The other day, I was reminded of one of the fundamental elements of success in any business, whether a for-profit or nonprofit, large or small. Its called meeting the customers expectations.
One of our associates was discussing a new project with a number of people in the conference room at a clients office. At one point, he asked a simple question. He wanted to know their expectations of us. A couple of people answered immediately; the others had to stop and think.
As it turned out, they all gave different answers. Each person in that room had a different perception of exactly what we would do for them. Needless to say, we stayed on the subject until everyone was in agreement as to just what the client expectations were.
Exactly what is it that you are expecting us to accomplish for you?
This is a basic question, and an important one. Its something we ask clients, in one form or another, before we begin work on any project. As a service agency, we know that were going to be evaluated in a number of areas, such as creativity, content, cost, delivery schedules, etc. But we also know that most clients already have a picture some clearer than others in mind that defines for them what they think were going to be able to provide.
Their expectations of our work will probably be high, as they should be. We need to be able to grasp their vision, to understand exactly what they want.
The most important thing to remember, though, is this: Expectations are determined by the customer. It doesnt really matter what you deliver unless it meets or exceeds those expectations. If you delivered a certain number of products or a certain amount of service, but your customer was expecting more from you, no matter how hard you worked, no matter how heroic your efforts were, regardless of what you did, the fact is that you failed to meet your customers expectations.
You may have met, or even exceeded, your own expectations. But the reality is that your expectations dont count.
In the process of failing to deliver what your customer was expecting, you probably did some harm to your reputation. The time and money youve invested in advertising and/or public relations activities that describe who you are, what you do and how you do it better than your competition may have been wasted on the aforementioned customer. And as word gets around that you failed to deliver for this customer, others will hear about it.
None of this has to happen. You can eliminate many potential problems and misunderstandings as the meeting is progressing, or as part of its conclusion. Heres how:
Ask the question. At some point, sooner as opposed to later, ask the customer what he or she expects from you. Ask directly.
Listen carefully to the answer. Be sure you understand the answer. Your success or failure with the project could be determined by what your customer says and how you respond. If the customers expectations go way beyond what you normally would deliver, this is where the discussion takes place to make their expectations more realistic.
Summarize aloud. At the conclusion of the meeting, summarize and read aloud the list of action items discussed whos responsible for doing what, when its due, and so forth, to make sure everyone understands what is expected.
Write a meeting report. As soon as possible, put together a meeting report with all of the action items briefly described, and send a copy to each participant.
If this sounds a bit routine, like something you do all the time, thats excellent. Encourage others to do it, including your customers.
If it isnt something youve been doing on a regular basis, consider incorporating the regimen into your meeting format from now on.
The results may be better than expected by you ... and your customers. Jeff Krakoff is president of Krakoff Communications Inc., a Pittsburgh-based marketing communications and public relations agency. Reach him at (412) 434-7718 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
When the relationship is strong, the prospect wants to do business with you rather than has to do business with you. And the person who wants to do business with you can justify just about anything.
1. Learn and use the strategy of win-win. As a salesperson, its OK for you to win; just make sure your customer is also a winner. Building trust means never taking unfair advantage of a customer.
2. Mirror your behavior. Using body language is one of the easiest and most effective methods of gaining and maintaining rapport. When you mirror someone, you are reflecting his or her posture, positioning your body in a way that is similar to that of your prospect. While you are not striving for an exact mirror image, an observer would notice similarities.
3. Pace yourself to fit the customer. Speak at the same pace as the other person. Usually people who naturally speak quickly have little problem slowing down. Sometimes people who are naturally slow-paced may find it a challenge to comfortably speed up their pace, particularly for prolonged periods of time.
4. Find the common ground. Seek ways to establish common areas of interest and build rapport with the prospect. Look for signs of hobbies or interests. Take note of pictures, trophies, awards, educational background, etc. Mention people you know in common.
Everybody talks about the weather, their kids or sports, and thats the problem. Its trite and does nothing to establish rapport. Try to be a bit more creative.
5. What you dont talk about, ever. Avoid controversial topics such as politics, sex, racial matters, ethnic jokes, dirty jokes and anything else than can inflame. You never know which side the prospect is rooting for, and truthfully, its no ones business.
