Viewing posts from the Sales category

6 Keys to Drive Revenue and Increase Loyalty

Increase Your Customer LoyaltyWhen you find yourself in a tough economy and your market share is under attack, what is the one thing you are hyper-focused on? Customer loyalty.

World-class companies are fanatics about loyalty, regardless of the economic cycle or their own market dynamics. But what is the definition of loyalty? More importantly, how do you measure loyalty?

When asked, most of us might say things like customer retention, stickiness, or even customer satisfaction. But what does this really mean? At the end of the day, what we are talking about is revenue per customer. That is the real measure of loyalty, isn’t it? Will they spend their hard-earned money with me again and again?

In a market with many choices and fewer dollars to go around, standing out in your customers’ minds often boils down to a lot of intangible nuances. In other words, your customers must not only like you they must love you!

It seems to me the manufacturers are really struggling with this, and it becomes even more complex when selling non-inventory items like services – especially through an independent reseller channel. Some have even suggested that their MPS programs are simply ‘straw men’ thrown out to keep some level of mindshare. My take is that they are just like the rest of us trying to figure it all out; they are happy to provide programs that incent growth and traction for channel providers, but dealers and resellers are hitting the same wall: That is, the customers are more informed, have more choices and are hanging on to their money more now than ever.

So do we just suck it up and say the economy is what it is? Do we simply adjust our expectations to our current climate? Maybe, but those that are thriving have become experts in what I’m about to tell you. These best-in-class companies understand there are six key ways to generate revenue:

  1. More Leads (Pipeline): Did you know that it typically takes between 7-12 “touches” to convert a suspect into a qualified prospect? Best-in-class organizations are experts at driving more leads to the front door. They may have been good at sales, but they are great at marketing to new and existing customers to increase overall opportunity.
  2. Higher Conversion (Relevant Messaging): What are you doing to ensure messaging is truly relevant to your audience? Being on target with your prospects and current customers is one of the most painful lessons I’ve had to learn, right after generating more leads.
  3. Raise Prices (Increased Value): At first, this seems like an absolute “NO”, but by raising prices you don’t have to convert as many leads and also get to spend more time with the customers you love. You’ll generally expend the same effort in the sales process, so consider how you like to present yourself.
  4. Higher Frequency of Sales per Lead: This really goes well with the “blue ocean” strategy. The more lines of business you have, the more opportunities you have to generate additional revenues with the same customer.
  5. Increased Frequency of Sales: This method is the one most of us gravitates towards. But we are often faced with the real world issues surrounding the actual execution. Finding a way to shorten your sales cycle or increase actual sales is generally accomplished in one of two ways: Increasing the number of sales staff or dramatically improving your ability to touch customers’ pain point. My experience has taught me either method can be rather expensive.
  6. Selling Partner Products: One key area most of us miss is the ability to gain affiliate fees from partners. You may not have a core expertise yourself, but if you hold a trusted advisors role with your customers they’ll look to you to refer key goods and services. A great partnering strategy is often a great reinforcement to overall loyalty.

What’s critical to understand is that world-class companies have installed processes to effectively target each one of these key six drivers. They are relentless in their pursuit of customers, but also in their ability to generate additional revenues across their entire portfolio.

Your customers have problems just like you and I do, but we can become so focused on our own day-to-day issues that we may actually miss helping them solve them. Increased loyalty really comes at the cost of listening well, and delivering what solves our customers’ problems. In other words, if you show your customers how to put money back in their own pockets they’ll be forever grateful. This tends to translate into the best revenue generator of all, and results in extremely loyal customers.

Your Software Demo is Killing Me!

your software demo is killing meI’m on the other end of another software presentation about a software product I’m halfway interested in – and I’m dying here!

How many software demos have you been through that really spurred a reaction? Well, what I mean is a reaction other than you wanting to be on the other side of this demo and wishing the sales rep well)?

Let’s see if I can map out the typical formula: First, history of the company in three slides followed by a slide with all their customers’ logos. Next, we dive into some ‘feature-benefit’ statements and some number of network diagrams (complete with little fluffy clouds and lightning bolts). How am I doing so far?

Then comes the coup de grace — the software demo, itself! As if the anti-climactic slide build didn’t put your brain on idle, the software demo is suppose to be some explosive finale!

