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.

Clevertim_CRM_contact magament for small businesses



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.

Small businesses need a simple CRM

Last week I had another look at Salesforce, something I do from time to time, to see for myself what’s new in terms of features, usability, plugins, etc. Salesforce is a great platform, but every time I log in, my head hurts. It’s just so complex – it can do so many things, which is great for big enterprises, especially when they have lots of money for customizations (and they inevitably need to customize it big time).

But when you’re a small business, complexity kills productivity. If it takes you 10 minutes instead of 1 minute to perform an action, then that’s 9 minutes you won’t get back. 9 minutes you won’t sell, you won’t market, you won’t support your customers and you won’t spend time with your love ones.
It’s not just time though. It’s the frustration. If you’re like me, I tend to lose my patience, start pulling my hair out when things are not immediately obvious and when, something that I think of as “this should be easy” proves out to be more complicated or take longer that what I’ve prepared myself for.

Now this post is obviously a rant. It’s not about Salesforce. Again, Salesforce is a great business and a great CRM swiss army knife. It’s about complexity, it’s about optimizing the use of your time and time is so much more precious when you work with the limited resources of a small company.

Time and time again, I keep telling small business owners that they should choose a simple CRM, a system that works for them. But most of them like to think big … in 6 months we’ll outgrow it. We need something that can grow with us. And inevitably they fall into the “complexity trap”. They go for something more complex, something they don’t need now, just because they’ll need it in 6 months. Many of them turn out not to grow as they expected to, but they’re still saddled with the complexity of a behemoth. It just kills their productivity.

Start with something simple that you can use today. Cross the complexity bridge  when you absolutely have to, because complexity is not a nice problem to have. Complexity kills productivity.

View your sales opportunity pipeline

Did you know you can switch the Opportunities screen to show as a pipeline view?
A sales pipeline allows you to define a set of states that a sales lead normally goes through from the initial contact all through the sale completion. Clevertim CRM comes with a very basic pipeline (Open/Won/Closed/Lost). You can define a more complex sales pipeline in the Business preferences. Let’s look at an example:

Initial contact / Discover Needs / Present Proposal / Revise / Close

In this pipeline, when a new contact is contacted for the first time, she is placed in the Initial contact pipeline state. This will be a state at the top of your sales funnel. The next step is to follow up and discuss with the contact to discover needs and requirements, so that a solution can be proposed.
Once it’s clear what the contact needs, a proposal can be put together and presented to the contact. The contact is likely to have questions, perhaps concerns, which would lead to revisions to the proposal and ultimately to the deal being closed.

As the negotiations advance, the contact is moved to the right on the pipeline, or, if you prefer to visualise it as a funnel, down the funnel until the deal is closed or the contact drops off at a particular stage in the process.

Clevertim CRM allows you to display visually this pipeline. In the Opportunities screen, just click on the “Switch to pipeline view” link. You can always switch back by clicking the “Switch to list view”. In pipeline view you can more easily see at a glance what opportunities you have at each stage and the total dollar (or your own currency) value for that particular stage in the pipeline.
While in the pipeline view, you can easily move opportunities between stages by “drag-n’drop”.

Your customers want to buy, not to be sold to

One of the most common mistakes made by sales people is selling too hard. And the meaning of hard selling has changed in time. If in the past hard selling was calling prospects every day, stalking them and approaching them every time they come or leave the office, well, today a lot of people feel you’re trying to hard when you’re calling them. They know you wouldn’t call just out of courtesy and you’re probably going to try to sell them something.

Today, consumers are bombarded with an unprecedented amount of information about products and services that a lot of them will simply ignore any direct approach. This information overload is made worse by the abundance of direct channels – think email, facebook, twitter, mobile texts/sms, and various other websites, all this in addition to the more traditional channels: radio, tv, billboards, newspaper adverts and yes, those pesky cold calls from various sales people.

This abundance of information is one reason why, even though there are more direct channels available to market and sell products and services to customers, paradoxically, these customers filter more and listen less.

There’s another reason of course – consumers are becoming smarter in time. They learn in time that some companies use all sort of tricks to sell their products, they learn that behind every nice corporate intention there’s probably a desire to sell more. This gradually led to a change of behavior where the customers will want to acquire more information rather than just trust the vendors. They want to make an informed buy decision and they do not trust the vendors anymore.

Enter social media. With the rise of the social media, sharing information about products and services between customers became much easier than before. Trusting a recommendation from “a person like me” became the norm in shopping online at least and the review sites appeared everywhere. Big companies like Amazon capitalized on that by facilitating that information sharing between customers, with positive effects for their bottom line. Customers are more likely to buy when a product is recommended by other consumers (“people like me”) than when they’re not recommended or only recommended by the vendor. These recommendations help people buy, they are not sales pitches.