6. Handle problems quickly. If a problem arises, deal with it in promptly. The longer something is wrong, the more the customer thinks about it. If the customer is in the wrong and your company did nothing wrong, handle the matter in a face-saving way for the customer. Making demeaning remarks about the customer or an employee can destroy in seconds a relationship that may have taken weeks or months to build. Good diplomacy always pays off.
7. Use industry slang only if youre sure. If you sell to a particular field, make sure you learn and speak the language. However, be cautious when using industry or business slang with prospects who are unfamiliar with the terms. They may take offense if they feel you are talking over their heads or trying to dazzle them with jargon.
If you embarrass them because they dont understand what you are talking about, you wont be building rapport, youll be alienating them. If theyre busy trying to figure out what a term means, they could miss important parts of your presentation. And what if you use terms incorrectly? You look like a show-off and a fool and can forget about building credibility.
8. Dont waste peoples time. Some salespeople, the ones who hate to prospect, will visit customers without good reason, just to build the relationship.
Your customers have a business to run, and while some may not say it, they will resent you dropping in just to kill time or for things that could be handled with a phone call or e-mail. Even worse is when a salesperson is told that the boss is busy, so he or she starts to see how things are going with the employees, which slows them down in doing their jobs.
Ted Tate is author of Just Sell It, Wiley Publishing, NY, and makes in-house sales and business training presentations to companies. He can be reached at (440) 257-7520.
Last of a two-part series I am frequently asked by clients to spell out the questions they should be comfortable asking on a sales call. This is a dangerous task because it presupposes that every prospect is the same and every sales call is going to go perfectly.
Nonetheless, here are the final 20 fundamental questions which you need to be comfortable asking during the early stages of the sales process, if you want to master the art of selling. They're part of what I call "Lewis' Essential 44" -- or 44 questions you should consider asking during a sales call.
Responding to questions and objections
25. I'm glad you brought that up, but why is it important to you?
26. Good question. You must be asking that for a reason?
27. Suppose I said (blank), what would you say?
28. I'm not sure I fully understand; could you help me?
Uncovering a prospect's budget
29. Do you have a budget for this?
30. Would you mind sharing it with me in round numbers?
31. Now that you know how much it is going to cost you in terms of time and money, are you still committed to moving forward?
Uncovering the decision process
32. What is the process you go through when making these kinds of decisions?
33. Who, in addition to yourself, is involved in making the decision to buy?
34. You mean you don't get any help, from a president or a committee?
35. When do you see yourselves making this decision?
36. Why is that date important?
37. If I were to present a solution to the problems we've discussed in a manner that is consistent with how you make decisions, at an investment that is consistent with your budget, is there any reason why you couldn't tell me yes or no when I make my presentation?
38. On a scale from one to 10, with 10 indicating that you are ready to buy and one indicating that you have no interest in our help, where do you stand?
39. What do you need to see or hear to get to 10?
40. What would you like me to do now?
Confirming the sale
41. What is the one thing that could kill this deal?
42. When the competition finds out that you have given us your business, what do you think it's going to do? How are you going to handle this?
43. How often should we meet to discuss our business relationship so that I can ensure that we are meeting your expectations?
When the day comes where we have met or exceeded your expectations, I would like to be able to ask you for your help in meeting other people like yourself who might also benefit from our services. Would you be comfortable with this? Larry Lewis is president of Total Development Inc., a Pittsburgh-based consulting firm specializing in sales development and training. Send him your comments and questions via fax to (724) 933-9224 or visit his Web site at totaldevelopment.com. Reach him by phone at (724) 933-9110.
This month, I'm focusing on the nuts and bolts of Web design -- at least the graphic design portion.
Here's my Top 10 list of suggestions to make your Web site more attractive, more likely to achieve your objectives and easier to navigate and download.
1. Minimize graphics. Download speeds are crucial -- design for the least-common denominator for data transmission. typically, a 28.8 mb modem. That way, you assure that all users can load your site quickly. This is critical until the broad bandwidth infrastructure is in place for the Web and all users. All sites are quick and great-looking on a 21-inch monitor and DSL-line connection, but design for everyone who may visit your site.
