A 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.
In 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?
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.
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.
Your 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.
Two questions that you need to ask and answer. 1. What does your company do differently than every other company in your industry? 2. What do you do differently than every other salesperson in your industry?
A salesperson I know recently told me, “I offer the same product that everyone else offers. My competitors are winning because of price. If I don’t match their price I can’t win.” His statement really bothered me because it exemplified every negative stereotype people have about selling and salespeople.
Three quick things:
1. You may offer a similar product or service, but you do not offer the same product or service.
You cannot separate your product or service from your value proposition. If ten competitors in your area are selling 4 oz. gold-plated widgets, sourced from the same manufacturer, all ten of you are not selling the same widget. How are the widgets packaged? What training is offered so your customers can use the widgets effectively? How fast can your company ship widgets? What is your warranty on widgets? How well-trained are you, the salesperson, in selling widgets? How responsive is your widget service team? How easy do you make it for your customers to buy widgets? You and your company are the sum total of all your parts. Each widget is attached to your company’s value proposition, or lack thereof. It is your job to be an expert in your value proposition and effectively communicate it to your customers.
2. Your competitors are not winning because of price. They are winning because you have not communicated value.
First, there are sales that are lost because customers are focused only on price. It does happen, but this is not the rule. In the digital age in which we live, customers are well-informed. They also know that their own customers will not tolerate poor quality and poor service. Most customers want to buy quality. They want value. It is not uncommon for an entire industry to lose focus on value and use price as their differentiator. When that happens the customer, the salesperson, the company, and the industry lose. Have you ever had a customer say, “You [insert your product or service here] are all the same.”? Shame, shame, shame on the company and salesperson who cannot answer the question imbedded in that comment. Go back to #1 and master your value proposition.
3. Brand yourself.
Ken works in the laundry business, providing washer and dryers to the multi-family housing industry. Ken regularly drops off laundry detergent samples to property managers so they can give them to their residents. Over time he began to be referred to as “the soap guy”. It may seem like a simple thing, but his customers think of Ken when they need laundry services.
Jim was the vice president of a leading company in restroom and corporate hygiene services. One of the services the company offered was in the area of feminine hygiene disposal. Jim used to refer to himself as the world leader in feminine hygiene disposal. A dubious distinction, but it differentiated himself and helped him create a unique brand. Both Jim and his company were highly successful.
What are you known for? What do you do that gives your customers a reason to remember your name and what it is that you do? Don’t think of big things. Simple things like good manners (“thank you” and “please” go a long way), being kind, and genuine sincerity are invaluable. Prompt thank you notes that are personalized to the recipient are always appreciated. Use your own creativity. Find what is in good taste and works for you. Maybe you are already doing these things. If so, great! If not, think of what you want to do and start doing it. They key is to do it continually.
Remember that no two products or services are the same. They cannot be separated from their value proposition. Master that proposition and do it in a way that is unique to you. Be different! Not Dennis Rodman different, but…well…you get the idea.
Semper Gumby is an unofficial United States Marine term. It means “always flexible”.
I am old enough to remember the claymation cartoon “Gumby and Pokey”. I have a Gumby action figure staring at me right now on my bookcase. It is a great reminder that no matter what comes our way we do not have to view it as an insurmountable problem. By being nimble and flexible in our approach to problems we can often find a satisfactory solution. That type of approach is contagious. It also is a stress reliever.
Semper Gumby, everybody!
Toilet bowls. Of all the career opportunities available to me selling toilet bowls wasn’t exactly something I wanted to do. Well, not selling the actually toilet bowls, but an after-market toilet bowl seat that automatically dispensed a sheet of plastic after each use in order to provide a clean sit. Up to that point I had been successful as a field salesperson for a major rental uniform company. I was ready to move into sales management and I was looking for an opportunity worthy of my effort. Working with a device that was six inches from the water in a commode was not exactly the effort I was hoping for. But after considerable soul searching, prayer, and asking for advice from people I trusted I took advantage of the opportunity. It was the right move professionally and personally. Opportunity knocked, but it wasn’t dressed for the party.
I have tried to keep that saying in mind when evaluating opportunties or before making an important decision. We live in a culture where glamour, glitz, and slick marketing paint a picture of what success looks like. It is tempting to buy into that and chase after opportunities that seem to promise the world. But as motivational speaker John Maxwell once said, “The only reason the grass looks greener on the other side of the fence is because it’s growing over the septic tank.”
Opportunity can present itself in all shapes, sizes, and colors. It just may be cloaked in glamour and glitz. But it may just as easily appear dull gray and frayed at the edges at first glance. You need to look beyond the surface and examine the substance. You just may be glad you did.
Opportunity may not be dressed for the party, but it may be the best guest there!
King Solomon wrote, “Better is open rebuke than love that is concealed. Faithful are the wounds of a friend.” In the modern English vernacular we don’t use the word “rebuke” too often. It means to “express sharp disapproval”. We use terms like “constructive feedback” instead. One of the things people dislike is to be on the receiving end of “sharp disapproval” or “constructive feedback”. We like to think that everything we do and say is perfectly fine. So, when a manager or supervisor calls us on the carpet for something we often act incredulous and pull out the “Who, me?” card.
If you have someone in authority over you who practices constructive feedback in the right way, you should be thankful. The purpose of constructive feedback is to address negative behaviors and actions and to encourage positive behaviors and actions. It is how we have learned since we were children. I never had to worry about whether my mother would address my negative behaviors and actions when I was a child. I was convinced she had eyes in the back of her head! But my mother also gave me positive feedback when I did well. So, on the one hand I was corrected, but on the other hand I was encouraged.
If you are on the receiving end of constructive feedback take a moment and consider how it might be for your benefit. It may have an initial sting, but it may also be something you’ll be grateful for down the road – if you learn from it.
Wresting our time back from the Tyranny of the Urgent doesn’t mean that the temptation won’t be present to go back to old habits. Today is January 6th. That means many of the resolutions people have made for the New Year have now been broken. But instead of regrouping and recommitting, some of those people will just give up. The old axiom is, “the road to success is paved with failure.” Perseverance in the face of failure takes courage. Courage is what’s needed to create a positive new behavior.
Budget time at the end of the week to review the week just concluded. How did you do in keeping the Tyranny of the Urgent at bay? If you did well then seek to repeat what worked. Did you struggle? Take a moment to evaluate. Did you schedule properly? Was the task categorized correctly? Did you lack resolve in telling someone no?
Hummel suggests that you never say “yes” to an unscheduled request while on the spot. If someone asks you to do something try and respond with “I’ll think it over and get back to you.” Often times we are not prepared to evaluate how accepting a spontaneous request will impact our budgeted time. You may decide to accept the request, but it may mean cancelling or postponing a scheduled task. Of course there may be situations when saying “no” is not an option. A person who is on-call faces this all the time. But even that is not beyond a measure of control. You may want to keep a block of time open, or fill it with routine tasks, if you are subject to unscheduled intrusions into your schedule.
Lastly, don’t allow your battle against the Tyranny of the Urgent to rob you from the joy of living or time with your family. There is something to be said for spontaneity. For me it has often been announcing to my daughter, “Daddy-daughter date time!” and taking her to lunch or a movie. Effective use of your time in other areas will allow you to be spontaneous with your schedule.
I hope this brief series has been an encouragement to you. I wish you well in fighting off the time robbers and the Tyranny of the Urgent!