Category Archives: Tips for Small Business

To Email, to Call or to Text: That is the Question

Shakespeare_ComputerAre you sending emails to schedule simple phone calls? If so, you are wasting your time!

Do you often email your customers or prospects in order to set up a time to have a phone conversation? Have you sat down and calculated the efficiency of this approach?

I find myself increasingly frustrated with the number of people who instead of picking up the phone, will send an email to schedule a time for something that would be a very quick conversation. This commonly results in several back and forth email messages with alternate times and then ultimately one party may cease to respond.  Days if not entire weeks may pass and to no avail. All of this could have been avoided by simply picking up the phone and having a 1-2 minute phone conversation or the message could be relayed in the form of a text message.

Why Email is Ineffective?

study conducted by the Radicati Group in 2015, illustrated that the average business user sends and receives an average of 122 emails per day, a number that is expected to increase to 126 messages by the end of 2019.  As no surprise, the average email only has a 20% open rate and a shockingly low response rate of only 6%.  This means that for every 100 emails you send, only 20% (20 emails) are being opened and of those 20 emails, only 6% (1 email) are being replied to.  That works out to 1 email reply for every 100 emails sent, so essentially a response rate of 1.2%.

Alternatives: Phone Call or Text Message?

According to a study by eWeek, 80% of people are currently using texting for business however, studies have shown that only 2531%  of people prefer text messages to phone calls.

The most preferred business activities conducted by text messaging according to the Harris Poll are:

  1. Checking order status (38%)
  2. Scheduling or changing appointments (32%)
  3. Make or confirm reservations (31%)

It must be noted that all of the above imply that there is an existing or soon to be existing business relationship.

In the sales process, texting can lead to conversion gains in excess of 100% however texting a prospect prior to establishing contact with them can not only adversely effect contact and conversion rates, it may also be illegal depending on the state or province you reside in.

That being said, how do you know when the most effective means of communication is to call, text or send an email?

When to Send a Text Message:

  • You have an existing relationship with your client
  • Your client has directly provided you with their cell phone number
  • Your message is brief, uncomplicated and only requires 1 or 2 basic single-sentence responses (i.e. setting up, changing or confirming a meeting time, following up on an order, etc)

When to Make a Phone Call:

  • You do not have an existing relationship with a prospect
  • The prospect or client did not give you their cell phone number directly. If you received their cell phone number from a 3rd party, they likely have no idea who you are so call them and speak with them first.  If you simply do not have their cell phone number, call their office number.
  • The subject matter you would like to discuss is more involved than and exchange of 1 or 2 sentences

When to Send an Email:

  • You have had a conversation on the phone or via text message and the recipient has requested additional information and/or details in the form of an email. Although the response rate for email is still low, if the prospect or client has requested it and knows to look out for your email, your response rate will increase. Sending unsolicited email is illegal in Canada and can result in fines of up to $1M for individuals and up to $10M for corporations.

In this day and age, it is all too easy to hide behind a computer screen.  As a result we, are all constantly bombarding each other with online messages and emails and in my opinion, they have simply lost their effectiveness as a communication tool.

So let the take home message be, don’t be afraid to pick up the phone and make a call.  Since most people don’t do that anymore period, that act alone will make you stand out among your competition.  We are all human beings and require some sort of true human interaction and relationships whether they are personal or business in nature, require that interaction in order to grow and flourish.

Happy sales my friends and the next time you’re tempted to hide behind your computer screen and send an email, remember that there is only a 1% chance it will even be replied to, so suck it up Princess and pick up that phone!

Cheers,

TSW

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The Handwritten Note in Sales and Business: A Lost Art

Handrwitten CardYear after year, each Holiday Season less and less people are mailing out Holiday Cards.

Why? Because it’s so much easier and cheaper to just send a Holiday Greetings email or to post a Holiday Greetings picture on your website or email signature.  Sure you can send a Holiday Greeting email blast out to hundreds of clients and track who opened the email but is that really effective? What is your return on that investment?

I personally find those sorts of impersonal messages totally meaningless.  All it says is that the sender is too lazy or cheap to spend the minute or two to actually write a note in a card. I may spend 1 or 2 seconds to look at the email and think, “oh, ok” and promptly delete the email without further thought.  After receiving many of these in addition to the dozens of other emails I receive on a daily basis, it is likely that I have completely forgotten who even sent me that email greeting within a few days.

