It is a fact of life that inevitably difficulties will crop up during your business dealings with you customers. How you deal with those difficulties is crucial for the on-going development of your business relationship.
When difficulties arise
Difficulties can include any issues that have the potential to disrupt the business relationship. They include situations such as:
- A late delivery to your customer
- Having a particularly aggressive negotiation over terms
- Mistakenly giving the customer incorrect information
- Not following through on a commitment you make.
Whilst we do what we can to avoid these situations, when they do arise we need to address even the smallest of difficulties. Just because something is not, on its own, enough to create a big problem it is important to know that if we ignore it or respond in a way that doesn’t truly satisfy the customer then it can then compound. And then the next ‘small thing’ could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.
The easy solution
These small individual difficulties are called ‘pinches’ and the Pinch Model describes what happens if we don’t deal with individual pinches effectively.
When we first become aware of a pinch, the temptation might be to resolve it in the quickest way possible. For example, if we send out an incorrect invoice and our customer queries it, we may be tempted to simply correct it and send out a new one.
But this doesn’t address the wider effect of the error. The mistake may have impacted our customer’s trust levels, or made them feel less confidence that we can take care of the detail. They may feel less valued leading them to question other things and the quality of our relationship.
What we should do
When there is a pinch, even if it is only small, we must fully address the issue to prevent future issues building up and damaging the relationship by creating a ‘crunch’.
The first thing to do when we become aware of a possible pinch point is to recognise that this is something that might be really important to the customer, and then use it as a way of going back to them to:
a) let them know we are concerned and want to address the issue in the right way, and
b) use it as an opportunity to create more clarity on how we will be working together going forward to avoid similar issues occurring.
By stating relationship expectations and ways of working in this way we continually build a stronger relationship going forward.
How to do it
One thing that can hold us back from having difficult conversations is that we don’t know how to approach it and we are fearful of the possible reaction. There is no substitute for being honest, and it is best to address the difficulties as they occur. You can say something such as:
“I have just realised that I gave you some mis-information and because our relationship with you is important I want to put that right”, or
“As I think back to our negotiations last week I am concerned that I might have been too aggressive and I want to talk about it so that it doesn’t negatively impact our relationship”.
If you want to raise your game in building lasting customer relationships then think ‘pinch’ and ‘crunch’ each time you have a problem and use the opportunity to strengthen your relationship.
Have you had any customer experiences that you wish had gone differently? We would love to know, please comment below.
This is because we all influence in our everyday interactions, whether we are aware of it or not, and of course we often try to influence consciously in many of our business situations.
So Tom was excited to be invited recently to talk to Nick Peters, journalist and Editor of Business First magazine, on his weekly programme on Share Radio.
You can listen to the interview here.
The show, called “Shop Floor”, is all about work and the workplace in all its forms. Nick was interested in the idea of sales as a culture, not just something that someone who has the word SALES in their title does. He wanted to explore how influence can be used to empower everyone in the organisation to ‘sell’ the company every time they deal with a customer.
Tom had a great time talking to Nick about C-cubed influence, how mindset effects our ability to influence, and how C-cubed influence is having an impact in organisations around the world.
Share Radio is one of London’s newest radio stations, and you can listen to the radio interview here.
Being a good listener is one of the key characteristics that all brilliant sales people have. When we undertook our survey to help inform us when we wrote Brilliant Selling, we found that when we asked ‘what are your key strengths as a salesperson?’ listening was the top answer.
Many of us think we are good listeners – but are we really? Are you guilty of any of the bad listening habits below? If you are then remember that awareness is the first step towards insight that allows you to improve.
So if you recognise that you have some of the bad habits here, print out our graphic and look at it before you go into your next customer meeting, and ensure that you are truly listening effectively next time. It WILL make a difference.
You can download our Become a Good Listener to Sell More graphic here. Do you have any tips on becoming a really effective listener?
Listening should be an active process and if you develop this muscle you will improve your ability to influence others and move them towards the outcome you want.
Here are our eight rules of active listening. How many of these do you already use? If you know that you have some weak areas on this list then try to be aware of them and focus on them next time you are in a sales situation. If you can listen better you will understand better, giving you insight and more opportunity to have more influence in the situation.
