Thursday, July 24, 2008

Pre-qualification education…

I’m looking for a used car. Don’t know what I want, yet, so, I stop to look at a lot of interesting cars for sale by owner.

Usually there’s only a phone number in the window. No mileage. No make, model or year. And most importantly, no price.

I called one this week. Here’s my side of the conversation:

“Hi, I’m calling about the Mitsubishi …what are you asking? …What year is it? …What engine is that? … How many miles? … That’s a lot of miles for that year. Thanks anyway. Bye.”

This guy will probably get dozens of calls like this. What a waste of time!

He probably doesn’t get calls from prospects that don’t want to waste their time. And many of those people might be the perfect fit for his car.

Not really marketing genius.

Advertising’s purpose isn’t just to get the phone to ring. It’s to get the right people to call.

By pre-qualifying customers, good advertising doesn’t just build a random list. It builds a list of likely customers. Not “suspects” but “prospects” in marketing speak.

One old-fashioned selling process believes the salesperson should try to sell anyone with a pulse. So, he or she doesn’t really need to get pre-qualified leads. I disagree.

Salespeople have more important things to do with their time than to take or make unprofitable calls to filter out people who aren’t ready or able to buy. Their job is to close sales. Of course the best salespeople still pre-qualify each lead before even beginning a presentation or proposal. But advertising can do much of the grunt work of pre-qualifying and pre-educating prospects.

What do I mean about pre-educating? Research shows that today’s buyers tend to do a lot of online research before making an offline purchase. They don’t want to talk to a sales person until they feel informed. This is good -- if your marketing is good. These prospects often come to you pre-sold. They’re ready and able to buy. This cuts the selling cycle considerably and takes a lot less of a salesperson’s time to close.

Jacques Werth, author of High Probability Selling has pioneered a sales process that is all about narrowing the list of prospects. Based on studying top performing salespeople, HPS isn’t about pushy sales techniques. It’s about building mutual trust and respect. But it requires you throw out almost everything you’ve ever learned about selling. (You can read the first four chapters of his book online free.)

I may or may not buy a car soon. But it looks like I’ll learn a lot in the process.

Homework: Does your advertising pre-qualify your leads? Are you losing sales because you expect prospects to waste their time calling you for basic information? Do your ads and website work together to educate customers? Do your ads generate leads that are curious or convinced?

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Beyond Selling...

Beth and I bought a new storm door at a big box store over the weekend.

It was a little bit of a process. O.K. it was quite a project. Not installing the door -- ordering it.

First, Beth called the store to see if the sale was still on.

They ran her through the phone gauntlet. Finally, someone took initiative.

"I'll find out and and call you back," he said.

I laughed.

"Couldn't the second person you talked to call you back?"

But, true to his word, he called back. He gave Beth the details of the deal.

"Anything else I should ask?" Beth said looking at me.

"His name," I responded. "He may be the only guy in the store who knows anything about this."

Then we began the hunt. We drove to the store. We found the aisle. We found a brochure. And we saw our door on display.

So we headed back to the front desk to place an order. They sent us back to the millwork to place our order.

We waited for the clerk to finish with his customer, and then he answered our every question.

He even gave us advice on a $57 installation deal.

"Not a bad deal," I said. "Means one less project on my list of undone things."

"The $57 is after rebate. That's about half normal installation," he said. "But there is a $35 delivery charge and a $15 haul away charge."

"That would put us back at full price," I said, stating the obvious. "So why don't we just throw out our own door and take it with us?"

"Have you seen the doors back there? They are pretty manhandled," he asked. "I can special order it for you at no extra charge. You can choose any color door and hardware combination. We'll put in on the side and I'll call you when it's in and you can pick it up."

I picked out colors and ran them past Beth.

"I'm not sure..." Beth said.

"If you don't like the color when it comes in, you don't have to take it. You don't pay until you pick it up."


We ordered the door, AND the installation. Turns out this clerk was the guy who returned Beth's call. I was impressed. You rarely get that kind of attentive service in a big box. He earned the sale. And I hope a commission for his salesmanship.

Why is an employee at a big box going over and beyond the job so surprising?

I don't know, but the next time I need millwork, I'm calling Gene.

HOMEWORK: How easy is it for customers to deal with you? Are your salespeople informed? Is your service department helpful? Does your team do their job, or do they go beyond the call? How do you recognize your team members for doing an exceptional job?

Monday, July 14, 2008

Dissatisfied Customers...

The Common Fruit Fly has been used in laboratory research since the turn of the century. The male is slightly smaller than the female and attracts a mate by singing to it. The fruit fly life span is only about 30 days, which is likely one reason it is the most studied organism in biological research. It has only four pairs of chromosomes and its genome sequence was first published in 2000.

They're very interesting creatures. Until they're swarming around your dinner table.

That happened to Beth and I recently. We were out to dinner with a colleague and long-time friend at a restaurant we had suggested. At the end of the meal, after swatting at fruit flies all evening, Beth mentioned the problem to the waiter who shrugged it off as "unavoidable."

"I'm sorry, Don," I said as the bill came. "We've never eaten here before, but heard good things about the place."

"Don't worry about it," he replied.

"We're obviously never eating here again," Beth said.

Then the waiter came up and asked if we had time to wait a moment.

When he returned with a dessert -- and FRUIT plate, we couldn't help but laugh.

We also decided we would be willing to give the place a second chance.

The waiter saved the day for that restaurant. Dissatisfied customers, on average will tell four times as many people as satisfied customers about their experience.

We chose the restaurant because they were a sponsor of our arena football team. All that sponsorship would have gone right down the tubes if the waiter had not thought of a way to appease us. You can't satisfy everyone, but it can be worth the effort.

What is your policy on dealing with dissatisfied customers? Do you even have a policy? Are your employees empowered to smooth things over? How much of your advertising budget is being wasted on not dealing with problems appropriately?