Archive for category Management

How Well Do Your Customers Really Know You?

Dan - another path

As always, it’s all about the customers and more importantly, it really gets down to what your customers think about you. I want you to really think about this for a minute or two. What do your customers think about your company? What do they think about how you do business? Would they recommend you to someone else who might need your services? After all, a great recommendation from one of your customers is without a doubt the strongest evidence of how and what they think of you.

We all should be focused on what our customers think of us at all times. This is particularly true for those of us selling business-to-business products because most of the time if we are not performing as the customer feels we should be he will simply walk quietly away, not even bothering to let us know why he is unhappy, which is why it is so important that we always have our finger on the proverbial pulse and staying aware of where you stand with that customer.

A few weeks ago I read an excellent book, Beyond the Sales Process: 12 Proven Strategies for a Customer-Driven World, by Steve Anderson and Dave Stein. First, let me say this book is a must have must read for anyone in sales and anyone in business, for that matter, as it is filled with page after page of excellent ideas, suggestions and guidelines on how to be a completely customer-focused company.

There was one particular section that really struck me as a great tool for companies who want to make sure they understand where they stand with their customers. In fact, it’s so valuable that I want to include it here for all to see and reflect upon. Here it is:

How would your customer respond to these statements? Would they say “Yes” or “No” to these statements?

This is your customer being asked to agree or disagree with these:

  •  You make it easy for us to do business with you.
  • You resolve our problems and conflicts as they arise.
  • You understand our business and our industry.
  • You listen to our needs before talking about your offerings.
  • You consult with us with an intent to solve our business problems.
  • You dedicate the resources that will enable us to work effectively together.
  • You provide us with preferred pricing and contract terms.
  • You align your team members with ours.
  • You approach our business strategically and not just transactionally when we’re buying.
  • You plan the future together with us even when we are not buying.
  • You develop relationships with our executives and yours.
  • You help us understand the specific value of your offerings.
  • You help us assess your performance with mutually acceptable metrics.
  • You share best practices and industry knowledge that will add value to our business.
  • You provide a single point of contact to us for strategy and decision making.
  • You provide an internal advocate for us that will be focused on our specific needs.

And of course you know me—I can’t help but add a few of my own here:

  1. You are there in times of trouble, making sure that we have the ability to talk, or even vent to someone.
  2. You maintain a certain amount of decorum and respect for all your customers since we never have heard you say anything disrespectful about any of your customers.
  3. You are always striving to make our relationship better.
  4. You are honest with us when it comes to new innovations and technologies that will help our business even if they might not be in your best interest because you have ours at heart.
  5. You give us the feeling that you are always looking out for us.
  6. We consider you our expert when it comes to your products.
  7. We consider you a vital part of our company’s future growth plans.
  8. You have proven yourself to be a valuable partner to our company.
  9. It would be difficult to replace you.

Pretty good lists, right? How would you do? Do you feel that you would get positive answers to all of these statements? Are you doing everything listed here and would your customers would agree?

I hope so. But if not, then it is in your best interest to remedy that and do it right away. I would urge you to keep this list around, use it with your team as a tool to make sure you are always on the right track of not only knowing your customers better, but knowing what they want and then providing it to them. It’s only common sense.


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You Gotta Keep Trying


Even after 11 tries!

I read a book the other day that said that you have to make at least eleven contacts with a company before they become a customer. Eleven contacts? Wow no wonder so many people don’t make it in sales? Eleven is about eight more than most people I know, try before they get discouraged and move on.

There are many reasons for moving on, for stopping, after two or three contacts, the first being that you don’t want to be a pest. You don’t want the target to start hating you for your stubborn consistency. Most of us are pretty polite folks, and we feel that we know the difference between being a good conscientious salesperson, and a pain in the neck. But then again, I have spoken to many buyers who will tell me things like. “He called me so many times, that after a while I had to give him a try.” Or, “I’m not sure about sales people today, it used to be that they would keep calling me, but now most of them stop after three times. And, that’s a shame because by the time I need them and their products they are gone, and they miss the chance to do business with me.”

