Friday, September 28, 2012

Cold-Calling Fail: 6 Cheesy Phrases to Avoid

Most cold-calling scripts include dated lines that can scare off potential customers. There are better ways to make the same points.


Over the years, I've read dozens of cold-calling scripts. Most of them contain old, tired phrases that annoy customers and immediately put them on the defensive.
Here are six of the worst offenders--along with my suggestions for turning the cold call into a real, live conversation.

1. "How are ya doin' today?"
You don't know the customer personally at this point, so the customer realizes that you're only pretending to care how they are. Furthermore, you've only got about 10 or 15 seconds to justify why you're calling.
Better to get the point quickly: "I'm calling because…"

2. "Free estimate with no obligation"
Anybody with half a brain knows that a "free estimate" means getting set up for a sales pitch.
Rather than using the tired language of the hard sell, talk the way that people talk in the real world of business: "I'd be happy to run some numbers for you."

3. "Unconditional guarantee"
Most people know that guarantees are meaningless and that warranties, which actually do have legal standing, are always conditional.

Rather than making empty promises, provide specific information about how you make certain your customers are delighted: "Here's how we support our customers…"

4. "If I could show you a way…"
This line may have seemed like a brilliant sales pitch back in the Mad Men era, but today it sounds cheesy and manipulative.

If you want to find out the conditions under which a customer is going to buy, it's better just to ask: "What's most important to you?"

5. "Nobody can sell this cheaper"
Assuming the customer is sitting in front of a computer screen, it will take about 10 seconds to find a lower price somewhere on the Web.

Your real challenge is to establish yourself as a problem solver rather than the lowest-priced source. To do that, try something like: "We make things easy for you by…"

6. "I'll be honest with you"
This statement flags a piece of information as being important--but it also plants the seed that you've been dishonest up until this point.

Instead, make that piece of information seem important by giving it more emotional weight, like: "Here's what I really think…"

Sunday, September 23, 2012

How to Understand Customer Needs

If you don't ask the right questions, you won't get the best answers--and you can't position your solution properly.

Selling business-to-business means selling a solution.  However, you can't sell a solution if you don't first discover what the customer really needs.  To accomplish this, you must ask the right kind of questions, according to Nancy Martini, CEO of the sales performance firm PI Worldwide.

She notes that, when having a conversation with a customer, you have the opportunity to ask three types of questions:

1. Closed-ended Questions

These question have short, definite answers like "yes" or "no" or a specific bit of information. They can be useful if you really need to know that specific data point, but they tend to create lulls in the conversation, forcing you to segue, often awkwardly, into the next line of inquiry.  Example:
  • You: "How many widgets do you use every year?"
  • Customer: "A thousand."
  • You: "OK.  Who is your current supplier?"
  • Customer: "Acme."
  • You: "OK. Are you happy with them?"
  • Customer: "Are we done yet?"
2. Open-ended Questions
These questions solicit a detailed response from the customer. Unfortunately, most open-ended questions often lead the customer toward considering the product you're selling. As such, you may be missing potentially useful information. Example:
  • You: "What are your needs when it comes to widgets?"
  • Customer: "We need about 1,000 high-quality widgets a year."
  • You: "What do you consider high quality?"
  • Customer: "They have to test within .0001 milimeters."
  • You: "We may be able to supply them at a lower cost." (Which, it turns out, may not address the Customer's real problem. Keep reading.)
3. Strategic Questions

These questions invite the customer to expound upon a situation. They treat the customer as the expert and naturally lead into a deeper conversation that gradually reveals the full scope of how you can help the customer. Example:
  • You: "Tell me about how your company uses widgets."
  • Customer: "We build them into our framistats at the beginning of the manufacturing cycle because then we can test them prior to adding the veeblefetzers."
  • You: "Help me out here. Describe how you currently order them and how you stock them for the assembly line."
  • Customer: "We get a shipment every few months and store them in a corner of the facility until they're needed."
As you can see, the strategic questions tend reveal the kind of details that might help you position your product as a better alternative (e.g. providing just-in-time shipments.)