- Value the other party: show concern and demonstrate that you respect their position
- Listen to what is not said: pay attention to what is missing, beliefs masked as judgements and the tells of body language
- Limit the time you speak: most people have low attention spans. Salespeople can tend to talk too much- try to minimise your chunks of ‘sales speak’ to about 30 seconds. You may have heard of the ‘power of three’ before. Three is a magical number and if you limit yourself to three key points you will come across with more credibility
- Avoid thinking about what you are about to say: you will miss their message. Do not try and manipulate the conversation by asking questions which you already know the answer to
- Listen to the other party’s point of view: they have a unique and different perception of the world
- Repeat and reflect the other’s comments: this will ensure you have heard them correctly. Alternately, summarise their words
- Take notes: but avoid transcripts
- Maintain eye contact: do this whenever possible.
Do you have anything to add to this list? We would love to have your comments.
Few people like being sold to… but everyone is open to influence. If you agree with us, and you believe you can improve your sales by learning how to becoming more effective at influencing, then watch this short video to find out how C-cubed Influence can help you.
Throughout his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey details what it is that effective people seem to do habitually. One of these habits is that effective people only focus their time and energy on those things that are within their control or influence. If you think about it, this is common sense. But how often do we find that we are fretting or spending our time worrying about things that we can simply do nothing about?
The Brilliant Salesperson recognises when they are doing this and they stop. He or she focuses on an element of the situation of which they do have some control or influence. For example, in an economic downturn it is easy to focus on how bad everything is and spend a lot of time worrying about how competitors are hungry for the business that you are also chasing. If you ask yourself what you can control in this situation, you may realise that the economy is the same for everyone and that your efforts are best placed deepening your prospect and existing customer relationships. This activity might create more of a competitive edge for you. While this approach will not make the problem disappear, it will put you in a stronger situation because you are choosing to focus on something you can action.
What experiences have you had where this could have been the best approach?
“How do I get more opportunities?” is a question I often get asked by sales people and it is a big, and sometimes complex, question to answer.
To answer this question and ensure you engage in the right activities to be successful you need to be clear on the overall cycle from marketing to a population of potential prospects (your target market) through to closing a sale with a defined prospect.
I often find that sales people blur the line between what is marketing activity and what is sales activity and this leads to them taking an approach that will not yield results.
Marketing is the process of communicating the value of a product or service to potential customers whereas selling is focused on creating a transaction – the sale of a product or service in return for money. The distinction is important because marketing and selling employ different skills and approaches in many cases.
In a world where we are bombarded by e-mails offering all sorts of things we, as consumers (both individually and as corporations), are tired of being interrupted and so taking a purely ‘selling’ approach to people we have not established a relationship with is increasingly difficult. Before we can sell to them we need to earn their permission and this is often the job of marketing. They need to prepare the ground before we deploy the different skills of selling with prospects who have responded to our marketing initiatives.
In his book “Permission Marketing”, Seth Godin makes a compelling case for the need to give target prospects value in our initial communications before we ask for anything from them (such as a meeting). By giving value consistently we earn the right to ask them for something and, if they have received enough value from us, they are more likely to respond positively and we can move into the sales part of the cycle. With marketing being a one-to-many activity we need to create processes and resources that seek to provide value and resist the urge to ‘sell’ too quickly which will remove any trust we build. If we build enough trust we are not considered an interruption and the other person is more likely to listen to our sales message providing there is a compelling benefit for them. This is the point where we transition to a sales process and the person drops into some form of sales pipeline or funnel.
So, ‘getting opportunities’ is often undermined by selling too early. We must focus on marketing to gain permission and that requires a strategic approach and resources that add value to the prospect in order that we build trust before making a specific sales related offer.
Think of your own situation. How do you earn permission to sell? What value can you add to your targets before you try to sell? Are you trying to sell too early and running the risk of being seen as an interruption (think of an annoying fly buzzing around your desk) rather than a possible supplier?
Ever needed to have a difficult conversation with a colleague, a client or a prospective client? I know I have. Just recently I have been working with some sales teams who need to be able to be tougher with their clients. They want to be objective on the issues but keep the relationship intact. In working with different groups in different locations around the world I have seen three things occur time and time again that make these conversations more difficult than they need to be:
- We make assumptions: When we need to raise a difficult issue we have probably (and unconsciously) told ourselves a story about why the other person has done what they have done. This is natural as we might feel it has gone against a value of ours but we must remember it is just a ‘mind read’ on our part. We can assume the worst and that means our approach will often be emotional rather than fully rational. We need to force ourselves to be more objective and not jump to conclusions. Next time you feel something negative towards someone ask yourself what the behaviour is that is causing it. Any number of reasons could be responsible for a behaviour so do not assume. As Ricky Gervais in The Office would say “Assume makes an ASS out of U and ME”! Starting a conversation from an emotional perspective based on an assumption will always increase the chance of an argument and a less than ideal conclusion!