Let’s be clear, these contacts don’t have to all be phone calls nor do they have to be live customer visits. They just have to be contacts or what I call “touches” of the customer. Here are some examples of eleven “touches”, you can give a potential customer. For these examples, let’s use a target customer who does not know who you are or what you do; a target customer you get from a directory:

  1. The first touch will be an email. Send the target a well written email explaining who you are and something about your company and what it does. This email will be send to everyone one your target list as well, a mass email.
  2. The second touch will be a value-added newsletter about your company, focused on how your can help the target.
  3. The third touch will be an actual phone call, with the goal of setting up a face to face appointment. Chances are you will get voice mail, you could get voice mail a number of times, before you actually talk to the person. Make sure the voice message you leave is always cheerful, polite, and yes, even intriguing. By the way chances are very good that the buyer will never call you back. But rest assured, she is getting your messages and knows who you are.
  4. The fourth touch is when you finally get the person to answer the phone. This could happen by sheer luck of timing, or the buyer could have answered in purpose. During this touch, try to engage the person in a conversation, making sure this conversation is focused on her needs. Remember, it is always better to listen, than to talk. And, if this call is done correctly you should be able to start developing your strategy for winning this account. Also remember to ask for in person meeting.
  5. The fifth touch is the actual meeting. Check this out, it took four touches to get to that first face to face meeting, and the meeting, is just the start of the next phase. Now the meeting; make sure you have a goal for that meeting. What do you want to accomplish during the meeting and how will you accomplish that goal? Chances are if you do a good job you will walk away with the promise of an RFQ.
  6. The sixth touch is the follow up. This is a thank you and summary email where you list the things you talked about and also add a gentle reminder of that quote package you were promised.
  7. The seventh touch will be a week or so later, when you have not heard from that buyer and you make a phone call to leave a message reminding the buyer of your meeting and the promise of a quote package.
  8. The eighth touch will be when it is time to pick up that quote package. The buyer will either call you in or will send you the package. Now you are getting warmer, closer to success!
  9. The ninth touch will be if you have questions about the package. Make sure they are good questions.
  10. The tenth touch will be delivering the quote package. Try to make this one in person so you can ask about your chances of winning the package.
  11. The eleventh touch will be to follow-up your quote to see if you won it or not. If you did not win it, then you need to find out what it will take to win it next time. If you did win it, congratulations! You are an overnight success, after only eleven touches and about six months.

The thing to remember is to keep trying. But there are a couple of things to consider as well. First make sure that the account you are targeting is a worthwhile target. That they have they fit into your “ideal customer profile” if they do great, if not move on. The second is to make sure that you are getting somewhere. If after eleven touches you are no further along than you were at touch two then move on, there are other targets out there and you can better spend your time pursuing them. Remember what Willie Sutton said about why he robbed banks, “it’s where the money is.” It’s only common sense

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Demanding Customers Driving You Crazy? Good Problem To Have

dan-7There is nothing dumber you can do than getting mad at a customer. What is the point? These days when it is harder than ever to get a new customer and even harder to keep that customer amidst the barrage of competition coming for all sides there is nothing more counter-productive than getting mad at one of your customers.

Look, I know customers can be demanding, they can be hard to deal with and yes sometimes even totally unreasonable but it doesn’t matter because part of being in business is to service your customers, providing them with whatever they want…note I said what they want which is not always what they need. Or what you think they need, no you have to give them what they want.

In today’s market customers have – as the airlines are fond of telling us – many choices. In our case, in our industry, there are many choices our customer can make, if you don’t believe that just ask them. But it is true, our customers have many options of where they can go to buy their circuit boards. From the cheaper guy down the street to the really cheap guy across the big pond they have all the choices in the world and they exercise them freely all the time, vendor loyalty is at an all-time low.

So, ladies and gentlemen that is why you can never get mad at your customers. You have to treat them like gold and make sure you are so valuable to them that they will never want to leave you. The trick is how to do that. How will you make sure that you keep your customers happy both today and in the future?

Here are five ways to make sure you are so valuable, so loved by your customers, that they will never want to leave you.

