In my journey as an accountant, then consultant and business mentor, one of the most common complaint I hear from business owners is that they love what they do but they hate having to do anything that sounds remotely like sales and marketing. However, if you’re going to fly your business, you must learn to how to do this. Having the best product or service in the world will not put money into your pocket. The reality is, everyone has to be selling and marketing their business. That is the only way you can win customers and grow your business. I would go so far as to say that your business success is directly related to your ability to do sales and marketing well. It’s all about winning customers for your business.
So, if you still think you can’t sell or market and you believe you will never learn how, or you don’t want to learn because you “hate” selling and marketing, then read on. I believe I can change your mind on this. It’s never been about selling and marketing. People hate being sold to. So do I. That’s why I never “sell”.
SELLING v MARKETING
Why do so many business owners freeze as soon as you tell them they have to be able to sell? Back in May 2020, I penned a blog on Marketing Today. In this blog, I want to pick up from where I left off and focus this time on selling. For those who “hate selling”, it’s a question of changing your perception on what selling really means and what you have to do to “sell”.
The Cambridge dictionary defines SELLING as the activity of making products and services available so that people buy them. It’s about converting the product into cash. but marketing is the process of meeting and satisfying the customer needs. On the other hand, MARKETING is a job that involves encouraging people to buy a product or service. Therefore, marketing consists of all those activities that are associated with product planning, pricing, promoting and distributing the product or service. In short, selling focuses on the seller needs whereas marketing concentrates on the needs of the buyer.
DON’T SELL, WE TELL
The cost of selling and marketing online is next to nothing. There are now so many social media platforms you can use, it’s never been easier to get your message out there. Herein lies the problem. Everyone else knows that. So, everybody is doing what you are doing. While it’s never been this easy to get your message out, it’s also harder to break through the noise. Can your customers hear you? Do they want to hear you?
Most of you would have already ventured down this pathway and realised that it’s not as easy as it sounds. If marketing online were easy, everybody could build a successful business. But it’s not the case. There’s more to it than meets the eye. It goes back to how you tell your story.
If you get your story right, people will listen. Because it is with story that we connect with the world. Think about what I just said. Is it as simple as telling a story? You see, your customers have a story. Their story drives them – to buy or not buy from you. Listen to their stories.
Have you ever put yourself in their shoes? What is their pain? What truly keeps them up at night? What are their desires? What is the better future they want? Your role is therefore, not to sell to them but to help them get to where they want to go. Forget about selling. People love to buy but hate to be sold. Winning customers is just about focusing on helping your potential customers buy what’s best for them. The only two things people ever buy are – Good feelings, and solutions to problems. Are you doing either of them?
BACK TO BASICS
Despite the change in the way we market moving from the old fashion face to face selling and marketing to today’s world of social media, the “old fashion” rules remain unchanged. One of the single greatest keys to long-term business success can be summed up in three simple words – QUALITY CUSTOMER SERVICE. In the old days, your customers would meet up with you and they would make a decision based on how you treat them. With online selling, they do not have that luxury anymore. That’s why customer reviews have become so important. Good old customer service still counts for A LOT! Be rude to your customers and it will be all over the internet. Referrals are still a must for any business.
Winning customers is really just about quality customer service. That’s the way it was and that’s the way it will continue. Why then, is excellent service so rare? Firstly, a lot of potential business is lost simply because employees don’t know any better and we as managers don’t take the time to show them the basics. We’ve all heard them before. Yet, we how quickly do we forget. Here’s a summary of those basics that will keep you winning customers:
- The greatest customer you’ll ever win is you, because the best salesperson is the true believer.
- The secret to winning and keeping customers is to reward them.
- Whenever you have contact with a customer, you are the company to that customer.
- It’s not enough to give the customer excellent service. You must subtly make him aware of the great service he is getting.
- Treat your customers like lifetime partners. If you start thinking about what the lifetime value of a customer is, you will very quickly learn to treat your customers like gold dust.
- To win new customers, ask the golden question: “What’s the unmet want?”
- To keep them for life, ask the platinum question: “How are we doing?” and “How can we get better?”
The bottom line is – A satisfied customer is the best sales and marketing strategy.
PUTTING IT INTO PRACTICE
When I was managing my Bed & Breakfast operation, I stuck religiously to this. My clients rewarded me with an average rating of 9.2 out of 10. In case you think I could have done – bear in mind, the big 5 star hotel rating was 8.8 to 8.9 out of 10. My little Bed & Breakfast operation was outperforming the big hotels and achieving an occupancy of 90% – 95%. This was unheard of in the hospitality industry! I found that the best way to keep my customers coming back was to be reliable, be credible, be attractive, be responsive and be empathic. “Reliable care” keeps customers coming back.