How to Ask
Strategic questions usually begin with one of the following phrases: tell, share, describe, explain, explore, or help me understand.

Of course, not every every question needs to be strategic.  What's most effective is a combination of all three: closed-ended questions to discover specific data points, open-ended questions to uncover more detailed information, and strategic questions to provide a higher-level context.

Also, remember: you're not conducting an interview, but having a conversation.  Rather than just asking questions, add value by providing your observations and perspective.
  • Customer: "We get a shipment every few months and store them in a corner of the facility until they're needed."
  • You: In my experience, that kind of inventory storage results in a gradual degrading of quality due to dust and so forth.  Have you been experiencing something like that?
  • Customer: "I'm not sure. I'd have to check."
  • You: "If you can get me that figure, I can run some numbers to see whether there's a significant amount of savings by implementing a just-in-time inventory system."

Friday, September 21, 2012

7 Things Customers Want Most From You

It's not just about your product or service. Customers want you to be the type of person they can trust to get the job done.

What do your customers really want from you? No matter what your industry, your customers want more than just great products and workable solutions.

What they really want to know is that you--personally--are the type of person whom they can trust to get the job done.  Here are the seven things they want to see in you:

1. Independent Thinking
Customers want to know that you'll represent their interests, even it's not in your own financial interest--and particularly when the proverbial chips are down. (Of course, it's your job to make certain that the chips stay up.)

2. Courage
Customers want to know that you can be trusted to do the right thing. They expect you to tell them if buying what you're selling is a mistake, or not truly in their interests.  That takes real guts.

3. Pride
The best customers don't want you to truckle and beg. Because they're trusting you to deliver, they want to work with proud, successful people who can handle even the most difficult tasks.

4. Creativity
Customers don't have the time to sit and listen to cookie-cutter sales presentations.  However, they always have time for somebody who can redefine problems and devise workable solutions.

5. Confidence
Customers are taking a risk when they buy from you.  They both need and expect you to exude the kind of confidence that assures them you'll do what it takes to make them happy.

6. Empathy
Customers want you to see the situation from their perspective.  They want you to understand where they are, how their business works, and the challenges that they face--not just intellectually, but in your gut.

7. Honesty
Above all, customers want you to be honest with them.  In fact, the previous six values are built upon a foundation of honesty.  Without honesty, you have absolutely nothing to offer any customer.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Eight Ball, Corner Pocket: Think 6 Steps Ahead of the Competition


Want explosive growth? Strategize like a world-renowned pool player.


Years ago I met the world's top-ranked pool player, a woman named Jeanette Lee.  Her nickname was the "Black Widow."  They called her that because she wore all black--and destroyed her competition the same way black widow spiders devour their mates.

Jeanette was competing in a high stakes pool tournament for charity, which--as a member of's founding executive team--I was attending as a sponsor. At one point, Jeanette had an easy shot.  The cue ball was right in front of the No. 12 ball, which sat on the lip of the corner pocket. I watched as she studied the shot.  And studied the shot.  And studied the shot some more.  Finally I asked her why she was spending so much time looking at such an easy shot.  "I'm not looking at this shot," she replied. "I'm figuring out where I want the cue ball to be six shots from now."

No wonder she was the best pool player in the world.
That's exactly what I hope to teach you with this column: How to stay six shots ahead of the competition.  How to look past your present situation and plot your best future.  Strategies for winning in business.  Just like the Black Widow.

At Priceline we did specific things to stay ahead.  We not only studied our industry and tracked trends, but we did something I would recommend all of you do.  We went out to our customers, suppliers, and partners, and asked them what they thought their future would look like.  We asked them how their needs would change, how their company would change, how their jobs would change, how their buying habits would change.  We asked them which factors in the world around them worried them most about their future, and which ones they were most excited about.

