Infocusselling’s Blog

March 22, 2010

Training Your Customers vs. Serving Your Customers

Filed under: ACTUM Group,INFOCUSSELLING BLOG,Other Sales Issues — Educated and Aware @ 8:29 pm

          “We only deliver on Tuesday and Thursday.” As the company owner said it to me, I had to use all of my poker playing skills not to let shock take over my face. This wasn’t the milkman, fuel oil company, or a transatlantic container shipper, this was a B2B service in a highly competitive localized market with literally over 100 competitors within 20 miles. “We decided it was easier for us so we tell our customers our delivery days are Tuesdays and Thursdays. If someone wants it Wednesday, we tell them it will be Tuesday or Thursday.”

          I’m all for training customers on the value of pulling off incredible feats and why such activity is worth a higher price, but I was at a loss for how to respond to such a clear disregard for customer service in an industry currently operating at less than 50% capacity.

          Training your customers is the process of reaching a mutual understanding and agreement on how you will conduct business with each other including pricing, lead time, quantity, frequency, and payment terms. If someone wants to buy more, they rightfully expect to pay less per unit. If someone wants extended terms, it is not uncommon to charge a slightly higher price. But what happens when the seller says flatly, “We won’t give you what you want?”

          According to this owner, there hasn’t been a significant backlash. I would say there hasn’t been a significant backlash yet. When customers need something and call their normal supplier, they may accept the adjusted service level. Until, that is,  a competitors walks in their door and using proper selling skills asks, “What one thing would you like to change about your current supplier?” only to hear, “Well, they only deliver on Tuesdays and Thursdays and sometimes we need it on Monday.” At that point, it is only a matter of time before the current supplier loses a client and the competitor gains one.

          Are you training your customers and serving your customers or are you training your customer to find a new supplier? When was the last time you actually looked at your company from a customer perspective and asked if, “I knew nothing about the industry, what could we do better?” Or, when was the last time you sat in front of your best 20 customers and asked them point blank what you could do better?

          I am all for charging as much as possible for performing better than your competition. I’m also in favor of you staying in business by providing better total value proposition than your competition. If you haven’t asked your clients how to improve in the past three months, your homework for this week is to get out and ask them. Sooner or later, either I or one of my competitors will be working with your competitor. When that happens, we will find out what you aren’t doing right and it’s only a matter of time before your client base shrinks one by one.


February 2, 2010

Differentiation Comes With a Price

Teaching a class the other day, the topic of advertising messages came up. Just for fun I counted the advertising messages in the room at that moment. Amazingly, I saw at least 126 different messages yelling at me in one 14×24 room with 15 people. That’s a lot of clutter. Then I read an article that stated our daily commutes are so much easier because fewer people are working. I assume their facts were correct that total employment is down but I started thinking about how many people I meet every week launching new businesses who are trying to make a new name in an already crowded market. Is it possible to stand out?

While prepping this article I typed “accounting firms in Indianapolis” in my search engine and got back 55,100 hits. I then tried “graphic designers in Indianapolis” and got back 584,000 hits. Ouch—way too many to fathom. I tried and found “only” 749 “Accountants—Certified Public” and 348 “Accounting Services” and 185 “Graphic Designers.” Even these lower numbers show each field overflowing with firms scrambling for the same client.

Google says each person is exposed to 400 to 5500 advertising messages per day (search on “how many advertising messages do I see a day”). Think about that. At 3000 which is in the middle of the range, assuming you sleep only 6 hours a day, you are hit with 167 messages per hour or 2.8 messages per second. No wonder cable television and satellite radio are so popular.

Advertising messages today must not simply cut through the clutter but completely erase it. Business has to make all the other messages irrelevant in the ears and eyes of its target. Doing so is not as difficult as it seems as long as you know:

1) what people buy from you and

2) who is most likely to buy it

 People never buy what you do; they buy the results or effects of what you do. People buy what you give them, not how you get them there. The tools you use are cool and fun to you because you like using them. If your client liked using your tools they wouldn’t be your client, they’d be your competitor. Too many people confuse process with outcome. To find out what people buy from you, ask them. Buy your clients a coffee or lunch and ask, “At the end of day, what are you really buying from me?” Listen carefully, take notes, and don’t reinterpret what is said. Their words need to become your words in your advertising message.