Do these software companies have a standard playbook for software sales?

Are You In or Out?

At this point, perhaps you think I’m being too harsh. Perhaps, but in my years of buying, supporting and selling software it seems that almost everyone jumps straight to the demo as the de facto means of closing for the sale. What if I don’t need a software demo? What if I didn’t ask to see your software? What if you didn’t really stir enough desire in differentiating your offering or eliciting my unique pain points well enough?

In the grander scheme of things, it’s not enough to simply pursue activity. Let me be the first to tell you that it feels great to be doing ‘stuff’; I love feeling productive, but the one lesson I’m still being schooled on is there is a huge difference between activity and productivity.

A few months back, I was looking for some analytics software for SMBs, and happened across a company website that was very informative and drew me in to find out more. Aside from the delay in response during the holiday season, the sales professional proceeded to identify whether I was a qualified prospect. While she would’ve been happy to open up a trial version of the software platform for me to use for 30 days, she wanted to understand my intentions and needs.

This forced me to be honest with myself (and with her), because I simply wanted to take a peak under the hood, to smell the leather interiors. I had no real intention of actually buying the software. I was simply curious.

On one hand, some might say this was a lost sale, but in my book there wasn’t really a sale to begin with. So this sales professional was kind and professional about the exchange, letting me know that she would be happy to talk with me should I reconsider my position. However, she was efficient with her time.

Take the Demo Challenge

Once you have a qualified candidate, when do you spring the demo? I might argue never, but I know selling things site-unseen can be challenging. So let’s start with a challenge I’ll issue to you if you are in software sales (or any sales for that matter):

  1. I challenge you to say everything you need to in  5 – 8 slides (about 15-20 minutes of talking).
  2. Feel free to keep your “about me” stuff, but tell me everything about your company in 1 slide and why I should care about you. (Hint: Unless you are IBM or some huge brand, chances are you need to help me understand how you are going to be part of my story – not the other way around.)
  3. Don’t give a software demo in the initial presentation: Just like your presentation, too many presenters use this as a crutch to sell.
  4. Make the demo interactive: Given that most software presentations are remote, I concede that it’s useful to leverage software demos to create more conversation. However, most demos are very one-sided, so be sure you have uncovered the points of interest the prospect would like to have answered.
  5. Have fun with it! Don’t push dull and dry demos with step-by-step how-to’s; that’s what training is for! Instead, test ways to make the demo creative and you may even play with 2-5 minute video shorts your customer can watch at their leisure.
I understand your development team spent a ton of time, energy and money developing your software, and that everyone is eager to show off their cool stuff. However, your goal is to shorten the time to sell and remove objections to the transition from prospect to paying customer. That being the case, the more time you spend talking the less time you spend listening and understanding the needs of your customers. In my years, the best software I’ve purchased have had the least amount of time looking at the actual software and more time spent in dialogue about how it will meet my needs.

Skype, Can I Get Some Love?

Sales support gone wrong“It’s all about who you talk to,” is evidently Skype’s new tag line!

When you match a product and service that fits a need (Skype) and a customer that has a need and budget (me) the rest should be pretty easy, right? Not so fast.

I’m a big believer in customer experience during the buying process; most of that is simply shortening the distance to your sale. So you can imagine my dismay when over a week ago, what was supposed to be a simple purchase from a self-service system created a recipe for disaster.

Skype, now part of Microsoft, has to be one of the most well known voice, video and chat business tools in the world. Not only is it great for SOHO professionals like myself, it’s wonderfully flexible for businesses of just about any size. I moved to the for-pay version a little over 12 months ago as it offered some wonderful leverage points for conference calls and recording interviews for later playback.

Without much fanfare, I began the process of renewing my service this year. However, after about an hour of wrestling with the payment system, I finally gave up and moved on. After a few hours, I checked back in and sure enough my service had been purchased. But it didn’t apply my $20.00 credit.

So off I go, through the maze of websites and some abysmal form of Twitter-based tech support. After a week of scattered tweets and a few emails from someone I’ll call John, I finally receive a call back. John began his onslaught of “teaching” me the way Skype did things: No refunds, no upgrades, no tech support, and you should’ve called me first. I was even told that Skype purposely made it hard for customers to purchase things because of past fraud in the system.

