Archive for June, 2011
Does anyone like salespeople anymore? I’m more than a little biased, but there’s still hope for salespeople and the rest of the world to coexist in perfect harmony, even prosperity. For one, good salespeople help their customers improve – process, customer service, marketing, operations, the bottom line – you name it.
If you’re not in sales, allow me to pull back the curtains a little on my colleagues and tell you about one of our favorite four-letter words! I suspect that lots of salespeople have heard your favorite four-letter word, so this is only fair, right? Our favorite four-letter word is BANT. It stands for Budget, Authority, Need, and Timeline. It’s often used to help marketers and salespeople identify the right fit for pursuing opportunities. After all, if you have the money and you’re the decision-maker and you need my product and you want to buy soon, boy do I want to talk to you! Unfortunately, young, inexperienced, or careless salespeople often focus on budget, authority, and timeline, (or just budget) but give little or no attention to need. In fact, I pin the world’s disdain for salespeople on this very omission!
It’s cleverly disguised as content-laden, over-rehearsed, auto-pilot-delivered pitches that explain the 400 great, wonderful, fantastic, best-in-the-world features from some product or service. Inexperienced salespeople lead with features, close with features, and carry on about features in between, hoping that one of them sticks. They’ll use phrases like “we’re the only one in the market that has this, that, and the other thing.” So long as your prospect is concerned about this, that, and the other thing, you’re headed in the right direction. Statistically speaking, they’re not.
Features are not bad, as perhaps my title implies, they’re wonderful. The issue is really how you, as a marketer or salesperson, use them in the context of customer communication. One of the biggest mistakes I see and hear from salespeople is when a potential customer engages them with “tell me about your product,” and the salesperson just floors the gas pedal. Do yourself a favor and don’t floor the gas pedal, yet. You still don’t know which road to take!
Prior to iTunes, the average Joe had been known to buy an entire music album because of the one good song he liked, but also because he controlled the “next” and “back” buttons to get to the one song, out of fifteen, that was meaningful to him! Most people haven’t figured out how to press the “next” button on a salesperson to cut through the meaningless information, and get to the important stuff. The solution is simple – only talk about what’s important to your audience. You don’t need to be a mind reader. All you need to do is honor whoever you’re speaking with by asking good questions about what’s important to them. I realize it sounds like common sense, but you’d be surprised how many salespeople don’t ask. Once you’re armed with knowledge about what’s important, floor the gas pedal and drive down the right road.
Don’t differentiate by “featuring” your prospect to death – differentiate by asking what’s important, identifying need, and honoring the relationship.
Come with me on a little journey. Imagine yourself at a day-long seminar about United States history. You’ve just settled into a wonderfully comfortable chair in a vast lecture hall at your local university to hear the keynote speaker deliver what most believe will be the highlight of the entire event. The speaker walks out onto the stage, greets the audience, and then begins…
“Franklin Jones, our nation’s first President, once said you can observe a lot by just watching.”
For those of you still reading, of course he didn’t! As you know, our nation’s first President wasn’t Franklin Jones. Come to think of it, who the heck is Franklin Jones? Who the heck said you can observe a lot by just watching? How could someone make that kind of mistake? It goes on and on…
Unfortunately, this kind of misrepresentation, intended or not, happens all too often. When your audience sees or hears something that they believe isn’t accurate, the questions that arise in their minds mean all the active listening has ended. If engagement is your goal, you’ve lost. Here’s what the audience hears:
“Franklin Jones, our nation’s first President, once said you can observe a lot by just watching. Words, words, words, words, more words, and even more words.” Perhaps the next five minutes were perfectly accurate, even illuminating, but the message is lost because the initial statement is all wrong. As a result, credibility is lost and the audience follows.
For companies that provide demonstrations of their products and services, and use “test data” during those demonstrations, this is your issue too. Incomplete or inaccurate information can ruin an otherwise perfect presentation by anchoring the attention on bad data and nothing else.
Engagement is a journey that involves creating a vision within an audience, empathizing with them, their perspectives, their pains, their needs, and providing hope. If you haven’t taken the time to provide meaningful, accurate data in your presentations and demonstrations, you’ve given your audience a reason to stop the journey with you. Worse, you may not get another shot.
