Sunday, July 13, 2014

Phone calls? Emails? On site visits?

A lot has been said about sales prospecting techniques over the years and what works and doesn’t work…..

Sales Cold Call?
Having worked in sales for more than 25 years, both in front line sales and executive roles, I have my own personal opinions on what works best and what is really a waste of time.   But I’m not here to give my two cents worth, because I’m a strong advocate that everyone’s sales technique will be different.  And you should do what brings success to YOU, not what someone who says they are an expert in sales is telling you to do.  I liken it to a baseball player…..some players can hit a fastball better than a curve, and other players are vice versa.  But both players can end up being Hall of Famers.

What doesn’t change is what’s important…having a meaningful conversation with a decision maker.  So how do we accomplish that?

Do you prefer email?
There a 3 main goals to accomplish when prospecting a new client. 

  •      Be Brief – no one likes to read a long email or listen to a long drawn out message 
  •      Do your homework – have some direct knowledge of the business or person you are reaching out    to….it shows you’ve taken the time to do research
  •      Bring Value – it’s wonderful you have a great product, but that doesn’t mean someone is going to buy it. Turn it around to show how you bring value or cash flow to your prospect

“Sales” is a profession and it takes a professional to succeed at it.  Sales rarely come on the first contact with any prospect, and often don’t close until the 5th, 6th, or even 10th contact with the customer.  Bottom line is you have to be creative and find ways to stay engaged with your prospect even when you don’t have a meeting or call scheduled.   It is here where the “Email, phone call, & site visit” come into play.  All great ways to stay in front of the customer.  Another easy, yet often overlooked method is social media.   

Here's a tip that works great for me.....Many companies maintain blogs today and even if your prospect isn’t the writer of his company blog, you can be sure they follow it and would see a comment on it if you were to make one.  I have personally had great success with this method over the years.

Don’t overlook Linkedin.  Send an invite to your prospect after a couple contacts; I wouldn’t recommend sending it too early in the process.  Too presumptive for me….

ALWAYS Follow Up!
 Don’t give up!  ......Often it takes me 2 or even 3 cycles of 6 to 7 unanswered contacts to finally get in front of a prospect.  If they don’t answer you in your first go around, push a follow up out 4 months and try another cycle of contacts.  If that doesn’t work, push it out another 6 months and try again.  Using a CRM tool will help you keep your schedule on track.  Salesforce, Outlook, ACT!, and any one of a number of more systems will do a nice job.

Remember my earlier baseball reference?…..My favorite quote that I post in my office to remind me to follow up, follow up, and then follow up some more:

 “ It’s hard to beat a person who never gives up”  -- Babe Ruth

Let me know how you run your sales business?  I try to learn a new technique every day….you should too

Sunday, February 23, 2014

What Makes a Good Vendor?

Having worked in Channel Sales for 20+ years, I have had many varied experiences with my Channel Partners.  I have seen people produce many, many thousands of dollars in sales, consistently year after year and make tons of money with my programs.  I have also seen the opposite end of the scale, Channel Partners who sign a marketing agreement and either never produce a single sale, or close but a few sales over the years.

So what is it in a Channel Sales group that drives an “Independent Sales Agent” to use one supplier over another?  I have my ideas which I try to run with faithfully with my team of Agents, but I’m really curious what you think?

The most important item I have found over the years, required to even get an Agent on board, is a good, meaningful Product.  Without a marketable product, there’s no reason to sign an agency agreement in the first place.  So let’s assume for this discussion we have a great product…….
A good Channel Team will drive more sales

After product, IMO, Responsiveness is the next most important reason to choose one supplier over another.  If an Agent sends in a quote request, and has it returned within the same day, they have a  GREAT Supplier to work with.  As the time to return a quote extends itself, it exponentially reduces the opportunity to close a sale.  I’ve heard of sales agents waiting days to get sales quotes, only to be told when they do present it to the customer, the prospect has already selected another vendor and has an install date scheduled……..ouch!

(As this is my #1 important trait, for the record, my team at Granite Telecom turns simple, non-complex quotes around in 24 hours or less)

Relationship is a vital cog in any partnership.  I try to be as involved in my agents sales efforts as possible and do my best to contact them at a minimum, once every 3 weeks by phone or email, with in person visits every 6 months.  Covering the entire United States and Canada, visiting even this often is a challenge.  For more regional reps, a monthly stop by would be great to cultivate the relationship with your Channel Partner.

Customer Experience or Service runs a close 4th.  If your company can provide a top notch customer experience to the sales agent’s customers, you’ll have a better retention rate, meaning long term residuals, which is the name of the game in agency sales.

I have loads of other components I think fit in somewhere, just not sure where to list them?  There’s “financial stability of your company”, “price”, “sales ability”, “promotions”, “SPIF’s”, “commissions”, “flexibility” and many more……

I’d enjoy hearing your thoughts on how these components line up when you’re choosing a supplier…..maybe all of my fellow Channel Managers can learn a thing or two from our sales agents?

Sunday, February 16, 2014

How Long Should You Wait on Hold?

How Long Should You Wait on Hold?

I hear the comments every day…..”You won’t believe what happened to me yesterday!”   …. “I waited almost 40 minutes to get through” ….”You’d think they’d hire more people to answer the phones”….” I can’t believe I waited that long only to get transferred”…”That’s the last time. I’m moving my business”.....… and so on.

Hold times can last up to 13 minutes
Granted, working in the communications industry, I might be exposed to more of the complaints than the average worker but it is certainly a sore spot when someone has a poor experience with a company’s customer service organization.

We’ve all made that dreaded call during our lunch hour to try and ask a question about something, maybe your cell phone, your cable bill, insurance bill, or even in the worst cases, the calls to file for unemployment benefits or Cobra insurance coverage.  I personally have had loads of these experiences, with some hold times exceeding an hour.  And that is FRUSTRATING.

Take a look at a couple of these examples of hold times from CBC News…..

      1.   Continental Airlines, 13 minutes
2. Air Canada, 10 minutes
3. IRS (Personal), 9 minutes
4. Amtrak, 9 minutes
5. AT&T Customer Service (General), 8 minutes
6. Delta Air Lines, 7 minutes
7. Southwest Airlines, 7 minutes
8. JetBlue Airways, 6 minutes
9. ACE Hardware, 6 minutes
10. AARP Healthcare, 5 minutes

Shocking, huh?  Not really.  I actually would argue that the time to get a resolution is actually longer.  How many times do you get transferred and put back into the queue?  Something to think about?

We each have tolerances in our business in order to balance operating costs with customer satisfaction.  The discussion here is what level of hold time are you willing to accept before you start losing customers?  And as hold time goes up, you WILL LOSE customers.  That’s a fact.

I have seen many statistics pop up over the years to measure hold time. “ATA” or “Average Time of Answer”, “AHT” or “Average Hold Time”, “TIQ” or “Time in Queue” are just a few that come to mind.  I actually use this statistic as a major selling point.  My feeling is providing a service with little or no hold time presents a professional solution and portrays a service orientated company.  If the operations of a firm are designed around short hold times, it means the company cares about its customers and will go to any means necessary to deliver a first class customer experience.  This is the type of company where I want my business to go.

Where do you put your business and why?  Do you think hold time affects customer retention rates?  Let’s find out what we all think…….

…….And just for the record, my company, Granite Telecommunications, answers all  customer service calls with a live person on average in less than 8 seconds 24x7x365……..