The Leading Edge - Taking Care of Business
It's Time to Think Differently
Last month we looked at how we might ease the tension many of our customers are feeling in light of the pandemic. We ended the article with the words, "Survival is going to be all about creativity." This month we are going to take that one step further and look at making things a little easier on the sales side of our business.
Einstein is supposed to have said, "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results." As our businesses face uncertain times, it's easy to hunker down and try to wait out the crisis. Carry on doing what we've always done in the hope that things will return to normal before we go bankrupt. The problem with that is we have no idea how long this pandemic will last. The world is waiting for a vaccine, as if it will be a panacea for all our economic ills. In reality, even once a vaccine has been approved and then found effective, it will take time before we start to beat back the ravages of COVID-19. Another spanner in the works is that in the US for instance, a recent survey discovered that only around 50% of Americans would be comfortable taking a vaccine if and when it becomes available.
None of this is meant to scare you. It is, however, a wake up call that we need to be proactive in our business, especially in sales and marketing. During times of crisis and economic stress, it is those business owners who step up and show creativity and innovation who survive and often even prosper. Even during the two world wars some businesses adapted better than others.
In sailing, if your course takes you directly into the wind you need to use a maneuver called tacking. This requires turning the bow of your boat toward the wind and then zig-zagging; basically crossing the wind to make headway. Not a very strong technical explanation but hopefully you get the idea.
In the current crisis, being able to tack against the negative forces trying to drive you back is a good tactic. There are a percentage of businesses where life is pretty much going on as normal, some are even doing better than they were before the pandemic but they are few and far between. So if your business has been hit hard, you can carry on as before, hoping for a different outcome, or you can tack into the wind. But, what does that mean?
For a start, what problems do your customers currently have? Where's their pain? Is there anyway you can alleviate that pain? Is there something you can do differently that would make it easier or more attractive for them to carry on doing business with you? Is there something you can do to attract new customers? Is there something you can do differently to your competition that will make you more appealing?
This is a time to be creative and innovative. Is there something new you can offer your existing customers? Can you adapt what you sell to new markets? Can you change the sales interaction completely?
For instance, many business have re-invented themselves to create products directly related to serving COVID-19 related needs. The question you need to ask yourself, is where is the market need as it relates to your personal, and your company's, skills and abilities? Find the pain and you'll find a market. Think about all those people working from home. Consider hygiene and the fact that we have all become germophobes overnight. All across Canada children have gone back to school, but the parents of a significant percentage have decided to take the online route. Telehealth has exploded. What other needs can be satisfied using the same methods and technology.
Head off in a new direction, do things differently, don't be frightened to confront the crisis head on, and be prepared to zig-zag a little in order to make progress.
Secrets of a Sales rep #8 – The Extra Call Strategy
The following article was written by Mike Wicks; He is the author of "How Not to Sell: Why you can't close the deal and how to fix it" (Harper Collins Leadership, August 2020.) "The Extra Call Strategy" is the eighth in a series of articles in which he shares with his readers his secrets to sales success. The seventh "Secrets" article was published in this publication in April 2020.
In these times of crisis, every call counts so this strategy could be well worth introducing to your sales team.
If you've read my previous posts in this series you will know I was a sales representative for a publishing company in the UK during my early career – a road warrior as we were sometimes called.
Most calls were to regular customers; mid-size to large bookstores. I visited each store every six weeks to meet with the buyer and subscribe our new titles. If I was lucky I would also sell some previously published books – stock titles.
There was a routine to this and a certain type of sales technique required. Bookstores needed to stock most of the new titles we were going to be publishing in the coming months, so it was never about whether I'd get a sale, it was about the quantity they would order.
What I was seeking was commitment. The more copies of a book they purchased, the heavier they would promote it by displaying it in a prominent position and having their staff recommend it to customers. This type of selling was all about relationship building. The buyer needed to trust me, trust my judgement and they also needed to like me.
Today's secret to success follows the time I moved companies to join one of the most established publishers in the country. I realized my sales revenues were dependent on two things; my relationship with my existing customers and the quality of the titles our editors were buying. I had control over the former and none over the latter.