In today’s modern society it is all too easy to send a text or an email. Even if we need to “write” a formal letter, that letter is typed, never written.  The closest thing that most of us do to handwriting is signing a document or receipt. I bet most people these days don’t even remember how to do cursive handwriting! Try it!

A step-up from the impersonal mass email greeting are greeting cards that are pre-printed to include a personalized message (you can only have one of course) and your signature so it “looks” like you signed it.  This is a bit better than an email but I’d still toss that card right into the trash.

That being said, if you are in sales or run any sort of business it speaks volumes to your clients if you actually send them a card with a handwritten note.  Sure it is a total pain in the butt and is time consuming but it shows that you care about your client as an individual and are willing to put the effort into expressing your appreciation.  It is a small gesture but it can go a long way.

Furthermore, since nobody seems to actually write greeting cards anymore, you may be the only one to give your client a hand written gift card which will make you stand out in their mind.

If you have hundreds of clients, sure writing out personalized greeting cards to every single one of them is not an effective use of your time, however as a rule of thumb, you should send out personalized cards to your top 20% accounts or at minimum or your top 10% in addition to prospects which have the potential to be in your top 20%.

Not sure what to write?

Here are some tips on how to write a simple and effective note in a greeting card:

  1. Address the receiver by name (i.e. Dear John)
  2. Include your general message: If sending multiple cards, write up 2 or 3 different versions of this message so you aren’t sending everyone the exact same statement. Keep the statement brief (i.e. 1-2 sentences)
  3. Write a brief personal statement . This can be something that only applies to this particular client. It can be a reference to a joke between the two of you or something as simple as thanking them for the specific number of years they have been your client.
  4. Sign your card

A personal touch can go a long way.  Remind your clients this Holiday Season that they aren’t simply a number to you or your company but rather a valued client who you can relate to as a person. In spite of how technologically advanced our society has become, people still like to buy from actual human beings and put a face to the company they are dealing with.

So this Holiday Season, If you haven’t sent out your greeting cards just yet, there is still plenty of time to do so! But if you missed the boat this year, try to plan on doing it for next year.  In the meantime, it is also a great idea to send a hand written thank you note to a new client or one who has recently made a large purchase.

Happy writing my friends!

Cheers,

TSW

 

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When To Fire A Client

Whether you’re in sales or own your own business, making the decision to fire a client may be one of the most difficult decisions you will have to make in your career.  After all, you’ve worked so hard to get the business, so why throw it away?

Well, in some cases, you may actually be losing revenue by continuing to service certain clients.  Whether it is the actual time or the energy that you invest into an account, it all adds up.  Your time and effort are worth money. If you find yourself calculating how much time you’ve invested in an account and don’t see a proportional financial return on your investment in that client, it may time to cut them loose!

The best clients are those who bring in the most revenue with minimal effort and not vice versa.  Sure there are always circumstances where you initially have to invest a lot of time and effort to get a client on board , however you have to make the call as to whether or not it is worthwhile for you to continuing to focus on that client or move on to a potentially more lucrative opportunity.

So how do you decide when to put your foot down and decide when enough is enough?

You may opt to fire your client if they:

  1. Don’t Pay their Bills

Ever heard the notorious “The cheque is in the mail”? It’s almost laughable.  Once a client’s account gets seriously behind, you have to cut them off. If they really need your product or service, they will come up with the money.

Solution: The best thing to do in this scenario is to put their account on hold and try to arrange a payment schedule. If you have to call on them in person to collect, do it.   When their account is paid in full, begin to service them again but require that pay upfront or at the time of their order. In very rare circumstances, clients may completely avoid you and in that case you have no choice but to send them to collections.

  1. Ask or Expect You to Cross any Professional or Ethical Boundaries

This could take on a variety of shapes and forms. For example, any client who asks you to do something illegal, break your company policy, lie, cheat, steal, provide sexual favours or anything else unethical in exchange for a sale.