  1. Anticipate your customers’ needs. Too many of us are sitting around waiting for the next demand to come down from our customers. This is wrong and it is also making us the victims. The better way is to learn everything about them, their end products, their market, how they handle our boards, what they do with them when they come into their company and everything else they really need from you and then give it to them.
  2. Realize that you’re not just selling boards, but rather an integral part of their system, a key component and a critical ingredient to their success. Our job is to figure out how we can help them be successful. Is there a better way to package our boards that will make I easier for our customers? Or can we be helping them with their designs? Maybe it’s meeting with them and their end customers and listening to them intently enough to come up with ways to make both of them, and your company in the end as well, more successful.
  3. Have regular check-ups. Yes, ask your customers if you can meet with them on a regular basis to make sure you are on the right track. Ask to visit with them face to face and ask them who you are doing? Have a set of questions prepared so that you can develop a customer file on each of your customers that includes those special preferences that you can do for them to be outstanding and valuable.
  4. This is a team effort. Don’t just leave it up to the sales people to talk to customers. Your customers belong to everyone in your shop so make sure that all your key people are on a first name basis with your customers’ appropriate counterparts. This could be the most important thing you have ever done. Customer service is a whole company effort. Every single person in your company is a customer service person as well as a sales person. And it’s your job as a leader to make sure that everyone in your company from the guy in plating to the lady in drill to the maintenance people know everything they can about their customers.
  5. Create a customer satisfaction team that does nothing but focus on the customers and the way your company can please them. This team should have representatives from every department in your company. They should meet at least once a week to work on ways to delight their customers. Can you imagine that? Can you imagine spending one hour a week focused on your customers and how you can make them love you? So, simple, yet so rare. I don’t know of a single company in our industry that is doing this today. So, get this…you can be the first. Give it a try and you’ll quickly be the most outstanding company in what is a virtual wasteland of customer delight.
  6. If you own the company or are the company president, then pick up that phone and call your customers. Yes, they will take your call, you are the president after all, and they will be anxious to talk to you. You will not only gain great insight into your customer and his needs. You will also impress her with your dedication to making sure she is delighted. The very action of picking up the phone and calling your customer will go a very long way to letting that customer know how much you care. And once again, almost no one in our industry is doing this you will be outstanding in the truest sense of the word.

Please give these ideas a try. We are losing so many PCB companies in this country that it is time we really stepped up to make sure our customers want no part of taking their business elsewhere. It’s only common sense,

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Taming The Extraordinary Sales Person

dan-2We spend a great deal of time talking about how to handle poor performing sales people, those who are not making their numbers. Those who just can’t seem to get out there and visit customers, those who just cannot seem to be able to get an appointment or close a sale.

There are been hundreds of books and columns written on this subject. But how many books have been written about the extraordinary sales person? The one who is far above the rest of the team. The one who always seems to be able to not only get appointments, but land those big orders as well.

In sales meetings, you will be able to recognize this super salesperson by his or her silence. While everyone else is complaining and whining about not being to do whatever it is they need to do, blaming everything from unfair offshore competition, to price gouging on the part of their competitors, to lousy leads, to poor products, to the weather, to the fact that’s Tuesday, or Friday. Whatever you’ve got, these poor performers will use it as an excuse for why they are not making their numbers.

The great sales person sits there never saying a word. Just listening to the rest of the team whine. Sometimes this person will have a look on her face, this tight little smile, like she knows something the rest of the team does not know. And of course, she does. She knows how to get out there and get business without breaking a sweat. He knows how to get those sales appointments and make them meaningful to the point of booking orders. These are the people who have learned to just get out there and do it. The ones who have grace under pressure. Remember the definition of grace is keeping your head about you while everyone else is losing theirs.

So, one would think that this person would be easy to manage. That this winner would be a great asset to the team, to the point of raising everyone else’s level of success. But alas, this is not always true. There can be some problems with managing this kind of person some special problems. Here are some of the most prevalent issues with managing extraordinary salespeople and what you can do about them.

The first problem is that these winners are not always team players. They look out for themselves and anyone in their way to success, better watch out. Often, you will find some who are nice people, but more often, their philosophy is every man for himself. You’ll discover this when you try to develop some team-oriented projects. They will be the ones who will hold back, not really contribute to the good of the team.

I have found that the best way to treat these people, is to use their “greatness” to your advantage. Show them how good they are, and how much they can contribute to the good of the team. Encourage them to show their stuff to the rest of the team. They love being important and they love being acknowledged as the best and so they will go along with you and everyone will win. In short, make them the teacher or mentor for the rest of the team, and you will get the best you possibly can out of them.

The second problem is their lack of loyalty. These special people are out for themselves and they will do anything for the good of, yes, themselves. This means that you must keep them interested, motivated, and challenged or they will jump ship. The most difficult challenge you will have when managing great sales people is holding on to them. Let them know that they are the best. Give them rewards for being the best. Get to know them and find out what makes them tick, what turns them on. Is it fame, recognition or is it money? Obviously, you want to keep these great producers, so find out what turns them on and them make sure you keep giving it to them.

