Plan Every Sales Call In Writing!

Sometimes, stating the obvious is nothing more than that; merely verbalizing what everybody in the audience already knows.  Sometimes, something is obvious to the speaker/writer, but is genuinely a novel concept for the audience.  Sometimes, everybody already knows, but only a few actually practice the best practice.

Plan every sales call in writing

Customer focus must be ignored at all cost!

“Full Service!”  “Total Solution!”  “We handle everything!”  “We are a customer focused company!”  Virtually always, statements like these are a load of hooey.

I’ll start with the moral of the story.  Don’t claim to be customer focused or full service unless you are absolutely certain you fully and completely understand all the details of the customer’s requirements and expectations and can fulfill each one.  Otherwise you’re setting yourself up to look like a hype-spewing, unreliable huckster.

The case in point involves a cancer patient and a caregiver.  The patient is about to be discharged from the hospital and will require some home care.  There’s some natural apprehension on the part of the caregiver regarding the associated procedures and equipment.  Not to worry!  “A care specialist from the home healthcare provider will be here shortly to address all those issues.”

In strides the poised, articulate care specialist.  The opening questions and statements are all absolutely appropriate, compassionate and to the point.  The caregiver (CG) breaths a sigh of relief.  The care specialist (CS) says, “We’ll take care of everything; we’re a full service provider.” Now begins the interesting (and sad) part.

CG:  “That’s really wonderful.  The first thing I’d like to handle is getting a hospital bed delivered to the house.”

CS:  “Oh, we don’t do that.”

CG:  “I see.  How about a bedside commode?”

CS:  “We don’t do that either.”

CG:  “How about a walker?”

CS:  “We don’t do that either.”

CG:  “OK, sounds like ‘everything’ doesn’t include equipment.  How will monitoring for the need of various medications be handled and how will the drugs be administered?”

CS:  “That’s not part of our role.”

Anyone else out there feel like punching CS in the nose?

CS, serving the role of sales rep, right out of the chute assures CG, the customer, that, “We’ll take care of everything,” and proceeds to fail on the first four, absurdly straightforward requests.  Let’s add a little more context to CG’s perception.  Here are the medical service providers involved in this case:

  • A Full Service hospital
  • A Full Service home healthcare company
  • A Full Service discharge planning service
  • A Full Service home healthcare equipment delivery company
  • A Full Service oncology practice
  • A Full Service chemotherapy clinic
  • A Full Service vascular medicine practice
  • A Full Service gynecology practice
  • A Full Service gastro-intestinal medical practice
  • A Full Service endocrinology medical practice
  • A Full Service palliative care medical practice

Count ‘em up.  Eleven Full Service” organizations providing “Full Service” to a single patient.  The only way to characterize any of them as full-service-total-solution-we-handle-everything is to define the requirements in an entirely internally focused, product/service-centric manner. Customer focus must be ignored at all cost!

Think about it sales rep.  You really think you’re any different?  You think you don’t sometimes appear to be as clueless to your customer executives as the eleven organizations noted above?

There Are No Sacred Cows

(This is a guest post by my old friend and colleague, Ray Charland of Lead Dog SellingThink as you read this piece.  There’s a subtle, yet powerful message regarding the necessity of creating and growing your “e-Rep.”  Please forgive his fondness for the Red Sox and Celtics…)

My sister Kathy is an avid reader. Her dining room and den have floor to ceiling bookcases that are home to more books than I care to count and equipped with rolling ladders to get to the top shelves.

Nicholas Negroponte, Director of the renowned MIT Media Lab, a frequent contributor to Wired, wrote a book titled “Being Digital” in 1995. His basic premise is that atoms (physical things) will be rapidly converted to bits (binary streams of data) and distributed over high-speed packet networks (the Internet). As an example, he refers to books as “ink crudely spread onto dead trees.” My sister’s library! She would disagree.

However, Kathy recently became the proud owner of a  Kindle, a wireless reading device that comes equipped with free Global 3G and Wi-Fi. It weighs less than a paperback, can download a book from anywhere in less than 60 seconds and can hold 3500 books in memory. A single battery charge lasts over one month with the wireless turned off. The cost is about $190 bucks.

Kathy loves her books but wouldn’t give up her Kindle for anything.

Visit a Hollywood Video or Blockbuster lately? Netflix killed them. Even Netflix moved on from putting 2 million DVD’s (atoms) in the mail each day to digital film downloads in seconds.

Newspapers? Advertisers have shifted budgets to the Internet in huge numbers since about mid-2008. With the exception of the Wall Street Journal, subscriptions are falling like a rock. Yet, these same papers offer their content on-line for free while they’re struggling to come up with a new business model. Wanna invest in the Chicago Tribune?

