“Caveat Venditor” – The Purification of Sales

hikeIn his best-selling book “To Sell Is Human”, author Daniel H. Pink introduces a Latin phrase that is probably new for most of us: Caveat Venditor. It means “seller beware”. We all know the antithesis of Caveat Venditor; it is Caveat Emptor: “buyer beware”. We live in an age when buyers have unparalleled access to information they never had before. Thank you, Internet. In his book, Pink points out that car buyers often know more about the vehicle they want to purchase then the salesperson. For the unscrupulous salesperson this is bad news. Buyers are wiser than they have ever been and are more difficult to deceive. But for the ethical sales professional Caveat Venditor is cause to celebrate.

Zig Ziglar is often quoted as having said, “People buy from people they like.” That is a fact. But let me add that people repeatedly buy from people they trust. For today’s sales professional it is not enough to be likable, you must be trustworthy. What if your prospective buyer knows more about what you are selling then you do? That is not outside the realm of possibility. Software sales professionals know this all too well. Their customers are often times quite capable of writing their own programs. They know the capability of their hardware. Bold promises that strain credulity are not going to fly with these people. Persuading buyers to act in their own self-interest is still very much a part of selling, but gone are the days when buyers are manipulated — and that is a great thing!

If you are a sales professional in today’s market the time has never been better for collaboration between you and your customer. Instead of one person selling and one person buying, the buyer-seller relationship is more of a business partnership. Negotiation is still there. Objections are still heard. But instead of an adversarial contest of wills, both buyer and seller are working together to solve problems and create opportunities. Exceptions will always be there, but that is why they are called exceptions. In my opinion there is no better time to be a sales professional then right now. And what of Caveat Venditor? For my brothers and sisters in the great profession of selling, it should be music to our ears.

Nice Guys Do Not Finish Last (well, not always).

Former Dodgers manager Leo Durocher is credited with saying, “Nice guys finish last.” The meaning behind this phrase is plain to anyone who has ever played the game of baseball. No matter how much you may like the guy on the other team you are playing to win. Personal relationships cannot enter in to how you play the game. There is a carry-over of that principle into the business world. We are playing to win too. But in the midst of winning there is a lot to be said for winning as a gentleman or gentlelady.

Your success in business has as much to do with the assistance other people provide you as it does with your own drive, determination, and talent. Sincere acts of appreciation go a long way. Calling people by their first name means a lot to that person. Recognizing that their time is just as valuable as your time is a common courtesy that many business people ignore or forget. I just returned from a visit to my company’s corporate offices. There are many individuals who occupy cubicles and offices that make it possible for me to do my job. I tried to visit with as many of those individuals as possible to say hello and thank them for their support. Why? Because I thought it was the kind thing to do. I was raised by my mother to thank people who do nice things for me. That lesson has carried over into my career. Is it a sign of weakness on my part? No. It would be a mistake to confuse my courtesy with a lack of job focus or determination. I happen to believe that being kind is a display of good character. It can only be an asset in one’s career.

 

Owning the Buck

buckstopsherefrontsmallPresident Harry S. Truman had a sign on his desk that read, “The Buck Stops Here.” The meaning behind the saying is clear. The person who stops the buck is the one who takes responsibility. “The Buck Stops Here” is a Franklinesque saying. But in the arena of providing memorable customer service experiences it is a rare commodity.

I remember a new salesperson I had hired who walked into every salespersons nightmare. He scheduled an appointment to meet with a prospective new customer in the trucking repair business. The salesperson met with the general manager of the prospect company and the call was going well – that is until the owner got involved. It turns out that this salesperson’s company had been fired by the prospect a few years earlier for bad service. The owner proceeded to excoriate the salesperson’s company. It did not take a rocket scientist to figure out the salesperson’s odds of winning this former customer back into the fold.

To be fair this salesperson was not to blame for the bad service this former customer had received. He could have truthfully said, “I wasn’t here when that happened” and maybe earned some sympathy from the business owner. Instead he displayed a high level of professionalism and personal responsibility. He became the poster-child for “The Buck Stops Here.” When the business owner finished his diatribe, this new salesperson said, “Sir, I am sorry for the poor service you received from my company. You had every right to fire us. As a representative of my company I will assume the responsibility for this failure. Please accept my sincere apology.” There were no excuses. No equivocating. No blaming. The business owner responded positively to the salesperson’s sincere apology. While he was not willing to consider doing business with the salesperson’s company at that time, he did leave the door open for future dialog when his current contract came up for renewal. That opportunity never would have happened had the salesperson taken the easy road and removed himself from the line of fire.

Owning the Buck does not mean taking the blame. It simply means taking responsibility – owning the situation. People who take responsibility are typically decision makers; shakers and movers in their organization. More often than not they are the go-to person that can get things done. Why? Because with taking responsibility comes trust, and if  you work directly with customers, trust is the most valuable asset you can have.