And the final problem is that they will get bored. Ironic, isn’t it that while the rest of the team is struggling to keep their numbers up and their heads above water these “pros from Dover” have developed such a streamlined sales process that they are bored with their everyday professional life and bored with their own success. It’s as though, it has all become too easy. So, your job as their manager is to keep them challenged. Give them tough assignments. Send them out to book some almost “impossible to win” accounts, do whatever you can to challenge them. And the bonus is that you will win business that you never thought you would win, and you will keep your sales person around looking at you for the next big impossible dream challenge.

If you are lucky enough to have one of these sales superstars on your team. Make them team leaders, offer them great incentives for staying around, and give them big enough challenges so that they will never want to leave. If you do these things, you will reap the rewards of having one of these talented prodigies on your team for many years to come. It’s only common sense.

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Is You Company Customer Focused?

dan21When was the last time you sat around with your team talking about how you could produce better products and services for your customers? I mean doing things better, making the customers experience extraordinary and putting the “wow” factor in your products.

I would guess never. We are all so busy just trying to meet our customers’ expectations that we spend very little or maybe no time thinking about exceeding those expectations. We are only focused on getting the job done…just getting the job done and over with that we are much more reactive than we are proactive.

Just think how much fun it would be to think up ways to blow your customers’ minds when it comes to your products. Think how great it would be if you thought up ways to make your customers, customers for life.

Think about your own life, think about the times that a company has surprised you to the point of delight; How about the flight attendant who came up to you on the plane to thank you for your loyalty to their airline. That felt pretty good didn’t it? Or how great it is when the host at your favorite restaurant calls you by name and asks if you want your favorite table? Or how about when your car dealer’s service department’s representative advises you on what’s best for your car even if the parts or tires they recommend for your car costs less than the ones you were going to buy? That feels great. That feels like the person is looking out for you right? It feels like that person knows you so well, understand so clearly what your needs are that they are taking responsibility for your welfare. They care so much about you that they are actually your experts when it comes to what you are buying from them.

Now think about how great it would be if actually spent time thinking about our customers, learning their needs and how our products can exceed those needs.

That is what a customer purposed company does. They make it their business to know everything about their customers, they put themselves in their customer’s shoes so deeply that they can sense not only what the customer needs today but what she is going to need tomorrow as well.

Being a customer purposed company means understanding how your products add value to your customers companies’ purposes and goals. As Steve Jobs once said, “It isn’t the consumer’s job to know want they want.” Now it is our job to figure out what they want. Think about it. Why Apple is so successful is that they made it their purpose to know what their customers wanted, what they wanted and what would capture their imaginations and create ultimate customer loyalty.

Look Apple has done it why can’t we? Why can’t we think up ways to delight our customers? Why can’t we come up with processes and technologies that would exceed our customers’ needs? Apple has done it in retail, they had to invent products from scratch, often products that people had never heard of, products that people wondering why do would need them as all…that is until they tried them for a while and then wondered how they could ever have even thought of living without them.

And it should be easier for us in the board industry. We don’t have to invent a product, we don’t have to deal with a retail market. The fact that we are actually building someone else product, that we are in the job shop business should actually make things easier. There is already a product on the print, we just have to figure out how to make it better. We just have to figure out just what it is the customer is going to use our board for and then come up with a more appropriate way of processing it. We just have to concentrate on developing the very best process anyone has ever developed aimed at making the best boards that anyone has ever seen. Oh I know it’s not as simple as all of that, but still…we can try can’t we? And how about the way we deal with our customers? Why are we all quoting the same way? Why are we packing the boards the same way? Why are we all fabricating them the same way? Why aren’t we thinking about better way to do everything?

Look try it, all I ask is that you just give it a try. Set up a team of your smart people, your creative people your best customer oriented people and sit around for one hours each week…just one hour thinking about how you could provide more value to your customers. How you could be a true customer purposed company. I promise you that it will be the most valuable thing you do this week. It’s only common sense

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Customer Service Is Everywhere!

dan21It’s all customer service… all of it!

Whatever you do, everything you do in a company is all a version of customer service.

Just like everyone in your company is a sales person, everyone in your company is a customer service representative. From the owner to the person in shipping to the person in plating its all about customer service.

Every one of your actions and interactions represent your company’s customer service interactions. So be very careful and very intentional in everything that you do.

When anybody calls you company and I live person answers, it says that yours is a great company delivering outstanding customer service.

When you send out a quote on time, it says that yours is a great company delivering outstanding customer service.

When your sales person is on time for an appointment, it says that yours is a great company delivering outstanding customer service.

