Monday, 17 December 2012 11:10

What’s the value of first impressions?

Most companies know the key to long-term growth is generating repeat business. Repeat customers mean greater brand loyalty, higher referrals and a steady stream of sales. Adding a new customer also costs considerably more than retaining an existing one.

But creating the kind of brand relationships that drive customers back again and again isn’t easy, especially for businesses that outsource their marketing and sales efforts to third-party call centers.

Smart Business spoke with Monica Ross, the vice president of training and development at InfoCision, on the value of first impressions and how to enhance customer relationships.

It’s about more than just taking orders

You don’t want your brand to get lost by having representatives who might treat a call with your customer as just another interaction. While they can help your customers make their purchases and answer their questions, it’s not creating a customer experience that is going to convert into future sales.

Companies need more than just order takers. To be competitive in this disjointed marketplace you need call centers that can build outstanding interactions by being as professional and connected to the brand as your own employees are. The order taker will process an order and get it done, but brand ambassadors will take it to a higher level to ensure the person feels good after the call.

You need to leverage the people on the phones if you’re looking to create outstanding customer interactions. Your call center is the voice of your company, so it's crucial to have mature, experienced professionals on the phones. The agents making and taking your calls are representing your company in front of your most valuable asset — your customers. Reputable call centers have highly selective hiring policies. At InfoCision, the average age of our Communicators is 42 years old, close to 80 percent are full time and almost 75 percent are their family’s main provider. Successful call center companies will also have robust recognition programs to retain and reward top performers.

Separate yourself from the crowd

With the trend toward multiple communication channels and a brand ambassador approach, an extensive training curriculum is essential. What separates brand ambassadors from typical call center representatives is their deep level of product and client knowledge, which can enhance the value of a call in a number of ways. Instead of just answering questions, brand ambassadors act as an extension of the brand they’re calling for, so they do a better job connecting with the customer from the first phone call. Brand ambassadors convey the feelings and voice of a brand. They are also comfortable enough with product and service lines to present other opportunities and upsell the customer and boost conversion rates.

Often, people are not 100 percent sold when they call in initially, and it’s going to translate into lost revenue. The phone call should be looked at as an opportunity to pin-point customer wants, answer questions and create need. Because of their training, a brand ambassador is going to know what questions to ask and what benefits their product or service offers. They will take this information and build on it to create that need for the customer.

Creating stronger brand ties

By enhancing brand value, brand ambassadors also add future value in customer retention. The real value of the brand ambassador comes after the phone call is completed: The prospect will have a stronger tie to the particular brand as well as a clearer feeling of who the company is and what it has to offer. Even if it’s a purchase of a singular item, it’s a company that the customer will want to go back to.

The success of brand ambassadors really comes down to the investment a company is willing to make upfront with time and training. The more involved they are in developing training materials and programs, the more ammunition they can provide to brand ambassadors. When those on the phone know the product and client, it’s going to positively impact the bottom line on that initial call. It’s about creating a better impression of who we represent. And, in this economy, where competition for customers is extremely fierce, strategic use of call centers can provide a company with far-reaching benefits that will help them to achieve goals, to enhance market position and to maintain their good reputation.

We’ve reached an age where technology is bringing businesses and customers closer together. Communication channels like teleservices, direct mail, Web allow for a customer’s diverse needs to be met. But it’s only as good as the person on the other end. By improving the quality of a customer’s experience, they will form a stronger bond with your organization and, as a result, increase your profit potential.

Monica Ross is the vice president of training and development at InfoCision. Reach her at (330-) 668-1400 or Monica.ross@infocision.com.

Published in Cleveland

In his latest Smart Connection video, Joe Takash, the president of Victory Consulting, discusses building breakthrough business relationships.

If you have to work with people in any capacity — whether you actually like people or not — you are in the relationship business first. Takash highlights three key components for building breakthrough business relationships.

1.  Attitude and passion

2.  Engaging

3.  Recognition

Watch the video in its entirety here.

Joe Takash is the president of Victory Consulting, a Chicago-based executive and organizational development firm. He advises clients on leadership strategies and has helped executives prepare for $3 billion worth of sales presentations. He is a keynote speaker for executive retreats, sales meetings and management conferences and has appeared in numerous media outlets. Learn more at www.victoryconsulting.com.

Published in Chicago

Edgar Smith Jr. has more than 25 years of sales and marketing experience with Fortune 500 companies and more than 13 years experience in the commercial printing and paper business. It is through his experience that Smith, founder, chairman and CEO of World Pac Paper LLC, has developed his business.

