By John Graham
When it comes to sales, push is the problem — perhaps the biggest problem — those in sales face today.
A business owner tells of getting a call from a local printing services salesperson of a Fortune 500 company who stated that his company "does everything" and then asked for a meeting to find out "the needs of the business." The owner indicated that he would welcome information, but refused to have a meeting.
Several weeks later, the same salesperson called again, this time pressing even harder for a meeting. Again, it was turned down.
This is a classic case of "push" creating "shove." The greater the push, the greater the shove. "I sensed, almost instantly, that this salesperson only wanted ‘some business' and he wasn't interested in us as a customer."
The economy has forced salespeople into becoming marketers. Some recognize the need for a change in strategy, while others, such as the printing salesperson (and his company) don't understand the message. They still think that it takes more and better push, while what it really takes is more pull, using tactics that help demonstrate your value to customers.
Here are six significant ways to pull customers to you. Each one requires planning and effort, which is a good trade-off from getting a rejection from those who do not have the time or a reason to listen to your spiel.
1. Customer service. When his car needed an oil change, sales executive Edward Testa of Champion Capital called the dealer, who listed off a litany of needed services totaling nearly $500.
After the initial shock, he recalled Barry Steinberg's radio commercial for Direct Tire in Watertown, Mass., indicating they would do a complete car check and do any necessary work for less than a dealer.
When Ed called Direct Tire, he was surprised that Barry answered the phone, knowing there were a string of locations. When Ed arrived the next morning for the appointment, the woman behind the counter welcomed him for a tip to toe checkup and an oil change.
In about an hour, the mechanic reported his findings, indicating when certain things should be done, but, in most cases, there was no hurry. Along with a $47.53 bill, he received quotes on the suggested work. Needless to say, Ed tells everyone about this experience.
While others talk about "the power of word of mouth," it's customer service that drives it.
2. Learn the cycle of a sale. If one word can adequately describe the primary role of a salesperson in the sales process, it's "orchestration." It's something that's missing most of the time. "If I can get you another $1,000 for your trade-in right now, do we have a deal?" says the car salesperson. If the customer fails to buy, the salesperson fails to follow up. Why? The sale hasn't gone as the salesperson "thinks" it should and moves on.
Yet, MarketingSherpa.com conducted a survey on the length of time it takes to convert leads into sales. The findings are revealing: 17% of the respondents indicated one month, 14% said two months, 26% reported three months, 22% said six months, 10% said12 months, and 11% said more than 12 months.
While the length of the cycle varies with the product or service, the salesperson's role is to anticipate that there will be a cycle and to plan an appropriate course of action that will transform leads into sales.
3. Create excitement. A business writer was asked to interview a life insurance salesperson. From the moment she answered the phone, the interviewer detected a sense of enthusiasm, even though she had been sick for several days. At the end of the conversation, the writer commented on her upbeat attitude. "I really like what I do because I've seen how I can really help people."
In the same way, a recent series of Southwest Airlines TV commercials show what appears to be a group of fun-loving employees on a moving walkway. What's striking is their clear enthusiasm for being part of the airline's team.
For both the Southwest people and the life insurance producer, their message and manner are consistent, sending the message that they believe in what they do. Excitement is contagious and that's what sells.
4. Involve customers. To a neophyte cook, following a recipe must seem like a daunting and lonely process. Yet, having others around can be disconcerting. But recipe apps, such as Spark, for example, make it a social experience. While preparing a recipe for the first time, the male "cook" printed out the comments from more than 200 people who had used it. He read them with more attention than he gave to that day's Wall Street Journal.
Those comments gave the recipe a sense of community, as he made notes and added ingredients. With a rating of 4.5 (on a 5) scale, it was as if all those making comments were urging him on.
Hokey? Perhaps. But giving customers the opportunity to respond and add their thoughts creates community.
5. Break from the pack. Even though salespeople like to think of themselves as fiercely independent, nothing is more difficult for them than standing out from the pack. Depending on the industry, they seem to gravitate to the same dress mode, the same type of vehicles, the same restaurants and the same type of homes. Such behavior flies in the face of independence and stymies innovation and creativity, qualities that are essential in marketing and sales.
While the auto industry builds Taj Mahal-type facilities, Hyundai is breaking from the pack. In introducing its new, upscale sedan, the Equs, Hyundai makes it clear there will be no gaudy Disney-like dealerships. The company seems to have figured out that the last place customers want to go is to a car dealer's showroom. In fact, many may even dread the experience, particularly the cookie-cutter salespeople. Instead of focusing on the showroom, Hyundai is placing the focus on the car. To dramatize the experience, the salesperson brings the car to the customer and handles the transaction at the person's home or office. And after the sale, the salesperson picks it up for service, making the point that the owner will never need to go to a dealership.
It takes thinking like a customer to break from the pack.
6. Go where the customers are. The retailer Target has turned to personalized ads to reach more consumers. According to USA Today, the company's weekly ad on target.com draws 1.2 million visitors a week. What's different is that the new version gives customers the option of how they want to view the ad as well as "alerts" when a viewer's favorite brands or products go on sale. Clearly, Target is aiming at a "smaller number of hard-to-reach, digitally savvy shoppers — who tend to spend more than others." Along with online and mobile phone access, there's a Facebook fan page "where visitors can share products and shopping experiences with friends."
While some Target customers may not make the effort to become involved, that doesn't undermine the significance of customizing for those who know what they want. As Rebecca Lieb of the research firm, Econsultancy, points out in the USA Today article, "Target is doing what smart retailers have to do: Go to where the customers are … engage people on their own terms."
Retailing may be pointing the way for other industries, whether it's selling insurance, medical services, or even cars.
From compelling customer service to customized advertising content, these six strategies are benchmarks for marketing and sales, both now and in the future.
John Graham is president of Graham Communications, a marketing services and sales consulting firm. He writes for a variety of business publications and speaks on business, marketing, and sales issues. Contact him at (617) 328-0069 or [email protected]. His blog can be found at grahamcomm.com/wordpress.