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 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.

Clevertim_CRM_contact magament for small businesses



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.

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.

Hold on to your customers

Customer retention is a hot topic at the moment and it tends to be so in every recession as the flow of new customers dries up as soon as the recession bites. At that point, companies turn their focus on keeping their existing customers in an effort to limit the financial damage.
And it’s not easy.
Not only new customers are hard to find during periods of economic stagnation, but the existing customers tend to go under more frequently, or review their costs and decide to cut down expenditure and inevitably more customers will leave during these times.
All this means you have to think more seriously about how to retain your customers before they actually leave you. Once they’ve made their minds up, it will be nearly impossible to change that. Be proactive and actively work on customer retention.
Here’s a starting point, a list of 5 points to keep your customers happy:

1. Establish a dialog

Tell your customers what you do, tell them about changes, improvements you’re making. Tell them about what’s new in the market.
But that’s only part of it. Encourage the customers to get into a dialog, so they tell you what they think, give you feedback, which leads into the next point … engagement.

2. Engage your customers

This is all about making your customers be more active, give you your feedback. Some ways to do that: feedback forms, surveys, forums, newsletter.
But go the extra step: call them and ask them for feedback, what they think. Some might not have the time to talk, but others will appreciate the extra mile you’re going.

3. Be there when they need you

Support should be fantastic. Reply to emails quickly and with good quality, helpful content. Do not reply for the sake of being responsive – aim to solve problems.
If you take phone calls, be helpful, polite and if you don’t know the answer be honest, tell them you will get back to them with an answer. Make sure you do.
When things go wrong, admit it, solve their problem, say sorry and maybe compensate them somehow – a small gift, discount and so on.

4. Improve the product / service

In a study done in the US, the main reason for customers leaving was poor customer support. The second main reason was poor product / service experience and quality.
Use all the feedback you get from your customers to improve your products and services.
Keep an eye on what your competitors are doing too and make sure you don’t fall behind.

5. Surprise your customers with little things

Surprise your customers with some unexpected little things: add something to their order, a thank you note, an extra small product, add a hand written note, call them to ask them how they’re doing, send a happy birthday note, give them a partial refund when you make a mistake, send them a small gift and so on.
The list is endless.
They will be pleasantly surprised because almost no other business does that and you will stand out.

Actionable information

Once in a while I experience something very discomforting and embarrassing at the same time. As much as I would like to think I’m special, I’m convinced others do go occasionally through the same thing. Here’s what’s happening and it will sound very trivial perhaps:

I, sometimes, pick up a book and I know instantly: I’ve read this book, but I cannot remember anything that was in it.

It’s like I read it but my mind was somewhere else. Now this simple realization raises a series of questions, some existential questions, some more pragmatic in nature:

  • Why am I reading these books? Am I looking for some type of information that I didn’t have before? Am I looking for someone to bring order & balance to my thoughts and the information I already have? Or is it because I am looking for reinforcement, encouragement in the knowledge that others are thinking through the same problems?
  • What is my selection criteria? This ultimately reflects my immediate attention and that can go off-topic, off-course pretty easily. The question is … am I focusing my attention on something that will ultimately help me advance towards the strategic goals I’ve set for myself (you have strategic goals, right?)
  • How is reading helping with that advance? How am I benefiting from the books? How do I use the new information? The sad truth as I discovered is that I forget most of it.

This last point brings with it the realization:

I only benefit from the new information when the information is actionable and I DO take action.

Actionable really means that you can do something with the information, something practical, something that you can put into words, something that you can describe into a TO DO task. For example, if a book suggests that the best idea to improve customer service is to talk to your customers and ask them what can you improve, then the action is “select 5, 10, however many I can handle, customers and ask them how I can improve the service”. Or “come up with a survey and send it to them by email”.

Something you can actually DO, something you can ACTION upon. Not just abstract theory, but something practical.

But that’s only half the story, the other half being: “and I DO take action”. This bit is very important because most of the time, this is the part that’s failing me. I read books while I’m away and I either fail to take notes, fail to revisit the book when I’m at my computer, or simply decide it’s probably not going to work, or it’s too hard to implement. All of these are failures to act and are as bad as not identifying actionable information, or reading books which do not have any actionable information in them.

Getting back to the part about forgetting, well, that’s only natural. We are not machines, and our brain can only store so much information and keep it in the active memory – or short term memory if you want. We forget easily because there is always something else, new information, new books, new websites, new blogs. So don’t keep it all in your brain,

Write notes!

Keep a to do list with all the tasks/actions that you want to take and keep them in the list. Spend time building the list and spend some time going through the list and getting things done. You can prioritize the actions on the list to make sure you get what’s important and urgent done first.

This is nothing new!