The nearly $30 million paper company has been thriving because of Smith’s ability to form important business relationships within his industry.

“When I started the company, I wanted to be sure that it was a company that had the foundation to be competitive and the insights into the industry,” Smith says. “It was important that I built the company from the ground up with industry experts. I wanted to combine the best entrepreneurial management with top industry leaders to create a very dynamic company.”

Smart Business spoke to Smith about how he has developed relationships over time to keep his business cemented in the industry.

Look for relationships. It was critically important for me that I had other invested principal executive-level company officers with significant experience, knowledge and expertise within the company management to really assist with the daily operations of a paper business. What I was looking to achieve there was that I wanted to ensure that I had as many paper company mill relationships as I could because I knew that it was a very competitive environment.

There’s always a relationship in most things that are done in the world. Relationships are developed over time. You have to really understand human nature and the human condition to understand relationships. They oftentimes occur when you least expect it, and it’s through shared experiences that relationships will come about. We all bring the talented expertise that we bring, but you have to have confidence in yourself and your ability to do what you do and to add to the value equation. It’s about getting others to work with you, appreciate what you do and take the journey with you.

You have to first allow yourself to consider the possibility for relationships. We all know what we know, we don’t know what we don’t know. It’s sitting down and understanding others and what their goals and objectives are in this world. You have to understand yourself and understand others and look for possible connections. But also value experiences that you have not had and see how those experiences can augment some of the things you are trying to achieve. When people believe in you and are willing to go on a mission with you, that’s real power.

Build the relationship. One of the things that’s always been important to me in building relationships is trying to maintain communication. It’s very important that people have conversations. Things happen and don’t happen as a result of conversations. You’ve got to have conversations before you can start the building process in whatever you do. You have to get to know one another and spend time with one another because that is very important. You have to be reliable and dependable and be someone that is trustworthy.

You have to bring value to the relationship. Oftentimes I’m looking for what I can do for others, not what I can get out of the relationship. You have a lot of folks that run around and they wonder, ‘What can I get from someone else?’ and that shouldn’t be your approach. You should look for how you can add value to someone else’s situation. Those are some of the things that I think are necessary, but it’s really about gaining that understanding and taking time to listen to others. It’s not about you; it’s about them.

Get value from relationships. The other thing that’s helped us is that we are customer centric. We understand that the customer is at the center of everything that we do. We’ve got to have the high-quality products and high-quality service. Quality means that we work to achieve total customer satisfaction by understanding and committing ourselves to our customers needs while embracing a philosophy of continuous improvement. There is always more that you can do.

In order to be customer centric you really have to understand your customer and as best you can, you have to understand their industry in which they operate. You have to be able to identify what their needs are and what the opportunities are with a particular customer. As best you can, understand the overall situation. You have to see opportunities as your customer sees those opportunities and try to align with them on those situations. You have to work alongside them to generate possible solutions to their challenges. A big part of that is having open and honest communication, being transparent and operating with excellence and being very consistent in what you do.

HOW TO REACH: World Pac Paper LLC, www.worldpacpaper.com

Published in Cincinnati
Wednesday, 31 August 2011 20:04

Jay Cohen: seven steps to sales success

Early in the life of our company, a management consultant sat across a conference table from me and drew an organizational chart with me in the top box. From my vantage point, however, I was at the bottom supporting those above me. It’s a perspective that remains true today. Management should be a two-way street.

At our company, we live by three guiding principles: Do the right thing (which starts with integrity and honesty), friends first and work hard. That philosophy extends from the executive leadership team through every department. Taken together, these principles make up a singular belief: Do right by your clients, create client relationships that transcend the deal and work hard to ensure nothing damages, detracts or deviates from the relationship. The following seven strategies reflect this belief and have helped our business growth from start-up to market leader.

1. It’s not about the sale. Sales are an opportunity. Relationships build bonds for the long term. We hear the line all the time, “What can I do to help your organization?” When was the last time you posed that question to a client or candidate — and really meant it?

2. Hire right, empower your people and invest in tools and relationships. At our company, each employee has the audience to suggest changes and improvements, even during their first week on the job. We’ve invested millions of dollars in cutting-edge technology and tools to better support our people in helping our clients.

3. Know your clients. Demonstrate a sincere interest in their challenges and decision-making process. When appropriate, request a seat at the table where those decisions are made. If you’re confident in your ability and your partnership with your client, tie your compensation to their success.