After you know what people buy, you can choose who is most likely to buy it. Is that contradictory to my second point? Not at all because the reality is you can choose your target market. Your target market is a function of your message which controls your branding. Your advertising message defines your target market by both word choice and focusing on results that are only of interest to your narrowly defined market. Are you adding to the clutter? Not when your message is poignantly more focused than the competition. When you define your market, really define it. Draw an indisputable border around it, and then own that market with a message that will make all other less focused competitors disappear in the fog of clutter.

Let’s look at two examples. Are you looking to buy or sell a home? There are thousands of realtors in central Indiana, all happy to help you. Nathan Phaler knows because he’s one of them. But Nathan would really like you to call him if you are interested in buying or selling a historic home in the Irvington or downtown Indianapolis area. Why? Because in the clutter of thousands of realtors, Nathan has decided to be “the” historic home realtor in his personal branding, his marketing, and his focus because he knows the market, he lives there, and he talks about his focus in his marketing.

Maybe you need accounting help. Earlier we read of hundreds of accountant types in the Indianapolis area. If you happen to be a horse farm or in the equine industry, then you are looking only for Jennifer Foster of Foster Results. Why? Because she has decided to be “the” accounting services firm for that market from Michigan to Kentucky. How? By declaring it, talking about it, focusing on it, calling on it, and being known in it.

Who will buy your product is a function of message and focus. After finding out what your market is really buying from you, the next step is to communicate consistently with that market in a manner that shows without any doubt that you are the only person focused on that market. When you target your message to your market using your clients’ words, your competitors’ messages will become the clutter, and yours will become the headline.

December 16, 2009

ACTUM Group Growing for 2010

Filed under: ACTUM Group — Educated and Aware @ 12:26 am
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ACTUM Group is launching into 2010 by adding strategic marketing and sales management professionals to our team. If you have business ownership or C-level background, are entrepreneurial, and have thought about coaching or consulting but don’t want to start without reputation, name recognition, or a referral base, let’s talk.

Outsourcing continues to be the best way to add high level skills to a company without incurring long term overhead. ACTUM is well positioned to continue to grow and we have some exciting plans for new directions. Team members must be comfortable having deep conversations with any level of employee, and must understand all facets of business with a specialty that fits our focus–strategic sales, sales training, sales management, or marketing management.

Call Jeff Bowe, Principal and Chief Sales Strategist at 317-508-6601 for a confidential discussion.

December 15, 2009

Nearly Free Workshop

Filed under: ACTUM Group,Other Sales Issues — Educated and Aware @ 10:49 pm
Tags: , , ,

Kim Brand & Jeff Bowe speak at Business Ownership Initiative:

Sales & Marketing 2010 (and Beyond)

How I wasted over $200,000 and three years on

ineffective marketing schemes and inept sales strategies

and why you don’t have to.”   Kim Brand, Co-Presenter.

“You can learn selling the hard way which is having

hundreds of prospects telling you no without telling

you why or you can learn it the easy way which is to

have someone give you the tactics and strategies that

lead to yes now. It’s your choice.”  Jeff Bowe, Co-Presenter.

What: Business Ownership Initiative (BOI) presents Sales & Marketing 2010 (and Beyond).

This four hour seminar will be conducted over two days and will be co-presented by Kim Brand, Serial Entrepreneur and President of Computer Experts and File Engine and Jeff Bowe, Chief Sales Strategist at ACTUM Group, a leading sales training and sales management company.

When: January 27-28th, 6-8PM each day.

Where: 4755 Kingsway Dr., Suite 314. (Near 46th & Keystone)

Why: You won’t get a better ‘reality check’ than to hear us talk about real world sales and marketing problems and solutions for small businesses from the perspective of an entrepreneur and sales pro.

