Posted on

Lisbiz Strategies: Stop breaking promises, disappointing customers

April 24/May 1, 2017: Volume 31, Issue 23

By Lisbeth Calandrino

 

Lisbeth CalandrinoEmployees make promises to customers they can’t keep. When they do this it kills their relationship with the customer.

I recently read a story about a man who refused to break a promise to his wife to buy a bigger house within 10 years. When the time was up, he just didn’t have the money. To avoid disappointing her, he put his business in a precarious position to obtain the needed financing. After all, a promise is a promise.

Life happens, we can’t always do what we intend. We promise our children that when they’re ready to go to college we’ll be there to pay the fare. But sometimes we can’t follow through. Maybe we wouldn’t have made the promise, if we had thought it out.

Sounds a bit like a plot to a crime movie, doesn’t it? (“I just had to steal the money to buy the car I promised.”)

Instead of the promise being just a promise, it often reflects the relationship. You can just hear someone in the background wailing, “But you promised. Why can’t you?”

Do you remember how you felt when you were a child? When I was a kid, my mom promised to take me to New York City to visit my cousins. Unfortunately, the morning we were supposed to leave I woke up covered with the measles rash. I cried and screamed, “You promised we could go.” Mom said it didn’t matter what she promised, the measles was a deal breaker.

No matter what she said, I couldn’t understand why the measles had anything to do with why we weren’t going. I believed a promise is a promise, which meant promises were not to be broken.

In reality, breaking a promise can damage our integrity and ultimately determines whether people will continue to trust us. Customer service is about keeping your word.

Here are five ways to stop breaking promises.

Stop making promises. Simply put, just learn to say no. We often promise because we’re worrying about what others will think of us. It seemed like a good idea when the promise was made, but now we’re over extended and can’t keep all of the promises we’ve made. Sometimes you have to say no; it’s better than promising what you can’t deliver.

Don’t agree to everything. Be very clear to what you’ve agreed to and how the promise will be kept. It’s likely your customer will only hear the part about how you’re going to fix the problem. When it comes to the conditions, it’s doubtful they will listen.

Put it in writing. When dealing with an unhappy customer, are you writing down what you intend to do and ask the customer to sign it?

If things aren’t going to work out, call early. When we have to deliver bad news, we often wait until the last minute. Unfortunately, this is when it’s the most painful for everyone involved. It’s just as hard to deliver bad news as it is to listen to it. Get bad news out of the way.

The best thing to do is turn our promises into goals. Goals are promises with accountability. A promise can make a goal even stronger, but without accountability it’s not likely to happen. If you can’t figure out how to keep your promises you will be in big trouble with yourself and the customer. Turning promises into goals will help you find the way to make them happen. Once you turn your promises into goals, you can define the steps to reach your destination. This will make it clearer for you and the customer.

Posted on

Lisbiz strategies: Lessons learned from Wells Fargo fiasco

September 12/19, 2016: Volume 31, Number 7

By Lisbeth Calandrino

Screen Shot 2016-08-29 at 3.56.12 PMBy now we’ve all heard about Wells Fargo and its fraudulent bank practices that have recently come to light. Apparently, thousands of employees—over the course of several months—opened up bank accounts or credit cards without the customer’s knowledge. Investigators say it was the result of overambitious employees who were under pressure to meet lofty sales goals.

It may seem preposterous unless you’ve asked your bank representative if he gets paid when he opens up a new account. I remember taking out an IRA at a branch that I rarely did business with and getting a call from the place where I usually bank. My “relationship manager” was disturbed that I didn’t go to him first. I asked how much he lost on the transaction but he passed on the question.

As the trial in the George Washington Bridge lane-closing scandal opens, again we ask the same question: Do these things take place without knowledge of the CIC (Chief in Charge), or do employees take it into their own hands to cause serious trouble? I doubt it would happen in your business.

Let’s face it: Employees rarely do anything, especially if it has to do with money, without the approval from the owner or manager. Although Wells Fargo is back-peddling, saying, “What happened doesn’t coincide with their values,” the deed has been done. The question we should ask ourselves is who is responsible for my business?

