How to be a Good Sales Rep

We’re evaluating some new CRM options, and several people have recommended Salesforce. I had a chat with a sales rep from the company, and man, he was a GOOD sales person. We’ve also brought in some consultants for sales training, and after the initial phone call, I told our management team, “We just need to get our sales reps to do exactly what that guy just did. He’s a GREAT sales rep.” So, what are these people doing to be such good sales people?

Mutual benefit. A lot of sales reps just blather on about how great their product is, how much money/time/whatever they can save you, and how many more dollars you could earn if you just purchase their product. They never stop to ask whether we’d be a good customer for them. Do our needs actually align with what they’re offering? I know they haven’t thought about this because they’re so focused on “selling” me something! Both of the reps that I liked have asked questions that indicate that they want to work with companies that also meet their needs. Are we going to be a time suck? Will their product fail to meet our needs, resulting in unhappy customers with bad reviews? It’s not just about selling me a product, it’s about creating a win-win situation for BOTH parties.

Ask probing questions. Both of these reps asked a lot of open-ended questions, and they drilled down to the very root of the issue. Everyone wants to save time or make more money, so if I tell you that’s our goal, it’s not helping. What problems, EXACTLY, are causing you to lose time? Which areas, EXACTLY, do you think you could earn more? They didn’t feed me answers to lead me to their product, but just probed and probed until they hit on a problem they could solve. Plus, they gained a ton of insight into my business, my pain points, and my ability/timeline for making a decision.

Follow up nicely. Remember this rep that drove me nuts because he just wouldn’t take “no” for an answer? Both of my likeable reps asked if they could follow up, and asked about my preferred method of communication. If they weren’t available, they gave me alternate contact information for someone who was also helping with our account. Most of all, they didn’t badger me! This was partly because of the mutual fit and probing questions mentioned above. They already knew that if they had to chase me that hard for the business, it probably wasn’t a fit. Their questions revealed my timeline, key decision-makers, and milestones that had to happen prior to purchase. They’d send a “checking in” email every few weeks, and eventually, we made the choice to move ahead or move on.

Know me, know my business. I’m always amazed at good sales reps’ ability to pick up names and businesses at lightning speed. But in reality, that’s part of their job! The consultants made a point to learn all the reps’ names, and call them by name any chance they had. The Salesforce rep started using the same industry jargon that I explained almost immediately. In short, these guys made my business their business. This goes back to the mutual benefit… it’s not a one-off product sale to them, it’s a profitable partnership. If they can figure out a way to help me, they in turn help themselves.

I’ve dealt with a lot of reps in my career, and these two stand out as pleasant and effective. Which kind of rep are you?

Tradeshows in the Dark Ages

Dear Tradeshow Organizer,

Why didn’t you sign up for the online ordering option for carpet, furniture, electrics, and every other standard service at a tradeshow? Why do you insist on making me fill out 10 different forms, fax or scan+email them back to you, and email you to request a confirmation of receipt and an actual receipt for my payment? Further, why don’t you take my AMEX credit card in Europe? Is it really that much more expensive? Surely it’s more expensive to process a wire transfer or company check than it is to pay whatever fees AMEX will charge you to operate in Europe!


A Frustrated Marketer

Alright, readers, that’s my annoying rant for the morning, but there is some truth to what I’m saying. This is a worldwide show, with hundreds of exhibitors and thousands of attendees, and the provider of the tradeshow services has provided online ordering for several shows that I’ve been involved in. In addition to making it less of a hassle for me to do the ordering, it seems like it should be less of a hassle for show organizers. With online ordering, my information is pre-populated, so there’s less room for human error in entering company name, booth number, and contact information. Particularly for my last name, people have trouble distinguishing my “n” from my “u”. Thus, when they try to email a confirmation to, I don’t receive it. So, now they’re spending more man hours going back and forth with me on the confirmation, and occasionally, denying my credit card because they have attributed it to “Ashley Fans”. I assume someone has to do the data entry into a system somewhere in their system, so why not let it be the customer, one time, instead of forcing the customer to hand-write 10 forms, and then forcing your employee to input it into the system! Then, your employee accidentally inputs the wrong spelling of my name because they couldn’t read the hand-written form, and now you have to waste more labor hours having them fix it. And, what if two different people receive my forms, so now there’s two of me in the system? It just doesn’t make sense to opt out of the online ordering, since I know the system is already in place!

Then there’s the credit card issue. I have a corporate AMEX that I use for the tradeshows, as the bills can be pretty expensive (hence the reason I’m not expected to put it on a personal credit card and expense it). Apparently, the European companies don’t take my AMEX…. but some of them do! I know there are fees associated with credit card processing, but AMEX is one of the most popular cards in the world. It’s surprising that many European countries don’t accept this, particularly tradeshow organizers that do business with the entire world.

