Customer Service is a Subset of Sales

When asked, 95% of sales managers indicate that customer service is an integral part of sales. Most say that selling is ineffective without excellent customer service.

In sales, the goal is always the sale. Failure is when the customer doesn’t purchase the product or service.

It’s rather like a dance slowly moving through the sales process toward a decision. The skilled sales person ensures that the customer is with him at each step and that they are both in agreement before the dance moves to a new step.

In customer service, the goal is always a satisfied customer. Failure is when the customer is unhappy.

It is more like a comforter where the customer explains what they need to feel warm and the sales person attempts to provide the comfort.

While they have many similarities, they are vastly different in both goals and process. Still, they are both critically essential for success in continued revenue growth.

So, how then do we merge the two into an effective sales process? Which one, if either is more important? Can a skilled sales person succeed if customer service is poor? How does an ineffective sales person succeed if customer service is exceptional?heirarchy

Sales is a subset of marketing; competitive analysis and demographic data collection is the starting point. Once a talented sales person understands the market dynamics, he can begin to prioritize his customers. Identifying where the business exists, where it is currently going and why those choices are being made is the investigate step. Customer service enters here. How are we doing? What programs are working? What does the market think of us? Customer input is essential to determine how to become or remain competitive.

Once in front of the right customer, the sales person must be able to follow a linked process which takes him effectively through a questioning phase, deliver a compelling message that meets the uncovered needs and conclude with a positive decision by the customer. This is the sale.

The merging of the two skills done correctly results is a happy, satisfied customer who has purchased the product or service.

One can conclude that like DNA, they are sculpted together to create a successful customer experience which results in revenue growth.

Two Reasons Why a CEO Should Attend Sales & Marketing Seminars

The CEO is the visionary, the leader, the path-finder! He or she sets the culture, the direction and the true expectations for the company. inspireGreat leaders are servants of their people; they listen, question and problem-solve constantly. I have had the good fortune to work with some of the best. These “C” level executives seem to be all-knowing and approachable. Often, the CEO may have little comfort level within the sales arena. They leave the details of goal-setting and expectations to the sales management team. So, how does such a leader become all-knowing and approachable?

  • Set the Course- People follow those who inspire! For the sales force to be engaged and driven, they need only inspiration. A leader who can articulate the goals, the strategy and the expected results will find a team of sales people eager to respond and exceed his wildest dreams. Attendance at sales and marketing workshops or seminars provides the leader with the newest methods, current success stories and tried and true systems for achievement.
  • Talk the Talk- People follow those who understand! Each discipline has a vernacular of its own. It is filled with acronyms, abbreviations and inside tips. For the CEO who understands the verbiage and can converse with the sales force using their language, they will find an amazed and energized sales team. Marketing programs delivered by professional and experience sales leaders instill a comfort level with the sales terminology of the day.

These are only two of the reasons for CEOs to invest the time and energy in professional sales programs. I am certain that many of them could list others, equally critical; revenue growth, census development, manager development and more.

First Three Things New Managers Should Do

new_managerInterviewing is a critical responsibility of any sales leadership role. It was my primary focus when I took over a sales force of more than 500. The hiring process included a corporate level interview for all sales management positions. During the interview, I asked one question every time. “If you were to be chosen for this position, what are the first three things you would do?” The answers were both amazing and revealing. Not only in content but in the inability to provide sensible and well­thought out solutions. If you had only three first steps of the many from which to choose, what would they be?

My recommendation:

1. Identify the true goals

Goals are funny things; unless clearly communicated they seem to be different depending on whom you ask. That becomes your first objective. What are they…really? Do the CEO and the CFO have the same goals? Is the sales direction supported by the operations? Do the written goals match the genuine expectations and abilities? Unless you have a clear picture of what you are being asked to achieve, it will be virtually impossible to motivate your sales team to reach any goal.

2. Assess the sales force

No, really assess your sales team! This requires meeting them face to face not reviewing their monthly reports. It requires traveling with them, observing sales and coaching interactions. Use a systematic approach on how you measure each person’s ability, attributes and results. This is key to your success. Identifying your stars will enable you to give them their goals and set them free to succeed. It will provide you with the names and levels of others so you can design next steps for them, promotion, training and coaching or assistance to find alternative employment.

