The one simple trick that will improve your sales

This short blog article is when I tell you about the one simple trick that changed my sales mindset and significantly changed my business life and the way I think about sales in general.

It’s a simple trick once you know it, but it took me a while to fully realize its true transformational power. Once I did, I noticed that my sales improved, people started paying more attention to my sales pitches, they became more interested in the actual content and what I was really saying. More importantly, I realized I was closing more deals than before. Now thinking about it, it all seems so simple that I keep wondering how come I didn’t think about it earlier – my life in sales would have been so much easier.

You too can repeat this simple trick in your mind and it will definitely change the way you approach sales, ask for things, present your ideas and do business in general.

The simple trick is this:

No one cares about YOU, they care about THEMSELVES!

That’s it. Now go ahead, repeat it 3 times:

No one cares about YOU, they care about THEMSELVES!

No one cares about YOU, they care about THEMSELVES!

No one cares about YOU, they care about THEMSELVES!

It’s a simple thing but its implications are subtle and powerful. Too often, in sales, marketing, but also in real life, we’re too caught up in ourselves and in what we have to offer, our products, our services, the features, etc. It’s all about us, US, US and me, me ME.

Many sales reps have a pre-learned script that they go through and it’s about presenting the company, the product or the service as the best, as having X whistles and Y bells, as being used by so and so.

This is more evident in remote sales done by inside sales teams by phone or email. There, the sales reps really follow the same script, same templates and most templates are boring and talk about the company, products, services, features, etc. They don’t talk about one thing potential customers genuinely want to hear about: themselves and their own problems. So they switch off, either abruptly or they go on auto-pilot and stop listening.

So it’s important to remember customers have their own problems and they care about themselves. They want someone who understands their problems and cares about solving their problems. They’re not interested in someone who just wants to sell to them but rather someone who in the very least listens to their needs. Any solution provided, be it problems or services need to start with the customer problem and offer to solve it.

Say that once more:

Any solution provided, be it problems or services need to start with the customer problem and offer to solve it.

And now in bold:

Any solution provided, be it problems or services need to start with the customer problem and offer to solve it.

It doesn’t sound like a big realization. Pfff, I knew that! It’s so obvious. Well, of course everyone cares about themselves.

But the more you think about the implications of this one simple trick, the more you realize that you can win more, sell more, be more popular in general by simply changing the way you sell and the way you interact with prospects, existing customers or other human beings in general. Put yourselves in their shoes! Who are they? What are their problems? Their aspirations. Their needs. What actually makes them tick. What excites them. What drives them.

Create a real image of a potential customer. Give the image a name: Michael. Give it a job. A family. A house. A car. Picture him on a day in the office. Picture him on a day out. Think of him as a real person. Now ask this person all the questions above. He’ll tell you what he wants to hear.

Now go out and find a real Michael and sell to him by putting him first. Or her. And since you’ll have many more contacts, leads, prospects and customers as a result, you might as well try a really intuitive web based contact management system.


Dealing with your worst customers

Most customers are a real pleasure to deal with, but once in a while, you inevitably encounter one of those customers that defy the social etiquette and behave outrageously for one reason or another. How you deal with such customers tells the story about who you really are as a business and at the same time, it can leave a mark on your reputation. So how do you deal with such customers?

Well, one common advise that you read in popular business book is to “fire your worst customers”. This advice is not necessarily a purely pragmatic advice, motivated by cost and profitability – and indeed, bad customers can be a drain on your resources in terms of support, time spent answering their emails, phone calls, addressing complaints and so on. It’s a recommendation that goes against another very popular advice found in many business books that says: “The customer is always right!”.

So which school of thought do you follow? Do you think the customer is always right or do you fire the worst customers?

At Clevertim, we believe the truth and the right thing to do is somewhere in the middle. We believe in general customers are in their right to ask for things to work properly without hitches and we do apologize and fix things quickly when it’s our fault. Inevitably some people are frustrated when things don’t work as they expect to and tempers differ. This doesn’t bother us.
However, we draw the line at abuse and intimidation of our staff. We believe our staff and any staff, any human being in fact, has the right to perform their duties and live their lives free of abuse and intimidation from anyone, irrespective of what the situation is.