Special Bonus: BOI normally charges $20 for this class…that’s cheap!  But everyone that attends will receive a $20 discount coupon from Computer Experts – your net cost is zero and your upside potential is huge and a free chapter from Jeff’s book, Get INFOCUS Get Cash!

You need to call now to register:  (317) 917-3266 ext. 100.

Space is limited, call today

To Save Cut Out Instead of Cutting Down

Filed under: ACTUM Group — Educated and Aware @ 12:36 am
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The end of the year brings new hope amid sometimes tough decisions. Owners and managers this time of year take a hard look at the financial health of their company and I get some interesting and difficult questions. One of most painful questions from those not hitting profit numbers is, “How deeply do I cut payroll?” The answer, while not easy, is straightforward.

The choice when looking at payroll is save the company or save an employee–you can’t do both. As an owner or manager, your responsibility is to make a return on investment which means maintaining the overall health of the company.

Too many managers and owners ignore the reality that revenue is not matching outflow. They look at financial statements with rose colored glasses and unrealistic optimism. Instead of doing what is necessary, they do what is easy. Instead of cutting out payroll, they cut it down by reducing a few hours here and there and ask employees to work harder and faster. The problem is morale takes a hit and every hour the whole team works, they are painfully aware of reduced hours, they don’t work harder, no one is happy, productivity wanes, and then deeper problems arise requiring deeper changes.

A better solution is to objectively identify the jobs you need, fill them objectively with your most valuable and profitable employees, make a clear and decisive cut out of unaffordable expenses, and then work with a team which is happy with their current situation and future opportunity. Deferring a payroll cut or creating jobs around people prolongs the problem and increases the risk that the problem will not be solvable in the future.

Does this sound cold and harsh during the holiday season? A company is a for profit enterprise with the purpose of making a profit. (For an expert opinion, read Milton Friedman’s seminal 1970 article, The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase Its Profits.) No company can survive without profit and our government counts on corporate taxes (including Sub-S ownership taxation) to fund growing budgets.

Is this a strange message of coldly cutting costs in what is normally a growth and expansion newsletter? Not at all. As we have seen here in the racing capital of the world, you can’t win if you aren’t running at the end. If you want to grow in the future, you have to be around. Implementing the right changes today allows the possibility of future success.

If you are unfamiliar with the laws of employment, you may be well served by contacting a good HR consultant like C&S Consulting or Resources Offered Immediately regarding laws surrounding termination. In short, Indiana is employment at will meaning you can do what is necessary to save the company without unreasonable interference.

Yes it is very unfortunate for that one employee, but your role is to save the company so it can provide for shareholders and as a result employee families in the future. Saving the company is a greater good than saving one employee today which leads to company failure tomorrow.

October 25, 2009

Sales Positions for Positive Professionals

Filed under: ACTUM Group,sales positions — Educated and Aware @ 10:52 am
Tags: , , ,

I have multiple clients looking for salespeople. My most pressing need is 1-2 aggressive (meaning proactive and not reactive), motivated (meaning it is commission oriented and we want you to have high goals), positive (meaning if you have a bad attitude about work don’t bother to call me) salespeople to join a client’s team. Great backgrounds would be catering, event planning or management, hospitality, or venue management, or some high activity B2B selling which leads to long term relationships. Most of your clients will be repeat buyers. No overnight travel, roughly 60 mile radius. Combination of existing accounts and your prospecting. Training base, strong commissions, benefits, and the world’s best sales training. Contact me if you know anyone who fits.

October 19, 2009

Nearly Free Workshop on Combining Sales and Marketing 2010 and Beyond

Filed under: ACTUM Group,INFOCUSSELLING BLOG — Educated and Aware @ 10:43 pm

Kim Brand & Jeff Bowe speak at Business Ownership Initiative:

Sales & Marketing 2009 (and Beyond)

How I wasted over $200,000 and three years on

ineffective marketing schemes and inept sales strategies

and why you don’t have to.”   Kim Brand, Presenter.