So, now you can’t read my writing, AND you can’t accept my payment. Sigh… I’m off to ask for a wire transfer and a penmanship class. Here’s to tradeshow organizers that are making things more difficult than they have to be!

Tweet Your Customer Service

My exchange with @NBAA

Yesterday’s post talked about Blockbuster’s missed opportunity to provide great customer service. Today’s experience is the exact opposite, as I had a great customer experience over Twitter with the NBAA. Our conference starts in just a few weeks, and I’ve been waiting patiently (ok, not so patiently, but still) for the shuttle bus schedule to post on their website. My boss is also waiting patiently (again, not so patiently, but still!) for me to give him the information about the shuttle. While checking my Twitter feed, an update from @NBAA posted, and I decided, why not tweet them about the shuttle schedule? I haven’t interacted with them much via social media, and I’ve been pretty skeptical of the value of Twitter in this industry. But, they’ve proved me wrong on this one!

Speed. After tweeting my question about the bus schedule, I received an answer a few minutes later, instead of days later like I’ve experienced when emailing the conference organizers. This speed is the major appeal of Twitter, allowing for multiple active conversations. When companies take customer service online, they’re able to detect and solve problems much faster than phone or email. This is especially helpful during conferences, as events happen quick! Plugging in to the conference Twitter feed is a great way to ensure that you don’t miss key moments at the show. When time is of the essence, Twitter is a valuable tool.

Broad reach. I know I’m not the only person looking for the shuttle schedule, so the NBAA was able to help a lot of people by replying to my question with the link. Now, all their followers can see that the link is ready, and the NBAA won’t be dealing with the same question from 100 different attendees. The broad reach on Twitter is a contributing factor to the speed mentioned above. Social media reaches tons of people in just a few keystrokes, making information more available to everyone. Instead of one-off communication, companies can engage their customers en masse.

Remember me. This is more about good customer service, but I’m glad they didn’t forget about my question. It’s been almost a week since I asked them for the schedule, and I figured I’d just have to check back on the website daily until the schedule posted. Instead, the NBAA remembered me, and it made me feel like a valued member of their network. Many social media platforms offer tools to help you remember to get back to someone, and my name popping up in their feed might have jogged their memory about my question. Remembering your customers is key! Don’t let their questions go unanswered when you have the tools available to get them the information they need.

I’ve seen value from Twitter in other projects, and I think the NBAA is effectively using their Twitter feed to enhance the upcoming show. I love to see companies use tools to provide excellent customer service, and I think Blockbuster can learn a few things from the NBAA. Have you seen social media and customer service in action?

Keep Your Current Customers Happy

My husband and I use Blockbuster for our movies. We started this when we lived within walking distance of Blockbuster, so trading in our movies was a great perk for using their service over Netflix. Our life has been pretty busy recently, and we no longer live close to a Blockbuster store. Thus, we decided that we should downgrade our monthly plan. Imagine our surprise and frustration when we found out that Blockbuster has lowered the price of our current plan by $2, and didn’t give us the new price! We’re paying $16.99 per month, and it’s been reduced to $14.99 per month! It’s not really about the money, but rather feeling like we’re unappreciated and that they’re taking advantage of us. This is not how you want your current customers to feel (especially when you’re tanking as bad as Blockbuster!)

A lot of companies miss opportunities to keep their current customers happy. Blockbuster could have made a great impression by sending us an email with the message, “Thanks for being loyal. We’re lowering your monthly payment because we appreciate your business. Enjoy the savings!” This would have made us feel like valued customers, and we would want to stay with Blockbuster because we feel like we can trust them to give us great service and fair pricing. Now, we have a sour taste in our mouth because we feel like Blockbuster has been jipping us for the past few months! This price change was a great opportunity to solidify our loyalty by treating us well, and instead, they’ve made us angry.

Acquisition costs for new customers are much higher than maintenance costs for current customers. Sure, you lose $2 per month by giving us a price break. But you’re about to lose $14.99 per month because we want to switch to a company that will give us better service, including the discounts they’re giving to new customers. If we were in a year-long contract, I could understand not passing on the discount, but this is a month-to-month service! Some companies are so focused on growing the number of customers that they forget to look at revenue growth. You’ll lose revenue if you’re constantly chasing new customers by offering them a lower price, while excluding your loyal customers from the new price.