If you look a little further into Wells Fargo, you will see that employees had monthly sales targets they were required to meet as a way for them to earn bonuses. According to a former Pacific Northwest branch manager, meetings are held each morning to make sure everyone is committed to 120% of the daily quotas. Apparently it doesn’t matter how you do it.

What does this mean to your business? It could mean many things. For instance, how do you determine your commission structure? Does it make it almost impossible for your salespeople to earn a living forcing them to sell with little concern for the customer? We all say the customer is the most important concern of your business, but are they? Do you unthinkingly ask employees to do things that might put your business in a precarious position?

Do your managers review your weekly goals and then work to help the salespeople be better salespeople, or do they tell them to just get the money at the door? Unless times have changed, this is not unheard of. Salespeople often get little training on being better with the customer as they have to push to make their quotas. In many places it’s a very unhealthy atmosphere. The bottom line is the business eventually suffers by scaring customers away. Don’t misinterpret what I’m saying; you must have goals and quotas but not at the expense of your customers. If your salespeople aren’t good at meeting their quotas, I recommend spending time on teaching them how to build better relationships with customers rather than just having them push harder. Being overly aggressive just drives customers out the door and tells others not to do business with you.

This is a good time to review your company values. In fact, this is something you should be doing at every meeting. When there is a difficult or conflicting encounter with a customer, one’s value system should win out. Not adhering to this can cause a huge financial loss to your company as well as other negative repercussions.

At the end of the day, the objective should be to do the right thing—whether you’re selling flooring or financial services.

Posted on

LisBiz Strategies: What I’ve learned from the big boxes

Jan 18/25; Volume 30/Number 15

By Lisbeth Calandrino

Screen Shot 2016-01-18 at 1.22.22 PMMany of you know I conduct market research for various companies around the holidays every year. Typically, this means I demonstrate a new product at a supermarket opening or other large store event. My job is to be friendly and get the sale.

The companies I work for do business with all kinds of manufacturers, including kitchen products, household appliances, etc. If you’re visiting Walmart or Bed Bath & Beyond, or attending a car show, it’s likely the people doing the demonstration are hired by these companies. They are looking for outgoing, friendly people who connect well with consumers. They also provide training on the product in addition to sales.

Most of the product demonstrations I do are in the big box stores. I have been doing this since 2008 and it’s been very eye opening. My time spent at the big boxes has allowed me to observe and analyze their ways. Following are some opportunities smaller retailers can capitalize on.

Associates should always have an answer or know where to find the answer. I’m always amazed at the sales associates who work at Bed, Bath & Beyond; they can always either find the product or the person with the answer. They may have to ask three or four people, but they will ultimately get the answer. And the managers are always available to answer questions.

The most effective sales associates are the ones who stop to turn and look directly at the customer before they hunt down the item in question. This makes the customer feel welcome and understood. The other associates turn around and head toward the shelves with the customer in tow. It seems extremely impersonal.

Make suggestions and recommend add-ons to your customers. When I’m working, I’m there to sell product. If I think a customer needs to buy something else, I explain why it is better for her. Customers are always thankful and most times take your opinions into account before choosing the right product. Your experience with products is very important to them because as a salesperson, you know what works and what doesn’t. It is always better to share your knowledge with the customer because I can see they place high value on experience and expertise. Don’t forget to say it with conviction.

Excellent sales associates often listen first and then repeat the customer’s request. This prevents any miscommunication. You wouldn’t believe how many people don’t actually know what the customer asked for. This is probably something you already know but might not place enough emphasis on.

If the customer asks for a cheaper price, most associates can’t give it to them, but what they can do is suggest a cheaper product. This is where many associates tend to fail. Most places are so short staffed the associates barely have time to think, and they miss out on significant opportunities.

Don’t teach your employees to just be efficient, teach them to be friendly and knowledgeable about what other customers are buying and why it works.

I have also noticed associates shaking hands with customers or touching their arms. This is a very interesting piece of body language. I notice that each time I sell a product I either shake hands with the customer or put my hand on her arm with a smile.

Making sales comes down to connecting with customers. Be sure to treat your employees with respect as they may recommend their friends to your store. Some business owners forget their employees are customers and will shop where they are well-treated. This is an opportunity many businesses overlook. I always tell my friends where I’m working and where I think they should shop.

