How Can I Get More Sales?

Author Peter DeHaanBy Peter DeHaan

Almost every day, someone asks me, “How can I get more sales?” In fact, for most businesses, increasing sales is a primary concern. Rarely does anyone tell me that their company is making all the sales they want. I wish they would ask me easier questions, like “How can I improve quality,” “How can I increase revenue,” or “How can I reduce turnover?” All of these I have successfully dealt with, but the sales issue is a bit trickier. It seems that people are looking for a quick fix, a simple strategy. It’s as if they are expecting me to say, “Invest X dollars in Y process to produce Z sales.”

But alas, there is no magic secret. If there were—and  I knew it—I would start a sales and marketing business. My clients would merely tell me their sales goals for the month and I would fill their order. But it is not that simple. Consider the following list:

  • Direct mail
  • Telemarketing
  • Direct mail followed by a phone call
  • Cold calls
  • Trade shows
  • Networking
  • Referrals
  • Yellow page ads
  • Print media
  • Websites
  • Internet advertising

These tactics have a proven record of producing sales in many instances Unfortunately, these same methods have been repeatedly demonstrated to be total failures. Campaigns that have consistently generated high sales numbers for one organization have proven to be colossal flops in others.

The distinguishing factor is not the strategy, but what surrounds that strategy. Here then, is the ultimate—yet elusive—formula for sales success:

Personnel + attitude + execution + management = sales success

Personnel: This is the critical element in the formula. Without the right people in place, nothing else matters. This starts with finding the right person for the job. Over the years, I have hired many sales people. Some worked out, but many didn’t.

What is true for all candidates is even more valid for sales applicants: you see them at their very best during the interview. In fact, even mediocre salespeople know that they must give their best sales performance during the interview. If they can’t convincingly sell themselves to you, how can they possibly sell your service to someone else? To cut through all of this, I have a few key questions I like to ask sales candidates:

How much did you make at your last job? If they made six figures, but can only expect half that at your firm, they are unlikely to work out. They will be unhappy, develop a negative attitude, and leave as soon as a better paying job comes along. Conversely, if they barely cracked the poverty level at their last job, they may be out of their league to produce at the level you expect. Ideally, their prior compensation should be 5 to 25 percent less then what you expect them to make with you. 

How much would you like to make at this job? The response to this is most telling. Why? Because if it is unreasonably high, they won’t be satisfied working for you. On the other hand, if it is lower then what you are prepared to pay, then they will start coasting once they hit their target compensation. Again, you are looking for a salary expectation that is consistent with what you can deliver, but is still motivating to them.

Would you like to work straight commission? I don’t advocate that anyone be paid straight commission, however this question is designed to throw them off track and see how they respond. To make this work, you can’t ask the question directly, but need to back into it. If they are at all good with sales, they will have already regaled you with their accomplishments, assured you that they will be your best sales person ever, and promised they will produce at a level beyond your wildest expectations. And, if they have moxie, they may even say you’d be foolish not to hire them or suggest your company will fail without them. (Yes, I have been told this—many times.) Given all of this, they assert that you must pay them top dollar.

At this point, you are in a position to say, “I don’t normally offer this, but based on your track record and past performance, I think you’re worthy of special consideration. I suggest that we consider a compensation plan where you will be highly rewarded for your results and given an open-ended opportunity to exceed your compensation goals.” Then pause, lean forward, and confidentially whisper, “How would you like to work for straight commission?”

First, watch if they can quickly and smoothly react to an unexpected turn of events. Next, you want to see how they retreat from their prior boasting. Often a more realistic picture emerges. Lastly, you will quickly get a true idea of what they expect for base pay and how much they are willing to put on the line in the form of commissions, incentives, or bonuses.

In the event that they are shocked or hurt by this question, simply apologize and indicate that, based on what they were saying, you thought this idea might appeal to them.

