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How Can I Get More Sales?

By Peter Lyle DeHaan , PhD

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 Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is publisher, editor, author, and blogger with 30 years of writing and publishing experience. Check out his book The Successful Author for tips and insights.

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Choose Your Business Partners with Care

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Conference planners sometimes ask me to sit on a panel. The common format is that each panelist makes an initial presentation, followed by a Q&A. Other times the presentations are longer, with no time for questions.

Most of my panel experiences have not been positive. For my first one, my fellow panel members dismissed my suggestion to coordinate our presentations. I went last and was alarmed when the first panelist covered some of my planned remarks; the third person addressed most of the rest. I needed to come up with new content at the last minute.

Another time, at an early morning panel, one of the panelists had stayed up all night partying. Sitting next to me, he smelled like a brewery. His speech was slurred, his judgment impaired, and his humor – some of which was directed at me – was not so funny. I spent the entire time praying he wouldn’t get sick on me. I doubt he realized he made a fool of himself and demeaned the rest of us in the process.

Another time I thought I was safe. Three of us discussed our remarks in advance, but the fourth person was vague, implying he would ad lib something aligned with our presentations. He went just before me. The first two people gave practical advice, as was my plan, but the third guy delved into high-level theory, giving a well-conceived strategic vision for the future. He outclassed us all – and I had to follow him.

Not surprisingly, I no longer agree to sit on panels. I’m fine with solo presentations, where success or failure sits solely on my shoulders, but keep me away from group presentations.

In business, we often have occasions to collaborate with other companies. Like my panel opportunities, these seem easy to do, require less prep, and share risk. The key word is seem.

Here are three areas to consider:

Affiliate Marketing: Affiliate marketing is performance-based promotion, where one entity (a person or an organization) pays another entity for each lead or sale generated from the first entity’s customer base. Often done via email, there is little cost and a potentially high payoff. Bill stuffers are another example. At a basic level, a company allows an ad aggregator to place relevant promotions on its website. The payoff is pay-per-click revenue.

Recently I bought a tutorial from someone I met at a convention. This person added me to his mailing list and began blasting out affiliate marketing pitches on a weekly basis, with multiple messages for each promotion. I grew weary of the hype and eventually unsubscribed, even though I was open to buy future products from him. Because of his implied endorsement of the people he promoted (some who I deemed questionable) and his unrelenting marketing for them, he lost me as a customer.

Strategic Alliances: Sometimes we seek opportunities to better serve clients by working with other businesses to provide a one-stop solution. Reselling products is one example, as is bundling services provided by other businesses.

When seamlessly integrated, customers don’t realize they are dealing with two companies, and the interaction occurs flawlessly. But when there’s a problem, the caller sees only the initial company, blaming them for the shortcomings of its partner. In these cases, we can succeed and fail based on what our alliance partner does or doesn’t do.

Outsourcing: Sometimes it makes sense to outsource work that other companies can do better or cheaper, yet in each instance, our reputation is placed in the hands of someone else who we have minimal control over. Is it worth the risk?

Whether it’s sitting on panels, affiliate marketing, strategic alliances, or outsourcing, we must proceed with care, not allowing someone else to control our reputation or determine the results.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is publisher, editor, author, and blogger with 30 years of writing and publishing experience. Check out his book The Successful Author for tips and insights.

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What is the Ideal Sales Follow-up Strategy?

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Once I researched some software that promised to streamline my business and integrate operations, as well as offer new services. Given all this, I suspected it would be pricey. But why not dream a little? It wouldn’t hurt to get prices. Perhaps I’d be surprised.

Using a resource guide that compared the key factors of the major players’ offerings, I narrowed the list down to four promising contenders. I sent each one an email, asking the entry-level price and sharing my contact information.

I requested pricing for two reasons. First, if the cost was astronomical, I could opt out of further interaction and not waste any more of our time. The other reason was I expected my query would invite dialogue, allowing me to learn more about the product and company.

Minimal or No Follow Up: Of the four, one responded right away, two the next day, and one never did. All three responses contained a terse statement of price. Only one asked a follow-up question. Another promised to send me a demo – but never did. For the third, I needed clarification on his poorly worded message, which garnered me another brusque email.