Becoming the company's top rep was my first personal priority and it was tough given the scenario described above. Many of my colleagues had larger, wealthier territories than mine so given that we were all selling the same books, it came down to selling more of them than they did. The challenge was, if you sold too many and the bookstore couldn't in turn sell them to their customers, they had a habit of being returned. Finding the balance was difficult and at the end of the day it was sales minus returns that equalled revenue.
After a couple of sales conferences, I realized that most of the sales team focused all their efforts on their key customers. They virtually ignored small bookstores and I could understand why – they took just as long to service, for a fraction of the return. On the upside, competition for their buying budget was less.
So, my first strategy to become top rep was to do one extra call per day to a smaller, neglected bookstore. I'd arrange my day so I could do a "pop-in" call to a store on my way home. Some of these calls were a complete waste of time, but others gradually became good, if modest, accounts.
After a while, I ran out of small bookstores to add to the end of my day, so I had to think outside the box. After the last appointment of the day, I'd look out for any type of business that could potentially sell our books. Luckily, I worked for a very large publisher and soon realized I was almost spoilt for choice. During my first year with the company I added cash-and-carry warehouses (think Costco etc.) to my list of accounts, along with pet stores for our dog breed series, sports stores for our sporting books list, antique shops for books on antiques – you get the idea.
These new accounts didn't need to be visited every six weeks like my main accounts, but a pop in two or three times a year reaped dividends and in between visits, they ordered direct. Bonus!
I was on a roll so I started thinking even further out of the box and in one enlightened moment approached the manufacturer of Pedigree Chum pet food and struck a deal which saw them feature coupons on cans of pet food, whereby dog owners collected them in return for a breed-specific book from our list. This increased sales massively for this specialist imprint of books, both from promotional sales and through the huge exposure they received from being featured on cans of dog food across the country.
Bottom line? I became top sales rep and was promoted to head office to set up a new special sales division. All because of an extra call!
Coach's Corner - Words We Use – Our Emotional Wake
"There was a period in my life in which I was unconscious of my "speed" and of the wake I was leaving during my conversations with others." Susan Scott in her book, Fierce Conversations.
There are times we find ourselves in conversations with others when we don't realize the effect that our words have had on them. What we thought was so clear was in fact confusing, leaving mixed messages and emotions. The emotional wake of our words, like the wake of a boat, has at times, unforeseen consequences. What can we do to overcome this?
"Be mindful when it comes to your words. A string of some that don't mean much to you, may stick with someone else for a lifetime." -Rachel Wolchin, Author and Blogger
Here are 4 thoughts on helping to alleviate or lessen the negative wake our words may cause.
- Realize and accept that how others react to your words is outside of your control. This is similar to saying that we cannot change the behaviour of other people, we can only change our own. By accepting this, you will be able to recognize what shifts of thinking and talking you need to do in order to minimize your "emotional wake."
- Be very clear and ensure others understand what you are saying or asking of them. It is important in any conversation to think about what outcome you want. What is the purpose of the conversation? You need to ask others what they think is important.
- Listen with both your ears and eyes for those verbal and non-verbal clues to how people are reacting. You need to be aware of these clues and then be open to learning more about the other person's thoughts and feelings. Be mindful of how your colleagues or staff are feeling and even what might be going on in their lives.
- Reflect on what is going on in your personal and professional life and how that might affect a conversation. How you are feeling and the mood you're in is often echoed in what you say. Ensure that your mood and feelings are not getting in the way of what you want to say.
"Don't mix bad words with your bad mood. You'll have many opportunities to change a mood, but you'll never get the opportunity to replace the words you spoke." -Unknown
What you say and how you say it has consequences and will prompt a reaction from those with whom you interact. You need to know about your audience because that will help you understand how they may react and respond to what you say.
"Raise your words, not your voice. It is rain that grows flowers, not thunder." -Rumi, 13th Century Poet
Paul Abra, Certified Executive Coach, Motivated Coaching