What happened to shortening the distance to your sale?

Needless to say, I was rather frustrated – and had become the worst kind of irate customer you want: A crusader casting aside money for ‘the cause’. I no longer cared about credit or how much I’d spent!

But then John did something that saved the day. He forwarded me one, simple link that saved Skype’s reputation in my book — a link to Frank. In less than the time it takes me to dial a phone number, Frank had refunded my full amount and told me exactly what I needed to do in order to utilize my credit and even upgrade my account.

Was this a case of ‘bad cop’ and ‘good cop’? Maybe, but all I know is that Frank gave me some love – and now I’m happy to say that Skype account support is solid. Unfortunately, I found out there’s a twilight zone between ‘free-mium’ and Skype’s ‘premium’ subscription that you have to watch out for though!

My recommendation to Skype? Make it easier for customers who want to spend money with you; help them upgrade, downgrade and even receive refunds. Don’t hide your contact links; just do a better job of explaining what a customer has to do in order to talk, chat or email you.

Update: After successfully negotiating my refund, I was happy to return as a Premium customer. That is until I learned that I can no longer apply my $20.00 credit towards the purchase of the 12-month premium account. Once again, Skype has found a way to create distance between their customer and a sale. Simply amazing!

For Help: For anyone needing to contact a person via Skype’s live chat function, at the time of this writing you can follow this link.

Recommetiquette: How to Ask for Recommendations Using LinkedIn

View Ken Stewart on LinkedInNothing feels better than a pat on the back, and LinkedIn makes no exception to this rule! For those not familiar with LinkedIn, it is a professional social platform to share opportunities, ideas and information. Millions of professionals subscribe, and some might coin the service as Facebook for business professionals.

Many have made valuable connections using this service, and I’m sure some have even landed a job from using LinkedIn. It is a great way to stay connected with clients and business colleagues alike.

In this fast-moving world, keeping up with changing e-mail addresses, phone numbers, and the who-knows-who game can be daunting. LinkedIn seeks to make that easier. While most everyone knows LinkedIn for its powerful connections features, I was surprised how few know or use the the recommendation feature – or worse – are intimidated to ask for a recommendation.


Let’s look at some LinkedIn recommendation etiquette. Quite simply put, if you feel you are worth a recommendation, ask for it. Don’t wait for someone to think of it for you. Trust me, they are thinking about a million other things than you.

This doesn’t mean that a warm and friendly request by you will receive a response, but generally people you are connected with respect you. So ask. The worst that could happen is that you don’t get the recommendation, and the best case is you get a glowing review from a respecting colleague or client.

Lastly, always change the generic message to something more personal (but not too familiar, mind you). More on this later.

Recommendations in a nutshell:

LinkedIn makes recommendations extremely simple once you make a connection. By simply clicking on Recommendations under the Profile heading, you are presented with the option to choose which job title for which you would like to seek recommendations.

As you can see in the example above, I have a few recommendations for two of my positions. The “thumbs-up” icon to the left indicates I have at least one recommendation, and I can choose to manage or ask to be endorsed.When asking to be endorsed, it is a simple 3 step process (see below).

  1. Step 1 is confirming the position you wish to be recommended for.
  2. In step 2, you must decide who you’ll ask.
  3. To complete the process, simply create your message. You can choose to leave the default subject and body of the message intact, but I strongly recommend you make this more personal. (Tip: It’s always great to include something personal, e.g. “It was great to see you at the last lunch n’ learn.”).
  4. (Optional): Wring your hands as you wait by your computer for a response.

What goes around comes around:

Once your colleague or client completes the recommendation, you will receive a message in your inbox inviting you to approve or decline the recommendation. This is a great way to ensure the recommendation meets with your high standards, right?

Perhaps the best feature about this recommendation process, in my humble opinion, is the fact that LinkedIn really believes in returning the favor. As such, you are immediately taken to a screen that asks you to write up a recommendation, in kind.

For those of you who understand sales principles, generally the best time to ask for a recommendation is immediately following the completion of a successful engagement. It’s genuinely the best opportunity you will ever have to ask for a flattering recommendation, as opposed to waiting until you are looking for a job or customer.