It’s well worth the investment of time to get it right.
Taking a page out of Apple’s retail store success, I’ve decided that my companies’ trade shows would benefit from some new, creative, interactive signage – enter the new iPad2 that I’m using to type this post. It’s all of 30 minutes old, my iPad user experience, and we are in full-on honeymoon mode here. Fantastic!
But will it last, and will it bring greater engagement at our upcoming events? I’m cautiously optimistic, as long as I spend time looking at the “productivity” category in the app store, and not just angry birds.
I’ll report in a few weeks with an answer to my title above, and perhaps how our teams are using devices like iPads to better engage clients, work smarter, and deliver better service. Like I said, cautiously optimistic!
As we head into a new week, I wanted to share with you a simple work philosophy that I try to personify daily.
The Four H’s:
Honor your client. Listen emphatically in an effort to learn and when it comes time to speak, do so only to provide value, based on what you’ve learned.
Be honest with your client. Honesty may not always be popular or easy but without it, there will be no trust and no long-term relationship.
Be humble about your work. Surely, somewhere in the world, someone else has discovered a better, faster, cheaper way. Self-praise has no place on a successful team.
Share humor in all situations. The joy of levity can be transformative. It is as powerful a tool as any and it should be used often.
At a recent event sponsored by the New York State Academy of Trial Lawyers and the Brooklyn Bar Association, a room of 150+ attorneys was informally polled about tracking their time. Two, yes 2, attorneys volunteered that their firms make them track their time regularly. To be fair, personal injury firms comprised much of the attendance and the prevailing belief seems to be “we don’t invoice our clients so we don’t need to track our time.” The rest of the room echoed the sentiment about not sending invoices or simply said it’s too big a hassle.
For all you administrators out there, or you legal marketers who get involved in the billing process, this is your moment to step in and right the ship. I was pleased when, at the same event, a former NYS Supreme Court Justice (and practicing attorney of 30+ years) stepped up to the podium after the informal poll and told every firm that didn’t track time daily, yes, daily, they were wasting time and money by not tracking. Talk about needing a great buzz word here like, paradigm shift!
For personal injury attorneys, this is not an issue of Quantum Meruit but it is an issue of being able to illustrate that you have been responsive.
An idea with even more impact for personal injury firms is knowing if and when to settle. For example, if a firm anticipates a $1 million settlement with 30% contingent fee, it would be smart to know when your firm’s resources are trending over the expected income of $300,000. For some firms, no such tracking takes place.
For other law firms (non-personal injury), tracking time, or the lack thereof, is an enormous issue that directly impacts the bottom line. My company works with a number of large and small firms across North America and few are immune to this issue. Some firms reward for good time-entry behavior while others impose punitive measures for offenders, but in nearly all cases, the common thread is the lack of alignment at various levels within firms about why it’s important to enter time, what it really impacts, and what the corporate policy actually mandates.
In my professional services (consulting) company, we enter time daily (with 50+ consultants). Yesterday’s time must be entered by 10:00 am the following business day. As a result, we can evaluate the health, revenue, and profitability on any project every single day and change our operating model if needed. Further, our invoices are regular and relatively small (clients are billed daily, weekly, bi-weekly, monthly, quarterly, or annually). The result across 13+ years? We collect over 99.9% of our receivables. So, is it too big a hassle to enter time daily? No, absolutely not, and no way!
We have some clients who mandate monthly time entry, and invariably two things happen. First, no human being can tell you with great accuracy what she or he did for the last month, especially when you’re multitasking day-to-day. Second, not every client gets included in that month’s time (really the result of issue #1), but the real problem is that they will get included at some point, and then they’ll receive a gasp-inducing bill that should have come their way in two or three separate periods. The result is angry, alienated clients who argue about fees and make it difficult for law firms to collect.
If you’re providing valuable service, track your time. If you’re not entering your time, invoices can’t go out. If invoices don’t go out regularly, you will hurt your client relationships with mismanaged expectations and you will hurt yourself with declining revenue. Track your time, and track it daily.