 

Posted on

Lisbiz Strategies: Get your customers off the ‘be back’ bus

November 9/16; Volume 30/Number 11

By Lisbeth Calandrino

Screen Shot 2015-11-12 at 4.59.36 PMSeveral months ago, I wrote an article called “Who is driving your ‘be back’ bus?” (FCNews Aug. 17/24) describing the routine in which customers say they will be back, but never make a purchase.

While I was at a conference in Nashville, I met Gary Gray, store manager for Mill Creek Carpet & Tile in Tulsa, Okla., who told me he liked the article and uses it for training. Gray is very astute and thorough in his training. It is obvious he knows what motivates people. I spoke with him about what he gained from it and asked if he had any concerns.

“How do you know if the salesperson really did everything he could to sell the customer and follow up?” Gary asked. “Unless you are selling the customer, you have to trust that the salesperson is building a rapport and qualifying her; once a customer is gone, most likely she is gone for good.”

I understand Gary’s fears, particularly after reading the mystery shopping reports on the flooring industry. Out of all the shoppers interviewed, less than 4% felt they were properly qualified. If you can’t qualify a customer, how can you sell her the right product?

That is why it is important to find out the needs of the customer. If you can’t show her the right products, she will continue to shop. And if you’ve done a good job schooling her, she is ready to buy from your competition.

We’ve all told a salesperson, “I’ll be back,” and then ran out the door. Unless you really weren’t serious about buying (which is not often the case in flooring), you left because you didn’t feel confident about the salesperson’s knowledge or you simply didn’t like him.

Once Gary thought about the logistics in terms of numbers, he realized how he could profit enormously from bringing back customers. “We took a look at the entire process. If we have 30 salespeople and they each bring back two customers per month, it will have an important impact on our sales volume and each store’s profit, as well as increasing commissions. Salespeople must understand the numbers and the value of each customer.”

“I’ll be back” should be treated like any other objection. It is the salesperson’s opportunity to get to the bottom of an objection that hasn’t been expressed. The salesperson should ask the customer in a non-threatening way if she would like to make another appointment and when she does, she will be back.

What does “I’ll be back” really mean? You won’t know unless you ask the customer. It reminds me of my friend who told me she went on a great date and the guy said he would call. No, she didn’t ask when or try to close him on the spot. He hasn’t called, and she’s making up stories as to what he really meant. Like her, salespeople would rather let the customer walk out the door and pretend they have a relationship that doesn’t exist. If there really was a relationship, the customer would have shared her concerns.

If the customer leaves without a commitment on some level, there is no relationship. Why would you waste all of that time and send her off to your competitor who will ask for the sale? Unless the salesperson is diligent and straightforward, no one will ever know what the customer is thinking.

Consider “I’ll be back” as an objection that just needs a little more clarification. It’s an objection that can be drilled down by the salesperson to uncover the customer’s real concerns.

Everyone who comes into your store is an opportunity to create a relationship and make a sale. Without a relationship, there won’t be a sale. Salespeople shouldn’t be afraid to ask questions and build that positive relationship.

Posted on

LisBiz strategies: Is your competition outsmarting you?

October 26/November 2; Volume 30/Number 10

By Lisbeth Calandrino

Screen Shot 2015-10-30 at 4.50.45 PMMost of us spend little time looking at our competitors’ stores or their brands. Instead, we listen to what our customers say about them and are calmed by their complaints. But don’t get lulled into thinking these customers won’t buy from your competition. The customer who complains about your competitor and then tells you she will be back may in fact be returning to your competitor for a second look. Maybe your store is the one that looks lame in comparison.

I consider any flooring store that has been in business for a number of years and has shown stability in the marketplace to be your competition. The business that steals customers by selling below wholesale is not a competitor; this business is a fool. Eventually, selling below wholesale will only attract cheap customers. The retail landscape is littered with dead bodies that have subscribed to this strategy in the past.

The more successful we become, the less likely we are to review our competitors. In the beginning we look for ideas that we can use to help us grow our own businesses. But once we feel like we’ve made it, we stop looking; we now think we set the standard for our industry. Because of this philosophy, we believe we are untouchable.

