The Sales Essays: Introduction
For quite some time now I have been thinking about doing some business writing. I wanted to write about past experiences both good and bad and what lessons I have learned from these experiences.
I read a lot (at times up to three books a week) and so I know what I like and do not like in business writing. I love real world case histories and testimonials and I hate dry text book stuff.
Unfortunately, one needs both and not just one or the other to maximize ones learning curve. Sometimes I end up reading two or three books on the same subject at the same time just to create a balance of these factors on a given subject. Sometimes however we are very lucky and the author can give us a good mix of both in one package (Tipping Point, Blink and the Outliers all by Malcolm Gladwell being great examples). To me this is the best type of business writing and so it is the general style I am going to follow.
Now before I get going on this series of essays I want to thank a few people for giving me the ability and motivation to start writing.
First of all thank you to Bill Gates and the Microsoft Office team. I have mirror vision dyslexia, resulting lousy spelling, grammar skills and terrible penmanship. The use of Microsoft’s word processor and presentation software literally has allowed me to have a business career that I am sure I would not have without their software.
Moving on I want to thank Jack Stull the owner of Jcrane Inc. for always making me feel like the tidbits of knowledge I share and throw around are worth discussion and application. I also want to thank Jim Barkman who I work with and for. Jim has taught me to be direct in my communications and every day lets me know that my work in sales, marketing and business development is not too shabby and does provide good value to those people and businesses I interact with.
So without ado here is my first essay.
How not to treat a cash customer
About eight years ago, I was in the process of developing my own business which supplied B2B marketing and business development services to companies in the Metro Vancouver region of British Columbia.
As a part of this I had set up and outfitted a home office. I bought a state of the art PC from IBM and a small printer. A few years into the business I was in the market for a very strong small business printer as, making strong and crisp presentations was critical to my ongoing success. After doing some basic research and looking at a few office supply stores and retail technology shops, I had decided to buy a multi-function office printer. In fact, I specifically wanted to purchase a Brother MFC 8600 which is a six in one business tool (printer, copier, scanner etc…) that had good reviews, a low cost to own and operate and could be purchased and serviced locally. This purchase would cost me about $875.00 plus taxes. All in I was going to spend about $1,072.00 on this unit which, at that time, was a sizable amount of money to me.
I needed as opposed to wanted the unit and so I went out to purchase the machine and put it to work. I thought that I would pick it up at the local office supply store and in so doing would get a cash rebate through their loyalty program (never underestimate the hooking power of those loyalty programs), after all I knew a few folks at the local office supply store, they had helped me out with other purchases and I valued their expertise and support.
So I went to the store and sought out Mark (name changed to protect the innocent) and asked him to set me up with the Brother MFC 8600 I talked about earlier. Mark then proceeded to advise me that they had in fact sold out of this unit and replacement units would not be in for some time.
I was disappointed but not beaten, I knew they had the same unit just down the street at the local electronics superstore. In just a few minutes I was in the superstore and standing in front of my beloved Brother MFC and that is when the whole story got very interesting for me and very expensive for the superstore.
I waited and waited for a sales person to come and help me out and after a while I had waited so long I had to go and find a sales person (Lesson 1) and get him to come over and help me out. Once I found him and got him to come back to the display area I informed Sam (Name changed to protect the guilty) that I wanted to purchase a Brother MFC 8600 just like the one on display. I was standing their plain and simple asking him to take my money when what does he do? He left me with my wallet, literally, in hand and proceeded to go have a conversation with another sales associate (Lesson 2)!
Now I am starting to get a little ticked off but I am a patient guy and I needed the unit so I waited and then I waited a bit more and sure enough Sam comes back to me and we start up the sales process again. I confirm I want the Brother MFC 8600 and he went off to find me my new unit and get it to the sales counter, I am a willing buyer (Lesson 3) and frankly happy and excited about my purchase.
But instead of a bringing back a big new shinny box with my new business unit inside Sam tells me they had not properly cleaned up the display area and are in fact also sold out of the Brother MFC 8600 and will not be getting anymore in as they are upgrading to a newer and more expensive unit… did I want to purchase anything else?
I informed him that I did not want to purchase anything else and instead I asked if I could purchase the display unit at a discount price. Well off he went again (Lesson 4) to find someone who could help him figure out my request. About 10 minutes go by and I am frankly running out of patience at this point, but just when I am down to my last ounce of patience along comes Sam with his sales manager in tow. Now I have to go through the whole thing again, at the end of which I tell him I want to purchase the display unit and ask him what the price discount will be for the display unit. He proceeds to tell me that the unit price is the unit price and that…
Hold everything in the middle of our conversation he stops talking to a paying customer (me) and HE TAKES A PHONE CALL!!! (Lesson 5) for what seemed like an hour but was in reality about five minutes.
Upon returning to our conversation he advised me that if I wanted the display unit it was the same price as the list retail price and that the software and a paper staging piece were both missing. It was my decision (Lesson 6).
I challenged him on the price and he quickly pointed out that they had a price matching policy and that if I could show him a confirmed price from a competitor at a lower price for the exact same make and model that he would be pleased to sell me the unit at the lower price.