What: Business Ownership Initiative (BOI) presents Sales & Marketing 2009 (and Beyond).

This four hour seminar will be conducted over two days and will be co-presented by Kim Brand, Serial Entrepreneur and President of Computer Experts and File Engine and Jeff Bowe, Chief Sales Strategist at ACTUM Group, a leading sales training company.

When: November 14th, 9AM to 1PM

Where: 4755 Kingsway Dr., Suite 314. (Near 46th & Keystone)

Why: You won’t get a better ‘reality check’ than to hear us talk about real world sales and marketing problems and solutions for small businesses from the perspective of an entrepreneur and sales pro.

Special Bonus: BOI normally charges $20 for this class…that’s cheap!  But everyone that attends will receive a $20 discount coupon from Computer Experts – your net cost is zero and your upside potential is huge and a free chapter from Jeff’s book, Get INFOCUS Get Cash!

You need to call now to register:  (317) 917-3266 ext. 100.

Space is limited, call today

Welcome 2010!

Only 75 days to get 2010 launched towards success! Do I mean 75 days left to finish strong in 2009? That might be important, but more important is to start now on 2010. 2009 is basically over. Even if you peak in the holiday season, your product line, inventory, and marketing are probably too far along to change enough to make dramatic differences in your total 2009 results. Therefore, it’s time to focus on 2010.

      To launch 2010 strong, focus on three issues:

  1. Objectively evaluate your market for 2010. I don’t mean take 2009 and add the 40% sales increase you hope you can get. I mean look at all the economic and market indicators and very critically examine what will and will not change in 2010. Determine how big the market will be and set a sales goal that reflects reality, not stupidity. You can grow in a flat market; just look closely at issue 2 and 3 as you set that goal.
  2. Objectively evaluate your strengths in your market and know what will bring you business over your competition. This will form your marketing plan which should be implemented today.
  3. Objectively evaluate your weaknesses against the market and know what weaknesses your competition will exploit against you. This forms your development plan so that before spring comes you have minimized the opening that your competition is going to leverage for their success.

The problem with starting in January is the lag between marketing, prospecting, and gaining commitments. You have 75 days to evaluate, launch, and see immediate results in January instead of seeing the cold winter warm into the spring thaw.          

For a workshop on adding new tactics and skills to use in making 2010 the year you want and need, watch our website for the half day workshop, Launch 2010 Now!

Shine Like the Star You Are

Shoes make the man, or so the cobbler hopes. I was told once that to see if a man has money look at his watch and to see if a woman has money to look at her purse and shoes. I disagree—I think shoes show the man as well as the woman. Ever see a high dollar executive in dull scuffed shoes?

Why is this important in sales and business development? Because we are a visual species and first impressions are nearly impossible to change. Our appearance is a vital sales tool. Our clothes, accessories, and image imply success or spaciness. When you are in front of an important prospect, do you want your appearance to work for you or against you? We don’t have to dress in suits and ties and designer dresses, but we do need to appear organized, coordinated, and concerned. An organized appearance indicates that you take care in at least one area of your life. A disorganized appearance makes one question what level of attention may be paid to other areas.

I was recently interviewing candidates for a sales position. There was a slight mist coming down and while not cold, the mist and rain suggested that a coat of some type was in order. I watched who I hoped was not my candidate hurrying through the parking lot, no coat, no umbrella, portfolio and purse hanging off arms, with a flustered look on her face. She walked in, quickly introduced herself, and continued to act unprepared and disorganized. Her paper credentials were good but her presentation failed her.

Selling and interviewing are the same process. Your appearance is a key component of how you are perceived. A reader of my blog wrote how important it is to “fake it ‘til you make it.” My response was if you can’t fake it, you can’t make it. If you can’t look successful, organized, and coordinated, it’s difficult to be perceived as a professional and more difficult to be hired as one. With today’s economy and the preponderance of big box retailers, even the budget conscious can look good every day. Take the time to make sure you match, dress like you are the success you want to be, and while you’re at it, make sure your shoes are shined.