4. Really know your clients. Forget the fancy restaurants and morning-meeting diners. Visit their locations. See what they do. Even consultants or vendors can perform a little “management by walking around.” Learn their pain points, strengths and weaknesses, and be prepared to offer solutions, even if it’s a suggestion you may not profit from or it’s your product or service. Be comfortable leaving money on the table.

5. When clients are successful, so are we. We constantly invest in and partner with our clients. Last year, we invested in a longstanding client by opening four branches to support its growing business. Those branches are now supporting our clients’ needs, as well as our expansion in those communities. It was a calculated investment that reflected our commitment to mutual growth.

6. Reward, recognize and retain your team. Incentivizing and rewarding employees for individual success is important, but equally important is getting them to buy into the fact their success is tied to teamwork. We put a lot of emphasis on team and make it a point to get together as a group outside of the office regularly so that employees can build internal relationships with each other. As a result, when outsiders first see them, our team looks like a group of friends — because they are.

7. Keep it simple. Don’t overengineer relationships with your clients, and don’t be pushy in proving your love for client candidates. Keeping it honest will keep it real. Candidates and clients like that.

I have always believed that success in sales should not be focused on closing the deal or making quota. It’s about seizing the opportunity to create and build relationships.

It’s not complicated. It’s silly, simple, street-smart stuff that has been proven to work — no matter the perspective from which you’re viewing your business. It’s all about the relationship. Focus on that and the rest will take care of itself.

Jay Cohen is president and CEO of Signature Consultants, a national IT staffing firm based in Fort Lauderdale with offices in Orlando and 14 other locations throughout the country. This year the company was named the No. 1 Best Staffing Firms to Work For in the United States by Staffing Industry Analysts.

Published in Florida

Mike Vinton was just venturing into the business world out of high school when he found his vision. There was a catch — he didn’t have any formal education on how to operate a business, much less on being a leader. However, it didn’t stop him.

“I knew at that time, there was no doubt in my mind that was the kind of work I wanted to do,” he says, after a stint on a tennis court project in Michigan inspired him to be a sports contractor.

“When you fall in love with doing something, you will know it,” says Vinton, president of The Vasco Group. “It’s just an overwhelming desire to get up and go do it. And somehow, some way, in spite of any circumstances good or bad, you’re going to make it happen. You become willing to do just about anything.”

Despite the obstacles faced, being relentless and doing the right thing along the way brought rewards. Vasco’s 2010 was the best financial year in its 44-year history.

“If the spark starts to burn inside any man ? if it truly is a passion, a vision ? he will go to just about any length to explore that to make it happen,” Vinton says.

Once illuminated with a vision, the would-be leader would do well to seek out mentors.

“Watch other leaders ? what they are doing, how they act, how they treat people,” he says. “Just try to do what the winners are doing.”

People that are successful usually are willing to share advice.

“The big part is asking for help,” Vinton says. “Once you ask, I’ve found that people want to help. I’ve been blessed in that respect in that people have always taken me under their wing and helped me.

“Mentor other young people that want to be leaders. Read leadership books nonstop, and study leadership styles.

“I heard someone say a long time ago that if you want to keep wisdom and knowledge, you’ve got to give it away. That was always modeled for me and that’s what I try to do as a leader today.”

Pick a mentor that works in a different industry.

“Choose people that you came across in relationships,” Vinton says. “I had a commercial real state developer take me around and show me his properties. We would discuss what a leader would do in certain situations.”

Then as you develop your skills, the time comes for more specific mentoring. In a competitive field, it’s a reality check that no one is going to share tips to a possible competitor. But a suitable alternative can be found through associations. Securing a board position on an industry association puts you in touch with professionals from all over who are open to helping.

“I’ve never had people in the industry help me until I was part of national business organizations that did not include local contractors,” Vinton says. “I got many contacts that way.”

The camaraderie will help develop the principle to treat other people as more important.

“One of the most important leadership principles is servant leadership,” Vinton says. “Learn it, teach it and model it for young leaders that serving people in your area of influence is more important than yourselves. Give others the credit when things go well.

“As a leader, be intuitive and aware of the people around you and make yourself available to them on their time.”

How to reach: The Vasco Group, (800) 487-0422 or www.thevascogroup.com

M&A synergy

When it comes to acquiring another company, there are two tips that shouldn’t be overlooked: Be patient, and see that synergy ? when a combination is greater than parts alone ? is a component of the decision.