Consider that Circuit City was originally credited with starting the electronics superstore and had 600 stores before its close in 2008. It could never out price Best Buy and eventually became history. As we’ve often heard, neither success nor failure are guaranteed.

You don’t have to shop your competitor weekly, but here are some things you can do:

  1. Sign up for your competitors’ mailing lists. After a few months you’ll know what they are selling and for how much. Once you get the scoop, rather than sell the same product for less, just don’t sell it. I know a successful flooring retailer who cut out all of the products his competitors carry and now only sells high end products that aren’t well known. He says it’s better than trying to compete on price and it works.
  2. Sign up for Google Alerts. What are the trends in your industry and what is happening in other industries? Become a lifelong learner and stay up to date. Who knows more about trends and people than Google? If it’s out there, Google will be reporting it.
  3. Keep up with technology. Consider what happened between Kmart and Wal-Mart. Both opened in 1962 and by 1963, Kmart had 62 stores while Sam Walton was opening his second location. From the beginning, Walton invested in technology. He tracked everything about Kmart, forged his own strategies and eventually outsmarted his competitor.

Trends in technology continue to determine business success. If you don’t keep up with it, you are giving the advantage to your competitors. Find out what your competitors do and see how it can help you. Are their technologies easier to use? What are the difficulties? What are they doing that would improve your operation?

  1. Stop wasting your emails. Many business owners tell me they don’t know if they should ask for an email address because they feel it is intrusive. It reminds me of the 1980s when retailers felt they shouldn’t ask for a customer’s phone number.

Every business has a list of sold customers. But sold customers are worthless if they are kept in your computer or, even worse, on a paper invoice. It’s impossible to keep up with your competitors if you don’t keep up with your customers. Smart retailers are working with companies that can provide them with quality written emails as well as an automated way of sending them out to past customers.

Posted on

LisBiz Strategies: Content marketing- The present and future

October 12/19; Volume 30/Number 8

By Lisbeth Calandrino

Screen Shot 2015-09-03 at 4.36.08 PMWe know that consumers are reading less and less of traditional advertising. Even the most staunch newspaper readers are turning to online information. I pick up newspapers when I’m traveling, but I only glance through them. By the time I get the newspaper, the news is old. But if I don’t read the ads, how will I stay up-to-date with what’s going on in the marketplace?

To keep in touch, smart businesses give consumers something for free in exchange for their email addresses. Unless you put me in your database, how can you send me any content or offers?

But how many advertisers actually do this?

Here is where content marketing comes in. Content marketing focuses on creating and sending out relevant messages to a particular group of customers. It is the latest buzz word—a new twist on a very old concept. It’s staying in touch with your customers by creating and distributing valuable and important information that makes their lives better. The key is to keep them interested in you and your products so they remember you. It’s like building friendships.

Speaking of friendships, a woman in my Pilates class told me she knows how to be a good friend. She has been trying to organize a dinner for four people for the past two months. All of us are interested in dinner, but of course we’re all too busy. I started thinking; she continually contacts us, sends suggestions for choosing a date and invites us out for coffee after class. She is very nice and caring. She does know how to be a good friend. She never pushes but is always there.

Content marketing is a way for you to be a good friend to your customer.

Customers are pulled in many different directions and seem to always be short on time. If you want them to remember you, you have to keep them close. The easiest way to keep in touch is through segmented email marketing with different messages geared toward different types of customers. Using a “one size fits all” motto doesn’t work anymore.

A year ago I didn’t know anything about content marketing. I thought I had to create all of the content and frankly, like you, I was too busy. I had tried Constant Contact, an online marketing tool that sends out messages for you automatically, but I was writing my own content and not being very consistent. After a while I had run out of things to say. Can you believe that?

Then I met Greg Incardona, one of the creators of Follow Your Customer. When I told him our industry needed a follow-up system with messages created specifically for flooring customers, he told me his company had plenty of content ready to be customized. Once this is done, Follow Your Customer automatically sends it out with the appropriate back links for your website or social media platforms.

After I joined, we started using email marketing programs for the flooring industry. We can design a customized one-year program for your entire customer base or we can target past customers, potential customers, etc. All I need is your database; I’m your personal marketing manager.

We don’t bombard customers with advertisements or promotional information; instead we send interesting and valuable content that continues to build trust.