So, if you receive a request for a recommendation – make sure you take a little time and pay it forward. You never know, the very next e-mail in your inbox might just be that recommendation you have been waiting for coming right back to you… and there’s no better time than a recession to get that feel-good you get from a pat on the back, like a LinkedIn recommendation.

Who knows, maybe that will lead you to a great job-opportunity to boot!

Note: I originally posted this as a contributing author for Louis Gray.

10 Ways to Diagnose PowerPoint Offenders

More is not always better, especially when it involves PowerPoint.

Seth Godin wrote his 5 rules to amazing PowerPoint in 2007, and since then I don’t know if anyone has even taken notice. While it might not be as bad as being a drunken driver, I dare say PowerPoint offenders run the risk of being criminal in their thirst for recklessly wasting others’ time.

You know you are an eager PowerPoint offender when:

  1. Your file sizes are often too big too email.
  2. You email them anyway.
  3. You are ’empathy tone deaf’, and always include the same ten slides about yourself and your company (instead of just one).
  4. You insist on placing the same 10 slides first, because you think your audience forgot the entire value pitch that got them there in the first place.
  5. You believe PowerPoint is the graphics program of choice.
  6. You believe PowerPoint and Word are interchangeable (PowerPoint is not for full sentences).
  7. You believe that at least every other slide needs an action-packed animation (to get your point across).
  8. Your reaction at the prospect of a brainstorming session with your team is to find a projector and open PowerPoint to get the juices flowing.
  9. You believe Multimedia files should be played in PowerPoint.
  10. You believe increasing subject matter complexity requires increasing the slide-to-point ratio.

You might be reading this, and thinking you aren’t a guilty-offender. I know, I was like you once.

You see it all boils down to your insecurity about the topic, the audience — the presenter (that’s you). Do you want to know how you know you are really ready, how you are the subject matter expert?

When you can take a program, product or concept you’ve been working on for six months and slam it in three slides (including the contact slide). They lay out like this:

  1. Painting the pain.
  2. Describe your solution to the pain and the benefits your audience will realize.
  3. Contact and closing.

That’s it… If you are guilty, just pick one of these and start there. Please, for the love of our remaining sanity…

Selling to the Symptoms

After the entire family has been hit with some type of flu, you can imagine the last ten days hasn’t been all roses. It seemed that about the only thing for it was medicine to treat the symptoms and sleeping. At times, I couldn’t tell you whether being sick was worse than the medicine to help with the symptoms. I think it ended up simply being a choice of whether you hated the symptoms or side effects worse.

Of course, it got me thinking. How often do we prescribe solutions for our customers that simply mask the symptoms of illness?

Maybe you are more sales-minded and have a tendency to talk more than you listen, or maybe you like the gadgets and think the latest and greatest will surely do the trick. (I know I’m guilty of both.)

But worst of all is when you are so desperate to get rid of the symptoms, you’ll take anything in your medicine cabinet to get rid of it… When’s the last time you got the pressure to get rid of something like that from your inventory? Everyone on the inside knows it’s a square peg for the round hole, but you put on a thin smile for your customer and play on.

I’ve been called in to make a bad situation bearable, and I’m sure you have too. In every case, the medicine prescribed was just masking symptoms and not driving at curing the sickness. Are you in the business of selling cold and flu medicine, or curing the sickness?

Do You Know the Ultimate Question?

How did you answer questions before Google or Wikipedia?

For me, there was Encyclopedia Britannica, the local library and my Dad. If one of those three sources didn’t have an answer, there was little hope of ever finding an answer.

So the change was good right?

For you and me, absolutely! For the folks at Encyclopedia Britannica? Not so good.

My point is that the world around us changes and innovations are coming in exponential waves instead of every so often. We are dizzied and enthralled by the sheer amount of information being thrown at us.

So context is what’s important — importance as defined by you, dear reader, is what is most important. In other words, you are now the ultimate customer!

But if that means you are the ultimate customer, what does that make me? An ultimate customer as well! We all win, right?

Not so fast there, tiger… At the end of that question mark is a loaded weapon; if you are out there running a company focused on, selling something to or servicing that ‘ultimate customer’ you know how demanding it can be.

