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To succeed in business today especially a custom business where you’re making products based on not your designs but the customers’ designs you have to be flexible. You have to listen to what your customers want today and what they are going to need tomorrow and customize your offerings to meet those needs.
This concept is pretty straight forward you are in the business of providing your customers with the products they need, with the products that they have designed so that they can produce their end products. It’s not rocket science…er well in some cases it is when you consider our business. So its Important we don’t niche ourselves out of the market.
Winning new customers is a long, time consuming and expensive process. You have to invest lietrally thousands of dollars on every new customer you attain. So once you have that customer you have to do everything to nurture your relationship with him, you have to do everything in your power to keep that customer. The better you are at this the better your company will do. The more long lasting customer relationships you have the longer you will successfully stay in business.
So then why would you not grow with your customers? Why would you not do everything in your power to provide these good hopefully customers for life with everything they need to stay your customers for life?
And once again we get back to understanding what your customers’ needs are today and what they are going to be in the future and then adapting your company’s offerings accordingly.
This means asking them to share their technology road map with you. This means asking them to share their future plans for their future products with you. This means asking them what they are going to be looking for from you as a supplier in terms of Quality, Technology and other special capabilities in the future. If you are willing to do this and if with great honesty, sincerity and credibility you can express to your customers that you are in fact willing to do this, they will be happy to work with you helping you to set up your company to work with their company in the future.
This means that if whatever direction they are heading in you will be there for them
If in the future they are going to need boards with very fine lines you are going to be there for them.
If in the future they are going to need flex and rigid flex boards you are going to be there for them.
If in the future they are going to need boards with CTE materials you will be there for them
And if they are going to need something that is impossible for you to provide say for example large volume orders at the best value possible you, as their PCB expert provider will find a source for them and if you have a been a true partner they will want you to handle that source. Since you’re selling service, credibility and trust and solutions there is nothing wrong in fact there is everything right in your providing your customers with all the solutions they need even if you have to sub out the ones you do not directly provide yourself.
If you can do all of these things. If you can offer your very good customer partners on complete one source solution you will succeed, you will have customer for life and you will become your industry’s “go to” supplier for all of their PCB needs.
And here’s an added bonus, just a little secret here for you to consider; no one is doing this at this time. We are all so niched out that we are limiting ourselves in terms of what we can provide or should I say allow ourselves to provide to our customers. There are many cases right now where the customers particularly the high end customers are looking for some to handle all of their PCB needs. They just want someone they can rely on to handle our product for them. Now I warn you these high end customers and the current world game changers to they are very demanding and their needs hard to keep up with. In some cases their board requirements can be beyond what most board shops can handle but I don’t look at this as a stopper but rather an opportunity for a good open minded board provider to instill itself as their board supplier, to act as their true partner into the future and with great patience, deliberation and endurance find a way to meet their needs and help them to create the products that are yes in fact actually putting a dent in the universe.
Those PCB companies who are willing to do that are the companies who are going to be around for a while joining these companies of the future in that future. Its only common sense
So often we only talk about the obvious tools and tactics we need to be a successful sales person, so much so, that we overlook some of the smaller details that could help us be successful, those that could give us an edge over our competition. They say that the devil is in the details and in sales like in every other career this is true.
Here then, are a few of those “details” that will help you be a better, more effective, and yes, more successful sales person:
- Look the part. It seems that the only people who look successful these days are the bad guys, the lawyers, the bankers, and the politicians. Be honest when you see a man in a gray pinstriped suit, highly polished black lace-up shoes, and carry a fancy leather briefcase, the first thing that goes through your mind is that he is one of those guys. But, remember when we all dressed that way? Remember when all the men wore suits and ties to work? And the women, the few there were back then, wore their conservatively-cut suits as well? Now, I’m not saying we go back to those days, not all the way at least, but, we should always try to be the best-dressed person in the room. In these days of company logo shirts make sure that yours is the best pressed shirt in the room. Make sure your slacks are pressed and your shoes are shined. The same with women, well in the case of the women they don’t need my advice, the ones I know all dress professionally and are always much better dressed than the guys. Anyway guys, this simple detail is to always be the best dressed person in the room. It is an easy way for you to always be outstanding.
- Be an actor. I know this one seems out of place in our profession, but it really isn’t, if you think about it, in sales we are always asked to perform, whether it be a sales presentation or a one on one meeting with a new buyer we are always in fact, performing. By performing, I mean putting our best foot forward, making our presentations interesting and yes sometimes dramatic. You are going to get much better results if you are interesting and if you present your sales pitch or presentation in a provocative and dramatic way. Some of the best sales people I know have taken drama classes; and if you think about it for even a minute, it makes sense. Taking a drama class will give you the right skills you need to be a great sales person.