Rupert Murdock paid a 2/3 premium for Dow Jones, which included the acquisition of the Wall Street Journal. Why? Content.

Ted Turner purchased Warner Brothers’ pre 1986 film library. Why? Content. With over 500 TV channels offering little more than mindless entertainment produced for the average 12 year old, excepting of course the Red Sox and the Celtics, content is king. Good content is limited. The number of channels is increasing.

Take a look at this video clip of Vint Cert, recognized “Father of the Internet” expressing his views on the future of Television. Note that TV is faced with the same drop in ad revenues as the newspapers and are also struggling with finding a new business model.

Just click on the photo and enjoy the video. It’s five minutes that will keep you thinking.

As for my local TV station, the weather guy comes on and says something like “Some interesting weather in store for us. Stay tuned for my forecast at 6:00″ I hate this. Just tell me now! Then the anchor comes on with “First Birthdays.” “Happy birthday greetings go out to John Jason Smith in Coventry, RI.” At this point, and more often than not, I find myself gagging over my Cheerios.

As for radio, I don’t listen anymore. More advertising dollars out the window on the backs of lemmings. I have a PC input to my 44″ flat screen and set-up my own custom music/video playlist using YouTube. When I’m in the car, I use my iPod.

If there’s a Lead Dog out there, my vote goes to Steve Jobs. You could’ve bought Apple stock eight years ago for around $50 per share. Today it’s worth about $250. Their market cap is more than MicroSoft, GM, Boeing and a lot more.

While the editors, publishers and network execs are whining, the dreamers and visionaries in the garage in Cupertino got it right.

The Times They Are A-Changin Recognize it. Embrace it. Profit from it.

As for me, I’m off to my sister Kathy’s to thank her for the spark of this idea.

Think about it.

Think About It – Week of 9/12/10

“The brain is a wonderful organ; it starts working the moment you get up in the morning, and does not stop until you get to the office.”  Robert Frost

Think Big

There’s something exhilarating about tackling a really big problem or pursuing a really big goal.  It somehow puts so many things in a different perspective.  Lucky for me, I’ve experienced the excitement quite a few times in my business career, and now I’m in the middle of another biggie in the community service arena.

As a board member of the Cobb Symphony Orchestra, I’ve seen first hand what happens to donations to non-profits when the economy in general goes south.  Personal giving is way down, and corporate gifts have virtually disappeared for two consecutive years.  If that’s not scary enough, the cash crash happened on the heels of a major expansion of our role and services to our community.  (We added a Jazz ensemble, a private lessons program, GYSOC, the Georgia Youth Symphony Orchestra & Chorus that in just four years has grown to 400+ kids and is now the largest in the Southeast, a chorus for the flagship orchestra and expanded the number of professional musicians.)

Oh, then our Executive Director, Brian Hermanson got and accepted an incredible offer with the San Luis Obispo Symphony and John Concklin, our Creative Director and the GYSOC maestro/mastermind, got accepted into the Cleveland Institute of Music, literally the top program of its kind in the world.  We’re really, really proud of these guys.  They’re our alums forever.  Our plan has always been to be a career launching pad for up and comers.  Watch these two young men, by the way.  They’ll both have a major impact on the classical music world over the next few decades.  We’re proud all right, and mightily happy for you, but guys…  Your timing was atrocious!

I don’t have to tell you what happens when major new investments run into a significant revenue downturn coupled with turnover of key employees.  Yikes!  We had several very painful board meetings through the spring and summer; discussing things like canceling performances and closing down one or more of the newer programs.  It was awful.  Awful until Michael Alexander, our musical leader and conscience, turned the discussion around to a “grow or die” motif.

I’ll never forget the moment.  It was just four of us; Michael, John, Susan Stensland, Operations Director extraordinaire, and me.  It was painfully somber.  An awesome candidate to be our new Executive Director had just turned us down.  That’s when Mike suggested hiring a Development Director (aka fundraiser) instead of an Executive Director and bringing Grant Harville on board to head up GYSOC.  (He’s the next guy staged for the CSO launching pad.)

Bzzzzzzzttttttt!!!

THINK BIG took over.  Instantly.  And things started happening.  Fast.  Forty five days later:

  • Fran Day joined us as Development Director (On the one hand I feel bad that she’s so new that we have no link to her bio.  On the other hand, the list of her accomplishments as a non-profit fundraiser would triple the length of this post!)
  • Bob Sanna joined us as Executive Director (A stunningly strong stroke of good fortune.  Seriously, follow Bob’s link and read his bio.  We maybe just lassoed the best symphony ED in the country!)
  • The team is energized BIG time (the Board, the 100+ Friends of the CSO, the musicians, the staff, everybody!)
  • Yet another (too-soon-to-be-announced) great-leap-forward is in the offing
  • We made the short list for a $50,000 grant from the Metropolitan Atlanta Arts Fund

That last item (fingers crossed!) will keep us whole until Fran’s put-together-in-less-than-two-weeks fundraising plan kicks in, and Bob’s unbelievable marketing/advertising skills and contacts get traction.