“Make sure you have synergy between the two companies ? that the company fits with your core competencies,” says Vasco Group President Mike Vinton, whose vision included company expansion into other cities and states.

“Get your key people together and ask, ‘Does this create synergy or does this create division?’ That’s a huge thing in making sure that synergy is a part of it.”

Your management team needs to have complete buy-in that the two companies can work hand-in-hand, each pulling its own weight, with no negative feelings.

As the team gets on board and supports the decision, not just the leader’s edict, negotiations can go forward. Timing is everything in acquisitions.

“Don’t be in a hurry,” Vasco says.

Take your time, and be ready to cancel negotiations if a red flag appears.

“I walked away from a deal once. The fit was not good. Three months later, he called me back and said he was ready to start talking again. We did a deal within a month.”

How to reach: The Vasco Group, (800) 487-0422 or www.thevascogroup.com

Published in Akron/Canton

Having a strong relationship with your accountant can help strengthen your business, so don’t be afraid to spend a little money to meet with them.

“Sometimes spending some money with your accountant to sit down and examine aspects of your business produces some large returns because sometimes there are some things that are happening that have gone for many years and the owner can’t see it because he or she is not objective,” says Mike Dubin, Philadelphia office managing partner for McGladrey & Pullen LLP.

Building a strong relationship requires ongoing communication and interaction.

“They have to have a relationship beyond just the business meeting,” says Don Misheff, Northeast Ohio managing partner for Ernst & Young LLP. “The presence of the informal relationship and informal interaction enhances the ability to have a working relationship beyond merely a formal relationship.”

Misheff says your accountant has to have a thorough understanding of your company’s culture and long-term business strategy. Sharing as much as you can about these helps enhance their ability to serve you.

Another way to build your relationship with your accountant is to approach tax planning as a year-round process instead of a once-a-year necessity.

“Tax planning is important throughout the year, and too many times, we don’t get to tax planning until the end of the year or we don’t get any at all,” says Donny Woods, president of the National Society of Accountants.

He says they look to the accountant to pull off some kind of miracle, and Steve Christian, managing director of Kreischer Miller in Philadelphia, agrees. He says he prefers having monthly conversations with clients, but at the very least, tax planning should start in the fall.

“That’s when all the planning and taking advantage of opportunities takes place,” Christian says. “After you get past the first of the year, when you get into the preparation phase, really all you’re doing is keeping score because any actions you had to take were during the previous year.”

Meeting with your accountant throughout the year to share projections and goals can help the two of you game plan to maximize opportunities and minimize taxes.

“Coming full circle, minimizing taxes enhances cash flow,” Christian says.

How to reach: Ernst & Young LLP, www.ey.com; Kreischer Miller, (215) 441-4600 or kmco.com; McGladrey & Pullen LLP, (215) 641-8600 or mcgladrey.com; National Society of Accountants, (800) 966-6679 or www.nsacct.org

Published in Cincinnati

Having a strong relationship with your accountant can help strengthen your business, so don’t be afraid to spend a little money to meet with them.

Sitting down and examining aspects of your business produces some large returns. Sometimes there are things that are happening that have gone on for many years and you can’t see it because it’s hard to be objective when you are close to the business.

Building a strong relationship with your accountant requires ongoing communication and interaction, and it needs to go beyond just a business meeting. An informal relationship and informal interaction enhances the ability to have an even better working relationship.

Your accountant has to have a thorough understanding of your company’s culture and long-term business strategy. Sharing as much as you can about these helps enhance their ability to serve you.

Another way to build your relationship with your accountant is to approach tax planning as a year-round process instead of a once-a-year necessity.

“Tax planning is important throughout the year, and too many times, we don’t get to tax planning until the end of the year or we don’t get any at all,” says Donny Woods, president of the National Society of Accountants.

If you aren’t planning all year long, don’t look to your accountant to pull off some kind of miracle. Most accountants prefer having monthly conversations with clients, but at the very least, tax planning should start in the fall. If you do this, you will maximize your ability to plan and take advantage of opportunities that can save you money.

Once you get past the first of the year, all you are really doing is keeping score, because any actions you had to take were during the previous year.

Meeting with your accountant throughout the year to share projections and goals can help the two of you game plan to maximize opportunities and minimize taxes.

In the end, minimizing taxes ultimately enhances your cash flow.

How to reach: National Society of Accountants, (800) 966-6679 or www.nsacct.org

Published in Akron/Canton