So how can you benefit from this customer behavior?

Here are a few easy steps:

1. When calling a prospect or discussing face to face, don’t sell hard. Actually don’t try to sell at all – at least not on the first meeting/call. Be helpful, explain the products, the markets, the benefits, etc. – let the information sink in. Do not try to close the sale too early or you’ll alienate your prospects. But always follow up, and when you do, be polite, helpful and do take a no for an answer. Let people buy from you, do not sell hard.

2. Invest in soft selling techniques and channels. Soft selling relies on sharing a lot of information, being helpful, developing a good brand – think of a brand as the way people think about you. You want to inspire trust and competence. You want people to feel comfortable in approaching you – and that sometimes means a promise of no hard sell.

3. Share as much information with your prospects – again, information and not selling. Use twitter, facebook, linkedin, forums, etc. This will also have a secondary benefit of helping you out your SEO (search engine optimization) project – this is the art of staying on top of google (and other search engines). The information needs to be high quality because you’re customers are smart people – don’t insult their intelligence.

4. While sharing as much information with your prospects is great, be careful not to overdo it. You don’t want to annoy your prospects and you certainly don’t want to spam them – this will not help your brand (how people think about you). Choose a right balance. And as mentioned above, high quality content is a must.

5. Word of mouth is king. In a world where consumers rely on recommendations from “people like me”, word of mouth will sell more than your best sales people. Keep your customers happy and they will spread the word – you can even ask them to do so, and when they’re happy, they’ll do it. Have a stellar customer service and your customers will love you for it. There are so many bad companies out there that customers will stick with the companies with very good customer service.

Best of luck!

Small business events

Earlier in the year I went to a small business show at London, ExCel – one of those shows where small to medium companies exhibit products and services and try to convert other small businesses into customers. In other words, everyone was a salesman or saleswoman, everyone had a pack of business cards to share copiously – a lot of them hoping their business cards will do their work for them. The sad truth is that most of them just get ignored or get you added on some automated emailing list on a subject you don’t care about.

But I digress…

So this was a salesman’s turf and the best place to compare various selling techniques and the competencies of different sales people. And I can tell you they were different.

You  had the employee salesman who didn’t quite want to be there. This type was easy to recognize: making himself look busy with some technical details, would not bother to approach customers, but when approached, he would spend time answering your questions. Very reactive and more in a support role. I doubt these guys ever sell anything unless the customer insists on buying.

You had the employee salesman who was there to collect business cards for leads – passively. Someone would follow up later – if the company is organized enough to follow up.

You had the marketer looking for anyone someone  to fill her assigned survey. You would get a thank you, have a nice day, at the end. The surveys would end up in a CRM system of some sort, relying again on sales to follow up. Of course, you can win an iPad if you fill the survey.

You had the small business owner, looking overwhelmed, trying to do everything on his own – sell, market, ask you to fill survey, ask for business cards, describe the product or service. He would scrape notes on various bits of paper or on business cards – promise to call everyone.

You had the roaming customer, looking a bit lost, trying to get to the next scheduled event, but not quite sure how to get there. At the same time, checking out every exhibitor’s stand, in the hope to find the next business opportunity.

A various mix of people but one common theme. A lot of them were sellers, none buyers. I say “a lot of them” and not “all of them”, because quite a few were there simply to browse, or just looking for information, or for elusive opportunities to network.

So here’s a list of things you have to do before you go to a small business event, to ensure you get the most out of it:

1. Take it seriously – sounds like a no brainer, but a lot of people think about it as they think about window shopping – you just go and see what happens

2. Have clear objectives – these objectives should be actionable and achievable, based on the profile of the small business event. The more specific about the objectives, the better. For example: “find 10 architects that are looking for the type of software I produce” is better than “collect as many business cards as possible”.

3. If you’re after leads think quality before quantity – the idea of collecting as many business cards/leads and follow up later is very appealing. So you might be tempted to just exchange business cards with strangers. But if that’s all you do, you can stay at home and  explore an online business directory. Focus instead on quality – find people that need your solution (product or service).

4. Have a clear plan on how you’re going to achieve your objectives – this is a set of actions that you’re going to take. It’s just spelling out your objectives and making sure they’re actionable by actually planning the actions. If you can’t think of any actions for a certain objective, you can drop the objective – it’s not actionable. Don’t kid yourself, if you can’t think of actions beforehand, you won’t be able to think of anything when you’re there.

5. Plan your attendances of various shows – if you intend to attend conferences or seminars, plan exactly what/when and how everything fits into your day. Don’t rely on figure it out there.

6. And finally – enjoy it! – don’t be a drone, enjoy it. Be yourself, be natural, enjoy it all. Communication is so much easier when you’re natural and enjoying it. The alternative: sound like a broken sales record, and trust me, no customer likes to hear that.