3. Establish clear expectations

Remember the adage, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.” When I visit a new company, I make a point to ask everyone I meet, “What are your goals?” From the Director of Housekeeping to the CEO, everyone should know, understand and be motivated to achieve their goals. Once you have a clear view of the leadership’s goals, you can work with your sales management team to set theirs. Your expectation then is that theywork with the frontline sales force to set specific, measurable, achievable, time bound and relevant goals.

These are, of course only the first three actions of many. You will find that you may be handling these as well as balancing other significant issues. However, if you maintain focus on these three steps, it will provide you with a solid foundation upon which you can build a world­class sales force

Sales Cultures Are Born Not Created

The great sales driven organizations begin at the beginning. They don’t try to create a sales culture; they roll up their sleeves and breathe life into it. They pay attention to details; they have their ear to the ground; they don’t accept complacency.

There are the TEN STEPS implemented by some of the most successful companies.

It Starts at the Top

Leadership at the top is always about vision…true vision. According to Peter Senge, “The ability to focus on ultimate intrinsic desires, not only on secondary goals, is a cornerstone of personal mastery.” True vision does not stand alone; it must be founded in the why. Senior leadership has the responsibility to provide the reasons behind the vision to breath life into a sales culture. All across their land, the vision and the purpose must be crystal clear.

Scope Out the landscape

Asking sales people why it isn’t working is a waste of time. Sales people can rarely tell you why production is down or why orders are declining. They can only show you! Before any program or training process is initiated, travel with the sales people. Watch them; listen to them; observe the customers. Assess the results based on the time devoted to the sales process. Only then can you determine what support and systems are required.

Get the Right People on the Bus

A great basketball coach once said, “You can’t coach tall.” There are many attributes one can teach a new employee but talent is not one of them. The ability to understand exactly what will be required of the employee to be successful is paramount. The ability to assess each applicant to determine which one has those talents, the will to use them and the desire to succeed is never underestimated in the great companies. Most successful companies use a tried & true assessment tool.

Pick a Language

The words used in the everyday interactions between departments are part of the sales culture. Great companies develop an internal language shared across disciplines. At Starbucks, it’s “partners” and the “Starbucks Experience”. How the customer is described, client, guest, resident, customer must be identical across product lines. Where the sales person is in the sales process should be definable by everyone using the same language.
What Gets Measured Gets Done!

No one likes to complete reports, especially sales people. Keep the reports simple and relevant to their success. But have them and set clear expectations that they are an integral part of the strategic planning process. They should be used to measure the success of the current programs and direction of the sales force. The goals that are incorporated in the reports should be agreed upon by both sales person and manager.

Welcome Them Onboard

Starbucks has a 104 page work book on coffee to be completed in 90 days; Carrabba’s Italian Grill has a six week paid training schedule for the wait staff to learn every ingredient in its dishes. At my local salon, new stylists give shampoos for one year while they work beside an experienced stylist. How can one sell something about which they know nothing? “Knowledge is Power” claims Howard Schultz of Starbucks fame.

Accountability Rules

Accountability is one of the words most likely to cause discomfort when speaking with senior management. While that may be understandable, a sales culture can not exist where accountability does not. If goals are reasonable and measurable there is no reason why the sales team should not be held accountable to meeting certain standards. Senior leaders carry the responsibility of assuring accountability exists across all disciplines.

Reward and Celebrate

According to First Break All the Rules, most of us have our values in place by the age of thirteen. A company culture which rewards those values important to its’ people will have happy and productive employees. Consider this scenario. A sales manager hires a talented and experienced sales person whose main value is Aesthetic (love of peace and harmony).The company sales process is chaotic and requires multiple approvals and confrontation. How well do you think the new salesman will do? Rewarding everyone’s values and celebrating the successes that matter to them create a flourishing sales culture.

Surprise and Delight

Nothing drives a thriving sales culture better than a great product and outstanding customer service. Whether it is Pepsi, Hertz, Starbucks or the local café… always deliver more than you promise.

Breathing life into a sales culture and keeping it thriving and robust takes work. However, as the great companies have proven, commitment from the very top combined with passion and purpose for the product produces results. These great companies enjoy low turnover, high returns and long-standing success.

Is Your World Out of Focus?

