's the thing people forget -- the customer is always in charge.

If you say no to your clients or customers, you'll also be saying goodbye to their business. Your clients are people, too, and they want to feel special, important and respected. In today's fast-paced, eat-or-be-eaten world, it's hard to get exceptional service and, sometimes, to even be treated nicely.

We spend so much money on advertising, promotion and marketing to get customers to notice us, and then, too often, we treat them poorly after they decide to spend money with our businesses.

We know this is wrong, but do nothing about it.

Most of our business is good business with reasonable people who want only to get what they've been promised. But what about that 2 percent to 3 percent of your client base that demands more than they've been promised or, often, more than you're capable of delivering? You know them -- those whiny, nonstop complainers who have nothing better to do than to try to ruin your day from the moment you walk into your office.

These are the people who talk down to your sales and customer service staff, use abusive language, yell, scream and treat your employees, who are trying to satisfy them, like dirt. They're the same people who call you in desperation, only to complain about something they really have no right to complain about.

So what should you do?

Remember "The Little Rascals," with Spanky, Alfalfa and Buckwheat? They had a gesture where they put their hands under their chins and waved them toward the other person. This was called "the high sign." It was meant to say so long, goodbye, get outta here. We should thank them for a concept we can still use in the business world 50 years later.

Unfortunately, too many business owners are afraid to fire a problem customer who can never be satisfied. But doing so is imperative to allow your company to concentrate on your good customers.

Here are several things to consider when deciding whether to send a customer packing.

* Take the emotion out of it. If your sales or customers service employees are being verbally abused by a problem client, remove them from the situation, collect data from them and analyze the situation based on facts, not feelings. It's too hard to let an emotional salesperson or customer service representative continue to work with an abusive customer.

* Do the math. Break down the numbers and see if your business is losing money on the account because of all the time spent hand-holding and meeting unrealistic demands. If the future of the business relationship looks unprofitable, it's time to part ways.

* Replace the lost revenue. If you do say goodbye to the business, determine what is going to make up for that loss of revenue. Do you have the business in future prospects or is it going to be too hard to find?

* Communicate, communicate, communicate. As in a marriage, most problems are attributed to a lack of communication. Meet with the problem client in person, go over his or her concerns and, if possible find a way to create a fresh start before firing the client.

* Remember the Golden Rule. Actually, that should be the platinum rule, made famous by author Tony Allessandra -- "Treat people the way they want to be treated." It might be different from what you're used to, but remember, despite the problems, the customer is still in charge.

Even the best companies screw up. And it's hard to keep all your customers happy all the time. But respect is a different matter. If you want to be treated with respect, you must be respectful toward others. And that includes the customer being respectful toward you and your employees.

Sometimes, it's better to say goodbye to a bad customer and free up more time to take care of the good ones. In the end, your business will prosper.

Hal Becker is a nationally known speaker on sales and customer service. He is the author of two best selling books, "Can I have 5 minutes of your time?" and "Lip Service." Reach him through www.halbecker.com.

Tuesday, 22 March 2005 06:03

Art of the deal

Many business owners me ask for help teaching their sales staffs how to become better at the art of selling. One thing I've found in common among companies of all sizes, from the Fortune 500 to mom-and-pop ventures, is that their staffs simply don't know how to close a deal.

Weak salespeople close hard. Let me repeat ... weak salespeople close hard. Closing is a skill learned by salespeople to get the order. The problem is that most of them close for the order instead of finding out what the customer wants and needs.

I often harp about the use of questions in the sales process to gather information about the customer and his or her company. This is what salespeople are supposed to do. Selling is asking, not telling.

Therefore, salespeople who just go for the close and want their order don't really care about their customer or their customer's situation.

Don't you hate it when you go into a business to buy a big-ticket item, such as a new car or truck, or a copier or furniture for your business, and the salesperson pressures you to buy? Many business owners have instilled throughout their staffs that this is a good selling skill, and that because the company is profitable, their salespeople must be doing a good job.

Not even close.

These salespeople are not forming relationships, and they're definitely not giving the customer the type of experience with your company that will make them want to return or tell others about it -- in a positive way.

So what's the problem?

No trial closes. A trial close sets everything up in a logical, straightforward manner that lets the customer in on the sales process. Here's an example: "Hey, reader, if you like my articles, would you be interested in buying any of my books or bringing me in to train your salespeople?"

This pitch is right to the point, honest, and it will elicit a response -- yes or no.

If the answer is yes, I'd ask more questions to determine the rest of your needs. If the answer is no, I would ask, "Why not?"

And then, through the use of more questions, I would find out if you were truly a prospect or if my product or service simply wasn't a good fit.

The whole premise behind the trial close is a simple. "If I ... will you ... ?" It will work any time in any sales situation, but it is usually best to employ it near the beginning of the conversation.