- We don’t consider our opening line: The way you start a conversation has a huge impact on its outcome. In addition to forcing yourself to be objective, it pays to consider the opening line. Think about how the other person might feel about the topic. Often, a person might think the situation is actually worse than it is – they distort and generalise in their mind so that they can feel a relatively small issue is actually going to turn into a bigger conversation. Head this off by creating a ‘safety statement’. A safety statement means putting yourself in the other person’s shoes and imagining what they might think the conversation is about. With this insight you create a statement that tells them first what the conversation is not about and then what it IS about. For example, if the other person might react to you raising an issue about a lack of timely responses to questions by thinking you are questioning the quality of their work you might create the following statement: “Robert I wanted to say how much I appreciate the quality of your work and the effort you have been putting in recently. It’s greatly appreciated. What I would like to discuss today is the need to meet our deadlines in terms of response times.”
- Know what you want instead: When we need to take an issue up with someone we are often very clear on what we don’t want – the thing that is annoying, frustrating or concerning us. It is easy for this to be the focus of the conversation. But we need to be very clear before we enter into the conversation on what we want instead of the unwanted behaviour. We need to finish the conversation with a clear and objective suggestion of the alternative behaviour or the action the other person needs to take.
Do you have any ‘Top Tips’ for handling difficult conversations. We would love to hear them. There is a great book on the subject: Crucial Confrontations by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan and Al Switzler.
If you speak to many recruiters, psychologists and trainers, they may well tell you categorically that outgoing, extrovert types are likely to make the best sales people. It is in many ways the obvious stereotype if we think of how many sales people have been successful in the past. I am certainly an extrovert and yet Tom is an introvert. We can both sell. The climate has certainly changed in the last 5 years. There is general consensus that:
- Cold calling is dead or on its last legs
- Permission marketing has come to the fore
- Old style closing is now seen as a manipulative embarrassment
- You need to add value at every turn
- There has been never been a greater time to be a great listener
So if times have changed, is it time for the introvert to step forward? Personally, we are partners in a business based out of Cambridge University. Some of the extroverts sell well and yet the most successful sales person is a high introvert, who hates networking, socialising and building close relationships with clients. He consistently sells over £1m of consultancy and training every year. So how come he is so successful (over and above his drive and work ethic)?
Adam Grant, associate professor of management at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, gave personality tests to 340 salespeople and compared their extroversion scores to their yearly revenue. Those who scored exactly halfway between the poles of extreme extroversion – Grant calls them somewhat oddly ambiverts – earned 24% more than the introverts and, surprisingly 32% more than the extroverts. I found the research very interesting. Grant – who is a former salesman and a self-described ambivert – says he is not sure why such individuals perform better. Here is my pennyworth:
- It could be that the ‘ambivert’ type is less distracted
- High extroverts can talk too much and be too full of themselves and their service or product
- Introverts sometimes find it tough to connect with prospects
- Extroverts may try and close too quickly and be seen as pushy
What is your view? Are you an extrovert, an introvert or an ambivert? What is your take on this interesting piece of research?
This year’s Davos Economic Forum has ‘Dynamic Resilience’ as a theme – the ability to bounce back stronger than ever after having been knocked for six. It strikes me that this is the everyday reality for a lot of sales people. Setbacks are part of every business process and sales is no different except the rejections are often more obvious and felt more personally.
The ability of a sales person to react appropriately and positively to knock backs is critical and so resilience is a topic we should all have an interest in. Resilience can be defined as a mixture of determination, ability and hope but it’s easy to intellectualise what to many sales people is an emotion; a feeling. Being resilient is more than just ‘confidence’ but confidence is part of what we need.
Resilience has to start with us choosing to focus on what we can control. If we have experienced a rejection in our selling work in some way, what can we now control or influence? Often, we can do nothing about what has happened but we can choose to control how we think about it. We must look at what we can learn from the experience so that we can take something from it rather than be a victim to it.
In his eBook “Never hear NO again! How sales people bounce back from setbacks” Michael Licenblat, an Australian resilience expert, cites becoming mentally tough as an important step. This requires us first to have self-awareness about how we respond to rejection in our selling work. If we are self-aware we can take steps to manage the emotion that accompanies rejection.
How do you develop resilience now? What works for you? What could you do differently as a first step that would increase your resilience?