This week I had an opportunity to hear Sally Dixon CEO of Memorial Hospital speak at a luncheon.  Ms. Dixon has been at the Memorial Hospital for 32 years and at the leadership helm for 16 of those years. She is a remarkable woman to have achieved such success in healthcare and remain as approachable and modest as any woman I have met.

As I listened to her expound (reluctantly, I believe) on the reasons for her success, I was intrigued.  She spoke of knowing yourself, hiring right, communicating, and serving rather than leading.  Sound familiar?  Yes.  Almost 25 years ago, I asked the CEO of our local hospital (now a giant health system) to speak at our community luncheon on the topic of his success.  He was a well-respected hospital administrator who had turned around a failing hospital within a few short years.  He spoke of hiring the right people, giving them clear direction, then getting out of their way.  He talked of his commitment to his employees, patients, and the community in which he served.

Since, I have heard this speech many times, I have wondered why so few rise to the top when the recipe seems relatively simple.  Why, if we know the three or four skills it takes to succeed, are so many failing to reach their dreams?

I suggest that the reason may be a lack of focus and clarity.  It is important to note that while the steps to becoming a successful leader are simple, they are by no means easy.

Let us look at just one of the success skills mentioned by both CEOs: hiring the right people.   There are few successful people who do not recognize that their success is due, in part, to having the right people in the right positions.  Even so, we continue to hire the wrong people.  In healthcare, this fact is supported by the high turnover rate.

Focus is similar to a laser beam of light; it has the ability to cut a diamond or heal a disease.  However, when unfocused, its power is diminished greatly.  The ability to focus and put all else aside when hiring is critical.  Taking the time for due diligence, in-depth interviewing and personal profiling is often viewed as a luxury rather than a necessity.

Clarity goes hand-in-hand with the ability to focus.  If we look at hiring once again, before interviewing anyone, I would ask myself, “How much do I really understand about this position?” “How clear am I on the duties, the requirements and the rewards?” It is critical that during the hiring process, you understand what qualities the candidate must possess to feel rewarded and to be successful.   Very often we simply think we know!

No doubt focus and clarity take time.  They take away from the immediate short-term results.  As Peter Senge stated in The Fifth Discipline, “It may take me a bit longer to get there, but when I get there I know what I’ve got is more sustainable.”

 

 

 

 

 

How Do You Know When You Need Help?

Salesmanship is sort of like interior decorating; everyone thinks they can do it. When I look at a room, I just know when it isn’t right. I am aware that the colors are pleasant but they don’t create the warmth I had hoped. I love the new, expensive lamp but somehow it feels awkward. I understand the basics but there just isn’t a WOW factor. I have achieved mediocrity.

The reason, of course is because it takes more than understanding the basics to achieve greatness. It takes more than being a smart leader. It takes skill and practice

The sales person who surpasses his goals and makes it “rain” does so because he is skilled. He is practiced and has most likely spent many hours perfecting the basics. Let’s face it, most Administrators, Executive Directors; even General Managers and CEOs simply do not have the time or the desire to perfect the skill of salesmanship.

“LEARNING THE SKILLS OF SALESMANSHIP TAKES TIME AND EFFORT. YOU HAVE TO PRACTICE THEM OVER AND OVER AGAIN UNTIL THEY BECOME SECOND NATURE.” Lee Iacocca

Why then do managers continue to hire the wrong people to lead their sales force? Why do we see them step ill­prepared into the sales role or try to manage the sales process from the office? I would suggest it’s because it’s a little like interior decorating; everyone thinks they can do it…until the finished project is a disaster.

So, when do you know you need the advice and support of experienced sales professionals?

The answer might be …NOW! Here are the three questions to ask:

  1. Have we reached or surpassed our revenue goals with a steady growth pattern over the past year? How about year over year?
  2. Do we own market share? Do we really know?
  3. Are we the number one choice in our medical and professional community?

If the answer to any of these is no, reach out to a professional company with sales and marketing experience in healthcare. Ask for references; look for experience; listen for results.

It’s All in the Preparation

I often wonder when I get obsessive about preparation.

When did I start agonizing over the work months and months before the due date?  When did perfection and detail become as important as the delivery?