So how do you avoid EB’s fate? You need to be more like Google and Wikipedia, because it’s not about what you are selling — it’s about listening to what question your new customer is really asking.

FREE Download: 7 Secrets to Destroy Your Daily Distractions!Change starts here, with you! Throw aside assumptions and begin your journey to success today in the ChangeForge, a website, focusing on how to deliver results in the collision of business, technology and relationships. As the owner of ChangeForge, Ken Stewart is passionate about helping you solve business problems by helping to craft solutions which achieve business objectives through applying technology smartly, change management considerately, and motivational techniques genuinely.

Download his new free ebook, 7 Secrets to Destroy Your Daily Distractions: A Field Guide to Staying Focused Today!

Living The Five Dollar Dream

Saturday, I stopped by Walmart. I had received a $5 promotional gift card, and decided to put it to good use. I meandered around the store for a bit, picked up a pair of gloves and found myself in electronics and entertainment. With televisions flashing brightly and game systems sparkling in the corner of my eye, I landed in the DVD section. With walls and walls of movies, the first things I saw were the new release endcaps to my left and right framing this enormous bin of $5 DVD titles.

People were rummaging through the movies on all sides, but there was a little opening just on the other side. I couldn’t resist, it was a bin full of movies for $5, after all!

After a few minutes shoveling through movies, I came to realize there wasn’t anything I wanted, and especially nothing I needed.

How many of you have been in this place — as customers or as sellers?

If you are in big-box retail, the name of the game is all about profit per square foot, clean stores and full shelves; it’s about turning a massive amount of inventory in a short amount of time. But are you in big-box retail?

If so, then make sure you have one of everything, find a way to stay open all the time and be sure to give the lowest prices. I love finding DVDs on sale! But if you aren’t, then quit playing in the middle of the road, because you are bound to get hit.

Walmart doesn’t care more or less about its customers than any other business, I suppose. But they don’t ask me what I want, they show me what they have. If they have something I want (or need), I buy it. If not, I leave.

Walmart helps a lot of people live the five dollar dream. The problem is that there is only one Walmart.

Change starts here, with you! Throw aside assumptions and begin your journey to success today in the ChangeForge, a website, focusing on how to deliver results in the collision of business, technology and relationships. As the owner of ChangeForge, Ken Stewart is passionate about helping you solve business problems by helping to craft solutions which achieve business objectives through applying technology smartly, change management considerately, and motivational techniques genuinely.

Download his new free ebook, 7 Secrets to Destroy Your Daily Distractions: A Field Guide to Staying Focused Today!

I Hate Printers

How many times have you heard that? How many times have you worked your way around the assumptions of a prospect or customer? Try running the phrase “I hate printers” through a Google search, and you come back with almost two million results; there’s even a Facebook page dedicated to printer-hating, believe it or not. The stereotypical profile of anyone working in an office environment has become synonymous with battling the printer, copier or fax, epically portrayed in the cult classic Office Space “smash scene”. So who needs some love?

The much-maligned printer, copier and fax are probably well-deserved stereotypes achieved after more than a few occasions of frustrating encounters over delivery of something thought so simple – a piece of paper with some words or pictures on it. But could an entire industry, built around the concept of applying an image to a page efficiently, be that bad?

While, I might suggest office workers’ general frustration of maddeningly bureaucratic office environments is often taken out on a misbehaving copier or printer (while imagining a boss or co-worker), ‘the industry’ hasn’t done itself a lot of favors either. Over-selling features, finance debacles and security scandals are top of mind, but even seemingly simple things like print drivers can still wreak havoc on customers – costing thousands of lost hours in corrective action and damage assessment.

But it’s not all bad, right? Of course not. “We have managed print services to save the day!”

So goes the mantra of the under-prepared and optimistic. You see, what comes to top of mind (mentioned above) leaves well-intentioned providers standing against a pre-imposed wall of skepticism – and most often from those within the company walls. While the market is busily moving to and fro, the normal folks trying to earn a living repairing things and helping customers for a living are left holding an interesting set of consequences.

You see, most people, like you and I, are just trying to figure it out as we go. We don’t pretend to have all the secrets (and be skeptical of those that say they do). We live, we learn and we love; we don’t live to be hated.

