Is Money Walking Out Your Door?

Sometimes your marketing — be it advertising, direct response, Web site, public relations or even word of mouth — works harder and more effectively than your staff.

Assess your hiring, training and management practices along with your marketing efforts next time the response to your ‘can’t miss’ promotion turns from expectations of ‘deal’ to ‘no deal.’

That’s not to say there isn’t an issue with your marketing strategy and the accompanying tactics. There very well could be tangible problems.

However, human ineptitude and just plain laziness could be undermining your sales and customer service effectiveness — and it is unlikely you are aware of the problems. You work hard for the dollars you make and then reinvest into programs to turn prospects into customers, and customers into repeat purchasers. Recent experiences indicate an epidemic of major proportion is affecting small businesses—many (if not most) don’t realize they are being victimized by their own personnel.

Consider the following unpleasant circumstances, whether for business owner or customer. Each involved customer contact and resulted in a lost sale. Each could have been handled differently and resulted in a purchase and the possibility of repeat business.

Let’s set the scenes for each:
The first scenario, a personal favorite, involved a car dealer trying to sell a convertible in minus 10-degree weather, not to mention a minus 35-degree wind chill factor. It was a slam dunk, a low mileage 1998 Saab convertible. Anyone shopping for that car during a brutal Chicago winter must be serious.

It was simple. The car was advertised in the newspapers, on an Internet site and even on Ebay. It had been sitting outside for at least several months, under snow and ice, with a trickle of interest.

An e-mail was sent via the dealer’s Web site inquiring about the car. A rapid response came from a customer sales rep, inviting the potential buyer to come in and ask for a specific manager by name. A day elapsed and the prospective purchaser received another e-mail, then a phone call, both asking about interest in the car and again, directing the buyer to the same sales manager. On the morning of day three, the same scenario played out.

By noon, the sun had made a rare appearance and a call was placed to the dealer. The purchaser said he would be there in 15 minutes and asked that the car be brought into the service area where it could be thawed to kick the tires in relative warmth. No reason to risk pneumonia or frostbite.

“Just come on in and ask for Mr. Sales Manager (name changed to protect the guilty),” said the hard working customer rep. She was working hard to facilitate the deal.

As promised, the buyer showed up in 15 minutes. He entered the showroom and asked to see Mr. Sales Manager. Most of the sales staff practiced gaze avoidance, a symptom of the non-sale epidemic. One young staffer stepped forward and offered to reach Mr. Sales Manager via an inter-office communication. Keep in mind this wasn’t an auto multi-plex, just a single marquee store.

“Mr. Sales Manager, there is a Mr. I. Cantbelievehecametobuy Aconvertibletoday here to see you,” she said.

There were no other customers in the showroom. The only sounds were those of the salespeople pounding their computer keyboards, looking on Internet sites to see which junkets to the Carribean they weren’t going to qualify for—and the sound of Mr. Sales Manager chomping on an overstuffed sandwich. He could be heard, as well as seen, from an office nearby.

The expression on Ms. Hesmakingmetellyoutocomeback’s face was priceless. No smile and the color drained, she said, “Mr. Sales Manager is tied up right now. Can you come back later?”

No. Not later. Not ever again.

It is too bad. The dealership had done everything right and the customer rep worked hard to get the buyer into the showroom. It was a blown sale, and for what reason?

  1. Laziness
  2. Ineptitude
  3. Didn’t want to make quota for the month
  4. Embarrassing mayo stain from corned beef sandwich
  5. All of the above

My guess is that “E” would be the right choice. Chances are, however, that he was more embarrassed on being found out for having mayo on the corned beef sandwich as opposed to the stain. Write in if you put mayo on corned beef.

The second scenario:
Scenario two was making plans for a nice Saturday night out. The evening included listening to a jazz performance at a local theater and then a meal at a restaurant of “far eastern cuisine” around the corner.

The diner called ahead two days before, inquiring about a reservation for two at 9:45 on a Saturday evening.

“Hello,” said Mr. Being Responsible. “I would like a reservation for two on Saturday at 9:45.”

There was silence on the other side.

“Hello, Hello,” he repeated.

Stammering, the voice of Ms. Iwanna Getoutearlytohangwithmyfriends responded, “I can get you in, but is there a chance you can be here earlier? We have been slow lately and try to close the kitchen so we can get out of here early on Saturday nights.”

Mr. Responsible responded, “Well, the performance around the corner—where there will be several hundred people — doesn’t end until about 9:45 so I don’t know how we can get there earlier. Any chance you would think about keeping the place open until your stated hours of 10:30? Even better, any chance you would think to call the theater and consider a joint promotion?”

Said Iwanna, “Huh?”

“Look,” said Mr. Responsible, “I have heard the food at your place is great, says your advertising and some friends. How about the reservation at 9:45?”

“No,” Iwanna said. “How about 9:30?”

Mr. Responsible didn’t go—not then—not ever. Furthermore, no sign of a joint promo with the theater and the sale is blown.

The third and final scenario:
A purchaser walks into a specialty office supply store. The store happens to be closing out its line of HDTV monitors. It seems the store is better at selling smaller office supplies than at electronics.

A prospective purchaser having found the $34.95 two-pack of ink cartridges needed to reload a printer, wanders down the aisle filled with electronics. He becomes enamored with the low prices. He spends about 15 minutes looking at the various models, looking at the spec sheets and testing controls.

During this period, three sales people walk past. Each is asked by the customer if they could answer questions. Each said they needed to “finish something” and would be right back. It was mid-March, the purchaser would still be waiting for help had he not left the store to finish other chores on his list.

Again, this store has wonderful advertising, a great Web site and well produced direct mail. Someone needs to turn a camera on its sales staff. Sale (of monitor) blown. Customer may buy cartridges and other items not needing assistance with in the future.

Marketing was not the blame for lost sales. In fact, marketing did its job. Chances are that hiring, training and management practices had much more of an impact. Consider the following when hiring sales or customer service representatives:

  1. Try to find people who are interested in helping other people. Just because they might have the knowledge about a product or service, it isn’t enough. And just because they are a spouse, son, daughter, grandchild, in-law or outlaw, isn’t enough either. People who are naturally interested in others, and are problem solvers, will perform better.
  2. Educate your staff so that they know proper sales and customer service techniques. Also, build a culture that informs and rewards quality sales and customer service performance. Teach them to smile, approach customers in a friendly manner, ask if help is needed, respond immediately, direct them (and even walk them to other professionals or products they are looking for) accordingly and to say “thank you” when a sale is completed.
  3. Make your management and sales people accountable. No more tunnel vision. Just because a customer is not in their department or area, that is not good enough. A customer is a customer of the business. Your staff needs to be aware of what is going on in front of them, around them and behind them all of the time.
  4. Don’t let customers, and their wallets, walk out of your place of business without anyone even saying as much as “hello.”
  5. Make certain your personnel is operating by the policies and procedures that you have established for your business. Don’t allow staff to “freelance” and set their own agenda for how you do business. Your sales will increase and the morale of your staff will improve.

There was a sign that once stood before the approach of nearly every railroad track. It said, “Stop, Listen, Look.” It is a recommendation that will help your sales as well. Stop what you are doing from time to time, listen to what your sales and customer service staff are saying, look at how customers respond. Then, adjust your training appropriately. Train your managers to do the same.

Then teach a) your entire organization to look all around, all the time for unattended customers, b) your staff to stop and ask how they can be of help, c) them to listen carefully about what customers are seeking, and d) your staff to respond promptly, helpfully and with appreciation.