You Have to Know What You Know!

Sales Graph 2

Since 1998 I have been writing about focusing on the customer. I have attempted to be funny at times. I have told some embarrassing stories and I have allowed myself to be the butt of the joke. I have written some excerpts that are more serious in tone and I have jabbed at local establishments and utilities. I have taken a wide path in my attempt to point out stellar client service.

I believe I would be accurate to say that each of the installments preach the same sermon. They all talk about exceeding client expectations and going the extra mile to make them happy. They are a call to action of sorts rooted in the belief that you can call on some inner conscience and expect more of yourself.

I have just finished rereading “First Break All the Rules.” It is an older business book that has recently been re-released. I picked up several copies and plan to share them with friends and colleagues.

The author of this book disagrees with me. He states that our brains are wired with specific passions and interests from a very early age. Heredity is a factor but the overwhelming influence is our environment. I will attempt to explain this in the next few paragraphs.

The human brain is equipped with billions of neurons. Each one of these neurons is capable of tens of thousands of connections with every other neuron. The ability to process data or to connect impulses (synapses) is incalculable. There isn’t a computer bank in the world that can come close to the most simple minded human brain.

When we are born everything is new. Our senses hear, see, feel, smell and taste more than our brains can process. It is sensory overload. Our minds cannot deal with everything we experience so we quickly determine what matters and what doesn’t. We screen out “background noise.” We censor the stimuli that enter our brain. We decide what matters.

These decisions cause us to concentrate our connections between specific neurons. We don’t waste (or invest) synapses by connecting to neurons that we don’t value. Instead we make millions of connections between areas that we have decided are important. We build “super highways” in our brain creating areas of passion and talent.

By the time we are a few months old our inclinations are already being formed. These areas of focus become who we are. Other areas (neurons) are less connected if connected at all. They don’t develop in our specific case.

The reason I mention all of this is because it suggests that we can’t change our focus. If we are inclined to be laid back, we are going to be laid back. Pressure from a spouse to “get interested” isn’t going to change a thing. It can’t. You don’t have that connection.

I have seen this in my own house. I have two kids. They were raised in the same environment but thanks to their gender, they were exposed to different things. They manage life differently.

My daughter had to win. Motivating her was easy. You explained what behavior would deliver the results she wanted. If it was important to her, she would make it happen. All you had to do was provide transportation and access to the tools.

Motivating my son was more difficult. The same things didn’t work.  had to call on his conscience or make him feel guilty to get results. He is smart as a tack and extremely generous. He just reacts different and values different things.

Now what in the world does all of this have to do with our industry and satisfying customers? It has everything to do with it. We can’t win as professionals if we don’t understand. Let me explain.

People that don’t care about customers can’t be taught to care. Let me say that again. People that don’t care about customers can’t be taught to care. They can be taught to repeat phrases. They can be taught the right answers. They just can’t be taught to be passionate about them or to make them central to how they behave. They can’t learn a sense of urgency.

Managers…ask yourself this…how many employees have you really been able to change during your career? I’m not talking about teaching. I’m talking about changing. How many lazy people have you converted to energetic? How many intense people have you converted to laid back? How many reckless people have you converted to cautious? Scary…huh?

Salesreps, if you’re working with a CSR that is indifferent…guess what…they always will be. If you’re working with someone that is sloppy, they always will be. If you’re working with someone that is grumpy, they aren’t going to become a bubbling bundle of joy. It goes on and on for department after department.

Now this doesn’t mean these people are bad. Dedicated employees come in all shapes and sizes. Companies need people that know how to count and love doing it. We need people that are wild about computers. We need people that love solving problems of all different shapes and sizes.

What we don’t need is the wrong person in the wrong job. I can’t put my steering wheel where my front-right tire is supposed to be and drive my car. I need both parts. I just need them in the right place.

Managers, think about this as you look at your staff. Think about this as you make hiring decisions. It will be better if we pick the right person in the beginning and don’t try to convert them after the fact. You can’t teach passion and quality.

Sales reps…answer these questions about yourselves. Selling isn’t picking up orders. Selling is convincing the client to buy. It isn’t lowering prices and it isn’t saying yes unless both parties benefit. Do you believe this? If not, you’re in the wrong job.

Client service…ask yourselves if you’re happy. If you aren’t, you might be in the wrong area. The title of the department says it all. If you aren’t interested in doing that then you are going to become increasingly unhappy.

Once I worked with an employee who publicly exclaimed that if she was required to talk to customers she would quit. She worked in the customer service department. We required it and she did indeed quit.

Was this her fault? Partly. It was our fault too, however. We decided that people that don’t like clients were ok for the customer service department.