Two Ways to Share the Love:

  1. Be the Ambassador: Expect to be greeted with skepticism, surround yourself with those who don’t believe you and learn to look at life from ‘their’ point of view. This means you should fan the “I Hate Printers” Facebook page, hang out with a service tech for a day or simply work in a customer’s copier room for a week – and just watch. Subject yourself to scrutiny if you really believe in what you are doing – if you dare – with a big grin on your face.
  2. Recharge Your Batteries: Unless you are a masochist, give yourself ample time to recharge your batteries – by surrounding yourself with people who have a passion for you and what you do. Every so often, make sure you take some time to look around. You need to keep things in perspective by engaging your co-workers and your boss, or calling your customers and sharing something they might find interesting. Above all, be sure you are working with a company who you can give and receive respect for a service performed well.

In the end, there will always be things we disklike about our situation, but persevering through adversity is a defining quality as human beings. But don’t contribute to the stereotype out there, and don’t become another reason to hate printers.

Change starts here, with you! Throw aside assumptions, and begin your journey to success today in the ChangeForge, a website, focusing on how to deliver results in the collision of business, technology and relationships.

As a senior consultant with the Photizo Group, Ken Stewart comes from, and works directly with, channel providers in the managed services space, developing educational tools and resources to promote lasting business transformation. You can receive the latest industry news by following ChangeForge on Twitter or become a fan on Facebook, as well as his weekly column on MPS Insights, every Tuesday.

The Debate Continues On Charging for Assessments, Still?

On the heels of the 2010 European Conference in Barcelona, the question was asked about whether to charge for assessments or not – still. Interesting how this question continues to crop up, and needless to say I disagreed with my colleagues on the subject (I know you are shocked that I would disagree with someone). When people disagree with me, it sticks with me. No, not because their wrong, but because it encourages me to once again look at my perspective (drawn from my own experiences) and assess whether I’m in touch or out of touch. So do you charge for assessments or not?

An example: Johnny wants more money…

You manage Johnny, and he comes to you one day and asks for a raise. Johnny has done a good job, and it’s a little early in the year for this sort of thing, but you decide to entertain the idea as his annual review is only a month away. What do you do?

You might send him away, squarely dressing him down for approaching you like this, or you may give him the raise based on some internal guidelines and thoughts of how he might go home and tell his family about what a wonderful boss you are!

However, a keen manager drives to the motivation behind the question, and asks Johnny what more money would do for him. You might learn that he wants a new, red sports car and this new raise would help him afford the payment (not the car). Alternately, you might learn that he is having a hard time affording food now with his newborn child’s expensive new formula. In either case, you have some choices to make – but now you are able to make educated decisions to help Johnny now as well as tomorrow!

To charge or not…

What really got me thinking about this was that I just finished listening to another presentation conducted by Robin Robins, hosted by Kaseya, around increasing managed service providers’ (MSP) sales close rate – leaning on Robin’s process and a technique called the “Free Network Audit”. Who wouldn’t want better close rates, right? But that word “Free” just never sat right with me, and I’ve become very skeptical of anyone using this word. I mean, doesn’t your radar start chirping when you see or hear this word used?

OK, OK… I’ve used it too, and it works at certain points. But the point I want to make is that “Free” has to have some limits. If you don’t build in scarcity or a process to advance to the next level, then you are giving value away for free.

Robin’s tactic is well proven – when combined with value-focused selling approaches. It’s what I’ve seen done for years. How do you get an opportunity to learn more specifics about your customer’s specific pain points, and educate them on both their pain points as well as how you can help them all go away? You assess their environment, of course, and speak to your findings by framing the solution in a certain way.

But should you charge or not? Can you charge? If so how much? I’d be happy to talk with you on the subject, and you can connect with me here. Until then, good selling out there.

Change starts here, with you! Throw aside assumptions, and begin your journey to success today in the ChangeForge, a website, focusing on how to deliver results in the collision of business, technology and relationships.

As a senior consultant with the Photizo Group, Ken Stewart comes from, and works directly with, channel providers in the managed services space, developing educational tools and resources to promote lasting business transformation. You can receive the latest industry news by following ChangeForge on Twitter or become a fan on Facebook, as well as his weekly column on MPS Insights, every Tuesday.