Attitude: Having the right sales staff, however, is just the beginning. They also need to have the right attitude. How many times have you seen salespeople talk themselves into a bad month? The thinking goes like this, “Last August was bad. I wonder if August is always bad? I better brace myself for a bad month.” It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and they have a bad month.

Or, how many times has a sales person said something like, “I don’t set any appointments for Monday because everyone is always too busy.” Then they add Fridays to the list because prospects are focused on wrapping up their week. The first thing in the morning doesn’t work, nor the end of the day. Before and after lunch is bad, too. I once had a salesman use this logic and he actually concluded that he could only successfully sell on Tuesday and Thursday in the mid-afternoon. It should surprise no one that he sold nothing and his time with the company was a record in brevity.

Another self-defeating attitude is negativity. Consider, for example, the salesperson who says, “Direct mail? That won’t work!” And of course, with that attitude, it never will. Or how about, “That didn’t work last time and it’s not going to work now!”

Are they willing to try new things? If they are open to new ideas and plans, then they have a much greater chance of success than if they are closed-minded. Strangely, all too many salespeople would rather continue to do what has failed in the past than to try something new.

Execution: Closely linked to attitude is the proper execution. In fact, without the right attitude, successful execution is impossible. I have seen ideal marketing plans flop because of poor or haphazard execution. Conversely, I have seen the most ill-conceived and contrived strategies succeed famously because they were diligently, steadfastly, and consistently implemented.

Quite simply, there needs to be a plan. The plan needs to be meticulously followed. And those involved need to be held accountable for their work. This brings up the fourth element:

Management: The glue that holds all this together is management. Good management starts with hiring the right salespeople, giving them excellent training, providing them with appropriate compensation, and motivating them effectively. This must be followed by a sound marketing plan and a supportive environment in which to implement it. Lastly, sales management means investing time on an ongoing basis to encourage, observe, teach, and adjust what they do. Put more succinctly, the right management keeps them on task and holds them accountable.

There is nary a salesperson who can be truly successful without attention and oversight. They need to be lifted up when they are down and celebrated when they make a sale, held responsible for their schedule and made liable for their results. This takes considerable time and effort. As such, proper sales management is not just one more hat to wear, but a full-time job.

Successfully managing salespeople is hard work. It takes time, perseverance, determination, and dedication. But then don’t all things that are worthwhile?

Peter DeHaan is a commercial freelance writer who provides content marketing services and does ghostwriting.

It’s 3 AM – Do You Know Where Your Data Is?

By Peter DeHaan

Author Peter DeHaanIt doesn’t matter what type of company you run, your operation amasses a great deal of valuable data. You have a treasure trove of customer information, including phone numbers, mailing addresses, email addresses, billing histories, demographic profiles, social security numbers, bank account numbers, and credit card numbers. You purchased some of this data, while you garnered the rest over time, using meticulous recording keeping.

Even the smallest of businesses possess an extraordinary amount of priceless information, while larger organizations store millions or billions of data points — all nicely organized, painstakingly verified, carefully stored, and dutifully backed up.

You have all that information, but what are you doing with it? No, I’m not talking about harnessing metadata to produce a competitive advantage or turning raw information into a core distinctive (think of how Google astutely exploits the vast minutia of data they have accumulated). I’m sure you know you must do these things and are diligently working on them. What I am referring to is protecting your immense information stash from the nefarious reach of notorious hackers, cyberspace’s criminal elite — hard to catch and harder still to prosecute.

With the theft of personal information steadily increasing — due to an insatiable demand and relatively low risk — there is a greater likelihood your business could soon be a victim. So I will implore you to protect one of your organization’s most valuable assets.

First, you need someone with the knowledge and experience to be in charge of securing your computers, network, intranet, and Internet access points.

Then, give them the resources needed to do the job. I’m not suggesting you provide an unlimited budget or give them a blank check, but when they say it will cost X dollars to do the job, don’t provide half that amount and expect full results. If you cut the funds, some items will remain insecure or be only partially secure. That would be akin to locking the doors of your office, but leaving the windows open — or installing a building security system, but never connecting it to the monitoring station. Don’t handcuff the crime stoppers.