When your product is packaged perfectly and has all of the correct documentation, it says that yours is a great company delivering outstanding customer service.

When a visitor goes to your rest room and it is sparkling clean, it says that yours is a great company delivering outstanding customer service.

When you handle a difficult quality issue, it says that yours is a great company delivering outstanding customer service.

When your product is delivered on time, all the time, it says that yours is a great company delivering outstanding customer service.

When your sales person’s car is spotlessly clean, it says that yours is a great company delivering outstanding customer service.

When your receptionist greets a customer with a smile, it says that yours is a great company delivering outstanding customer service.

When you have a smile on your face when you’re talking on the phone, it says that yours is a great company delivering outstanding customer service.

When all of your wall charts are up to date, it says that yours is a great company delivering outstanding customer service.

When your daily calendar is turned to the right page, it says that yours is a great company delivering outstanding customer service.

And everyone is in customer service.

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Quality Is Everything

dan-6Yes, Quality is everything, and actually, it is in everything a company does. From the way you answer the phone, to the way you present your quotes, to the way you package your product, to the way your sales person looks and acts, to every single thing large, or small, that your company does for the customer.

A good and astute customer will be looking for quality in everything you do all the time. He will notice everything about your company from the look of your parking lot, the outside of the building, to your lobby, to you conference room, to your entire facility, all of it adds up to your overall quality picture.

Let me give you a few bad examples:

I once visited a company whose offices were a mess. There was coating of dust on everything, there were ashtrays, actual ashtrays, filled with cigarette butts, who knew how old those were? And the calendars on the wall were of scantily clad women! But that wasn’t the worst part…the calendars were at least five years old.

And, this was at that time a working board shop in western Florida, whose owner wanted my help selling that shop. I did not sell it, obviously, and they went out of business a few months later. What were they thinking? Did they really think someone would buy them? Were they really wondering why they weren’t getting orders anymore?

I visited a shop whose restroom, the public one, mind you, the one that customers were using, was a complete disaster. There were six urinals and three were broken and had been broken for so long that the plastic that they had duct taped over them was yellowed with age. There were no paper towels in the paper towel holders, and the room smelled just horrible. When I asked the owner about it he gave me a blank look and asked me, “what does have got to do with us making boards?” Gee I wonder.

Then, I went to shop once that had an ugly soggy sodden queen-sized mattress on the ground just below  the loading dock. When I pointed that out to the owner he looked at me like I had two heads.

By the way, you don’t have to worry, I’m not talking about your shop, these companies wentl out of business a long time ago. Not a surprise, that.

Okay, so those were the worst cases I’ve seen in my too long career in this crazy industry, but there is still a strong message here about quality to get back to my original point and that is that quality is everywhere and in everything you do.

One of the issues that has come up the past few months is that of documentation. As boards get more sophisticated, so does the paperwork, which in turn means that the quality of the paperwork is now as important as the quality of the board. A board shipped with the wrong documentation, is as unusable as a board that is delaminated, or a board that is late. The paperwork, just like the board itself, must be perfect.

The problem is that many people don’t get this. They build an extremely difficult board, practically kill themselves to get it out on time, get it to shipping with moments to spare, get it boxed up just in time for that hugely expensive Fed Ex overnight delivery, and then breath a huge sigh of relief as they watch the truck drive away with their hot, high tech very expensive, board.

Then the next day get an irate call from the customer, the one who paid premium quick turn money, the one who paid for that expensive overnight delivery, and now, alas the one who cannot use the boards, because they cannot be received because…well you choose: the packing slip does not match the invoice; the board count is wrong, there is no C of C, there are no coupons, the boards were sent to the wrong receiving dock, the mil-prf-31032 documentation is wrong or missing, and guess what? That customer is going to have to hold up the boards and hold up that assembly line until the you can send them the right paperwork, and the boards can be properly received into his system. And, all of that is for a normal weekday delivery date. You can just imagine how ugly it gets if the customer has brought in a crew on a Saturday specifically to work on those boards! And of course, because it is Saturday, your shop is closed so he is not going to be able to have you fix the issues until Monday. And to make matters even worse he still has to pay that very expensive crew for at least our hours of their time. That can get very ugly. And we wonder why people ask me why board shops suck?

Everything, and I mean everything, is important including the documentation that goes with your boards. Its all part of good customer service and good business practices. Now, more than ever your shipping department is as important as every other department in the company if not more so. Remember that, and take it seriously, very seriously. It’s only common sense.

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