2. Minimize clutter. Incorporate lots of graphic interfaces to help aid navigation. Simplify content by better organizing information into usable chunks. Take a "less is more" approach. Ask if the graphics add or distract from the overall usability of your site.
3. Avoid scrolling. The average user will scroll 2.5 times before losing track or tiring of the information. Streamline content to minimize the need for scrolling.
4. Avoid overusing bells and whistles. Don't be tempted to use all the latest technology if it serves no purpose. Ask whether it adds value to your site. And remember that users who have to go to another site to download a plug-in usually will not come back.
5. Write in inverted pyramid style. The Web is not the same medium as print. Studies show that readers on the Web scan text, much like newsprint. By writing in the inverted pyramid style, you give readers the most useful information up front, and they can find additional information through further reading if they choose to do so.
6. Ensure high visibility of your corporate identity. Your logo should be visible on every screen, ensuring that users who bookmark any page will easily see whose site they are viewing. The brand stays intact.
7. Don't use frames. Frames, though very useful for some design applications, sometimes will not print and are difficult to bookmark.
8. Keep content fresh. Instead of constantly changing the layout or navigation of a site, simply change the information to attract new users. Web surfers can be annoyed when they become comfortable with the navigation of a site, only to see it overhauled and changed.
9. Allow for useful feedback within your site. Provide users an incentive for completing a simple survey of five to 10 quick questions. If something on your site doesn't work, fix it -- but only after you have received a clear indication of a problem from end-users. Your site should offer users an experience -- a pleasant experience. Why do so many people return to Disneyland? The experience warrants a return trip. We live in an experience-driven economy.
10. Test. Evaluate. Test again. Before you officially open the site for public viewing, make sure you test and work out all the bugs.
Jeff Krakoff is president of Krakoff Communications Inc., a Pittsburgh-based marketing communications and public relations agency. Reach him at (412) 434-7718 or e-mail him at email@example.com.
In a recent column, I noticed you frequently ask questions in a negative manner. Is this intentional? This seems to fly in the face of what I learned from Dale Carnegie and other sales training.
Yes, it is definitely intentional. Although salespeople should spend most of their time asking open-ended questions (questions that cannot be answered with a yes or no) to gain a better understanding of their prospects, sometimes it's necessary to ask a yes or no question to redirect the conversation.
Trial lawyers are taught that, in court, they should never ask a question unless they know the answer. This helps them avoid being surprised in a way that could ruin their cases.
Salespeople don't have this luxury. However, to protect themselves and stay on track, they should abide by this rule: When it's necessary to ask a yes or no question that you don't know the answer to, ask it in a negative way.
For example, I help companies that are frustrated by a couple of common scenarios. Some spend a lot of time educating prospects about their products and services without getting their business in return, and others frequently have their proposals shopped to their competitors, forcing them to compete on the basis of price.
Although these problems are very common, if I were to directly ask prospects if they have these problems, they are very likely to mislead me and tell me no.
Asking the question in the affirmative makes it difficult for me to recover. Instead, I can cover myself by asking in a negative way, such as, "You probably don't have any of these problems, do you?" If the prospects say, "No, I don't," then I am covered.
I can follow up with a statement like, "I didn't think so," and move on to other frustrations they may have. If the answer is, "Yes, I do," I can stop and explore the issue with open-ended questions. Either way, I win.
From a psychological standpoint, people are more likely to answer truthfully when given a question that assumes the opposite of what is true. Nobody likes to be told what to do or what to think. An affirmative question from a salesperson often comes across as a suggestion or an assumption.
When people assume they know what we need or suggest what is best for us, we rebel. We deny it even when it's true. We feel like the child being told by his parents to do something that he would rather not do.
The yes or no question phrased in an affirmative way is perceived to be presumptuous, especially when coming from a salesperson. When a salesperson suggests that you may have a problem, you likely will hate to admit it, even when you know you have the problem.
But if he or she does the opposite and denies you have a problem, you likely will acknowledge that you do, in fact, have that concern.