If that happens, we don’t fire customers though. Everyone has ups and downs and we know and accept that. When that happens, we try to cut through the emotion and negativity to see what the real problem is and address that. Is there a problem with the payment? Is there a fault with the website? What’s the root cause of the problem – get to that one thing we can do something about. Then just fix it and move on.

The other thing we do is to be honest with our customers. We’re a small business ourselves and we operate with limited resources. One of our goals is to keep the cost down for our customers, so that means that we can’t do everything. For example, we cannot offer phone support – we only offer email support, which we like to think it’s very responsive and helpful as we don’t have many layers between support people and developers or managers who can actually fix the issues. We also cannot implement all the features under the sun. We listen, but sometimes politely explain we cannot do it.

Some customers fire themselves at that point, when they realize we cannot do for them what they want: e.g. phone support or feature X, Y or Z. It’s just a fact of life. We cannot be all things for everyone. But for most of our customers we solve a real business problem of managing the data about their own customers. We like to keep those customers happy by any means we can.

Now, that being said, back to you… how do you deal with your worst customers?

Web based contact management for web designers

Do you run a web agency? How do you keep track of your leads and existing customers? Well, it’d be ironic if the answer wasn’t “on the web”. Actually the answer depends a lot on your size. If you’re a small agency, you don’t need more than a spreadsheet, your inbox and your good memory. The problem manifests itself once you start growing a bit or if you start outsourcing certain services to freelancers, virtual assistants etc.

For example, Steve McKenna, a friend of mine running a small web agency, told me that a while ago started using virtual assistants, mostly people he sourced from odesk or elance. He was using virtual assistants for getting leads from social media, essentially outsourcing the filtering of social media leads. Social media can be a great source for lead generation: a lot of people ask for recommendations for a good web design agency on twitter, linkedin groups, various forums and even on facebook.

Scouring the social media every day to track these down and try to communicate with those users is very time consuming and potentially not fruitful. Certainly, not for someone who wants to focus on web design and high value, qualified leads – i.e. people who are very close to buying your services, rather than long shots.

It’s the ideal type of tasks that can be outsourced to cost effective virtual assistants who are located in countries where the cost of living is cheaper than the UK or USA. Virtual assistants based in countries like India, Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam, China or eastern Europe can do that work for you. So how would that work?

Well, the way Steve works with his virtual assistants is he’s asking them every day to search various social media websites he provided them with for various keywords. For example, the virtual assistants would search twitter every day for keywords like “recommend web design”, “need web design”, “suggest web agency”, and so on. Steve has provided the full list of keywords and the full list of social media venues. They would identify tweets like “Can anyone recommend a good web designer?” or “Anyone know a good web agency in London?”.

Once identified, the virtual assistants would try to engage them by messaging them with a soft approach. Again, Steve has defined what’s ok and what’s not ok when engaging potential customers on social media. Steve has a soft approach to engaging such early stage leads as he doesn’t want to alienate people or make them feel uncomfortable. The virtual assistants mostly approach users with “Hi, please consider our agency for great work. See our portfolio here”. They’re instructed not to annoy further, unless the lead expresses some interest, or starts interacting.

This approach has the advantage that it replies to existing requests for information – so it’s not spam. It has the advantage of engaging people who already have the problem and they’re actively looking for the solution – i.e. they need web design services. The other, side benefit, is the fact that a link to the portfolio is posted in a genuine conversation that can be witnesses by other potential customers or that can attract curious onlookers. Some might become customers in the short or long run. It’s brand awareness as, in the process, some people who didn’t know about your web agency now know.

At this point, if the user engages or expresses interest, the virtual assistants enter their details into a web based contact management system (and in this case it happens to be Clevertim CRM) where an onshore team member will pick it up and continue the conversation until the deal is hopefully closed. This basic workflow is followed repeatedly every day for a multitude of social media venues: twitter, linkedin groups and a list of forums Steve provided.

But does it work? Well, according to Steve it does. He couldn’t afford someone onshore to do that sort of triage, but when low cost virtual assistants do it, it tends to be profitable in the long run. The links to the portfolio that are posted on the social media also generate leads that cannot be easily attributed to the virtual assistants and they also help with Steve’s web agency’s SERP rankings for SEO purposes.