Lesson from a Batter’s Box

battersbox

I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it.

                                                                                                                        Pablo Picasso

 

I love baseball. I remember when the game reached out and grabbed me. It was Friday, August 22, 1969. My grandfather was a member of the Marconi Club, an Italian-American fraternal organization in Kearny, New Jersey. Every year Marconi rented a bus and went to a ball game in New York City. That year the Marconi Club went to a New York Met game at Shea Stadium. 1969 was the year of the Miracle Mets and August of that season was when the Mets won 14 of 17 games and began to close the gap against the division leading Cubs. Baseball reached down deep into my heart that evening in Flushing, Queens. It created a bond between my grandfather and me that lasted until his passing. Baseball was my personal field of dreams long before W.P. Kinsella wrote his book “Shoeless Joe” on which the movie “Field of Dreams” was based.

Like any kid growing up in Northern New Jersey in the 60’s and 70’s, I wanted to emulate my big league heroes. My dream was to be the starting third baseman for the New York Mets. But in order to make my dream come true I had to learn how to play the game. There was one thing standing in my way as a kid playing Little League — I was terrified of the ball. When the pitcher threw the ball I instinctively flinched. I was terrified that the ball was going to hit me in the head. My grandfather gave me the right advice. “Face your fear!” I wanted to face my fear. Each time I was on deck I said to myself, “Don’t flinch. Don’t flinch”. But when I got to the plate the fear was overwhelming and I would flinch after the ball left the pitcher’s hand.

My coach did not give up on me. He knew how scared I was, so he took the time to throw me batting practice. He started off lobbing the ball slowly and then increased the speed. Eventually he was throwing the ball at the same speed as most Little League pitchers, and I was making contact when I swung the bat. My coach said to me, “If you can hit the pitches I throw, why not the pitches by another team’s pitcher?” He was right. My confidence soared. But my triumph over flinching in the batter’s box was incremental. The first step was not flinching. I remember standing there and letting the pitcher throw the ball.  I never swung the bat and struck out looking. But at least I didn’t flinch! That was a first. Finally I worked up the courage to swing, but still struck out. Eventually my new found confidence in the batter’s box translated into success. Not only didn’t I flinch, but I swung and got a hit! After the first hit I couldn’t understand why I had been afraid of the ball to begin with. I had been paralyzed by fear of something I thought I could never do. With the help of a patient coach, and determination, I learned how to hit.

What challenge are you facing that you feel like you cannot do? It may be true that you are not capable of doing it yet. Some skills are acquired by doing. My chosen profession is sales. I learned how to sell not only by classroom instruction, but by watching accomplished salespeople display their craft and then adopting it myself. The old joke starts with the question, “How do you get to Broadway?” Comedian Jack Benny would answer, “Practice, practice, practice!” It doesn’t matter whether your challenge is selling, public speaking, or presenting an idea to senior management. Face your challenge the way I did – incrementally. If you get nervous at the idea of speaking in public, find a group of co-workers or friends that would be willing to listen to a brief 5 minute talk. Making sales calls? Role play with your manager, fellow sales reps, or other people in your organization. The important thing is to transfer the skills you develop in practice into real life. Don’t measure yourself by the standard of perfection. Allow yourself room to improve. The best at anything developed their skills over time. You are no different. With small, measurable, and incremental strides you will rise to the occasion and meet your challenge.

We Fix Bicycles

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Actually Don and Robert do not fix bicycles. Don is responsible for the crew that installs new washers and dryers and Robert supervises the techs that keep them running. Both of them work for the same company I work for. Last fall Don and Robert attended an open house for one of our top customers in the Washington, D.C. area. This was a time to show off the good work we had done in renovating this customer’s laundry rooms. But while the well deserved showing off was taking place Don and Robert noticed a young man whose bike had slipped a chain. Not their problem, right? After all, Don and Robert were in the laundry business, not the bicycle business. Actually both Don and Robert recognized they were in the taking care of needs business. Washers and dryers meet a need that a busy parent has for making sure their children have clean clothes; or the job applicant who needs to look sharp for tomorrow’s interview. Don and Robert understood that this young man had a need and they possessed both the skill and opportunity to take care of it. There was no fanfare. They took the initiative to help a young man.

What did fixing a young man’s bicycle have to do with laundry? Nothing. But what are the odds that this young man will remember the two men who took the time to fix his bike? I would say pretty high. How do you calculate profit in this type of service? You don’t. You do it because you can, not because of what you can get from it. If you or your business profits from extraordinary acts of kindness then consider it a bonus. You may just find that helping others isn’t extraordinary at all. It should be a regular occurrence.