Well I was not impressed, I was out of patience and out of luck with my desired purchase and frankly I was rather pissed off at how I had been treated, been talked down to, leveraged by the sales manager and pressured on the sales price even after I was willing to take a display unit with a missing software package. Did I buy the unit under these conditions? Not a chance.
I left the store empty handed but not with my brain turned off. I was now fully awake, engaged and in a bad mood, and without my Brother MFC 8600. But what was a person to do?
I sat in my car for a little while and thought it all out. I recalled all my facts and lessons learned (more about those later) and went over everything from start to finish. I formed a new plan and put it in motion (Lesson 7).
Here is what followed in the next 60 minutes:
1. I went back to my local office supply store and found Mark;
2. I told Mark all the details of my electronics superstore experience;
3. I asked Mark to give me a written quote on his companies standard computer print out form for their COST on a Brother MFC 8600 and to include his name and phone number on the printout;
4. I advised Mark that he would soon be getting a call from the sales manager at the electronics superstore and to simply back up his written quote;
5. I told Mark I would protect his anonymity when I told this story in the future and that I would refer others to him because of his support in my time of need (Lesson 8);
6. I now went back to the electronics superstore and presented the sales manager with a written quote from my local office supply store for the exact make and model of Brother MFC 8600 multi function printer but this time the price was $525.00;
7. Now I told the sales manager to honor his own policy and demanded the unit be brought to me and that I would only pay the price as now dictated by the written quote from the office supply store;
8. He promptly refused
9. I then demanded to speak with the store manager who came out and reviewed everything;
10. There was a mini conference between the store manager, the sales manager and Sam my sales associate;
11. A call was made to my friendly office supply store and the quote issued by Mark was discussed with Mark who advised the electronics superstore manager that I was a very loyal customer who they would have been happy to supply if they were not waiting to be restocked ;
12. I was very begrudgingly told I would be allowed to purchase the unit at the price set out by the office supply store;
13. I paid the $525.00 plus taxes for a total of $598.00 and collected my now hard won Brother MFC 8600;
I then went home and set up my new machine with software downloaded off the internet. That night I went to bed with a strong feeling of accomplishment and many lessons learned.
All totaled I saved $474.00, a whopping 45% price reduction!!! (Lesson 9)
At the start of the process I was willing to pay the full retail price plus taxes. But the players in the process got greedy and violated the basic respect a seller should have for a customer. As a result they got their own policy handed to them on a silver platter.
Here are the lessons I learned and feel are worth sharing:
(Lesson 1) Making customers wait is a poor business practice:
Never, ever leave a customer unattended or waiting unnecessarily. Always hook up with the people who are in your place of business, they are there for a reason and if they do not buy today they will buy tomorrow. Further, people like to tell others about their life experiences and if they were treated well they will tell others; like wise if they were treated poorly they will usually tell many more people about their bad experiences than about their good ones. This is even more important if you are on a sales call at their place of business; where you are both a seller and a guest, act accordingly.
Keep in mind, people are very fast to tell others about their experiences good or bad, there is an amazing power of peer influence involved here; if you neglect to show and provide the proper respect to people you do so at your own peril.
(Lesson 2) Do not disrespect your customers with your actions:
Once you have started a sales process with a prospect they are yours to lose. They are engaging with you as you represent something they want and it is your responsibility to prove its value. This is a simple business truth and I fail to understand why any seller would rudely disrespect their prospect by leaving to start a conversation with someone else.
In sales, the relationship is everything; it does not have to be a buddy, buddy relationship. Lord knows I am not a strong relationship seller and more of a technical and/or value seller, but you must use basic politeness and stay on point from start to finish in your sales process.
(Lesson 3) Don’t ignore opportunities to enhance the sale:
Willing customers are hard to earn and easy to lose. People hate to be sold and love to buy (Jeffry Gitomer). When you have a qualified buyer and you have the product and/or service they want to buy it’s the time to sell some fries with that burger, up sell your customer with added or related items in support of or protection of their purchase. Be a focused helper and increase your sales while making your customer happy that you are helping them out.
In this experience, the opposite was true and additional sales opportunities to sell additional items like toner, paper and extra warranty were lost.
(Lesson 4) People want to deal with people in authority:
People like to deal with people who are educated and informed about their products and/or services and want their sales person to have the power (to a reasonable degree) to be able to help them. Delays such as playing out the “Limited Power to Act” aka “I have to talk to my sales manager (often the invisible sales manager)” or telling people “I don’t know anything about this product” is a sure way to raise the anger of a customer and bring on the full risk of customer loss. If you need to consult another person, deal with this up front so as to set and control the expectation of the customer. This can be used to engage them deeper into the sales process. In fact, informing people of about your sales process is usually a good thing, it shows transparency and integrity.
If you literally do not know what is required then do one of two things.
In a short sales process go find someone who knows what is needed to help the customer and then make a professional transfer. Tell your customer that the person you are getting is more knowledgeable than you are and will give them a better insight and better service. Tell them that if they do come back you would be very happy to help them out with any other area.