Solution: DON’T DO IT! WALK AWAY IMMEDIATELY! Then report their behavior to your direct supervisor and explain why you will no longer have anything to do with that account. If you are a business owner, simply inform them that you do not conduct business in that manner and they will have to do business elsewhere.  If you give into these requests it may seriously harm your business, your reputation and your company’s reputation.

  1. Complain Incessantly

Every one of you reading this has encountered this sort. No matter how perfect your product or service is, they will find something wrong with it and repeatedly so.  Sure everyone makes mistakes sometimes, but when there are no mistakes made and clients routinely fuss about every little thing time and time again, it may just not be worth the aggravation in dealing with these people.  They will never be happy.

Solution: If you’re totally fed up with them, you can try referring them to your competition however in my experience that doesn’t usually work.  In spite of how apparently disappointed they are with your product or service, they’d prefer to stick around and annoy you.  If that’s the case, just ignore their fussing. Don’t feed the monster.

  1. Use You

These type of clients will drain you of all of your knowledge and resources and push you to your limit because they know you want to make the sale.  It is difficult to identify these types of clients in the early stages because quite often a client will “test you” before they decide to do business with you.  This is perfectly normal and acceptable.  If someone is serious about engaging in a long term business relationship with you and your company, they should do their due diligence and see what you and your company are all about and what kind of service you can provide.  What is not acceptable is if this “testing” behavior persists over many sales calls and they don’t give you the business.

Solution: I call them on it and say outright “Every time I see you, I provide you with a wealth of product and industry knowledge but I know you still buy mostly from my competitor.”. They usually agree and then wonder why they do so. At that point I give them an ultimatum, “If you want the knowledge and you want me to keep coming back, you have to give me the business.  Otherwise, I’m never calling on you again because I will be focusing on other clients who will actually do business with me (who happen to be your competitors). Going forward you can ask my competitor to help you with your questions.” That usually solidifies the business 99% of the time. If it doesn’t, walk away.

  1. Take Advantage of Loopholes and Con You

Ever had a client buy a promo only to return part of it so that they can get a lower volume of product at the promo price and your company didn’t figure out how to deal with that loophole?  Or buy enough product to get free shipping only to return what they didn’t actually need but rather tacked on to their order so they don’t pay freight? Or try to get credit for the same item repeatedly? There are a million examples!

Solution: Since these types usually think they are quite clever, you have to call them on it and not allow them to get away with it again.  You’ll typically be greeted with a smirk and an “I’m better than you“ attitude.  Whatever it is they conned you out of, make sure you find a way to put it on their next invoice.  If they refuse to pay, refuse to offer them product or service. Some people you just have to play hardball with.

  1. Are in Bed With the Competition

Unbeknownst to you, you may end up meeting with a client who has very close ties with your competition.  By close ties I mean a business associate, investor, family member or perhaps someone who literally does share a bed with them, not simply someone who is loyal to a company.

Solution: Once you discover this STAY AWAY!  They will funnel all of your information directly to your competitor and give them an edge on you.  They won’t buy from you and if they do, it’s only to give your product to the competition.

  1. Waste Your Time

Sometimes it’s difficult to distinguish between someone who has a very extensive decision making process  and who is legitimately interested in purchasing compared to someone who has nothing better to do and just wants to play games with you. Some people will even fake a deadline for when they have to purchase when they don’t have any intention of purchasing period.

Solution: Give them a deadline to purchase.  Let them know that after that date, you will be moving on and changing your focus to another product, service or clientele.  This will usually force the client to be upfront about their true intentions.

  1. Disrespect You

You may encounter a client who never listens to you because they know better. They may think they are superior to you in every way and do not respect you or your time.  These types of clients are likely to be a no-show for your meetings, repeatedly.

Solution: If this type of client behaves this way consistently and does not give you any business, move on.  I usually give it 5 attempts then move on to other prospects.  Why so many? You have to give people the benefit of the doubt.  They may be legitimately busy or preoccupied and you might not be calling on them at the best of times.  I will usually try again after 1 year. Sometimes if you wait a while and call on a business at a later time, you might get lucky and they have a new decision maker who might be easier to work with or they may have had a bad experience with your competitor and are more open to change.

I am fortunate that in my business, 99.9% of my customers are awesome to deal with!  I sincerely hope that you don’t face any of these scenarios in your professional career but if you do, make sure to stand your ground because, the customer is NOT always right.