Here is another one that would be nice in today's marketplace. You're in a car dealership and want to start the process of looking for a new car. The salesperson greets you and then asks a few basic questions and starts to build rapport. Next, the salesperson says, "Hey, if I can find the car you want, take 4 percent off the sticker price since there is only 8 percent markup anyhow, would you be willing to buy? This way, you will get a good price, we make some money and the price will be competitive to any dealer in the country, since we all pay the exact same price from the manufacturer."

Wouldn't that put you more at ease?

The salesperson got right down to it with the offer, and you didn't have to haggle.

Consider this in your own business. If you teach your salespeople how to use the trial close more, they'll have to use pressure closes less. In fact, if your salespeople are really good, they'll ask many quality questions, elicit strong responses and won't have to do any closing to make the sale.

How is that possible?

Simple. Customers will tell your salesperson what they want to buy, when they want to buy it and, most important, how much they are willing to pay.

Hal Becker is a nationally known speaker on sales and customer service. He is the author of two best-selling books, "Can I have 5 Minutes of Your Time?" and "Lip Service." Reach him at www.halbecker.com.

Thursday, 26 July 2001 20:00

How to be stupid in business

It amazes me how stupid people are and how we get treated as customers.

It's like seeing those buttons companies provide for employees with the slogan, ''Yes I Can,'' then everything you ask them ends with ''No'' or ''I can't do that.''

There's no real secret to customer service and it doesn't involve magic; it just involves common sense, a good attitude and a simple set of rules. When Nordstrom opened last year, there was a big fuss over its incredible customer service. Don't get me wrong: The employees are great at what they do and it is a benchmark company. But, think about what -- or who -- makes it great.

When it opened, it did not transplant 400-plus people from Seattle. Instead, it hired people who were working at other department stores, trained them and offered them the latitude to make customers happy.

While Nordstrom's customer service is strong, that of many of its competitors is not. Here are stupid things you're wont to see in a department store:

  • Signs allowing only three garments at a time in a dressing room. Why? To deter shoplifting, the stores claim. But, studies reveal only a scant 3 percent of people shoplift, and most shoplifting is an internal problem. There's nothing quite like offending and limiting your customers before they buy something.
  • Waiting in line while the salesperson answers the phone. It makes you wonder whether they're trained to get names and phone numbers, then return the call once the customer standing in front of them has been helped.

Many poor customer service issues can be avoided if store managers spend time observing department managers and coaching salespeople to ensure customers are taken care of properly. If you want your business to be first class, fill it with first-class people and train them well.

This was reinforced when I visited several Southern states to teach business owners how to ensure their employees are nice to customers. Here are eight lessons I learned from talking with these owners.

  1. Be nice all the time.
  2. Treat people with respect. If you want to be treated nicely, recognize that everyone else does, too.
  3. Keep your word. If you say you'll call back in 15 minutes, do it.
  4. Don't say, ''I don't know.'' Replace that with ''Let me find out.''
  5. Look people in the eye and smile. People love a warm smile.
  6. Have a sense of humor. The more fun you have, the more your customers will, too. Southwest Airlines has made a science out of this concept.
  7. Be empathetic. Put yourself in the customer's role and try to understand how he or she feels dealing with you or your business.
  8. Did I say be nice? I can't stress that enough.

If you teach your staff to treat people the way you want to be treated, you'll find your business will earn a reputation for good customer service. And in a tight economy, when consumers can choose where to spend their dollars, building customer loyalty is imperative to long-term success.

Hal Becker is a nationally known speaker on sales and customer service. He is the author of two best-selling books, ''Can I have 5 minutes of your time?'' and ''Lip Service.''

Hal Becker's website

Tuesday, 01 November 2005 05:45

Creative incentives

Are your salespeople motivated? Do they reach their quota each month because they are disciplined and focused on the job?

For decades, businesses have used incentives to boost sales. They work, but not for everyone. Salespeople are, by nature, competitive, motivated by challenges and a desire to win. Add to the that a desire to make money, and you begin to realize something — the more creatively you develop compensation packages, the greater your chances for success.

While there’s little question that the combination of hiring the right salesperson with the right compensation plan will ensure longevity at your company, it’s just as important to establish effective, ongoing smaller incentives that can make the job more fun and bring in more sales dollars.

Here are some ideas to help you add a little spice to your company’s incentive plans.

  • Mix it up. Find out what excites your company’s salespeople. What motivates your sales manager and other executives may not be the same thing that motivates your front-line sales staff.

Also, don’t be afraid to talk with other CEOs to find out what’s been working for them. Good ideas spark more good ideas.

  • Make it public. Play off the competitiveness of your company’s sales team. Many businesses have a leader board in their sales training room that lists all the salespeople, their month-to-date results and their year-to-date results.