Thank You, UPS

BrownDoA few years ago UPS launched a new marketing slogan, “What Can Brown Do for You?” It was a reference to UPS’ brown trucks and it was all about service. Since my last name is Brown, I pondered the significance of this brilliant marketing strategy by UPS. If you have customers than by default you are in the business of serving them. Too often the serving is considered done once the process, job, or transaction is complete. No matter how well the customer experience may have gone up to that point, it is incomplete unless one other thing happens. Let me use Safeway as an example.

Last year Wegman’s, the Disney World of grocery stores, opened a new store in a shopping center near my house. Less than a mile a way there is a Safeway. Safeway was in trouble. People go out of their way to shop at Wegman’s because of the experience. People shopped at the Safeway near my house because it was there. There was nothing distinguishing about this Safeway. My wife and I shopped there because it was convenient. That’s it. But someone at Safeway understood they had to do something to keep all their customers from going to Wegman’s. What Safeway did was employ UPS’ slogan. I first noticed it a few months before the Wegman’s store opened. I was checking out at Safeway when the cashier asked me if I found everything I was looking for. I said I had. She then asked if I needed a hand taking my groceries to my car. That was a first for this store. On subsequent visits I encountered Safeway employees coming up to me and asking if I needed assistance with anything. Small things? Perhaps. But I was left with the impression that these employees were willing to help me beyond just taking my money.

To be fair Wegman’s has helpful employees too.  By the way Wegman’s employees treat their customers it is easy to tell it is part of their culture. But that is not the way it was at my local Safeway. Safeway understood that it had to change if it wanted to survive. It had to offer more than a receipt and a “have a nice day”.

What are you doing to go the extra step with your customers? It is not enough just to deliver your product on time or fulfill a commitment you have made. Those things are expected. What are you doing that is up and above what is expected? UPS motivated me to change something as simple as a phone conversation with a customer. I try and end every call with, “Is there anything else that I can do for you today?” That is my way of asking, “What can Brown do for you?”

Thank you, UPS.

Are You A True Believer?

zigziglarIn his book “Secrets of Closing the Sale” Zig Ziglar tells a story that takes place when he was the #1 cookware salesman for Saladmaster Corporation of Dallas, Texas. Across town was a fellow salesperson who was struggling. Zig visited the salesperson’s home, and over a cup of coffee, discussed the difficult time this person was having in closing sales. One of the things Zig noticed while in his colleague’s house was that he owned a set of competitive cookware. Zig called him out on it and received a litany of excuses. “The time wasn’t right, my kid is going into the hospital to get their tonsils out, we wrecked our car” yada, yada, yada. To make a long story short, this guy did not believe in his own product.

Selling is a transference of feeling. If you do not believe in what you are selling it is that doubt that will be transferred to your customer, not confidence. Zig’s does point out, “Obviously, there will be some exceptions in buying or using what you sell.  For example, if you sell locomotives, million-dollar computers, or 747′s, I don’t necessarily believe you have to buy one to prove you believe in it!” But the pertinent question is whether or not you are a true believer. Are you enthusiastic about what you are selling? Do you believe in it 100%? Are you convinced, as Zig says, “the customers are the losers when they don’t buy”? If not, then you are subconsciously transferring doubt to your customers and your career will certainly suffer.

Zig’s story ends with his fellow salesperson purchasing a full set of his company’s cookware. Not unexpectedly his sales increased exponentially.

Are you a true believer?

The Story of Charlie

kindnessKindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.” Mark Twain

It was 1973 and I spent the summer at a camp in Western New Jersey. I was having a blast. Swimming, fishing, playing baseball, campfires – it was a time that I wished would never end. New campers arrived on Saturday’s. “Charlie” looked out of place from the beginning. He kept to himself. He acted a bit odd around other people. Kids can be cruel to other kids, so it did not take long for Charlie to be picked on. But as the other campers started to tease Charlie, and call him names, it was as though I was the target of their taunts. You see I was bullied as a kid. I remember the fear I had of going to school. No one ever took up for me. I had to face it all by myself, so when I saw Charlie being bullied by other campers a light switch went off inside my head and my heart. I decided to become friends with Charlie. Yep. I had no idea if I had anything in common with him, but I was not about to let Charlie have a miserable time at such a fun place. Becoming friends with Charlie was not hard to do. I talked to him. I asked him questions: where was he from, what school did he go to, did he have brothers and sisters, what was his favorite baseball team (for me everything revolved around baseball – the New York Mets specifically) et al. Charlie would sit next to me at meals. I invited him to be my swim buddy and we went fishing together. We did not spend all our time together, but I made sure that he had at least one person he could pal around with.

A funny thing happened as I was helping Charlie; I was actually helping myself. That was not the intent. As a twelve year old psychology was the last thing on my mind. But as I displayed kindness to Charlie, it did something to me. I connected with another human being beyond just mutual interests. I got to know Charlie as a person. I empathized with his pain at being somewhat of a social misfit. I decided to take up for him. The fact that I am recollecting the summer of 1973, and the story of Charlie, testifies to how memorable those events were for me.