Next, know that many security breaches are inside jobs. Yes, I realize you carefully screen new hires and trust your employees to not steal from you. I’d be disappointed if you didn’t hold your staff in high esteem. However, the reality is that many cases of data theft involve an insider, be it complicit or innocently duped.

To address the people side of the equation, you need your human resources department involved, along with IT and your security officer. Together they can put safeguards in place to restrict access, limit the scope of information available, and provide an electronic log of activity. Additionally provide training on what information staff can give out and under what conditions.

Your data — and your company’s future — is on the line. Make sure it’s a secure one.

Peter DeHaan is a magazine publisher by day and a writer by night. Visit www.peterdehaan.com to receive his newsletter, read his blog, or connect on social media.

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The Myth of Self-Service

By Peter DeHaan

Author Peter DeHaanThe idea of self-service has existed in many industries for years and even decades. This includes self-serve gas pumps, checking your own groceries, buying airline tickets online, and banking.

Gas: First, let’s consider gas stations. Unless you are a 30-something driver or younger, you probably remember the days of full-service gas stations. In fact, they were called service stations, because service was what they were all about. These service stations almost always had one mechanic – or more – on duty. For smaller stations, the mechanic was often the one who filled your car with gas.

Here’s how it worked: When you pulled into the station, a strategically placed air hose pneumatically activated a mechanical bell. This alerted the attendant that a customer had arrived, and he would scurry out to greet you.

Staying in your car, you would roll down your window and make your request, “Fill it up, please.” Often you and the attendant were on a first name basis. As he was filling your tank, he would wash your front windshield and sometimes the back. Next, he would offer to check your oil. (Unless it had just been changed or recently checked – which he remembered.) That’s not all. He would glance at your tires, and if one appeared under inflated, he would whisk a tire gauge out of his pocket and check the pressure, putting in more air if it was warranted. He would also make recommendations based on other observations, such as, “Looks like you’re ready for new front tires,” “That muffler doesn’t sound too good,” or “We better at a look at those brakes soon.”

Yes, this was a full-service operation, deftly suggesting up-sells (“Do you want to try Premium today”) and cross-sell opportunities (“When do you want your oil changed”) – though this wasn’t what it was called; it was just good customer service. Today, with self-service, we are left on our own to keep our car in good operating condition and we only see our mechanic when something is wrong.

In an apparent effort to save on labor or cut overhead, some stations began offering “self-service” pumps. In order to entice the public to pump their own fuel, the self-serve gas was priced lower. Most people weren’t too interested, at least until the price of gas jumped and the discount increased along with it. Still some people swore they would never fill their own tanks, but over time they were forced to do so as full-service pumps became scarcer. The truth is, most people didn’t want self-serve, but they reluctantly did so to save money or were forced to when it became the only option. Today, self-serve gas pumps are an expected way of life, but that merely happened because it became the only option.

Food: Then there is the grocery store. I’ll admit that I don’t often find myself there – and when I do, it’s only to buy a couple of things – but I do gravitate towards the self-checkout. For a few items it can be faster – providing everything works correctly. Self-checkout can also be irritating, repeatedly barking out annoying instructions and getting obstinate if it thinks you did something wrong.

Given a choice between a next-in-line cashier and self-service, I will always opt for a person. I find it to be faster and less frustrating. I can’t imagine the time-consuming task of doing a large order via self-checkout. However, when the cashier lines are long, which can often be the case, I gladly duck into the self-checkout and hope for the best. In this case, self-service wins out when full-service lines (that is, queues) grow too long. It’s not that it’s preferred, but merely the least objectionable.