Web based contact management for small businesses

A friend of mine works for a big company but his department is well insulated from the rest of the company. It’s a small self sufficient (in many ways) department, they have their own small budget – which if they don’t spend they lose next year, they work with little supervision. They have to obey the corporate policies around the use of the brand, logo, etc. but in many ways, they’re free to engage potential customers. He works in licensing.

The scenario above is very similar in many ways to working for a small business. But I didn’t immediately realize that. So I’ve asked him … what CRM do you use internally? I expected him to say Oracle or Salesforce, which is what I associate with “working for a big business”. Instead he stared at me point blank and the conversation went:

He: CRM?
Me: Yes, how do you track your customers, licensees, licensors, etc.
He: Oh, we have one big spreadsheet.
Me: How do you share it?
He: It’s on a network drive.
Me: Doesn’t that make the editing difficult.
He: Oh, yes, if someone edits it, the spreadsheet is locked and no one else can edit it until the first person releases it. If the first person opens it and then goes home, no one can edit it anymore.
Me: That kinda sucks.
He: Yes, but we solved it by asking our intern to keep it up to date. So we send her all the updates and requests for data and she does it.
Me: Isn’t that slow.
He: Only when she’s on holidays or when we need the data over the weekend or when she’s out for lunch and we need the data in a meeting and so on.
Me: Why don’t you get a simple web based contact management that everyone can access at any time, from any device?
He: We don’t have the time to look into it. Plus, a lot of the sales guys are not IT savvy and our internal IT department won’t support something that’s not approved.
Me: Some of the web based contact management solutions require almost zero admin work.
He: You’re preaching to the converted.

Does this conversation sound familiar? The whole thing reminds me of a cartoon I once saw.



Rejection therapy

When you start out in sales, one of the most challenging aspects of your work when dealing with prospects (especially if you do cold calling – in other words dealing with cold prospects/leads) is the rejection. Being told No repeatedly can have a demoralizing effect on you in the short run and some people quit at that point. In time you learn to deal with it as you get used to it and it becomes a regular part of your job, but at that initial point, you’re vulnerable.

Nothing in our society prepares us for rejection. In fact, society prepares us all for success but the truth is, success is not always easy or straightforward and many times it takes many failures and rejections before achieving (some) success. So perhaps society should prepare us more for rejection. Perhaps failure in general should be embraced as a learning experience. Some work methodologies do that already and encourage their followers to fail often and learn from it, as long as you can 1. fail fast and 2. failure is not life threatening.

Failing fast is key, because if you spend all your life in one long drawn failure, then it’s a bit difficult to learn from it and apply it to the next venture that hopefully can be more successful. I recently watched a show on TV where a couple spent 20 years on the same business idea. They spent their entire life savings, lost their home in the process and in the end didn’t get anywhere with the business. They didn’t even get the funding needed as part of the TV show. I felt sad and the investors felt sad for them but still they didn’t invest in the couple. They recognized a slow failure. It’s nearly impossible to recover from a slow failure because you’re so entrenched in it that you have serious difficulties seeing different angles and being agile about problem solving. You’re also running out of time. We are on this planet for a very limited amount of time, after all.

Failing fast is important because it allows us to detach ourselves from the burden of a failed venture while still gaining experience that can be used in the next venture. The idea here is: don’t make the same mistake twice. Fail enough and soon there will be no more types of failure left for you to go through. Surely success is next. If only it was that easy…
Reusing the experience gained comes with one big assumption too: that none of the failed ventures kill you, so you can continue on.

One thing you can speed up the whole process is to put yourself through a controlled rejection/failure therapy. Try out things that you know you’re going to be failed at. Ask for things that you know are going to lead to rejections. Ask for free upgrades. Try to negotiate the price down. Try to chat up the opposite sex when you feel hopeless about the end result. There are millions of ways you can set yourself up for rejection. It’s a controlled process that will get you used to rejection and failure, while at the same time learn a lot about people, situations, business models, the flexibility of businesses and people. You can even have fun in the process. But don’t think of it as guaranteed failure, instead try hard to “close” the deal. It’s a painful experiment, but you can end up not just a better sales person, but a better person for it.