- Neurolinguistics: “What the heck is that?” I hear you asking. I first heard about neurolinguistics in a Tony Robbins book I read a few years ago, it’s just the art of coordinating your conversation with the person you are conversing with. If the person is a laid back slow-talker, you take on that characteristic. If she talks fast and is kind of brusque then you do the same. It’s an amazing tactic and it works surprisingly well. It can also be used to set the pace of any conversation you are having. Because it can work in reverse and you can set the tone of the conversation as well. If for example, the person you are talking to is anxious and irritated you can calm her down by slowing the conversation down and bring some calmness to the discussion. There are entire books written on this subject, pick one up and read it, I promise it will help with your sales effort.
- Listening and hearing: Yes, just learn, to not only listen, but to hear, and understand as well. How many of us have had a discussion with someone that did not go well and then a few hours later when we take the time to reflect on that talk, we realize that what the person was trying to tell us was completely opposite of what we thought at the time. Suddenly a light goes on in our brains and we realize that we completely mishandled that conversation we wish we could back and do it again. This situation can be avoided be carefully listening. Not only listening to what a person is saying but hearing what he means as well. Always remember that old adage that “no one ever learned anything by talking.”
- Be helpful: People like people who help them, so go out of your way to be helpful. Know everything you can about your customers and figure out how you can be the most helpful to them. Look out for your customers and in the end, they will look out for you. Simple as that.
As I said earlier, the devil is in the details and as good sales people on our way to being great sales people we should always be looking for just the right details that will help us be the great sales people we strive to be. It’s only common sense
A book review from Dan Beaulieu
Fail Fast or Win Big: The Start-up Plan for Starting Now
Author: Bernhard Schroeder
Stop aiming and start firing!
Every so often you find a book that ends up being more of a stimulant for ideas than just a book. This is one of those books. I want to call it the “Nike—just do it” book because that’s exactly what the message is. He claims for example that business plans are a thing of the past, that they take too long to do and that they are not as effective as well as just doing it.The business model, a short business model with the good and the bad and the ugly of just trying something is the way to go.
Schroeder gives numerous examples of entrepreneurs who gave it a go before most people would have thought their new product or service was truly ready for prime time. So many times, people have a great idea but they wait too long to execute that idea, and instead they spend their time writing long business plans to please those bankers who are never going to give them the funds to start the business anyway.
Schroeder tells us to just get going. He says that all we need is a great story, a story that will explain exactly what we are trying to sell and how it will work. He says that instead of a full-blown business plan, all we need is what he calls “the Lean Model Framework,” consisting of the following slides:
• Company Purpose
• Problem and Solution
• Why now?
• Market Size
• Business Model
• Revenue Model
• Team and Financials
And that is all you need to launch your new business. He wants us to develop a model as soon as possible with the understanding that it will not be perfect but that it will be good enough to exemplify what the product or service should look like, enough to get someone interest in the product and thus the company.
From the book: Lessons learned:
• Believe in your product, not foolishly, but with common sense
• Find ways to get things done
• Follow the trend
• Look at alternate sources of distribution if traditional sources don’t work
• Seek out other people or companies who have the same beliefs and look for either leverage or distribution opportunities
Schroeder ends Chapter five with this quote: You really don’t know if you have a company until you have created a product or service prototype and have sold it in the marketplace. That is, you can’t improve a product unless you get customer feedback. And you need to move faster than potential competitors. So create a prototype sooner rather than later.
If you are passionate about your career, then you will eat and breathe and drink sales. This also means that you will read every good business book you can get your hands on
Do you feel you are getting everything out of your rep team that you should be? Do you a full network of sales reps, reps all over the country yet you are just not getting much out of them? How about these problems? Try these on for size:
- You keep hiring new reps but you never get anything out of them, making you wonder why they even signed up with you in the first place.
- You use to have a great relationship with your reps but now, well not so much, they seem to only focus on a few accounts they brought in years ago and you just cannot get them to go out there and find you some new business.
- You can never get them on the phone.
- You get a lot of quotes from them but they are all from stuff you don’t want or cannot build.
- It just seems that things are stagnating and you are not sure what to do.
- You keep asking yourself what happened, why can’t I get these guys engaged?
Do these fit? Is your next move is to fire all your reps and start over. At least that’s what you’d like to do right? But you hate the idea of starting over, you hate the idea of losing all of that time not to mention money you have invested in your rep team.