Secondly, when customers complain we have generally not empowered our employees to resolve the complaints themselves. If complains are not dealt with quickly and efficiently customers simply won’t come back. Remember that a client’s perception is always the reality. Handle it well and you can often turn a complaining customer into an advocate.
Sometimes, there’s just nothing you can do to keep the customer happy. In those situations, just accept it gracefully and move on. Another example from the Bed & Breakfast days … I had a customer who booked and requested a ground floor bedroom. I immediately contacted the customer and advised that there were no ground floor rooms available, gave her a recommendation to another colleague AND offered to cancel her booking. After refusing my offer and advising that “it’s OK … she’ll manage”, she did nothing but complain about the lack of ground floor room and promptly awarded a very low rating for her stay. Fortunately, when there is a long history of great testimonials from other guests, people ignored her comments and it did not affect the occupancy.
WHAT ARE YOU REWARDING?
If your quality of service is poor, ask the magic question: What’s being rewarded? Chances are that your employees are being rewarded for something other than taking care of the customer. Rewarding the customer is everybody’s job. Rewarding those who reward the customer is management’s job. How customers get treated is a direct reflection of how management is treating employees. To keep your team focused on rewarding the customer, find the answer to these four questions and put them to work:
- What behaviour and results do I want?
- How will I measure it?
- How will I reward it when I get it?
- How will I show them that the customer comes first?
FOLLOW UP, FOLLOW UP, FOLLOW UP
One man, R.U. Darby used this principle to make himself a fortune selling insurances. 80% of all sales require at least 5 follow-ups after the initial contact, but more than half of all salespeople give up after just one. What’s more, 92% of sales people give up before that magic 5th follow-up. Why don’t people follow up? Fear of failure and fear of rejection are two beasts that have to be tamed if you are to succeed in sales. And after the 5th “NO“, continue to follow up. The latest statistics I’ve seen now say that you need 8 touch points before someone will buy from you, with the first touch point starting with Google search.
Going forward, always make certain that every direct or indirect contact you have with them conveys useful information – not mere sales hype. How does this look in today’s world? This is not about spamming your email list with a “killer offers” or a “BUY BUY BUY” in every email. It’s about continuing to build that trust and relationship by providing value to your customers. For example, in my catering business, I will often share recipes with my customers. There’s no sales pitch. For me, winning customers is about providing as much value as I can when I connect with them. I never give a sales pitch. I don’t have to. I simply share what I love to do! The way I look at it, when someone says “no thank you” they’re simply saying, “not today”.
If you stay in contact and continue to add value and provide good information, they’ll come back when they’re ready to buy. “Out of sight, out of mind” applies when it comes to building that relationship.
USE RISK REVERSAL
When you understand human behaviour, you come to a quick realisation that people do not want to make the wrong decisions. If you can overcome the hesitation to take action by offering to guarantee their purchase and reverse the risk of buying, you’ll get a lot more business. True yesterday, true today. Especially today when you are so far removed from your customer. With the advent of online marketing, your customers are no longer just at your door. They can be thousands of miles away.
Have you noticed that virtually all online marketers now offer a “100% money back guarantee” if you are not happy with their product? Sites such as Paypal, eBay and Amazon can close your account down if you have an unhappy complaining customer anyway so you may as well offer the guarantee. You have nothing to lose. Winning customers is about keeping your integrity and removing that risk for your customers. Our products all come with this same guarantee. We believe in follow our own advice!
ALWAYS UPSELL OR DOWNSELL
When was the last time you visited McDonalds? Notice how they always offer you another product? Don’t laugh … that neat little one liner “Would you like chips with that?” adds thousands of dollars to the McDonalds bottom line. True for McDonalds, true for you. And if upselling, didn’t work, then offer a downsell! What do I mean by that? Simple. If you try to upsell and that didn’t work, offer them a product that’s too good to resist. For example, you could offer to add on another product at a substantial discount. I don’t know about you. I often fall for the downsell … What’s another $10 for another product when you have already spent, say $100.
Don’t think about this as a “upsell” or “downsell” exercise. Think of it as you trying to add value by offering them something else that is more suited to what they’re looking for at the moment. Afterall, didn’t they connect with you for a reason?
BE AWARE OF YOUR TELEPHONE MANNERS
Good telephone manner is not hard to achieve.
- Improving response time is most important. Telephone calls, unlike children, will go away if ignored. The phone should be picked up on the second ring. Research has found that the caller is already getting agitated by the fourth ring.
- The first impression customers get of your company is gained through the person to whom they are talking – the receptionist (or whoever answers the phone). At that point in time, that person is “your company”.
- A person who answers the phone should sound positive and confident. Smiles can come across in voices. Weak words like “I’ll try to put you through” don’t inspire as much confidence as those who say “One moment please … I’ll put you through”.
- People who answer the phone should introduce themselves. Callers like to know to whom they are speaking.
- Get back to basics with the old tricks of “please” and “thank you” to put people at ease. This may sound easy but in many businesses these words have vanished.