Travel: Nowadays, everyone books airline tickets online. It doesn’t save me time, but it does afford the opportunity to check every conceivable option, finding the ideal balance between cost and convenience. Maybe I scrutinize my options too closely, but I would gladly spend an hour researching flights, times, and airports if it will save me from a long layover, an extra night in a hotel, or a couple hundred dollars on a fare. Still, the days of calling a travel agent, giving her my travel itinerary in a few seconds, and having tickets arrive the next day provide an appealing invitation to return to full-service.

Banking: The banking industry is full of choices. I can select from two full-service options and three self-serve options. For transactions warranting full-service, I can go to the nearest branch or phone their call center. For self-serve, I can use an ATM, bank-by-phone (using an IVR system), or access my account via the Internet. The option I select is primarily a result of what I need to accomplish, but my focus is on speed and convenience. It’s nice to have options: self-service for some things, full-service for others.

The Self-Serve Bust: The dot-com boom in the late 1990s brought the prospect of self-service to an unwise conclusion. In simplistic terms, their generic business plan (aside from burning through mass quantities of investor cash) was that they would create a scalable website, which could be quickly ramped up as demand for their product or service grew.

Customer service would not be an issue (or so they thought) as they would offer self-service options that were likewise scalable. There would be no massive call centers to build and no agents to hire. Basically there would be no people to help their customers; computers would do all that via the Internet. It didn’t work. The few dot-coms that survived did so because they realized they needed to offer more options than just self-service.

Call Centers to the Rescue: Even with this history and varying degrees of success, it doesn’t imply that self-service is the way to go, especially when responsive call centers can surpass the generally mediocre effectiveness of self-service. Yes, there are times when self-service is the answer; there are also times when it is not.

When properly implemented (which means it must be user-friendly, accessible, and reliable), people will opt for self-service only if it can increase timeliness, save money, be more effective, or is more available. If it can’t do at least one of these things, people will only do self-service if they have to – complaining about it all the while. In reality, most people don’t really prefer self-service. What they want is full-service that is friendly, accessible, and reliable. In our global economy, that often means they want a call center – a good call center.

Self-service is generally not selected because it is the superior option, but because it is the least objectionable one. So what is the ideal solution? It’s a full-service call center, not with self-service options, but with people. Think about it: who would prefer to spend an hour on the Internet, scrolling through FAQs or waiting for an automated response to an email query, if they could just pick up the phone and quickly get a response?

This means a call center done right. What does that look like? Ideally it is:

  • Calls answered quickly
  • No busy signals
  • First-call resolution
  • No transfer
  • No queue or short queue (or a creative, entertaining on-hold program with accurate traffic updates)
  • Trained, knowledgeable, personable, and polite representatives
  • Correct responses
  • Consistent experience

With that, why would anyone want self-service? Why would they ever switch to a different company? A call center, done right, will beat self-service every time.

Peter DeHaan is a magazine publisher by day and a writer by night. Visit www.peterdehaan.com to receive his newsletter, read his blog, or connect on social media.

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The Only Constant is Change

Author Peter DeHaanBy Peter DeHaan

As I look back, I see how things have changed. I have changed, my family has changed, technologies have changed, my business has changed, and the industries I work in have changed.

In today’s business environment, a culture of change is essential for every organization. In my younger days, I would recommend change for the sheer fun of it. Now, older and wiser, I only advocate change when there is a real reason to do so.

For most people, change is difficult. Change takes something familiar and replaces it with something unknown. Each organization has people who are change resistant. And each leader, manager, and supervisor knows exactly who these people are. With such folks, their aversion to change varies from unspoken trepidation to being overtly confrontational. Regardless of the manifestation, we need to be compassionate, realizing that these reactions are merely their way of responding to fear – fear of the unknown.

To establish a change-oriented culture in our organizations, the first step is to minimize employee fears towards change. Generally employees can accept change if 1) the change is incremental and small, 2) they have a degree of input or control over the change, and 3) the change is clearly understood.