As I think back, I can squarely place the cause for my obsession on the broad shoulders of my father.  My first recollection is that of me standing directly in front of my dad leaning on his knees.  That particular night I was struggling to recall the times tables but there were many other nights.  After dinner, I would often be expected to recite the prepositions from front to back, deliver (with feeling) my rendition of “Old Ironsides” or name the capitals of every state.  I’m still not sure I even knew what Old Ironsides even was and I certainly don’t remember the capitals.

The years flew by; I often think of how difficult it must have been for him to come home after a long day, sit down to dinner, then immediately join me at the dining room table to check my homework.  My dad worked for the gas company and spent his day with a jackhammer in the very cold Pennsylvania winters.  How he must’ve wanted to comfortable over-stuffed  chain and watch his favorite TV show.  My dad was a big barrel-chested German man who wasn’t blessed with a huge dose of patience and now I understand why.

He would crinkle up my paper at the sight of an eraser mark and heaven help me if I overlooked a mistake.  He would send me scurrying upstairs to review the next chapter.  “You will want to be prepared in case your teacher asks a question about the next chapter”, he would say softly.

My dad was the one who signed my report card,who wen to school when a young teacher became frustrated and smacked me along side the head (which I richly deserved).  My dad is the one who came home and found me sitting on the school steps when I got my first “C” for a poorly sewn apron.  I was afraid and embarrassed to go home.  We never said a word; we didn’t need to.

So, when I scrunch up a draft for the umpteenth time, I think of my dad.  When it seems to take me forever to get the words just right, I think of my dad.   But when I deliver that powerful presentation that is right on target, I thank my dad!

The Corporate Table

My parents were each raised in a family of ten children, my father, the oldest and my mother the youngest. Having been raised with three younger brothers, I can’t imagine what the dinner table would have been like if I were the youngest of ten. Perhaps there is some truth to the connection between your success and your birth position in your family. At some point, one must simply decide to demand your fair share. However, there is much to learn before you reach out for that very last drumstick.

It is interesting that the challenge I have coached new managers on most often is just that. They fret and worry over what to say and when to say it. Then, devoid of results, they become silent and settle for leftover crumbs. Being at the table does not necessarily assure that you get to eat. So let’s look at a few reasons why we go hungry even when we are invited to the table.

Why are you there?

At mealtime, you are there to enjoy food prepared for you. In some homes, there is a mediator; someone who ensures that each person is treated fairly. This may be achieved by Mom preparing plates for each person. It may be handled by Father at the end of the table barking orders to assure an even distribution. In some cases, it may be a free-forall; the strongest and loudest receiving the most. It is no different at the corporate table. The first rule for new managers is to be truly present, observe intently and listen closely. What is the culture of this table? Who speaks and when? How often do people speak and who listens? Do people speak in turn? Is there order or chaos to the discussions? What is the reaction of others at the table? Is there a mediator? How does the mediator ensure fair discussions…or not?

Are you a guest, presenter or decision-maker?

When you are invited to dinner at someone else’s home, a different scenario usually unfolds. Everyone may be more cordial; the father may not need to make a sound instead flashing a look or simply clearing his throat will effect change. As a guest, you may not see the true dynamics of the table. A new manager may need to reflect on this for a few meetings. Are you considered a guest? Are you there to make a formal presentation or to help the group come to a consensus? If so, the dynamics will be just under the surface. As an invited manager, you must be vigilant in your observation. As you present, notice slight shifts in attention. Listen carefully to where and from whom the questions emerge. Carefully assess the groups’ reaction and response to those questions. The reaction of the group is as important as your response to the question.

Who else has been invited?

When you show up for dinner and the entire extended family has been invited, what is the message? It most often signals “importance”. It may be a result of your attendance or it may be that something much bigger is going on. It most families, a simple question will provide the answer. Not so, at the corporate table. Once again, a new manager’s ability to observe and read the room comes into play. Who else has been invited? What level of seniority are they? Are they decision-makers, finance gurus or operations focused? The answers to these questions allow the manager to understand better what role he or she should play in the ensuing discussions. The more important the unexpected guests, the more important the menu.

What is on the Menu?