Visit followyourcustomer.com to sign up for a free webinar.

Posted on

LisBiz Strategies: Eight mistakes that will kill your business

September 14/21; Volume 30/Number 7

By Lisbeth Calandrino

Screen Shot 2015-09-03 at 4.36.08 PMIf you don’t treat your customers the right way, it will kill your business. Flooring dealers tend to make assumptions about customers that end up dramatically hurting their businesses. If you or your staff are guilty of any of the following mistakes, it would be wise to correct them.

  1. “One size fits all” in email marketing. This does not work. In fact, it never did. Isn’t that what newspapers are for? Today, email marketing requires sophisticated segmentation of different customers who have different needs.
  2. Treating some customers better than others. Years ago you might have been able to get away with this, but not today. These days, with social media ruling the universe, it would be wise to treat each customer as if she mattered. A customer can trash your business over a missing invoice if she chooses to do so.
  3. Thinking every customer is a customer for life. Many businesses believe the customer will never forget them. Pleasing the customer doesn’t get you many brownie points because it is simply expected. You will have to go out of your way if you want her to remember you.
  4. “Out of sight, out of mind.” Or, the customer who has been sold doesn’t matter anymore. Although more than 85% of most business comes from referrals, flooring dealers do little to make them happen. Think about how much you have on your mind and the decisions you make during the day; do you have time to remember every salesperson you run into? Be proactive in getting referrals.
  5. Waiting days to settle a claim or customer service issue. This is something you cannot overlook. You have plenty of competition, so you cannot afford to ignore an unhappy customer. If you aren’t sure if you have an outstanding complaint, perform a Google search for your business and see what shows up.
  6. Believing you shouldn’t invest money in social media. Many businesses have a social media presence but do little with it. They think that having a Facebook page is the end of it. In reality, having a Facebook page is just the beginning; you have to work at it to make sure it pays off. Getting “likes” is not enough; you need comments and interactions with your customers if you’re going to get those valued referrals. “Likes” don’t translate to referrals, but a customer who brags about your product and service will. Your 14-year-old granddaughter may be able to help build a Facebook page, but it’s doubtful she can build a marketing plan around it.
  7. Thinking LinkedIn doesn’t matter to your business. LinkedIn is the professional way to network. Building your connections and writing a blog can be very useful, as well. Write about buying product and the best ways to go about it. This will establish you and your employees as the experts in your field. Build profiles for your employees and teach them how to build a network; you never know when a connection will lead you to a profitable job.
  8. Not following up with sold customers. Many salespeople forget about a customer once she is sold. Even though they have already bought from you, these customers can also generate more profit if they decide to work on more rooms in their homes. I suggest sending personal, handwritten notes to thank your customers and stay relevant.

 

Posted on

LisBiz Strategies: Email marketing still works

Aug. 3/10; Volume 30/Number 4

By Lisbeth Calandrino

Screen Shot 2015-07-10 at 11.33.29 AMSome would have you believe that email marketing is dead and has been replaced by social media, but this is not so. According to McKinsey & Co., an American management and consulting firm, email marketing is 40 times more efficient than Facebook and Twitter combined.

The real problem seems to be obtaining customers’ email addresses. Instead of just asking for their email addresses, explain that you will be sending them valuable information and special offers, inviting them to store events and sharing useful design and product information. Be sure to tell them you will not share or sell their email addresses to anyone. According to a study by Marketing Sherpa, more than 60% of consumers said they would be more likely to give out their email addresses if they knew their information wouldn’t be shared with other companies.

Most of the retailers I talk to are afraid of contacting their customers too much. They say, “What if they get mad at me?” Of course, if you continue to send them advertisements for sales and discounts, it’s likely they will stop reading your emails. Instead, send them useful information such as tips for taking care of the products they bought or decorating ideas. Your email will appear more like a magazine and less like an ad. No matter how many times you contact your customers, you must have the right message. If the only time you contact them is when you need to make cash, it’s likely they will lose interest.

The truth is if you don’t stay in touch with your customers they will forget you. The average business loses 5% to 10% of its customers yearly and don’t realize it. If you’re not in touch with them, how will you know how you can get them back? If you stay in contact with the customer and they choose to “opt out,” you will know it and have an opportunity to reach out to them.