Mothers learn this technique when their children are young. A mother who is having a difficult time getting her 5-year-old to eat learns that the odds of getting her child to eat are increased by saying, "You probably don't want any dessert, do you?"
This works better than asking a neutral question, such as, "Do you want any dessert?" or asking it in the affirmative of "I am sure you want dessert, don't you?"
Try it the next time you're seeking agreement from someone. Instead of asking in the affirmative if he or she agrees with a specific point, try stating it in the negative, such as, "You don't agree with this, do you?" You'll be surprised at the response.
Yet, even if that person doesn't agree, you're not in trouble, because you can simply follow up with "I didn't think so" before moving on to the next point.
When talking with a prospect, any time you have to ask a question that you don't already have the answer to, ask it in the negative. Larry Lewis is president of Total Development Inc., a resource for companies that want to increase sales at higher margins. Send your comments and questions via fax to (724) 933-9224 or visit www.totaldevelopment.com. Reach him by phone at (877) 933-9110.
Denise Marie Fugo and her husband, Ralph DiOrio know this all to well. They owned and ran Sammy's in the Flats, a restaurant that was considered one of downtown's best in the '80s.
Fugo estimates that in the beginning, 60 percent of Sammy’s customers were local business people and of that local clientele, 88 percent were male business executives, including many of the city's movers and shakers.
"Dick Jacobs closed his deal on the Cleveland Indians there (at Sammy's)…it was a place you took your customers to do business," says Fugo.
But tax law changes in 1986 had a profound affect on the way business meals were looked at. According to Fugo, the fact that business-meal deductions decreased to allow only 50 percent sent Sammy's revenue plummeting.
Changes in business meal deductions were then followed by a recession that closed many Cleveland businesses. It became increasingly clear that for Sammy's to ride out the economic downturn Fugo was going to have to dive into some unfamiliar waters.
So in 1983, in response to the business environment and at the request of their customers, Fugo and DiOrio diversified the business and started doing event catering. Fugo says, "The best market research comes directly from your customers," says Fugo. "If you listen to your customers, they will tell you where the opportunities are."
The risk paid off so well that last year, Sammy's fine dining restaurant officially closed. Fugo admits it was like cutting off an arm. "I had vendors I had used for many years that dropped me cold. They didn't think we were going to survive the change."
Now two floors are dedicated banquet facilities, the number of staff fluctuates between 35 and 300 on a weekly-basis and Sammy's catering business is evenly split between the social market - weddings, anniversaries - and the corporate market - company events, customer entertaining.
Fugo says, "Our corporate mission was to bring life back to the city through world class food service, ambiance and management. We wrote the mission statement in 1980 and we still use it today."
How to reach: Sammy's, (800) 837-5899
The tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001, and the continuing episodes of terrorist-driven germ warfare have had an impact on us all.
They have caused many salespeople to reflect on and question their career choices. I've heard salespeople say things like, "What's the point of trying to make a lot of money when we could be dead tomorrow?" or "I am not going to make the sacrifices I used to make for my career. I want to enjoy life more."
Frankly, I think this reflection is one of the true blessings to come out of this horrific tragedy. I also think that if the only value derived from what you sell is your paycheck, it's time to find another career or another product to sell.
The fact is that nothing has really changed as a result of the terrorist attacks on America other than our perceptions. In reality, we have never been secure.
In America, many deny that bad things could ever befall us. But terrible things happen to people all the time. We have always been at risk -- we risk being in a terrible accident, developing a life-threatening illness or losing a loved one.
Our lives can be radically changed or ended in a heartbeat.
So what does this have to do with selling? A lot. Our beliefs and attitudes have a huge impact on our ability to sell. To be good, you have to believe in three things: yourself, the company you work for and its products and services, and the marketplace you sell into.
If you don't feel good about yourself, you can't handle the rejection or take the risks that you must to be effective. If you don't feel good about yourself, you will never put yourself in a position where you could lose, and therefore, you will not have the chance to win as often.
If you don't believe in the company you represent or the products and services you sell, you can't sell them without feeling like a fraud. And if you truly believe that people are not very interested in buying your products and services given the current state of the economy or the war on terrorism, you will not make the effort necessary to bring in new business. Why waste your time?