Hiring Salespeople: Much More Difficult in Down Times

Hiring quality salespeople has become very difficult. Not because they are hard to find, but because they are now mixed into a very large crowd of unemployed salespeople who range from mediocre to miserable.

 Only three years ago, great salespeople were employed and you had to recruit them. With so much downsizing in the past few years, great salespeople have been the victim of bigger problems.

The sheer volume of available salespeople has made us forget what hiring is all about. Hiring is about finding the best candidate you can afford to fill a tightly defined job description. Filling holes with bodies is not a strategy you can afford—the costs in missed sales opportunities and damaged client relationships is too great.

I had a client admit that a recent hire had been based on how well she got along with the person, how much she enjoyed the person, and that it was an emotional hire. There was only one glitch—the person was totally unqualified for the position and the result was a termination in less than 30 days. How terribly expensive and disruptive for both the company and the person.  Yet, had this person been allowed to stay in the organization, a tremendous statement would have been made regarding the level of expertise and performance allowed at all levels.

The main responsibility of a president is to set the standard for inflexible and absolute excellence.

If you are trying to grow, every hire is critical toward that goal. Hiring is about increasing the average quality level of your employee team. It is a no-compromise approach that mimics the way you expect your R&D department to innovate and your manufacturing line to produce. Commitment to excellence starts at the top and your commitment to hire only the best sets a tone that will resonate throughout the organization. Today’s compromised hire is tomorrow’s painful termination, and is the beginning of an uncontrollable slide to mediocrity. When we allow someone into our organization who does not fit our requirements, we dilute the power and productivity of all our other team members, and create a myriad of unpleasantries including loss of profit, reduction in quality, and increased employee terminations.

Do you want to shorten the list of unpleasantries as president? Be brutally and painfully honest in sales team hiring and you will have fewer terminations. Sales hiring should follow this process:

  • Consider the level of active sales management you are willing and able to perform and commit to on a regular basis
  • Know if you are looking for an internal salesperson (who will focus on account maintenance, growth, and retention) or an outside salesperson (who will focus on new account development)
  • Have a written set of expectations, objectives, duties, and minimum requirements and qualifications.
  • Interview without emotion remembering the risk in today’s terminations.
  • Consider all candidates for 48 hours–never hire on the spot.
  • Invest the time to have multiple people interview your top candidates, even if that means going to someone outside your organization who can be more objective since he or she does not feel the pain of an empty sales desk. Use people who have different goals, perspectives, and personalities so that you get different views on your candidates.
  • Invest in communication, style, and skills profiling to see if the person is as presented. A mediocre sales person can sell a non-salesperson doing the hiring an igloo when it is 95 degrees out.
  • Include the expectations and duties in the written offer letter and go through the letter line by line face to face.
  • Relentlessly stick to your written objectives and do not get caught up in hiring someone who looks good if you really need someone who looks great. Stay the course and get a great addition to your team
  • Look for bad trends on the first day. Anything that does not seem right will only get worse.

 Once a salesperson has been added to your team, it will be your responsibility to keep this person on track. Hiring a salesperson is an investment, not a cost. You are spending cash now to receive more cash later. And like any financial investment, it needs monitoring for trends and results. No matter how little sales management you want to do, every salesperson, even the best salesperson, needs a sales manager. A sales manager is a coach, confidant, motivator, consultant, and congratulator—sometimes all in the same day. You cannot hire a salesperson and expect him or her to tackle the world and bring in sales on the first day or even in the first year without your input. You know your company better than a new person and you know where you are strong or weak in your market. (If not, find out before you invest in a salesperson.)

 With our current unemployment and underemployment, there are probably 1000 qualified candidates within an hour of you. Follow the steps above to be sure you are ready to hire and ready to manage. If you are ready, then as you add people to your organization, don’t get a good one–get the best one.

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