- Watch your language. I once had a client who used to take great delight with messing with the receptionist. The poor kid would say “may I ask your name please” – to which he would reply “yes, you may”. Then there would be this dead silence whilst the receptionist waited for him to give his name. He would then proceed to give the receptionist an English lesson on what it really meant when she said “may I ask your name please” !!
STATISTICS WORTH KNOWING
Do you know your figures? If not, I strongly recommend that you wise up on the latest statistics. I came across 2 interesting articles that summarises the statistics that you should be aware of – Helpscout published a guide on 75 Customer Service Facts, Quotes and Statistics and Nextiva did a blog on 100 Essential Customer Service Statistics and Trends for 2020. Both are worth reading.
According to research by the Peppers & Rogers Group,
- 60% of all customers stop dealing with a company because of what they perceive as indifference on the part of salespeople.
- 70% of customers leave a company because of poor service, which is usually attributed to a salesperson.
But get this – 80% of customers who leave described themselves as “satisfied” or “very satisfied” just before they leave. What does that tell you? It is no longer enough to just meet expectations. They want to know that you care about them. You have to stay in touch. Don’t assume that your competitors are nice and will leave your customers alone. They will be regularly bombarding your customers with offers, telling their story, building their relationship with them. This is not about selling – this is about building a relationship with your customers so that they get to know, like and trust you. If all you did was to “sell” to them, then someone else can do the same. There will be no loyalty.
My favourite statistics that I always keep to the forefront of my mind are:
- A customer is 4 times more likely to defect to a competitor if the problem is service-related than price- or product-related [Research by Bain & Company].
- For every customer complaint there are 26 other unhappy customers who have remained silent [Research by Lee Resource]
- 96% of unhappy customers don’t complain, however 91% of those will simply leave and never come back [Research by 1Financial Training services.]
- A dissatisfied customer will tell between 9-15 people about their experience. Around 13% of dissatisfied customers tell more than 20 people. Happy customers who get their issue resolved tell about 4-6 people about their experience. [Information from White House Office of Consumer Affair.]
- It takes 12 positive experiences to make up for one unresolved negative experience [“Understanding Customers” by Ruby Newell-Legner]
The following extract from Michael LeBoeuf’s book “How to Win Customers and Keep Them for Life” tells the best story I’ve come across on the importance of customer service:
I’m a nice customer. You all know me. I’m the one who never complains, no matter what kind of service I get.
I’ll go into a restaurant and sit quietly while the waiters and waitresses gossip and never bother to ask if anyone has taken my order. Sometimes a party that comes in after I did, gets my order, but I don’t complain. I just wait. And when I go to a store to buy something, I don’t throw my weight around. I try to be thoughtful of the other person. If a snooty salesperson gets upset because I want to look at several things before making up my mind, I’m just as polite as can be. I don’t believe rudeness in return is the answer.
The other day I stopped at a full service gas station and waited for almost 5 minutes before the attendant took care of me. And when he did, he spilled gas and wiped the windshield with an oily rag. But did I complain about the service? Of course not. I never kick. I never nag. I never criticise. And I would not dream of making a scene, as I’ve seen some people do in public places. I think that’s uncalled for. No, I’m the nice customer.
And I’ll tell you who else I am.
I’m the customer who never comes back!
How many “nice” customers do you get?
IT’S NOT ABOUT SELLING
Winning customers is really not about selling or marketing. It is about providing great customer service. Obviously if you have a terrible product, no amount of great customer service will overcome this. However, assuming you have a good product or service, then this works. I have never done any “selling”. What I have done is looked after my customers. I’ve always made sure that I look after their interest first, not mine.Then, as their business grew, so did mine. You can do what I did – put your customers first and everything else will fall into place without the need for you to “sell”.
Let me tell you a story from my accounting practice days. Many of my clients have told me, “I don’t understand how you do it. I know you have lots of clients. But you always make me feel that I’m the ONLY and MOST IMPORTANT client to you.” THAT is what great customer service does. Nearly 20 years after I sold my accounting firm, and having been out of the tax practice industry for all those years, I am still approached by former clients to take them back.
Zig Ziglar said, “You will get all you want in life, if you help enough other people get what they want.” That is so true. Winning customers is never about selling. It’s about understanding and being able to give your customers what they want. And the only way you can do that is if you truly know your customers.
About the Author:
Patsy Lim’s business and financial background (having qualified as a Chartered Accountant in 1980), together with her entrepreneurial spirit enables her to apply a potent blend of strong financial and accounting expertise, deep practical business experience, and entrepreneurial flair and creativity to complex business problems. As an entrepreneur, she understands the issues that an entrepreneur faces. So, unlike some accountants who only know the theory of business, Patsy has had hands-on experience of what it means to be IN business, to start a business, to grow a business, and most of all, to manage a business when times inevitably get tough!