Should I use the task management feature in Clevertim CRM

Let’s face it. There are so many task management applications out there and every few years a new one comes to the market. Every new one claims to have improved the experience somehow. But ultimately working with tasks and the data entry it involves can be problematic and it’s one of the main reason certain people don’t use such apps for managing tasks. It’s the additional data entry step and the need to check the system periodically, keep it up to date (e.g. mark tasks as done). It’s an additional effort.

So the question become: when is the additional effort worth it? Well, clearly, the answer must be: when the cost of not doing it is greater than the cost of doing it. But what are some of those situations and how do we calculate the cost of doing something vs. the cost of not doing that.

If I was to start with a personal example that perhaps many of you will empathize with, I would say there are situations in my work and my life when I feel swamped with so many things to do that I don’t even know where to start. Procrastination can set in, simply because it’s so difficult to choose the next step that I should be working on. That’s when I start creating lists. Lists work like tasks do. In fact, tasks do more than just lists. Assuming lists track things to do, tasks track that plus more: meetings, calls, emails, etc.

Fact: tasks are very good at breaking up complex work into smaller actionable steps.
A journey of 10,000 miles starts with a single step, as they say.

Another important use case is when you want to delegate and keep track of what you’ve delegated. Tasks are great because a sales person can easily put together a list of tasks for a sales assistant or a virtual assistant to perform. Such tasks might be relatively low value jobs which are more efficiently and more cost effectively handled by assistants, so the main sales people can focus on selling. A few examples of such tasks: data entry, research (e.g. figure out the titles for your contacts by looking in LinkedIn, or fish out information about companies: size, location, key people, etc.).

For this scenario, tasks are good at delegating and they allow multiple people to collaborate on the task. Clevertim CRM for example allows users to add comments on tasks and therefore collaborate, exchange information, report progress or flag tasks as being blocked (e.g. couldn’t call contact as he’s on vacation). The sales people assigning tasks are notified when there’s progress or when the tasks are marked as done or accidentally deleted. They have visibility into the assigned task.

Tasks are even better when the person or team to delegate work to works remotely, potentially in a different country. A good example is the use of virtual assistants, who could be located in different countries with lower cost of living. Shared tasks allow you to collaborate efficiently with such a remote team/person and get the most out of the relationship.

Fact: Tasks are perfect for delegating/outsourcing work, especially when the teams are not co-located.

Follow up, follow up and follow up some more

Sales is not always easy. As a salesman, you’re faced daily with rejection, difficult users, undecided leads, long sales cycles, unresponsive prospects and short attention span from people trying out your products or services. In time, sales people develop patterns of interaction with their leads and these are formed inevitably over time, as sales agents need to interact with various types of personalities and put up with different behaviors.

For example, after many rejections, you learn to deal with it by accepting it as part and cost of doing business. It doesn’t affect you in the same way it affected you when you started. This is true for almost everything. Experience means you can know intuitively how to deal with certain types of situations.

One of the many realizations that come with experience is the fact that you have to follow up as many times as required until you get either a Yes or a No. Some sales people are not put up by a No and they will keep going even after they hear a No. Only after a few No-s they will realize that the lead has gone cold and they will not be able to close the deal. The important thing though is that you just cannot stop until you get that Yes or No.

That means following up with calls, emails, social media. Sometimes following up is hard, especially if the prospect seems annoyed or appears to be ignoring the calls, emails, social media interactions, etc. In time you realize it’s generally not personal – these people have their own priorities, they’re busy trying to run their own businesses or their lives and your call, email or social media interaction is probably not at the top of their list. Some other times people lose your email in their inbox, or your email catches them at the wrong time and then they forget about your email. If they’re anything like me, if I don’t reply to an email when I first see it, the likelihood I will never reply to it is very high. A lot of people are like that. It’s how the human attention span works – it moves on very quickly and many times doesn’t go back to revisit items in the past.

So you have to follow up. To make it easier, just assume they have not received the email you had sent them previously. Assume they’re really interested but missed your initial email because they got another call at the same time. Send them a follow up asking them what they think about it. Then send them another after a few days. Many people will see this as a positive sales attitude, not as something annoying. If they really want you to stop, all they have to do is say “No, not interested”. Until you get that, keep going.