Although my initial communication was via email, I provided my phone number and mailing address. Sadly, after that initial week, no one bothered to email, call, or mail. They never added me to their marketing databases for future communication.

Of the three prices, one was too high. The second price was also shocking but feasible if the software worked as promised. The third, although also high, wasn’t unrealistic. If either of these latter two software packages lived up to their grand pronouncements, I’d have bought them, likely within the month. But we’ll never know, because no one bothered to follow up.

I’m perplexed. At a price of a decent used car, you’d think there would be enough motivation to pursue all leads.

Mindless Follow Up: The opposite of no follow-up is endless, pointless follow-up. It’s perhaps even more deadly because each purposeless contact serves as an effective reminder not to buy from that company.

Take Joe for instance. He was a good-ol’-boy salesman, with an order-taker mentality. He stumbled onto my name and called for an appointment. Though I stated my preference to conduct business via the telephone and through email, he pressed for an in-person meeting. Since I had some interest in what he was peddling, and based on his assurances of top-notch customer service and competitive pricing, I eventually agreed to meet.

During our appointment, it became apparent his company wasn’t a good match for me. If Joe’s demeanor was indicative, customer service would also be inadequate. He confirmed my conclusion of a mismatch with a quote at twenty-five percent higher than competitive prices. I told him so and concluded by saying I’d call him if I wanted to pursue things further.

Sadly, Joe didn’t hear me, but my name and number were now in his contact list. Mechanically, he would periodically call, not for any real purpose, but just to talk. He never provided more information, shared company news, or attempted to move the sales process forward. His spiel was always along the lines of, “Hi, this is Joe; I’m just checkin’ in to see how you’re doin’.”

At first, I was relatively cordial and would conclude each call with, “I’ll call you if I need something.” Over time I became less affable, eventually saying “Joe, please don’t call me anymore; I will call you if I need something.” Although necessary, I felt horrible for being so blunt. My dismay was short-lived, because two weeks later, he called again. I cut him off, and said, as politely as I could, “Joe, I don’t wish to be rude, but I asked you not to call me anymore. Please don’t call again.”

This may have been the first time he actually listened. “D-d-did I do something to offend you?” I explained my perspective. Incredibly, he called again a few weeks later, spewing his tired, old rhetoric. That was the last I heard from him. Either he finally got the message or was canned.

Middle Ground: You may think me a malcontent, first complaining about a lack of follow-through and then being critical over too much. However, there’s a middle ground that salespeople should aim for.

  • Follow up until they make a decision: Quite simply, follow up until you hear a definite “Yes” or an emphatic “No.” And by all means, don’t assume the lead isn’t a good lead or presume the prospect will say “No”; wait until they actually say it. If they’re not ready to make a yes or no decision, you should continue doing your job until they do. However, even when a prospect says “No,” they may not mean “Never.” Ask if they might want to revisit the situation in the future. If so, make sure you contact them at the appropriate time, but not before.
  • Use care in how often you follow-up: Many salespeople ask, “When shall I check back with you?” Seemingly, this is a wise tactic, but the uninterested prospect will simply opt for a time as far in the future as possible, without the need to say “no.” All that does is string the salesperson along and waste time. Better is to ask what additional information the prospect needs from you or what the next step is in their decision-making process.
  • Have a reason for each contact: Don’t call just to chat. Contact them only when you have a purpose or sales related goal, such as to provide more information, update the prospect on new developments, share about new products or services, or offer a special promotion.

When you follow this middle ground, your interactions will have more value and your communication, better received. Then you will be more likely to make a sale and less apt to read about your failure.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is publisher, editor, author, and blogger with 30 years of writing and publishing experience. Check out his book The Successful Author for tips and insights.

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How Can I Get More Sales? Check Your Email

By Peter Lyle DeHaan , PhD

How do you regard email address? Is it something that you can’t live without, an inconvenient irritation, or somewhere in between? A few years ago I sent out an email to 156 salespeople to verify some information they had submitted. This information was for a printed listing to connect potential buyers to them. There was no charge for the listing.

Several of those messages bounced back immediately, with varying types of unresolvable error messages. Several more came back after four days of trying. To their credit, some people responded immediately or the next day. After a week, I sent a follow-up email to those who I hadn’t heard from yet. A few additional addresses were undeliverable with this second round.