Our industry delivers a valuable service. We have to make it easy for our customers, however. We can’t lower our costs while improving our processes and value with the wrong people in the wrong jobs. It’s on us to hire better and make the right internal assignments. Our clients will reward us with work and our employees will reward us with successful products.




A Seat at the table – Marketing Belongs

leadership-w_shadowMarketing’s seat at the executive table has long been up for debate. The past 20-plus years have been dominated by the insatiable desire for short-term profits and immediate gratification, and financial executives and their corresponding metrics sat at the head of the table.

As technology and competition push us down the slide of commoditization, the idea of marketing seems to be gaining some popularity. Apparently, understanding and connecting with others and propelling them to a better place has some merit. In other words, successful brands tend to lose focus on a much bigger picture with greater purpose than themselves.

While a marketing mentality is easy to talk about, executing on it proves difficult. There are those who are quick to exploit internal issues and create division where there should be teamwork and chemistry. The fact is that we need less talk and more doing; fewer characters and more character; less short-term and more long-term; less finance and more marketing. The day has arrived when talking about marketing no longer holds water. We have to commit to it.

Marketing minds will rule the future, because having a relationship with a community is the only sustainable advantage. And while that may sound a bit like a broken record, it’s a tune that we will gladly keep singing.

We find ourselves in a marketer’s landscape. Our cover article in Connect Magazine, “The Connection Age,” details the death if the industrial age and why, along with it, the industrialist mindset must be discarded. The article demonstrates how “The Connection Age” demands a new kind of thinking.

As marketers know, getting over a first impression is hard, but it can be done with great connection and a relentless focus on the client. Marketers can show us how. Let’s adjust our thinking, embrace the new age and enjoy our Seat at the table.

If you would like a copy of Connect Magazine or would like a free subscription, let me know.  I’ll make sure it happens.

Don’t Shoot Your Food! – A Sales and Marketing Lesson Learned from John Wayne

Don’t Shoot Your Food! – A Marketing Lesson Learned from John Wayne

Don’t Shoot Your Food! – A Sales and Marketing Lesson Learned from John Wayne

Even the most experienced Salespeople can forget where their bread is buttered.

I watched an old movie this weekend, Rooster Cogburn and The Lady. Maybe you have seen this one. It stars John Wayne and Kathryn Hepburn. It is safe, won’t offend and is full of funny banter between the two stars.

About halfway through the movie, John Wayne’s character (Rooster) gets drunk. He begins taking target practice at something known as corn-dodgers. They are food of some kind he keeps stored in a sack. As a friend throws them in the air, he shoots at each piece.

Kathryn Hepburn (The Lady) plays the daughter of a murdered preacher. She finds his behavior disgusting and tries to stop the shooting and drinking. John Wayne responds with an answer that seems logical only to him. Finally Ms. Hepburn says, “Marshall… alcohol has made you stupid. You are shooting at your food.” Even the drunken Marshall can see this is absurd behavior.

Now…we do this don’t we? I’m guilty too. Every time we show our disgust to a client, we are shooting at our food. Every time we fail to cooperate, we are shooting at our food. Do we allow our service providers to shoot at us? I bet we don’t allow it for long. Neither will our customers.

As an older salesperson, it is very hard for me. I remember customers that were experts. I remember big differences in quality and service from printers. I remember plenty of business to go around and clients that were grateful and loyal. It is difficult for me to adjust to the new marketplace. It is full of people that don’t know I’m a genius. I have to sell all over again. I had rather take shots at my food.

From what I hear in the marketplace, I’m not alone. I am frequently disturbed when I hear about lectures given to customers. I wonder how they feel when they hang up the phone. Do they feel enlightened or abused? Does our condescending tone cause them to share our name with others? If so, what context is it shared in? I wonder.

The same thing goes for production employees. How do they see each order or estimate? Do they appreciate the opportunity or do they go into “guarding the end zone” mode? Are they loading their guns so they can shoot at their food too?

Now I’m sure this seems silly, but it really isn’t. Our work is identical to most competitors in the eye of the marketplace. They can only evaluate price and how we make them feel. They want to hear something that makes them comfortable.

Now take this from an old dog that has run off more customers than most of you have. If you resent your customer you are about to fail. If you look for problems instead of solutions, you need to be an accountant. If you sell or accept instructions like a hockey goalie, you will sell 10% as much as the guy that is fun and easy to work with.

Don’t shoot your food. Not one of us is on the payroll because of our charm, brains or looks. We are here to write orders. We can’t do that if our customers avoid dialing our number because we might make them feel foolish.

Every question from your customers and prospects is an opportunity to show you can be helpful. And it starts with showing that you are listening. Their questions can lead to further conversation and those careful conversations can lead to sales.

Kathryn Hepburn was right. Shooting your food is stupid!

So that’s my sales tip for the day. What’s a lesson you’ve learned from listening to your customers lately?