This is an inexact science.  No one knows the future.  But when you take the pulse of a broad cross section of your customers and business partners, who are each experienced in assessing their own buying habits and the trends that impact them, a picture starts to form by connecting what appears at first to be abstract opinions and predictions.

Now take that picture of the future, stick it on your wall, and use it as a roadmap for your own plans, and product development.  Are you plotting a course that leads to the same destination as your customer?  Are you building hooks into your products and services that prepare them for the future your customer sees?  Don't just look at your products and services as they exist today.  Look one, two, even six shots ahead to make sure your business will wind up where you think it needs to be down the road.

That's what Zappos did.  I've spent some time with the company's founders on the speaking circuit, and learned that Zappos didn't look at customer service the way it works today.  They talked to potential customers to find out where they wanted service to be--six shots from now.  And in response, Zappos turned the traditional customer service paradigm on its head.  Spend more time with customers, not less.  And judge results by customer happiness.  Crazy, huh?  In billiards terms, I'm pretty sure they ran the table.
Don't just take my word for it.  Try it yourself.  And who knows, maybe you'll even wind up with a cool nickname, like the Black Widow.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

5 Power Questions for Your Sales Team

Smart questions bring in good answers. If you want to know what's really going on at your company, make sure you're asking the right ones.

Conduct an Internal Audit

Be sure you're asking the right questions ... of the right people.
Your interactions with your sales team have an obvious impact on business--and the questions you ask can enhance or degrade your company's performance.

By asking the right questions, and then carefully listening to the answers, an astute leader can influence and gain insight into an employee's business competence and morale, as well as a team's overall effectiveness. As a bonus, you'll enrich morale by showing your sales team you understand their key concerns.

Here are five smart questions that can give you a deeper understanding of employees, the business, and the competitive marketplace.

1. What is the biggest obstacle to adding new customers?
Reps are cautious to court new accounts if they believe the company will not be able to service them effectively. So the answers to this question can reveal operational issues, such as a lengthy procedure for setting up new accounts or order processing problems within your company.

On the other hand, if you get the answer, "Only my lack of time," that's good news: It says that all systems are in good order and that morale is likely high.

2. What is working and what isn't?
Such open-ended questions will quickly identify chronic complainers as well as uncover significant problems. When asking this question, be prepared for fix-it requests that may or may not be valid, such as, "We need more samples," "Delivery is too slow," or "We are not competitive." You may need to do some digging to find out whether the problems really need solving.

Most importantly, answers to this question communicate morale. If the responses suggest that little or nothing is working, then you have a morale issue. That's a sales killer, and a leader should uncover and fix causative issues.

3. What are your most (and least) significant opportunities?
The answers to this question indicate where a sales team is focusing its attention. The answers may signal that a sales team is operating contrary to company plans--perhaps spending time on a product or service that is not in the company's best interest, for instance. You may also uncover an opportunity that management has not previously identified.

4. If you had a magic wand and could fix one problem, what would it be?
This question forces a targeted answer to avoid a rambling discussion. A wise leader will ask why an employee picked a particular answer, and follow up by soliciting suggestions to correct it.
While the specific answer may give you additional insight into business challenges, it's the suggestions that indicate the depth of a salesperson's business understanding. An unfeasible answer implies a shallow understanding; practical answers convey a solid business understanding.

5. Who is your toughest competitor--and what are they doing right?
One of a leader's most important duties is to stay current with competitors. Your sales force faces the competition each day; team members should have the best on-the-ground reconnaissance.
Once you know the competitive landscape, you can proceed with "risk vs. opportunity" analyses. What you do not want is to find out after the fact that you could have avoided a sales failure by countering competitive activity.