Ah, the menu. There are so many signals in the menu. Did you know what was on the menu before you arrived? Is it the same menu every time? Is the menu designed to support one person’s needs or desires? Has the menu changed drastically? Is this a Thanksgiving-type menu or a simple appetizer? In my experience, the corporate menu rarely changes. So the slightest alteration is a signal. It is in a new manager’s best interest to determine before you arrive if the menu (agenda) has changed. It is your first clue that others may be invited; changes are on the horizon; an announcement is imminent; a decision is pending. You will rarely know (as a new manager) what is about to take place. However, you will be prepared and steadied in your response.

In conclusion

Listen, observe and be silent until you understand the dynamics. As you become more proficient, you should develop mentors and champions to lead you through the mine field. They are invaluable in maneuvering at the corporate table. The ability to exude professional presence while gaining a clear understanding of the corporate culture is a trait of a strong leader. Maintaining composure under fire while showing restraint will allow the meal to be served without you as the main course.

Next Time: Demanding Your Place at the Table

Lead Scoring

Oh no…not another new buzz word? That’s right. Several companies have started using this acronym for “Being in front of the right person at the right time with the right message.” No, it isn’t really new. IMPACT sales has had this as one of the primary principles for years. What is new however, is the technology. The automated system which allows a sales person and a manager to track the progress or lack thereof on a specific customer makes the process more effective than the traditional spreadsheets.

The system is clearly aimed at the “C” level of organizations using phrases such as “shortened time to revenue”, “shorter time to market” and “shorten time to profitability”. They talk about providing an edge for savvy businesses and maximizing team selling time. As a company moves away from commodity selling, it focuses on team selling. savvy sales organizations understand that it takes a team to identify the right clients, uncover their specific wants and deliver the products in a professional and targeted way. Any system that creates a more effective and efficient method to achieve this should be seriously considered.

The downside of a technologically advanced lead scoring system is the same as it is for the excel spreadsheet system. It removes the sales manager from the field. It provides one more reason to work from behind a desk. It gives top officers one more report, study and analysis to request. Let’s face it, as a manager, who wouldn’t prefer to work from the quiet warmth of their home office or their well-equipped regional office? The alternative is frankly more work and often requires more travel. But the real reason managers shy away from field work is none of these. To be a fully-engaged manager, one must know the market, know the sales person’s strengths and weaknesses, understand where he or she is in the sales process and have the confidence to take on the customer and coach the sales person. On a snowy, blustery winter morning which task would you prefer?

The answer, of course is that great sales managers love what they do every day. They thrive on developing their people to stardom. They relish putting themselves out there. They do more demonstration calls than ride alongs. Why? Because they understand that they are the expert and that their most valuable role is to pass that knowledge on to their sales force enabling them to rise up and become better. They will shine when each and every person they coach becomes better. That is how regions and divisions outsell others. It has very little to do with reports and analysis

The decision for every manager is about how to achieve that balance. How much in-process coaching can I accomplish while providing post-process reporting to those in leadership roles. Reports and analysis that are truly needed and effective in strategic decision making.

Holiday Schmaladay

Unlike in my personal life, the holiday season in healthcare sales is just plain dreadful. Well, here it is again! It is quite understandable that holiday marketing is pushed to the back burner. Everyone has their hands full with family, friends, gifts and parties. Is it any wonder that the planning is glossed over to just “Get it done”? We are all just trying to make it through the endless Christmas parties to the New Years Eve bash!

But Holiday Gift Giving for your customers is important; it is costly and it is so often an exercise in a waste of money. Let’s look at a few problem areas and few solutions.

The When Problem: It is December 1st and we must decide about holiday gifts. It is too late!

The Who Problem: Gifting is focused on attending physicians and discharge planners. Wrong

The What Problem: Cookie trays, Bakery Muffins, Calendars and Mugs filled with Hershey Kisses. Really?

The Why Problem: Because everyone else does! Wrong again!

The solutions are simple but not easy. They require time and focus. Firstly, the process should begin just after the past holiday. How were the gifts received? Did we choose the right people? Did we give the gifts for the right reasons? Will they be remembered throughout the year?

If we start with the end in mind, the focus becomes about the customer. Who should we present with gifts and why? Is it a thank you for business during the year? Is it in hopes of new or continued business? Is it name recognition? Do we have a new service to tie into the gifting? This makes our task of creating the list a bit more focused.

When we understand the why and the who, the what becomes more clear. This is not because everyone else does it so we should not give what everyone else does. Be innovative and creative. Give something memorable!