Sales Challenges: Sales Challenges: Raise the Bar Higher
When you first start out in sales or as a selling owner, anyone with a pulse is your customer. Reaching across the desk, you apply two fingers to the wrist and if you feel a lub-dub, lub-dub, they are a prospect. Because you’re just starting out, you cannot afford to be picky. You need the volume and the revenue and, in return, you put up with a lot: Irrational demands, unreasonable requests, late payments, poor communication, small profits, too much of a focus on price, etc.
At some point, however, you have to do a Keanu Reeves/Matrix move: Put your hand up as the bullets are coming at you and quietly, but confidently, say, “No.” What a great moment that is, when you decide that you are not Mr. Anderson. You are Neo. You are The One. You are all that and a bag of chips ... at least in your own mind.
What’s changed? It used to be that when the phone rang, you’d slide down the brass pole and go flying out of the fire station, grateful for the opportunity to race across town and be one of five bidders for a job. That, to you, was a sign of success and you probably crowed about the chance to grovel right next to all of the other great unwashed - the other salespeople fighting over the same crumbs.
As time goes by and you build a customer base - even a small one - it starts to occur to you that you are enjoying some customer interactions over others. You start to recognize the characteristics of a good prospect and the warm fuzzies hit you like a blast of fresh air when you encounter such a potential customer.
Likewise, your Spidey-senses kick in when you see the patterns start to appear - patterns of a bad transaction in the making. You know this because you’ve experienced them in the past. You are beginning to read the clues, yes, but there’s something more going on here. Something deeper.
Something even more important: You are beginning to believe in yourself. You are starting to see that you bring value. You are starting to understand that not everyone is your customer, that you choose them every bit as much as they choose you and - here’s the important part - you have the right to be choosy.
What are your standards? What is your brand? And perhaps most importantly, what are you no longer willing to tolerate?
The answer to these questions not only help to define you, they define your differentiator. Moving forward, you can apply the answers in your search for new customers, using a filter that you’ve never had access to before. With time and experience, you will learn to size up people, companies and opportunities more quickly and more accurately.
Sure, you will make a mistake every now and then, and either let the wrong person in or deny what could’ve been a good client access to your services and time. But the important thing here is that you have moved from crawling to walking to running. The only step that’s left is when you learn how to fly, as evidenced by Neo’s closing scene.
But these new standards are also backward-compatible. That is, you can look at your existing customer relationships and demand more from your current relationships.
A Perfect Example
Here’s the situation:
An existing customer is what you might call “high maintenance.” He is demanding and erratic, difficult to reach when you need him and yet expects immediate answers when he calls you. Price is always an issue and when it’s all over, payment of your bill is casual at best. Every step of the way, nothing is ever good enough for him.
From your point of view, the margins are not great, but it’s better than nothing and, God knows, you need all the work you can get when you’re just starting in sales.
One day, this customer calls to ask you if you could help him out. He has made a purchase from another vendor, but the job was cut wrong and he’d like you to correct things and make them right.
The old you, the caring you, the giver in you, immediately thinks, “Sure, I’ll help. He’s a customer and this is what good customer service looks like.” But the new you stops. This is your opportunity to put a stake in the ground and stand by it. Here is your chance to define who you are, to choose the kind of customers you are looking for, and to co-create a healthier client/vendor relationship.
The first step is to recognize it and the second is to communicate. But how?
“I’d be happy to help you out. The charge will be $100.” The client is likely to freak out. That might even be more than the value of the original order. All he is asking you to do, he thinks, is to trim a little off of the edges. What’s the big deal? Why charge him at all?
A Measured Response
“At the present time, we do not have what I would consider to be an ideal working relationship. If we did, I would likely charge you nothing. I want us to find a way to work better together: clearer communication, more reasonable expectations and prompt payments. In return, we will continue to provide outstanding service and priority turnaround. I will learn more about your business and bring you ideas to help you grow. I will work hard to understand your challenges and needs, your expectations and requirements. Then, I will do everything in my power to be a valuable member of your team. If that works for you, great! Let’s work toward that goal.”
Reread that last paragraph. Is there anything unreasonable in those words? Are you really asking for the moon, or are you just looking for some respect and common courtesy? The client who can see the validity of your words is a customer worth having. A customer who probably wouldn’t ask you to clean up somebody else’s problem, but if they did, you would do it gladly.
It’s a great day when you realize that not everyone is your customer and that the bar is not down at your knees; it’s up at eye level. No longer are you saying, “Please buy from me,” but rather, “I am the best. Here’s why you want to buy from me.”
Take off the kneepads and stop begging for business. Stand tall, dressed in all black, look into the camera, and coolly slip on a pair of stylish $600 sunglasses. Then, look straight up in the air and realize that you know how to fly.
It takes time, confidence and sales growth to get to that point. But what a great day it is when that guy who’s been calling you “Mr. Anderson” in a condescending manner instead calls you “valued vendor.”