There’s a reason Blockbuster has had some hard years, and their strategy for reaching and keeping good customers might be a contributing factor. So, I say to companies everywhere: Keep Your Current Customers Happy…. your bottom line will be happier in the long-run!

Terrible UI

Let’s talk about a horrible user interface. You know, the kind that makes you wonder if you’re just completely stupid, because you can’t find the “buy now” button? I recently tried to pay my water bill online, and the UI was awful, and my water bill is still unpaid!

First, we thought we could pay online because they let us opt for electronic statements and online bill pay. We can go online and view the statement, so I was looking for the “Pay a Bill” button, directly beneath the total. No such button. I found it odd, but then I thought that maybe I’d missed something on Account homepage. So, I’ll just click on the “Account” link, right? Wait… where’s the “Account” link? Ohhh, maybe “Home” and “Account” are the same thing, since I’m signed in to my account. I click the “Home” link, and it puts me on the homepage for the company, not my account. And, apparently, now there’s a link for the account page? Ok, fine, I’ll click that so that I can find the “Pay Bill” button. Upon clicking the “Account” link, I’m prompted to sign in again. But I never signed out! After signing in again, I see my bill, but STILL no place to actually pay it. I go back to the company homepage that has a button to “Pay Bills Online”. But the description above the button is a sales pitch for apartment managers on why they should buy the online bill pay product to make it easier for tenants to pay. This makes me think that we don’t actually have the ability to pay online, and they’re just showing electronic statements for… fun? CSR? Branding? At this point, I’m thoroughly confused, so I think I’ll just try one more time, because surely, I’m smarter than UI in 2011. After diligently searching for a few more minutes, I give up, and decide to sign out. But, there’s no “Sign Out” button. So, wait, how do I get out of my account? Now I’m just frustrated and annoyed. I can’t even sign out of the stinkin’ account, so I use the broken method of going to the company homepage.

In short, these people need a serious sit-down with a UI professional. The whole site was ridiculously confusing and unhelpful. If my apartment isn’t signed up for online bill pay, can you at least tell me that, so I don’t click all over your whole site trying to find a way to pay you? Can you put some descriptive buttons in a few key places? Don’t be this company, confusing and frustrating your customers, and losing a sale!

Package Alterations

Oreo Package Instructions
Oreo Package Instructions

While opening a package of Oreos the other day, I came across their explicit instructions, “Open With Pull Tab on Top!” It made me wonder how the company came to the decision to change the packaging.

The Impetus. First, I have to wonder what initially prompted them to consider swapping the traditional tear-open side for the pull-tab top. I assume there was some customer feedback indicating that the traditional opening method was frustrating. But how did they collect that? Did they conduct a focus group to ask, “How could we improve the Oreo experience?”, and several panelists suggested altering the package? Maybe they used survey, with specific questions about the Oreo packaging. Or, maybe they used observation in their daily lives, noticing that every time they had to open and close a package of Oreos, they were annoyed with the process. Whatever, the discovery, I think packaging is a natural place to look for updates if the product is relatively successful. Oreo has made some product changes by introducing Double Stuff and other creme flavors, but there’s little room for improvement on the product itself. Thus, the Oreo experience might be improved by making the package easier to open and close.

The Convincing. After making the discovery that the packaging should be changed, I have to wonder how the marketing or design genius convinced Oreo to invest in the new packaging. The company would have to tweak their machines, inks, and presses, to accommodate the new design, so there was definitely some money involved in making the update. Maybe they used one of the focus groups or survey data to show that customers would enjoy the Oreo experience more. Maybe they made a prototype and let the decision-makers try it out for themselves. Somehow, the responsible parties had to make the case that this change was necessary and beneficial for growth.

The Impact. After making the discovery and convincing the bosses to make the change, I’m wondering how they’re measuring the impact to show that the alterations have added value. Are they just measuring sales and volume growth? Did they repeat the surveys and focus groups? Marketers usually have a hard time measuring their impact, since there are so many different variables. I don’t recall a new campaign to praise the new packaging, but a lot of products run new commercials or ads when they alter the packaging. Thus, it begs the question: was it the packaging that increased sales, or the new ad campaign that increased sales? The timing of the release can also have an impact, so it’s hard to give numbers on the actual impact of just the packaging alteration. How do they know that the time and money spent to research, develop, and launch the new packaging was worth it?

I’d love to be a fly on the wall during Oreo’s decision to make this packaging update. I think there are a lot of elements involved in creating a superior Oreos experience, and I find the steps to tweaking these elements to be fascinating. Am I the only Marketing nerd who thinks this would be a fun case study? 🙂

5 Love Languages… Business Edition

I’m enjoying the sales training session, and an idea struck me while we took a break. There’s a great book on relationships called “The Five Love Languages”, which talks about how people give and receive love. These days, business often feels like a marriage, and I think some of the tips in the relationship guide are transferable to the business setting. So, how can you make your partner in business feel loved?