The best salespeople love to see their names at the top. The lousy ones? Well, this might just be the encouragement for them to step it up a few notches ... or leave.

  • Think beyond the grand prize. If your salespeople are dragging behind and they have no chance of reaching the goals to earn the grand prize — for example, a trip to Las Vegas — you could be setting your company up for trouble.

If it’s only six months into the year-long competition and you’ve got a number of people lagging behind, you will probably lose their motivation for the rest of the year. While it’s great to offer something big like a trip, make sure you do something for other people who are not as strong as your top performers.

  • Consider frequent incentives. Smaller incentives — such as those given monthly or quarterly — can energize your entire sales force.

Include everyone on the sales team — inside salespeople, outside salespeople and sales managers. Consider contests that last a month, or two and reward people with smaller but significant incentives.

  • Make it a family affair. Try incentives that involve your sales team’s family and friends. One of the best contests I ever put together was so successful that the company continued it for more than 10 years.

First, the salesperson had to make quota. After that, they received a certain amount of cash based on how much beyond quota they achieved. The only catch was that the cash was put into a total sales fund.

At the end of the contest, I handed cash out to each salesperson. Some received big amounts, others, small amounts.

The cash was for a shopping spree at one mall for a specified day. They were encouraged to bring their family and friends to the mall and were required to spend all the cash they received. I mandated that they must provide receipts to show the purchases made, and if the receipts did not add up to the amount of money they were given, they were required to return the difference to the company.

By setting up the competition this way, it guaranteed they would spend the money on fun stuff, not just bills. By including friends and family, it added more excitement to the day of shopping.

Hal Becker is a nationally known speaker on sales and customer service. He is the author of two best-selling books, “Can I Have 5 Minutes of Your Time?” and “Lip Service.” His newest book on negotiations is titled, “Get What You Want.” Reach him at www.halbecker.com.

Monday, 22 September 2003 13:02

The sales guys

Winning in sales is a two-way street. The salesperson only wins if the customer does.

So how do you create a win-win situation? It comes down to two things -- preparation and practice.

We have all heard the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. When it comes to winning in sales, it is, "Do unto each customer the way they want to be done."

But that is sometimes easier said than done. So what do you need to do to accomplish it?

There is still a lot of telling and selling going on, which means you tell your customer what to buy, then talk him into buying it without identifying his needs.

You may make sales that way, but you won't win. An dissatisfied customer is rarely a repeat customer. Instead, do a thorough assessment that identifies your customer's needs. Then present your product or service in a way that satisfies him or her. When you truly satisfy the needs of your customers, they will thank you, come back and refer you to others.

Think, "What do I need to know about this customer, his or her company, products and services before I start making recommendations?"

Consider yourself a troubleshooter, thoroughly evaluating the entire situation without making assumptions. You also need to be organized and prepared. Here is what you need to create a win-win situation.

* Product and company knowledge

* Rapport

* Needs assessment

* Features and benefits of products and company

* Overcoming customer objections

* Closing

* Reaffirming the sale

* Turning over

* Handling difficult customers

It all comes down to practice. But don't practice on your customer. COSE is the sponsor of "The Sales Guys" on WERE 1300 Thursdays at 8 a.m. and Mondays at 6 p.m. Catch The Sales Guys live at COSE's "Sales Aid" event Oct. 28 at the LaCentre Conference and Banquet Center in Westlake. Visit www.cose.org or call (216) 592-2222.

COSE calendar

Blackout 2003: Reaction and prevention

Oct. 7, 7:30 to 11 a.m.

Blackout 2003 will identify the experiences resulting from the most significant blackout in our nation's history as well as inform the public of possible solutions and the importance of emergency plans should there be a similar event in the future. Speakers include representatives from the Cleveland Clinic Foundation, Cuyahoga Community College, Lubrizol Corp. and The Plain Dealer.

Easy project management

Oct. 22, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

In Easy Project Management, you'll learn the success secrets borrowed from career project managers, then crafted into an easy-to-follow, step-by-step winning recipe. Project management is a proven process that helps break down complex projects into simple work elements and efficiently manage time, money and resources.

You'll learn how to:

* Quarterback projects without being sacked

* Finish on time and on budget

* Get it done right first and save time

* Confidently estimate costs and schedules

* Calculate risks and avoid problems

* Accurately track and prioritize project components

* Motivate various departments to achieve project goals

Resourceful solutions

Oct. 27, 5:30 to 8:30 p.m.

Individuals at all levels of the organization are responsible for making decisions and solving problems. Learn this critical skill and ensure your own success along with that of your organization.

You'll learn how to identify not only problems, but causes; determine multiple solutions to problems; and use a variety of statistical tools and graphing techniques to promote creative and effective problem solving.

For more information about these and other COSE events, call the communications department at (216) 361-3100, or visit www.cose.org and click on events.