By asking power questions of the sales team, leaders keep in touch with team morale while staying informed about the competition and showing that they care about the team's success. When issues need correction, take action quickly, and give credit to an idea's originator--both clear signals that a good leader is in charge.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Hate Networking? 3 Ways to Get Over It

Here's how to make networking work for you--and your business.
Texting Addicts

Networking is at the top of the list of things that make me the most uncomfortable.
Most people who know me are surprised to learn this, because I am a consummate extrovert, but, in truth, I find it daunting to talk to people I have never met, and I hate pretending to be interested in people who are clearly networking to social climb. In the past two years, however, networking has become a very important part of how I grow my business.
Consider these three ideas to take the discomfort out of networking and use it to create real value for your business:

Listening is the best way to start a conversation.

Most people think about networking from the perspective of what they are going to say. Instead, think about networking in terms of what someone else might have to say to you. Last week, I was at an event with other business owners, and a woman mentioned a new sales manager who had just joined her team. Rather than bringing up my own recent hiring challenges (which happened to be at the top of my worry list), I asked her how long it had taken her to find the new recruit, and when she confirmed that the process had been long, I asked what resources she had found most helpful in her search. She gave me several ideas I had never even thought of, let alone tried.

Honesty begets honesty.

Networking tends to bring out the braggarts, the people for whom everything is going just great: stellar sales, smooth cash flow, and growth potential to last a lifetime. We can all spin our stories to sell the audience on how great our businesses are, and doing so is sometimes a great survival skill. However, I find that ditching the PR pitch and honestly talking about my challenges has saved my business more than once. About a year ago, at a networking event, I had a powerful conversation with a business owner I had just met about some financing issues I was having, and it's a damn good thing I did. He gave me excellent tips on how to assess the potential peril my business was in, and several specific ways to reverse the problem. Had I kept quiet about my woes, I would have missed a valuable learning opportunity.

Everyone has something interesting to impart.

Networking makes people nervous, because they worry they may be thrown together with people with whom they have nothing in common. In my experience, the people who are the most different from me are also the most likely to teach me something valuable. Stepping outside of your circle is one of the most effective ways to begin thinking outside your box--and networking is the perfect chance to get access to a bevvy of different types of thinkers, all in one location. At an entrepreneurs breakfast earlier this year, I sat at a table with no one I knew. I gave myself the assignment to learn about each person's business, and in the process, I discovered--from a leadership researcher!--a print-on-demand method I could use to make T-shirts to promote my brand. I also found out from the owner of a consulting business about a website-creation tool that would let me sketch out how I want my site to be reorganized. And, just by chance, I wound up talking to an IT guy who tipped me off to an alternative resource for searching for new suppliers, and they proved to be more effective than the one I had been using. None of these people are in my industry, nor did their products overlap with mine, yet they each told me about something I could use.

So think again before you consider skipping a networking opportunity or contemplate hiding out by the buffet table. Networking can make the entrepreneurial journey less lonely, provide you with great nuggets of advice, and force you to do something outside your comfort zone--all of which are fundamental to growing your business.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Sales Tips for Shy People

You’ve probably all heard of the proverbial natural salesperson. You know the one I’m talking about–the one who can sell anything to anyone at any time?

Well, that person is not me. In fact, I’ve blogged about being a bit shy before.

But, as a freelancer, I frequently find myself in situations where I must sell my services. Selling is just part of doing business.

So, I’ve learned to cope with my natural shyness. Over the years, I’ve developed some techniques to help myself.

If you’re a freelancer who is naturally shy like me, here are some tips to help you become better at sales.

Sales Tips for Shy People

Every freelancer has a weakness. For some freelancers it’s dealing with numbers. For others, it’s putting their thoughts in writing. For me, it’s selling.

However, just because you have a weakness in a particular area doesn’t mean that weakness can’t be overcome and it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be a freelancer.

As someone whose natural tendency is to be a bit shy, selling can make me a bit anxious. However, I’ve learned to (mostly) overcome my shy tendencies by following the principles below. It may be that they can help you as well.