It’s gonna’ work.  It’s gonna’ happen.  It’s like the dog above with the Apatosaurus bone.  It can’t be done, but it will be done.  And the best part is, I get ride the rocket.

Grow or die.  Is there really any other way to go?

Let ‘Em Have It

We’ve all gotten inadvertently poked in the eye.  Ouch X 10!  Ain’t nothin’ quite so painful.  Polite people would never, ever do such a thing to anyone.  Certainly not a friend, or an acquaintance or even a total stranger.  It’s just …well, so mean.

“Au contraire,” I’d like to suggest.  If you’re a manager, mentor, colleague, consultant, partner or friend, you’re a total jerk if you don’t regularly poke your counterpart in the eye.  (Figuratively, of course.)  Those who respect your opinion expect you to be honest.  They crave your unvarnished, gut reaction be it good, bad or indifferent.  Every bit of constructive criticism can produce a bit of improvement.

Try this:  Make a deal with 3 or 4 trusted, known peers, colleagues, mentors, etc.  Set an expectation that once a month, each member of the group will deliver on “eye-poke” to every other member.  Then watch performance make a steady march upward.

Think About It…

Do You Listen To Your Customers?

Well, do ya’??? It’s so, so easy to say, “Of course! I’m not a silver-tongued devil, I’m a silver-eared devil.”

OK, let’s say you actually do listen intently after you ask a question.  Let’s also say you’re constantly alert for stray comments, body language and all the little nuances of customer communication.  With all that, is it possible for you to totally miss a massive buy signal?

Before you answer, “Yes, of course,” read this post.  (Then read the series.)  And don’t give me any baloney about how this example is B2C, or not your industry or some other load of self-righteous crapola.  This is a $24 Billion (with a “B”) company.  They continue to stiff a loyal, trying-desperately-to-be-helpful customer.  Their inattention would have driven this guy off if he weren’t on a mission to make a point.  The point?

Listen on the customer’s terms, knucklehead!

It’s obvious that the Publix corporate marketing team is oblivious to e-Rep and social media. Are you equally oblivious?

Think About It…

Think About It… Week of 9/5/10

“If you don’t like change, you’ll like irrelevance even less.” US Army General and ex-Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki

Change is relentless. There’s no stopping it. Embrace it!

Give Me More Discipline & Accountability!

A comment on one of my recent posts about forecasting really got me thinking.  Here’s the comment, “Managers, grow a backbone.  Hold your people accountable and stop accepting excuses.”  My knee-jerk reaction was violent agreement.

Then I started thinking…  How effective is Atilla The Hun style management?  How did I and would I react to a “no-excuses, do what I say” attitude on the part of my boss?  How can accountability become an integral part of the sales culture without being heavy-handedly imposed from above?

The answer lies in the competitive nature of the sales beast.  It’s also embodied in W. Edwards Deming’s famous line, “What gets measured gets done.”  And it’s ridiculously simple to implement.

Choose an important metric and publish a top to bottom ranking every month.

Let’s say it’s forecast accuracy.  Somebody will be best, somebody will be worst.  Somebody #1 will feel good and strive for a repeat performance.  Somebody #2 will immediately conclude that bottom-of-the-pile notoriety is no fun and strive to move up at least into the middle of the pack.

Here’s what’s really cool.  Nobody wants to be last, but somebody will be last each month.  That means a whole lot of self-imposed, proactive action to improve performance will be going on.  Self-imposed and proactive; not pressure applied from above.  The absolute level of last place performance will slowly, relentless get better and better and better.

Sounds like a culture of continuous improvement doesn’t it?  Sounds like a culture where reps actually do demand more accountability.  Sounds like a culture where the reps will be intensely focused on identifying the “right” metrics, the really critical ones that produce sales growth.  Hmmm…  Maybe 3 or 4 or 5 important metrics should be published each month.

(A final note:  It isn’t necessary to publically post actual names next to the scores.  It IS necessary, however, to publically post the scores and let each individual know where he or she ranks.)

“I Don’t Know.” – – A Great Answer

Here’s my contention:  Finding yourself frequently acknowledging, “I don’t know,” is a signal that you have become a superior sales rep.

Huh?

Before you conclude I’ve finally lost it completely, listen and see if you agree…

“I don’t know.” – – A great answer.