You’re stuck and you feel that there is no way out right?
Bu wait there is, there is something you can do. You can talk to them. No, not argue with them, not whine at them, not kick them in the butt…I mean really talk to them find out what the matter is and start working with them to see if the relationship can be salvaged; or if it’s time to move on. Look you have worked with them for this long you can spend a few more days with them seeing if the relationship can be fixed or not.
Here is a list of questions you need to ask your reps. you can do this over the phone but I must say it would be a lot better if you went out to their area and met with them face to face. There is nothing better for revitalizing relationships than face to face meetings.
- Do you want to keep representing my company? (That’s right cut right to the chase, there is no point going on if they don’t want to work with you any longer. But also if they say no then ask them why. You might not save that relationship but you could learn something valuable.)
- What do you think of our company?
- Do you feel you are being treated fairly?
- Do you feel we are doing everything we can to support you?
- If not what could we do better?
- How about our products?
- How about our service?
- How do you feel about our technology?
- How do you feel about our pricing? Is it competitive?
- Do you feel like we are your partner?
- If there is anything we can do to improve our relationship what would that be?
- Tell me about your firm. How are things going for you?
- Is your firm healthy?
- Is there anything we can do to help you be successful?
- How can we work more effectively in the future?
- Would you be willing to work with us to make s plan to success?
- Would you be willing to give this relationship another try?
- What are your ideas on how we can proceed with such a plan?
- Okay are you ready to reset our partnership, carve out some new parameters, set some new goals and get to work?
See it’s not that difficult and most of the time it will work. If, that is the two of you really do communicate. This is key and with any kind of insight on your part, (just the fact that you are interested enough to be asking these questions shows initiative on your part) you’ll be able to gain a lot of understanding from this conversation. Now you have to look for the spark in your reps. If the reps is only semi-engaged in the conversation; if you feel that he or she is only being polite you’ll be able to figure that out. In on the other hand this conversation does what it’s supposed to do and re-sparks the flame of compatibility, cooperation I mean a true new spirit of cooperation between the two of you, you will have succeeded.
Now all you’ll have to do is follow through. Set up that plan. Hold regularly scheduled meetings with the rep. Visit his territory and your customers in that territory on a regular basis. In short pay attention to your relationship, value your relationship and finally always, always treat your rep with a great deal of respect and things will get better. I promise
I once worked with a very wise man who had a clause in all of his rep contracts that went something like: I always thought that was a great idea and of course it was only common sense.
One of the things I do in my business is work with sales managers helping them to manage, measure and motivate their sales people. This is not an easy thing to do when you consider that sales people are actually a very different breed from other people in a company. They are often, driven, motivated, and ambitious at some times and depressed and down at other times. The job of a good sales manager is to know when to drive his sales people to their own success level, encouraging them when they are on the way up and then picking them off the floor when they are on the way down. The motivational part of being a sales manager is probably the most important aspect, not to mention trickiest part of the job.
Sales people are often mavericks. The reason they wanted to be sales people in the first place was so that they could have their independence. They want to work on their own; make their own hours and come and go as they wish. Often they are hundreds even thousands of miles from the home office so they do have all the freedom they want. But of course it is the job of the sales manager to make sure they are at work as much as they need to be to get the job done. This means she has to institute a reporting system that will make sure that the sales person is always accountable. This system should consist of weekly status reports, as well as daily check-ins with the office. And what this all means is a heck of a lot of communications.
There is also another factor that a sales manager has to make sure of and that is that his sales people all feel that they part of a team. Those of us who have been out there know full well that it can get pretty lonely. The good news at times is that as a sales person you have freedom because you are on your own; but that can also be the bad news. It gets lonely out there on your own. You can start to feel isolated. You’re not in the middle of the office gossip and you can start to feel left out. It is the sales manager’s job to make sure that this doesn’t happen. He has to make sure that his sales people wherever they are located feel that they are part of the company, an integral part of the company. She has to come up with ways to make sure her sales people are included in the company’s daily and weekly happenings. One of the best ways to do this is to have a weekly sales call putting all the sales people on the phone as well as the sales manager and other members of the management team. In this way at least once a week the sales people get to talk with the management team and with each other, so that they can communicate with everyone, The GM can talk about what is going on in the shop as can the Quality and engineering managers. This gives everyone an excellent opportunity to communicate.
I often invite the sales people to have their own conference calls as well so that they can discuss some of the challenges they are having in getting business. They can exchange ideas and give each other tips and hints on how to win more business. They can also talk about what is going on at some of their large multi-location customers and develop corporate strategies for handling those accounts. And of course they can give each other leads. This kind of meeting is key to developing a true sales team.