Quality Time. “The Five Love Languages” mentions that some people feel “loved” when you spend quality time with them. I think we can all agree that some customers need quality time to feel comfortable moving forward with a business relationship. This may be taking them out for coffee or dinner, stopping by their office for a meeting, or finding a way to give them some face time on a regular basis.

Gifts. Just like a husband brings his wife a bouquet of flowers, a sales person might need to woo a customer with a gift. Gifts don’t have to be large or expensive, but a little trinket to show appreciation, remind them of your name, or keep the relationship moving forward might be the key to success.

Words of Affirmation. Most couples exchange encouraging words, and business relationships are no different. Maybe your customer likes recognition, and a simple phone call to say, “I appreciate your business” is the key to keeping the relationship strong. These types of customers also appreciate plaques or certificates to show their relationship with a company, thank you notes after a meeting or a purchase order, and generally bragging on your relationship and praising them for choosing to work with you.

Acts of Service. Some people feel most loved when you do the dishes, take out the trash, or get the oil changed in the car. Similarly, some customers respond best to an extra level of service. This customer might appreciate “the little things”, like hand delivery, discounts on fees, or saving them time by making all their travel arrangements.

We’ll skip the fifth love language mentioned in the book about romantic relationships, and focus on why the four types of “love” work for businesses. The key is finding which language your customer speaks, and giving them the type of attention that makes them feel most valued. Some customers could care less whether you show up to take them out to dinner every quarter, but they go wild when you send them pens or hats with the company logo. Other customers may feel slighted if you don’t send a thank-you note after they send in a purchase order, but don’t even notice if you haven’t passed out giveaways in several months. A good sales person will figure out what makes their customer tick; what language they speak, and find a way to improve the business relationship by delivering the appreciation that makes the customer feel most valued. So, are you a good partner?

Personalizing Customer Service

We’ve had two rare customer service experiences recently… rare in that they were personal and good! Sad to say, but these two components are usually missing from customer service interactions, so prepare to also be blown away by what we’ve experienced!

First, after my husband went to get his Tolltag, he received an email requesting that he take a short survey to give feedback on his experience. We’ve all had these requests, but the difference was that they asked him to specifically provide feedback about the person who helped him by name, to ensure that she could improve her service! I think this is great, as it helps pinpoint problem areas that are consistent in one customer service agent, as pointed out by several customers that she served. It’s also great to give HER glowing reviews, instead of the agency at large, since “the agency” didn’t actually serve you, a human did. It puts a personal touch on a seemingly faceless organization, and it helps solidify that they are really trying to serve their customers, not just make a profit.

Next, my husband received a HAND WRITTEN thank you note, signed by an engineer, from! IMPRESSIVE. He upgraded his account after using their service for two years, and they responded with a personal note to thank him for his loyalty and increased interaction with the company. We felt compelled to write them a personal note back, just to say that we appreciated their note (we didn’t, by the way, so this blog post can serve as a shout-out to them).  No one writes personal notes these days, so when you receive one from a company, it really makes an impact. It shows that you took the time to think of them personally, instead of sending a form letter to show that you “sincerely” care.

I’ve talked a lot about making a personal connection, and these companies really managed to blow me away with their ability to do just that. Lesson learned? Call people by name and hand-write notes to REALLY knock their socks off!

When Brands are Compromised

I’ve had a few experiences recently that inspired this post, and I’m sure you’ve experienced the following: It’s a blazing hot day, you’re running late for a long meeting (or class in my case), and all you really want is a nice, cold Coca-Cola. You drive through a fast food restaurant and order your Coke, and as you pull away from the window, you’re ready to take that first satisfying sip. The liquid hits your tongue and it’s a flat or syrupy or otherwise compromised version of your favorite soft drink. This has happened to me twice at the same drive-thru, so I’ve decided to just avoid ordering Coke from that place. While it’s not Coke’s fault, and it’s not really in Coke’s control, their brand has been compromised. So, as one major part of a marketer’s job is to protect the brand, how do we fix this situation?