With both mailings, I received many “out-of-office” messages. Few of them were the out-on-a-sales-call variety, but rather, they were the on-vacation-for-two-weeks type. This wouldn’t be alarming, if not for the fact that I sent my message to email addresses for sales inquiries.

The result was that of 156 original contacts, thirteen (8.3%) were bad email addresses, eighty (51.3%) were apparently good email addresses, but no one bothered to respond, and only sixty-three were answered. Remember, this was not a list that I bought or harvested, but rather the result of self-submitted email addresses from people who wanted to be contacted. This was an astoundingly poor 40.4% response rate.

Can you imagine if a company was that apathetic about their telephone number? The analogy would be that on 8% of call attempts the caller would receive a “nonworking number” recording or a busy signal, 51% would ring but never be answered, and only 40% would be answered by a person and responded to. With a record like that, how long would a company stay in business?

Before you criticize me for implying that email is comparable to the telephone, I need to point out that email is the default communication channel for an increasing number of people – especially the younger generation, who are rapidly becoming the decision makers at your prospects’ offices.

If you desire more sales for your company, the simple solution might be to check your email.

Start with Your Website: First, you need a website. If your company doesn’t have a website, no one will take you seriously. Once you have a site, check it periodically to make sure it is still there and working. Sites can go down (usually temporarily, sometimes permanently), pages can get deleted, links break, domain names become pointed to the wrong place – or to nowhere – and so on.

Keep Track of Your Email Addresses: Assign an email administrator who keeps track of all email addresses that your company uses. This includes both the ones to individuals, as well as general-purpose ones (such as sales, info, webmaster, and so forth). When an employee leaves, don’t just deactivate their email address, but have it forwarded to the email administrator who can route messages to the proper person.

Test Your Email Addresses: Once you’ve accounted for all your email addresses, check them regularly to make sure they’re working. This is especially true of department and company-wide addresses. Also, test all of the email addresses that have an auto-response message or are forwarded to another mailbox. Both of these situations are prime areas for problems to occur, and they can easily remain undetected for a long time. The most critical email addresses are the published ones. This includes those listed on your website; printed in ads, directories, and listings; and posted online on other websites. Test them daily. This testing can be automated. Just make sure someone is faithfully checking the logs to ensure the program is running and the errors are addressed.

Develop a Vacation Policy: Establish a policy for staff email when they are on vacation. Short of having employees check their email while gone (a requirement I would discourage), an auto-response message is the minimal expectation. This message must provide the name, number, and email address of an alternate contact.

A preferred approach would be to not inconvenience the client or prospect and simply have someone check the vacationing staff’s email account for time-critical and urgent communiqués. (This is an excellent reason to keep business and personal email separate. Just as you don’t want personal email encroaching on the business hours, it is wise to keep business email from detracting from personal time.)

Heighten the Importance of Email: With any mission critical technology, there are backup options, contingency plans, notification procedures, and escalation steps. The same needs to occur with email.

Verify Your Staff: Until now, I’ve addressed the technical side of email. Don’t discount the human aspect. Left unchecked, salespeople can become lackadaisical or merely delete any message that doesn’t sound like an easy sale. This is only remedied through monitoring and verification.

So the answer to the commonly asked question, “How can I get more sales”? may be as simple as “Check your email!”

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is publisher, editor, author, and blogger with 30 years of writing and publishing experience. Check out his book The Successful Author for tips and insights.

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Anything for a Sale

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Last year, my family’s two favorite TV shows were on the WB and UPN television networks. These two networks merged this fall to become the CW Television Network. Since our provider offered both networks, I was confident that would be no problem receiving the new network. I was wrong.

Repeated contacts to our provider via email resulted in no response whatsoever. My wife was aghast; I was not. My expectations were nil and they were squarely met, but that is a different story for a different time. Subsequent calls to our provider resulted in no satisfying results or tangible communication.

In the midst of this, a direct mail piece arrived from a competing provider. It offered a seemingly attractive price, free installation, and new equipment, including a DVR (Digital Video Recorder). This was an attractive enticement since our receiver and remote (free promotional incentives from our existing provider) were wearing out; the DVR would be a great bonus.