Finally, I cannot recommend enough that you bring the sales people into the company at least once a year to have a sales meeting. I mean a real working sales meeting consisting of reviewing what the company did in the past year and where it is going in the coming year. The sales people should come in fully prepared to discuss their territory strategies including account plans and forecasts. The Sales Manager should be prepared to discuss the sales strategy and tactics for the coming year. The President should be prepared to discuss the company’s overall financial health as well as direction, the GM should be prepared to report in the company’s performance in terms and delivery, the Quality manager should be prepared to talk about yield performance, RMAs, ISO registration and audits and the Engineering manager should be prepared to talk about any new technologies that the company is investing in.
Although there should be some bonding time, a few dinners and maybe a sporting event the entire group attends together this meeting should be brief (just three days at most) and all business-like. Gone are the days of week-long sales meetings with skits and events and golfing. Those days are over, sales meetings costs a lot of money and the time invested in these meetings should be used wisely.
The most important thing is for people to get together and feel like they are all a part of the same team. This is critical for the entire team and vital to those sales guys who tend to get lonely out there.
Its only common sense.
Here are some of the dumber things I have heard from people about marketing and sales:
- I think I’ll place one ad in a trade magazine do you think that will be worth the money?
- I sent out a hundred sales letters and only received ten responses and five orders.
- We decided to make this offering to one thousand customers and made twelve sales but two people said they didn’t like the offer so we have stopped doing it.
- My husband doesn’t like ads with flags on them so I do not want to go with this graphic even if it is the fourth of July.
- I’m only going to do this once and if it doesn’t work that’s it, I’m done.
- What if we send this flyer out and hundreds of people respond? We could flood the shop with business!
- We stopped offering that product, too many people wanted it.
- If we delivered good product on time we would not need advertising.
- If we delivered good product on time we would not need sales people.
- We’re going to concentrate on making the shop run perfectly and then we’ll start doing some marketing.
- Once we buy our LDI we can start advertising.
- We sent out a sales flyer and got 500 responses but we cannot find the time to follow them up.
- If we don’t go to that trade show people will think we are out of business.
- There is no need to market we have all the business we need.
- Our customers are going to be with us forever.
- We only want high tech customers
- I told all our lower end customers to take a walk we don’t need them anymore.
- We don’t deal with customers who are hard to deal with.
- We don’t deal with customers who want special treatment
- Our business would be great if it wasn’t for those darn customers
- Everybody knows us we don’t have to advertise.
- All our customers know what we do we don’t have to keep telling them.
- We fired all our reps, they were making too much money.
- We’re not bothering with social media, that’s just for kids
- I don’t need a web site designer; the kid next door is doing it for me.
- I don’t understand all this connection stuff, so what if someone across the country knows my name.
- If we got rid of this global market stuff we’d be thriving.
- I know a good deal when I see it.
- We’re way to busy right now to get out and get new business.
- This worked in 1974 and I know it will work today.
- Putting more than one part number on a panel is not doable.
- Putting five part numbers on one panel is unethical.
- Our boss decides our marketing message, it’s his company.
- When it’s time to talk to our customers we shove the sales person out of the way and talk directly.
- All anyone wants is the lowest price.
- I’m not going to do that it makes me too nervous
- What will happen if too many people want to buy from us?
- I remember once in 1984 when we had too much business. I never want to go through that again.
- We’re way behind in the shop so are going to stop booking business until we catch up.
- Once we catch up we’ll send the sales team out to get business flowing again.
- Why should I read a business book? I’ve been out of college for twenty years.
- We get all our business from word of mouth.
- I hired that sales person a month ago and all he has brought me are quotes so far.
- I going to fire that new sales person. It’s been five weeks and we only have two new customers.
- I’m going to hire that sales person, he will bring me all the business from his old company.
- I have my sales people make hundred calls a day every day.
- No wonder sales are down, it’s a school holiday.
- No wonder sales are down we have a new president.
- No wonder sales are up we have a new president.
- Did you see what the stock market did yesterday? That will boost our business.
And the dumbest thing I ever heard someone say about sales and marketing…drum roll please…”Build it and they will come.”
It’s only common sense.
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:
- You are there in times of trouble, making sure that we have the ability to talk, or even vent to someone.
- 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.
- You are always striving to make our relationship better.
- 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.
- You give us the feeling that you are always looking out for us.
- We consider you our expert when it comes to your products.
- We consider you a vital part of our company’s future growth plans.
- You have proven yourself to be a valuable partner to our company.
- 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.