There are thousands of books suggesting you should do this, millions of blogs and even more applications that will help you keep to do lists. This is a topic as old as written language, but…

It’s difficult to actually apply it!

which is why there are new books and new apps doing to do lists. It’s difficult to do because it’s not about the books, it’s not about telling you how to do it or telling you that you should do it. It’s about actually doing it, every day. These apps won’t do it for you. You have to do it.

It’s hard because it requires the discipline to do it every day. It’s not a one-off trick, it’s a modus operandi, a way of working and a way of life, day after day. It’s hard because there are no shortcuts.

Which is why we’ve implemented yet another app to do “to do” lists in a CRM app. It’s because it’s not about the app, it’s about you. But really, looking after your customers is the best example of dealing with “actionable information” as looking after your customers is a long term activity, one that you undertake every day, but also one where you potentially don’t have to deal with a customer for several weeks or months before you have to pick it up again where you left it off.

If you don’t take notes to know where you left it off, you will lose in the long term.

So take full advantage of our “Tasks” feature and keep track of your todos, meetings, events, follow ups, set reminders for calls, emails that need to be sent out. Your customers will love you for it!



Pleasantly surprise your customers

A while ago I was really impressed by a small thing a vendor did for me. I was buying a book on Amazon from a small vendor. Most small vendors there include some flyers or some marketing brochures of some sort. It’s an opportunity to try to sell more, upsell, cross-sell, etc.
This vendor included a small hand-written note thanking me for purchasing the book from her and hoping I will buy more. Such a small gesture, but one that impressed me because it stood out from the crowd, it was much more personal and it had that human touch to it. It made me think that a real person spent some of their valuable time writing that note for me.
Nothing fancy, but something that made me remember that experience. Would I buy from her again? Absolutely. A gesture like that makes people want to know about the person who wrote the message, about the business, etc.
Don’t be afraid to be personal, most of your customers will be impressed, even if they don’t say anything back.

You can generally impress your customers by doing something pleasantly unexpected, something kind, going the extra mile. Include something extra with their order, saying it’s on the house, include a discount for their next purchase, send a Happy Birthday note on their birthdays, and so on.
Your customers will love you for it and they will reward you with that powerful “word of mouth”, the holy grail of marketing, which will send more customers your way.

Why not start pleasantly surprising your customers? Start with the next order that has just arrived…

Do not unpleasantly surprise your customers

A few days ago, I was trying to buy a hosting package from a company based in the UK, let’s called them “The NO customer UX company” – let’s shorten that to NOUX. This company only serves customers from UK and Ireland, however, since our company is registered at the Companies House in the UK, has a UK based address, UK based bank account and owned by UK based residents, I thought the registration will go very smoothly. And it did, I filled in all the “UK based” details, filled in the credit card details, all went through like a charm.
The nightmare started when I received later an automated email saying “Sorry, but we only serve customer from the UK & Ireland”. At the same time, I received other emails telling me that the payment was completed successfully and my account is being processed.
I was not impressed and almost shouting: “Which part of UK based have you not understood?”.
It turns out it was because I placed the order when travelling abroad and the IP address was automatically caught as not being an UK based IP address. That was the end of it, the company didn’t want to hear any more of it and after thinking a bit about it, we decided it’s not the company we want to go with after all.

What’s wrong in this picture? Well, a few things.

1. Clearly the company has not invested too much in their User Experience. In particular, if they can detect the not UK based IP, surely they can do that before the customer registers  & pays.
Why would you want to upset your customers from the start?
Even if everything is sorted out in the end, the customer’s mental image of your brand surely suffers. Why? Because it can be done better.
Solution: Review this part of the registration and make sure the problem is highlighted to the user as early as possible, before the payment is processed. The user expects the order to be completed once the payment is taken and problem to be highlighted before that.

2. The confusing emails being sent at the same time, one telling the customer the payment is completed and the account is being processed and the other telling the customer “Sorry, we can’t serve you”. But we’ll take your money.
This clearly points to a back-end that is not as integrated as it should be and the customer can see that from the confusing messages being generated there.
It points to different processes handling different things separately and not “talking to each other”. It does highlight no clear thinking for the User Experience aspect of it all.
The brand suffers again. Why? Because the brand is all the communication, every single line of text, email, customer support, anything visible to the user.
Solution 1: Review the different back-end processes and how they operate on the same data and clearly map the various paths your orders follow within your back-end to avoid the possibility of conflicts.
Solution 2: Review all points in your back-end processes that send out communications to the customer and review the text and relevance of each of them.

3. Make sure your customer support understand these limitations, apologize to the customer and send back feedback to the relevant teams/people to fix the broken processes. While I cannot verify this feedback loop exists, it is something every company should do.
Solution: Review your processes for feeding back customer feedback to the people who can do something about improving the User Experience for your product or service.

Every potential customer experience is an experience to learn, whether it is an experience you had in your own company, providing customer support, or on the customer side, receiving support. Learn from all these experience and your customers will love you for it!