In a long sales process turn the situation into an interview by telling your customer that you need to know all their questions, issues and concerns. Be sure to write each one down as you talk to your customer. When you have the entire list ask these questions:
1. Is this all the questions, issues and/or concerns you have?
a. Take down any and all additional items;
2. If we can get you satisfactory answers to these items will we be doing business together?
a. Ask the qualifying and obligating question and get an answer; otherwise why do all the homework;
3. When can we meet again to review the answers I will be researching for you?
a. Get a firm date, make sure you have enough time to do proper research and craft a good to better presentation but not so much time as to allow the customer to lose the positive energy and emotion they have about the sales process (two to three days max);
Then book an appointment, get busy finding out the answer to each item as well as related details, and build a killer presentation.
Overall, build a positive customer experience and the customer will return and bring others with them!
(Lesson 5) Don’t strong arm your customers and don’t be a bad role model:
There are two lessons in one here. First the sales manager tried to leverage me on the price of an item that clearly should have been discounted. Overall, this a bad business practice and one that will always come back to bite you sooner or later. The second part of this lesson is a further extension of lesson 2. However the error is even more critical now as the sales manager has just role modeled to his sales associate(s) that disrespect to a customer is an allowed business practice, fully condoned and OK to repeat at any time up to and including the abandonment of a paying customer. Business staff who are told one thing and see another will most often clone the actual conduct of the highest ranking person they work around, so conduct and culture come from the top down. Bad manners and disrespect for customers if shown by the business leadership will no doubt become the daily practice of all below him/her. So if you want an outstanding level of customer service in your business model it 100% of the time because everyone is watching you and you are their role model, whether you know it or not.
(Lesson 6) Do not give customers ultimatums:
In my experience, telling a customer to take it or leave it will usually not work out, most people will leave and go to another seller, they may even pay more elsewhere but they prefer this to a seller’s bad attitude and poor communications style.
Show respect and leverage empathy; “yes it is a lot of money but it does bring a lot of value. We do not have any ability to move off this price point but I do have other products of lesser quality/value, would you like me to show you some of these?” This is a classic and respectful presentation of the same facts which also gives your customer a soft choice instead of a hard edged decision.
(Lesson 7) Don’t make hasty decisions and do value the thinking process:
Never, ever react or over react in any given business situation. Like the cagy old gun fighter played by Clint Eastwood in the movie “Unforgiven”, the gunfighter with the coolest and most levelheaded thinking who thoughtfully processes everything going on around him (even in a full on gun fight) is the big winner in the end.
Reacting emotionally will get you little and usually put you into a losing situation. As a buyer or even a seller there is nothing wrong with taking a break to get some fresh air and think things over. Frankly, the biggest issues and problems in my life and in over 30 years of business have been thought through and resolved while I was mowing my lawn, not in the boardroom. Always reserve the right to make a clearheaded review of what is going on.
Seek council on big decisions and purchases. If you are not 100% happy with how things are going to proceed, back off or stop all together. The same is true with sellers, do not overpower your customer or bully them into a purchase even if you can. Buyer’s remorse can in fact be a major liability and much more expensive than the loss of profit on the sale (remember that happy customers tell others and refer new customers to you).
Finally if you come to a better conclusion or plan of action and it is well thought out then act on it. Propose that alternative idea, service or product approach, act out a different scenario if it will suit the situation and go for the result you are prepared to live with if it goes your way.
Think it out three times, plan it out twice and execute the final plan just once. If you are committed to a course of action, do it and be ready to win or lose, you may or may not make progress towards your goals but at least you will know you acted to the best of your ability and towards a better result than the one offered by someone else at your expense.
(Lesson 8 ) The impact on others:
Mark went out of his way to help his customer make a purchase with no immediate profit to him which resulted in a very profitable long term relationship…
Mark put this customers needs ahead of his own and in so doing started a positive chain reaction which added positively to his reputation, gained a raving fan (me) and many new customers which I have referred to him, not to mention all the added sales.
(Lesson 9) Thinking about your options can pay off:
I saved a lot of money by not accepting a second best sales scenario and being leveraged for full retail price on a product not deserving of full price. Going ahead with their “only we win” sales process and poor customer focus did nothing for me. Stepping out of the electronic superstores let me form a new set of options which I then acted on allowing me to make a better deal for myself.
If only I had been treated respectfully from the beginning I would have no doubt paid the full retail price. It was their actions, lack of correct actions and poor customer focus and service that brought on the chain of events and this story.
Likewise I am forever indebted to my local office supply store where I have continued to shop to this day. I have spent thousands of dollars with this store over the years and referred many, many people to it. I know full well that I often pay more for the same items than at the electronics superstore just down the road but I place value on how I am treated, the service I receive and the product knowledge of the staff who serve me.
I am sure there are other lessons that I have learned and can pull out of this experience but this sets out all the main points.
As for that Brother MFC 8600 that I was sure was the right purchase and worth fighting for it still does daily duty in my home office and has performed flawlessly all these years.
To date this unit has cost me less than $.02 per page and my asset cost is down to just $6.23 per month and going down every month. If ever I hear they are going to stop making toner cartridges for this unit I am going to buy a 20 year supply and ride this unit right into my old age.