The key is communication. Address change head on. For every change, employees wonder how it will affect them:

  • Could they lose their job?
  • Might their hours be cut?
  • Will they be asked to work harder than they already are?
  • Will they be made to do something unpleasant or distasteful?
  • What happens if they can’t learn the new skills?

These are all worries, worries about the unknown. As with most worries, the majority will never happen. But with a lack of reliable information and top-down assurances, these irrational worries take on a life all their own.

Successfully orchestrating change requires effective communication. Not once, but ongoing; not to key staff, but to all employees; not by one method, but by several: group meetings, written correspondence, and one-on-one discussions. A true and effective open door policy helps, too. Also, it is critical that a positive attitude is set, at the beginning, from the top of the organization, which never waivers. Celebrate milestones, generously thank staff along the way, and provide reasonable rewards at the end.

Successfully taking these steps will send a strong signal to staff. Even though the change may still concern them, they will be comforted knowing they have accurate information and the assurance that they are safe and will be protected. And for each successful change, the next one becomes easier to bring about.

We will know we have successfully created a change-friendly organization when our employees – all of them – get bored with the status quo and begin seeking change on their own. They will ask for more challenging work, seek to expand their job, and want to add new technology. At this point, the potential of our organizations becomes unlimited; the personal growth of our staff, unshackled; and the future, inviting. We don’t know what that future will entail, only that things will change for the better.

So, sit back and enjoy the ride, fully confident that the only constant is change.

Peter DeHaan is a magazine publisher by day and a writer by night. Visit www.peterdehaan.com to receive his newsletter, read his blog, or connect on social media.

 

The Power of a Compliment

Telling others that you appreciate them can make a huge difference

By Peter DeHaan
Author Peter DeHaan

In the years between high school graduation and my first real job, I took on a variety of part-time work while being a full-time student. During one such vocational transition, the placement advisor at school knew of an immediate opening for an audio engineer at a TV station. I arrived to find out it would be a group interview, not a group of people interviewing me, but rather one person simultaneously interviewing three candidates.

Stan was an odd-looking guy, with clothes and a hairstyle emanating from the previous decade. Despite the powerful magnification of his Coke-bottle glasses, he still squinted at everything. Stan led us candidates to an open room and the interview quickly fell into an awkward pattern. Stan would ask a question and we would respond in order, with me going last. With my classmates embellishing many of their answers, I struggled to honestly present myself as the desirable candidate.

After a while, the classmate who went first blurted out, “I have a Third Class FCC License.” “This position doesn’t require an FCC License,” Stan responded. “I have a Second Class FCC License,” the second one boasted.

Then all eyes turned to me. Should I let them know that my credential was even better, although equally irrelevant? Or would my silence communicate another deficiency in this game I was losing? Opting to avoid further silence, I informed the group that I had a First Class FCC License.

Of course, this meant nothing as far as the job was concerned. Everyone was uncomfortable with this exchange but as the last one to speak, I felt it more acutely. Seeking to defuse the tension, I changed the subject. “When do you want us to start?”

“As soon as possible,” Stan replied.

“I can start in two weeks,” volunteered contestant number one.

“I can start in three days,” bested contestant number two.

“I can start tomorrow,” I asserted confidently.

“Okay,” Stan replied, “be at the station at 6:30 tomorrow morning.” I was hired!

The first day I watched Stan work and did a lot of listening. As he explained it, the job seemed simple. There was lots of idle time, four live broadcasts and on some days production work in between. However, he was more interested in regaling his glory days as a radio DJ than in training me. It turned out that Stan was also a silent partner in an out-of-town enterprise; his presence was urgently required to protect his investment. As soon as my two weeks of training were completed, Stan would be gone.

On my second day, Stan let me touch the control panel, and I did the first live segment. It was a 30-second weather report. I turned on the mike when the weatherman was cued and turned it off when he was done. There was a mike check beforehand and I monitored the level as he spoke. I did the second live broadcast, too, a one-minute news segment. Stan did the third segment: news and weather – two mikes!