According to “Email Frequency Matters,” a research study conducted last month, the average subscriber receives more than six emails each day, 53% of which are promotional. If you stop sending emails, customers will not recognize your brand or your message; if you send them inconsistently, it becomes annoying. If you’re going to send emails, the trick is to be consistent.

Email marketing generates a significant ROI for every dollar spent. This is due in part to the fact that more customers are engaging via email. Direct Marketing Research concluded that 93% of email users have opt-in relationships with a consumer brand, in contrast to 15% on Facebook.

So why should you use email marketing? It is a simple and cheap way to keep your customers informed. Consumers actively seek out email marketing campaigns from their favorite brands and local stores. I have three preferred shops: Staples, Bed, Bath & Beyond and White House | Black Market. When I get the coupons, I always try to figure out if I can use them. I like knowing when they have sales and helpful information concerning fashion or my business.

Email marketing is also a way to deliver useful content to your customers. If you don’t send it to them, someone else will. If you include a video in your email campaign, it adds zip and keeps your name top-of-mind for consumers. Having good email content moves the conversation about your business to a more personal level—that level is an inbox. If your voice is distinct and your message delivers quality and uplifting content, you will be inspiring referrals and word of mouth.

For more information, read my blog, “Watch how you respond to those ‘opt-out’ messages,” at binged.it/1gh62Ju.

 

Posted on

LisBiz Strategies: Great salespeople don’t make good managers

May 25/June 1, 2015; Volume 29/Number 4

By Lisbeth Calandrino

Screen Shot 2015-05-29 at 3.43.44 PMWhy do businesses put so much time and effort into training salespeople and not managers? It seems as soon as salespeople really hit their numbers, they get a promotion to sales manager. This is often the kiss of death because good salespeople don’t usually make good sales managers. In fact, they are notorious for being bad managers.

Why? Managing is an altogether different skill.

Being an effective manager requires a different set of skills that are not required as a salesperson. For example, great salespeople tend to have big egos; if they are going to manage they need to leave their egos at the door. Being a manager means transitioning from stardom to going behind the scenes.

A smart business owner should consider hiring someone who has experience as a manager and also has a good track record—someone who is proven to have the ability to “move the needle.” Promoting from within also has its benefits; you know the person can be trusted and he already subscribes to the culture of your company. Here are a few ways to turn a good salesperson into a great manager:

  1. Develop a job description that encompasses what you want done. Many times managers are just asked to “manage” like managing is in their blood. This is typically not the case; being first is in their blood and managing means taking a back- seat to your great players.
  2. Teach them good listening and questioning skills. If they can’t listen and ask questions, they won’t be able to understand what motivates their salespeople.
  3. Build goals for salespeople and regularly monitor them. People get better when goals are set, outcomes are measured and coaching is put in place. The needle moves when people know what’s expected and are trained on necessary skills.
  4. Educate and train sales managers to have good problem-solving skills. Why don’t salespeople improve? It’s not because they don’t know what they need to do; they just don’t do it. These behaviors are difficult to deal with for managers who may not have the necessary skills to determine and correct the problem.
  5. Spend money on teaching communication skills. There are simple testing mechanisms that can profile individual learning styles. Flexibility is one of the key points to success.
  6. Sales managers must live what they teach. Tom Hopkins, expert on training managers and salespeople, said, “If they don’t live what they teach, they will lose the respect of their salespeople.” They must be able to “walk the talk.”
  7. Help develop their leadership styles. Everyone leads differently and everyone learns differently. This is critical for sales managers; they must understand their own differences and those of the people around them.
  8. Sales managers must know how to be price protective. If selling is about dropping prices, you don’t really need a manager. A manager must understand sales difficulties when “I’ve got to drop this price to sell it” is the cry. If product can’t be sold at the marked prices, then one or two problems likely exist: Either the salesperson doesn’t understand how to use value to sell products or prices are too high.
  9. Managers should be masters of change and filled with enthusiasm. The sales manager must be able to accept change and use it to move the organization forward. This will build success for your team.
  10. Reward your sales managers for improving profitability and team spirit. Major league coaches are rewarded for these skills. If you’ve got someone who is good, show him or her how much he or she matters.