Here are some tips to follow when talking with prospective clients:
  1. Avoid being unnecessarily apologetic. Many of us who are naturally shy tend to be too apologetic. Yet, unless you’ve actually done something where an apology is warranted, there’s really no need to be apologetic. If this is your tendency, try to watch for it and eliminate it from your speech patterns.
  2. Do prepare for sales calls. Natural sales people may be able to sell without much preparation, but if you’re shy you’ll need to make sure that you’re well prepared for each and every sales call. I usually keep some detailed notes beside me while I talk on the phone so that I can glance at them if I get tongue-tied during a call.
  3. Be prompt when you reply to prospects. Promptness counts for a lot. When you reply promptly to a prospect, it usually comes across as being enthusiastic. This doesn’t mean you have to accept rush work. A reply could be to simply let them know that you’ll set up a time to get with them as soon as you become available.
  4. Let them do most of the talking. It will take a lot of the pressure off you and besides, being a good listener is more important in sales than being a good talker. Just make sure that you pay attention to what they are saying and take careful notes. If necessary, repeat a point that you don’t understand back to them.
  5. Be yourself. Whatever you do, don’t try to project an image that doesn’t fit you. Instead, talk to the prospect as naturally as possible. I know that sometimes shy people try to emulate someone else who they believe to be more successful, but usually this strategy just comes off as being contrived and fake. Don’t do it!
  6. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. You may be afraid that asking questions will make you seem less knowledgeable. Actually, the opposite is true. Asking appropriate questions when you need to shows that you are concerned with the project and with getting it right. And who doesn’t want a detail-oriented conscientious freelancer working on their project?
  7. Smile while you are talking. This is a great trick that I read from a blog post somewhere. Having a smile on your face can help get rid of any anxious tones that you may unconsciously be using. Smiling also helps you sound more relaxed and pleasant to the prospect on the other end of the phone line.
  8. Avoid negative self-talk. Before the sales call begins, avoid thinking about the worst things that might happen during the call. Likewise, when the sales call is over, avoid beating yourself up over what you think went wrong with the call. Chances are your clients didn’t even notice your perceived shortcomings.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

What is the Best CRM for a Web Design Company?


Client Relationship Management (CRM) solutions can benefit any company in nearly any industry—providing better control over marketing, sales tactics and efforts to build strong relationships that keep customers coming back for more. If your business is web design, CRM can bring more clients through your door seeking your web design expertise. But there are several general tips for CRM in all industries that can ensure you get the results you need.

A good CRM system should easily integrate with your business and help your operations run efficiently. Here are some tips.

Good CRM components for all businesses
  • Implement an effective E-Commerce platform for your own site’s web design. Be sure your business site has all the tools implemented to let you add or edit or change the services or products you provide. It’s best to be able to update any relevant information into the system at a moment’s notice. For example, a good CRM web design will allow you to upload several images per product offered, which lets your customers size up and zoom into your offerings.
  • Utilize Email Marketing in Bulk. Use bulk email to communicate more easily with your web design clients. Most effective CRM systems offer the ability to obtain instant reports telling you who has received your email, even if they have opened it.
  • Account Management System. A good CRM would allow you to view all you need to know about a customer with just one simple click. It should easily keep track of your client’s order history, invoices, payments, and more.
  • An Effective Calendar. Another vital CRM component to your site should be an effective portal that allows you to manage reminders, task allocations, important meeting dates and times, job status, to do lists and other features to keep your business running smoothly.
  • Leads Management. Managing your potential clients matters, too. And there is statistics software that allows you to see a marketing campaign’s success in generating good leads for the services you offer.
  • Content Management. Good CRM needs a good CMS (content management system) that lets you can easily add, change and delete your content on your site. It enables you to ensure that nothing on your web site is set in stone and you can easily optimize it for the good of your business. In addition, good CMS allows you to always enhance your site to increase your search engine popularity. And we know how critical search is to the success of any business.
In short, there are many, many options for good CRM for all types of businesses and professionals. More robust options are right for big business, and some are tailored for freelancers and smaller businesses like many design firms.