The half hour noon show, however, was overwhelming. There were a half a dozen mikes to activate, monitor, and kill, recordings for musical bridges, an array of possible audio sources, and a live announcer, plus an abrupt change in plans if a segment ran long or there was time to fill.

On the third day, Stan called in to tell me he would be late. He reviewed expectations of the first two segments, and I did them solo. He called later, before the third, and we talked it through; he promised to be in before the noon show. I did the third segment by myself.

Stan called to say he had been watching, and I had done fine. Could I do the noon show by myself? “No!” I asserted. “Okay, he assured, “I will come in, but let’s talk through it just in case.” I never saw Stan again; my “training” was over.

With sweaty palms and a knotted gut, I muddled my way through the noon show, knowing that thousands would hear any miscue. By the time the show ended, I was physically exhausted; my head ached.

This pattern repeated itself before each noon show for the next several months. If only I had received more training to boost my confidence.

On-the-job training was fine for production work. Time was not an issue and retakes were common, expected, and accepted. If I lacked training in some area, the director instructed me.

The live shows were a different story. It was tense and nerve-racking; they expected perfection and didn’t tolerate errors. This produced an incredible amount of pressure and anxiety.

This stress was partly due to my lack of training, but more importantly a result of the directors; I worked with three. My favorite was nice and kind; he remembered what it was like to do my job and was empathic. Unfortunately, I seldom worked with him.

The second director was aloof and focused only on the broadcast, not caring what he said or how he treated others. Fortunately, I didn’t work with him too much.

Most of my interaction was with a third director. During live broadcasts, he became verbally volatile and abusive. He yelled – a lot. When he was mad, he yelled louder – all laced with expletives. Management via intimidation was his style. My goal was to get through the noon show without a verbal tongue-lashing; usually I was unsuccessful. Of course, this made me even tenser.

Although most of the work was fine, my angst from this half hour each day caused me to despise my job. Thankfully, my remaining time was short, as graduation neared. I grabbed the first job offer and gave my two-week notice.

Ironically, the day after I submitted my resignation, the volatile director asked, “You should be getting some vacation, soon, shouldn’t you?”

“I haven’t put in enough time, yet,” I replied. “Besides, I just gave my two-weeks’ notice.”

“What!” He slammed some papers on the table with a curse. “I can’t believe it.” His face turned red. “We finally get someone good, and they don’t pay him enough to stay.”

I was dumbfounded. “Good?” I questioned. “I’m not good.”

“You’re the best audio engineer we’ve had in years.”

“What about Stan?” I asked.

“Stan was an idiot. He was always making mistakes. We couldn’t get through a broadcast without him screwing it up. You did better your first week than he ever did.”

“But, I make mistakes every day.”

“Your mistakes are trivial,” he disclosed. “Few viewers ever notice.” As he picked up his papers and left the room, I contemplated what he had said. I am good!

Not surprisingly, I had a new attitude during the noon show that day. My nervousness dissipated, I made no “mistakes,” no one yelled at me, and most significantly, I enjoyed it. My job was fun.

On my second to the last day there, I met the weekend audio engineer. She was thinking about taking over my shift. She wanted to see what was involved in the noon show. Unfortunately, that day the show was one of the most difficult I had encountered. There was a live band, with each person and instrument separately miked, plus there were a few unusual twists. I would need every piece of gear in the room and use the entire audio console. Although it was stressful, it was a good stress, because I was a good audio engineer. I performed my part without error, earning a rare compliment from my critical director. At the end of the show, I leaned back with the knowledge of a job well done.

My protégé shook her head. “I could never do that,” she sighed and left the room.

My last two weeks at the TV station were most enjoyable. As such, it is with fondness that I recall my time there. How might things have been even better if someone had told me sooner that I was doing a good job?

Peter DeHaan is a magazine publisher by day and a writer by night. Visit www.peterdehaan.com to receive his newsletter, read his blog, or connect on social media.