Zig Ziglar once said, “You never know when a moment and a few sincere words can have an impact on a life.” Kindness is in short supply. It seems as though our world has never been as divided as it is today. People carry with them hurt, pain, and disappointment that we may never see. We get upset because a co-worker or customer snaps at us. The barista at that outrageously expensive coffee house we frequent has a scowl on their face. A schoolmate is distant and withdrawn. It is so easy to care only about ourselves and think, “That is their problem.” But have you ever thought about why people act certain ways? Behind every act of rudeness and anger there is a cry for help. Relationship issues, financial pressure, health concerns, and career worries place a great strain on individuals, and that strain sometimes displays itself by how people treat others. Do not underestimate the power of being kind to another person. Genuinely ask about their day. Give a warm smile. Say something positive. If you know a person is hurting, offer words of comfort. Be a kind and considerate person. Being kind is not a sign of weakness.  Above all do these things with sincerity. I would add that if you have ever been a “Charlie” that you have an obligation to be kind to others. Perhaps you can do more than just display sincere kindness. That is your call. But do not miss the opportunity to help a Charlie, because you may just be helping yourself.

Some Bad Reputations are Deserved

salesmanOKAY, rant on:

Selling to a salesperson is always a risky proposition. Selling to this salesperson is going to expose you to a higher standard than you may like. The salesman I encountered this evening failed at every turn, even after I gave him an opportunity to redeem himself. Actually I felt some pity for this guy. He was doing exactly what his company trained him to do.

My one-year commitment to my current gym has expired. I like the place well-enough, but I wanted to see if an advertised price by a large national franchise chain lived up to the hype. $9.99 a month for unlimited use of cardio and weight equipment, just what I wanted. The salesman introduced himself and said he would be with me in a few minutes. He came back with a clip board and a form to fill out. I put my name on the form and nothing else. The rest of the information was for him to use to try and close me. I told him I stopped in to learn the details on the $9.99 advertised offer. He ignored my request and showed me the $29.99 Gold plan. I told him I was not interested in that plan. I wanted information only on the $9.99 plan. Undeterred he went back to the $29.99 plan. I picked up my jacket and prepared to leave. He realized he was close to losing a sale, so he went right to the $9.99 plan. A 3 year contract with a signing fee and annual rate-lock fee.  Doing the quick math I calculated the $9.99 plan was actually $16.75 a month! This was more than what I was paying at my current gym.  I told him “Thanks, but no thanks” and got out of my seat to head for the door. He countered with a month-to-month plan but the $16.75 a month remained. I finally left.

This national franchise company does not know how to treat customers. Instead of being honest and upfront they cloak their pricing and terms in order to hoodwink people into high fees and contracts. Now, do not get me wrong. Contracts are a part of business.  So are fees. If they are a part of your business model then be honest and let your customers known about them up front. How stupid is it to deceive the very people who are going to help you pay your rent and feed your family? Respect your customers. You owe them honest pricing and honest terms, anything less than that and any bad reputation is rightly deserved.

RANT off.

Sweeping Under the Carpet Makes for a Lumpy Carpet

sweepYour company royally messed up on a delivery to a customer. Come to think about it, your company has been making a habit of messing up on deliveries. It has gotten to the point where some customers have canceled their orders and gone with your competition. The problem has been addressed and a fix has been put in place. Unfortunately your competitors are using your delivery problems against you. So, what do you do about it?

You have two choices:

1. Ignore the problem by sweeping it under the rug.

2. Own up to the problem and tell your customers about it.

If you ignore the problem it will not go away.  Chances are your customer already knows about the problem because your opportunistic competitor has told them.  By ignoring the problem you will not win any credibility or confidence points with your customer.  In fact, your customer is likely to wonder whether there are other problems with your company that have not gone public yet.

The best way to react is to beat your competitor to the punch.  Own up to your company’s struggles and use your honesty as a way of building credibility with your customer.

I witnessed this strategy at work years ago when I was being trained by a seasoned sales rep in the lubrication industry. Our company manufactured its own lubricant line and there was a supplier shortage of a key component in our calcium sulfonate grease. The shortage was going to last for about 90 days. This sales rep made it a point to visit his largest customers and tell them about the shortage before they found out about it by placing orders that could not be delivered. The customers appreciated the sales rep’s honesty. The sales rep did not lose one single customer. Instead some of this sales reps customers increased their orders because they knew that he had their best interest at heart.

If you have bad news that will impact your customers, do not try to hide it.  Deliver the news to customers personally. Be honest as to what the problem is and what you can do to make it right. You will find that most of your customers will respond in a positive manner when you approach them with honesty and integrity.

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