Upon calling the prospective provider, I talked to a helpful and confident agent, Karl. My first query was if they carried the CW network. Karl knew all about the merger (whereas most prior contacts did not) and assured us that they did in fact carry the new network. Additional probing revealed that my hope of slashing our bill was not to be realized, but still it was a worthy change as we would get the new network and new equipment, including a DVR.

My first clue that Karl’s veracity was questionable should have occurred when he insisted that no additional wiring would be needed to connect the second TV to the single receiver. I knew that this was technologically feasible via an RF signal as Karl explained, but I was dubious that such technology would be included in our free equipment. At this point, however, we had established a rapport and I trusted him to be both honest and ethical.

I confirmed my understanding of what Karl said and placed my order. A few days, the installer arrived and set up the system. He quickly gave an overview of its operation while the programming was downloading. I asked what number the CW network was. “That’s the new one, right?” he said. “I don’t know offhand, but it’s there someplace. If you can’t find, it call this number” and he handed me an information sheet.

Thirty minutes later and frustrated, I dialed that number. “I’m sorry,” the agent said. “I can only help you with installation issues and this isn’t an installation question. You’ll need to call the provider.” (We had apparently bought from an authorized agent.) The provider’s call center told me it would be an extra $5 a month to get the CW network. Mad at this unexpected news, I called my buddy Karl. Unfortunately, he was no longer my buddy. “I only deal with sales questions,” he stated curtly. “I can’t help you,” and he hung up.

My wife, who is tenacious in righting wrongs and fixing the unresolvable, took over our quest for the CW network. Over the next few days she called Karl, the service department, the installation line, and the billing department, as well as all the other numbers she was given. Several days and countless hours later, she resigned herself to accept that we had been had. During the course of our dealings, we have been told:

  • The CW Network is included in your service package.
  • The CW Network is available for only a dollar more a month.
  • The CW Network is available for five dollars a month.
  • The CW Network is not part of your local channels (even though it is a local channel, albeit an HDTV subcarrier).
  • The CW Network is available everywhere, but in your area.

There is much to be learned from this saga. One seemingly small miscommunication had widespread and far-reaching ramifications. One person’s words, either out of intentionality or ignorance, resulted in more that a dozen follow-up phone calls and a new customer who is angry and feels maligned. It will take great effort to overcome such a bad start. As such, several recommendations are in order:

  • Training: If the miscommunication was out of ignorance, then better training could have averted the whole ordeal. Unfortunately, the payback from training is not directly quantifiable, whereas sales numbers are. This is a dichotomous situation that managers must acknowledge and grapple with.
  • Call Monitoring: If the miscommunication was intentional, then some policing is in order. Active monitoring might have caught the error, could have eliminated the rouge employee, and certainly would have minimized all employees’ propensity towards untrue statements.
  • Incentives and Measurements: What gets measured gets done and what gets paid for gets done better. Again, if the miscommunication was intentional, then it was likely a calculated lie aimed at making a sale. Unfortunately, sales deaprtments measurement and reward systems often unwittingly serve for promote and foster activity and performance that is detrimental to an organization’s overall best interests. The big picture must be continually considered.
  • Third Parties Accountability: Whenever customer contact is relegated to a third party, control over transactions need to be retained and carefully tracked by the issuing party. Their organization is at risk and they need to be able to verify that they are being properly and ideally represented at all times. This involves more that just tracking monthly sales totals or costs per call.
  • Consistency: All staff need to have the same information, supported by the same technology, and reinforced by the same training so that they will tell customers the same thing. Furthermore, this needs to be synchronized with their websites and coordinated with marketing pieces: one message, many employees, multiple channels.
  • Quickly Salvage Mistakes: There is a ripple effect when a mistake is made. This occurs both within the organization has more and more people are pulled into the problem, as well as outside the organization as more and more people are told about the problem. Both take their toll. Front-line employees need to be empowered to act and to solve pressing issues, not encouraged to end the call just so they can take the next one.
  • Problem Resolution: After many calls, finally an agent apologized. But no one ever said, “What would you like done to resolve this?” No one ever suggested a course of action and recommended a solution.

At this time, we still do not have the CW Network, but Karl, who apparently will say anything to close the deal, did chalk up a sale.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is publisher, editor, author, and blogger with 30 years of writing and publishing experience. Check out his book The Successful Author for tips and insights.