Absolute control. Let’s talk about control, the kind where every piece of a product is made for and by the company, sold by the company, and maintained by the company. The first company that comes to my mind is Apple. Apple is all about the control, from every piece that enters the computer and every sales person that walks onto the Apple store floor. They are reluctant to give any piece of quality control over to any other company, which makes for fewer opportunities for the brand to be compromised. If you maintain strict control over every aspect of a product or service, you’re much more likely to keep the brand image in place. While control can help you maintain your brand, it can be expensive, and in some cases, can limit growth. It can be expensive because efficiency and therefore lower costs are generally achieved through specialization. The likelihood that a company can efficiently produce every piece of their product puzzle is slim, so complete control will make it difficult to cut costs. Further, complete control can limit growth. This is particularly true in the service industry, since one person may provide the service better than another, and you can’t clone that person. So, if you get to the point where customers only drink coffee made by one barista, or only do business with one teller at a bank, you’ll have a hard time growing. It’s great that you’ve got one or two stellar employees, but you’ve also created a bottleneck if you can’t get the rest of your employees or partners up to par.

It wasn’t me. Another tactic to avoid compromising your brand, is to make your partners or franchisees take the risk with their own brand. This is especially prevalent in the fast food industry, where most of the restaurants display a plaque stating that each store is individually owned and operated, with a local contact for complaints. However, this approach is a little frustrating to customers. I’ve found that Taco Cabana is very inconsistent throughout the metroplex, and it drives me nuts! I get a craving for some enchiladas, and I know there’s a Cabana in close proximity, but then I have this fear that it will turn out to be one of the “bad” ones. You never want anyone doubting the quality of the brand and changing their purchase based on the fear induced by several bad experiences. Technically, Taco Cabana the parent company can claim that it’s the individual store’s fault. But, realistically, Taco Cabana has entrusted their brand to these individuals, so the “it wasn’t me” trick rarely pans out.

Better training and personal ownership. I think the best way to combat brand compromises, is better training and personal ownership. We all know my affinity for Starbucks, and I’ve got to give them credit once more. This company goes to great lengths to train their employees to take personal ownership of each customer experience. They have several weeks of training to ensure that each barista knows how to make a quality product, and empowers them to embody the Starbucks brand. They offer incentives for long-term partners, from benefits to career paths, which helps employees feel more invested in the success of the company. Many large companies offer tuition reimbursement or additional certifications to help train their employees to better represent the company. By giving employees the tools, and empowering them to own the brand personally, companies ensure that their brand experience will be consistently delivered by those on the front lines.

Be “known” for something. Finally, I think brands can avoid being compromised by picking one trait to be “known” for, and make sure that this aspect is always consistent. For example, Nordstrom is known for outstanding customer service, and they instill this sense of service at every level of the corporation. It’s less important to customers for the size to be right or the shipping to be fast, because they know that dealing with the Nordstrom customer service representative will be pleasant. The customer service is always consistent, which covers any mistakes in other areas of the purchasing process. Some companies try to be everything to everyone all the time, and this lack of focus often results in inconsistent experiences with the brand. Thus, one bad experience isn’t viewed as just “one”, it’s viewed as a reflection of the brand as a whole. After you’ve mastered the aspect you’re “known” for, you can begin tackling the other issues. Again, Nordstrom has become known for quality and consistency in sizing, shipping and materials, but only after mastering customer service.

So, how do you deal with a compromising brand experience? Are you putting in the effort to make sure that customers trust your brand, or is it a risky choice each time they decide to try out your product?

First Name Basis

I saw an email recently that begin, “Dear <<Name>>”. Apparently the mail merge function wasn’t working properly, and instead of saying my name or the company name, it just gave the fill-in-the-blank. I know we all use form emails and mail merge functionality at some point in our careers, but I’ve found these tools to be a little risky, depending on the situation. I know the theory that says you should address people by their name, but I think it does more harm than good to call them by the wrong name. Prior to getting married, I booked an overseas trip with my family under my maiden name. I ended up getting married before we left for the trip, so my new husband joined the family for the trip. This was an unusually luxurious trip, as we were booked for First Class seating. Part of this luxury included flight attendants who learned your name and called you by name throughout the flight. Imagine the confusion when they learned my name as “Mrs. MaidenName”, instead of “Mrs. MarriedName”. Then I explained that I was married, and they started calling my husband “Mr. MaidenName”. It took several minutes to explain the names and why the name didn’t match the passport and ticket anymore. I was content to just be called “Ashley”, but they were insistent on using my “proper” title. Everyone in the situation laughed and took it in stride, but there are people out there who are genuinely offended when their name or title is used incorrectly. Good business says that you should know your customers and call them by name to solidify the relationship, and I completely agree that using someone’s name helps the business transaction. But, this means you must make sure that all the tools are used correctly to meet this goal. For this reason, I tend to stick with “Hello” at the top of an email to strangers, and “Ms.” or “Mr.” until told otherwise by a new associate.