While it shouldn't take a tragedy for us as salespeople to reflect on these things, now is as good a time as any to reassess what we do for a living. The fact is that money is not the most important thing in the world; relationships are. This was true before, and it is still true today. Achieving worldly success is a hollow victory if we haven't enjoyed ourselves and enriched the lives of others along the way.
If your life isn't in balance because you are chasing career success and higher earnings, it's time to change the way you do things. Your goals should be more than purely financial. You need to set family goals, spiritual goals, educational goals, professional goals, social goals and health goals as well. These bring a richness to life that money alone can't.
We need to periodically assess what we sell to ensure it serves a purpose and enriches the lives of the people we sell to. This doesn't mean we should all become pharmaceutical salespeople selling antibiotics that will cure anthrax, but it is important that we think about what we sell to make sure it fulfills a purpose we feel good about.
Even though most of us don't sell the cure for cancer, we do help cure a variety of problems that plague the people we sell to.
Step back and look at what you sell from a broader perspective. For instance, while selling advertising may seem unimportant to some, the salesperson isn't just selling space in a magazine or time on the radio. He or she is helping a small business grow and prosper, and that small business is responsible for the livelihood of those who work there.
The salesperson who sells water treatment chemicals to industry doesn't just sell chemicals. He or she helps to ensure our environment is not harmed by the byproducts of the things that bring pleasure to our lives.
Think about what you sell, and if you don't feel good about it, get out of the business or get a job selling something else. Only con artists can sell something they don't believe in.
But before you abandon your company or the products and services you sell, call some of your good customers and ask whether the products or services you have lost faith in still matter to them. You will be pleasantly surprised.
Don't give up. Take the time to get your life in balance and think about whether what you do enriches the lives of others. Once you have those issues resolved, recommit yourself to being the best salesperson in the area you serve.
Salespeople are the gasoline that fuels our economy and our way of life. Without us, the American engine will not run. Do your part.
Larry Lewis is president of Total Development Inc., a consulting firm specializing in sales development and training. Send comments and questions to him via fax at (724) 933-9224 or visit www.totaldevelopment.com. He can be reached by phone at (877) 933-9110.
At the top of my think topics list most of the time is Fitting Creative, the business I started in the basement of my home 16 years ago. Then, as now, it was enormously pleasurable to think about the possibilities. How big would we be? What services we would offer? To whom would we offer them? And how would we measure success?
The big difference is that when the business was tiny, I had plenty of time to dream.
Now that my business is substantial, the day-to-day activities, decisions, meetings, crises and paperwork leave little time for me to dream. In fact, as the stakes get higher, some of the dreams have turned to nightmares. The more people I employ, the more families that are dependent on my good judgment and leadership.
But thinking and dreaming about the big issues remains one of the highest-payoff activities I can do. The problem is, I have so many demands on my time, so many small things to think about and do, that I have to force myself to do the thing I love most.
So I've started to schedule ''think time,'' usually when I'm traveling or when I know I'll have an hour or more to wait somewhere -- assuming I'll be relatively uninterrupted. Sometimes, though, before I have that opportunity, I'll reach a psychological critical mass of putting out daily fires and need to hole up at home when everyone else is out.
I do some of my best thinking then and I usually return to the office feeling turbocharged about my new ideas. There's no feeling quite like having solved a big problem.
And when you figure out a problem, 10 other smaller things that have been driving you crazy fall into place.
What does this have to do with marketing? The best and most creative marketing ideas come from stepping back and thinking, mentally playing out various scenarios and letting ideas ripen.
I don't want to minimize the need for facts, figures, competitive intelligence, research results and other information. All are grist for the mill. But some of the best ideas and strategies I've come up with for clients happen when I go quietly into my own head and let the gray matter do its job.
So whether it's big marketing matters or other heady business issues that challenge you, pick a time and place that's just for you and focus your mind's eye on the global ball. Andrea Fitting is CEO of Fitting Creative, a Pittsburgh-based agency specializing in strategic marketing and breakthrough creative. Reach her at (412) 434-6934.