I can’t tell you how many times I have got something unexpected by simply following up even when normally I would give up. Many times you get rejections, but there is useful information even in rejections. Rejections can give you interesting insights into how customers think, how they solve problems, how their business work and they can also tell you what your products and services are failing at. Sometimes all you have to do is ask – many people are prepared to give you that information if you ask.

So don’t stop, keep asking, keep following up.

Inside Sales vs. Outside Sales

A lot of companies use both Inside Sales teams and Outside Sales teams and both teams collaborate on the ultimate goal of closing sales and converting as many leads into paying customers.

An outside sales team is a team of travelling sales people, field agents visiting existing customers or prospects, trying to sell or sometimes discover needs. An example would be a sales agent going from shop to shop trying to convince small businesses to sign up to buy a new website from a web agency. But not all outside sales teams try to convince cold prospects of the benefits of a new product or service. Some of them visit existing customers trying to discover needs, especially in businesses where existing customers periodically purchase inventory, machines, repair services, etc. MRO is an example of such a business. MRO stands for maintenance, repair and overhaul, it involves selling maintenance services, machinery, replacement components, etc.

An inside sales team by contrast doesn’t travel, but instead they stay back at the headquarters and they operate remotely, trying to close deals by phone, email, social media, etc. They do not generally meet customers face to face.

Many companies need an outside sales team and an inside sales team to work together. Some companies outsource the outside sales team or hire outside sales agents and pay them a commission. Many times the outside sales agents are self employed sales people who might work for multiple companies at the same time.

These companies need to centralize their data to make the collaboration between the inside and the outside sales team work. They also need ways to track how productive the outside sales agents are. Are the outside sales people working hard enough for your business? This is so much more important when you outsource the services or hire freelancer sales agents. So not only you need to make the data available to everyone for collaboration, you need to make the data query-able via reports, so you can see what the data tells you.

Clevertim CRM was designed for this use case. It was designed to help inside sales teams collaborate efficiently with outside sales teams, while also providing flexible custom reports that allows companies and the management to see through the data and optimize the processes accordingly. A lot of our customers use Clevertim CRM for this purpose. So if you have inside sales and outside sales teams, why don’t you give Clevertim CRM a try today and you will see the same benefits some of our customers are seeing.

Happy New Year

We hope 2014 was a really good year for all the readers of our blog. It certainly was a great year for Clevertim CRM. We’ve made really good progress, added a bunch of new important features, most of them driven by requests from our existing customers. We’ve also revamped our user interface, trying to making it more effective for our users.

We hope 2015 will be an even better year for you and for Clevertim CRM. We promise to continue on the same road of improving our CRM for our customers, adding features without over-complicating the CRM. We can only succeed with your help, so if you have any ideas on how we can improve our web contact management solution, please let us know. We listen and we implement features preferentially when our existing customers ask for them.

Happy New Year 2015!

Data entry from within your inbox

A contact management system is only as good as the data that goes into it. To realize the benefits of a CRM / shared contact management system, everyone in your team must adhere to the clear rules of entering sales, marketing and customer support data into the shared CRM system (CRM stands for customer relationship management and it builds on the concept of contact/client management). That means entering notes and emails into the system whenever important data is exchanged, communicated and agreed with your prospects and existing customers.

That sounds great in principle, but sometimes people forget to enter the data, sometimes they don’t understand the importance of the imposed discipline. As a small business owner you should try to get people to buy into the vision by explaining the benefits of sharing the data and the efficiencies that brings. It makes everyone’s lives easier and the users can focus on selling, marketing or customer support, without having to worry about where the data is, about scrambling to put it all together just before a deadline hits.

On our side, we’re always looking at making the data entry simpler, more intuitive, effortless, in order to encourage users to do it and to make the whole process as efficient as possible.

The personal dropbox is part of that effort. The personal dropbox is just a set of dedicated email addresses that users can forward customer emails to or they can CC or BCC on emails sent to their contacts. This automatically attaches that email as a note under the respective contact. If the contact is not in the CRM, the contact will be added.
How does the system know which contact to attach the note to? It auto-detects the contact by their email address. So, it’s important to add all the known email addresses for your contacts into the CRM.

The other dropbox emails are for adding cases, opportunities or tasks. They work in a similar fashion. You forward, CC or BCC emails to these email addresses and the system will add cases, opportunities or tasks respectively, with the details in the email.