Happy sales my friends and don’t ever do anything you don’t feel comfortable with.

Cheers,

TSW

 

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The Rumor Mill: How to Grind it to a Halt Before it Hurts Your Business

broken windmillWhether you are self-employed, in upper management or on the road as a sales rep, the last thing you probably want to hear is a rumor about your business, especially one that has the potential to negatively affect you and your company.

Most of the time, my clients will come to me directly when they first hear a rumor, be it good or bad.  Other times when for instance, I am on a sales call, if seemingly out of nowhere, my client starts to bombard me with questions about our industry and my company’s integrity, I know something serious may be going on.  If I have travelled from clinic to clinic to face the exact same questions over and over again, then I know for certain that I must investigate the matter further.  This typically happens when I’m trailing the route of a competing sales representative and for the most part, that is part of normal healthy competition.   However, sometimes that is not the case at all. It may very well be the beginning of a PR nightmare.

Rumors are a dime a dozen in my industry and I often feel that in any aspect in life, the more successful you are, the more prone you are to attack.

As some of you may be aware, I work for a small business. Although the bulk of my job is in a sales capacity, I am also responsible for all of the marketing, business development and public relations management for the company. This means that as soon as I catch wind of a potentially negative rumor that could affect my company and ultimately my sales, that I need to take that saleswoman hat off, and put my PR hat on.  I have to get down to the nitty gritty of it all and devise a plan to sort out all of the facts and relay the correct information to my clients ASAP before the rumor mill gets out of control.

I have to admit that public relations and “damage control” is the most challenging part of my job.  The reason being is that I take a lot of pride in my work and the company that I work for and I just can’t stand false accusations, especially when I have to take time away from selling to deal with them. I’ve been with my current employer for so long because of the ethical and upstanding way that the company does business and that is a huge reason for the company’s success.  Since its fruition, I have spent several years building and nurturing the business, so when false and threatening rumors start to mill about, I feel like I want to lash out like a Momma bear protecting her cub from a pack of wolves.

Angry-Bear-Grizzly

…But that wouldn’t be professional, so I digress.

In this article, I will discuss the different types of rumors, why they start and how to stop them from getting out of control and hurting your business.

Note: If you are a sales representative for a corporation and do not have decision making authority, I strongly recommend that you do NOT take matters into your own hands, but rather gather all of the facts you can and immediately report them to your sales manager. Only act under direction of your supervisor otherwise it may cost you your job.

INDIRECT RUMORS:

extraextraphoto

These rumors although not directly related your company, may have trickle-down effects that can affect your business. I have broken them down into two categories: Industry Related and Mistaken Identity

 

 

Industry Related

These rumors come about when a leading company within a specific industry has acted in a manner which has subsequently caused them or a particular product to receive negative publicity.  If such acts have caught the attention of national or even international media, this may instill fear in the consumer who does not use the company in question but does conduct business in the same industry. 

For example, several years ago one scientific study published results which claimed that people who supplemented with Vitamin E had higher mortality rates than those who did not.  Even though this study was very poorly done and was not conclusive, the media blew it out of proportion and broadcasted that “Vitamin E Kills”.  My father, who owns a nutrition store, saw a huge decrease in his Vitamin E sales as a result even though it had nothing to do with his business or a certain brand of product that he sold.

Unfortunately, in these cases the business owner or sales rep ends up on the defense, having to defend the legitimacy of the product or service they are selling.  In business, the best practice to overcome these random and potentially harmful rumors is to be proactive. Ensure that you are routinely keeping up with current events in your industry and regularly educating your clients so that they will trust and value your opinion rather than succumb to the latest gossip.

Mistaken Identity

These rumors most often involve a direct competitor and can be quite a nightmare to straighten out.  For instance, let’s say in a niche industry where you may have two main competitors who may even have very similar company names (i.e. ABC Corporation and ACME Corporation), if one of those companies were to be exposed for having done something illegal or unethical, the other companies may be “guilty by association”.  In these cases, clients may easily confuse which company is “the bad guy” sort-to-speak or just be reluctant to use any of those companies out of fear that they may all be conducting business in the same manner.

If this happens to your business, the best thing to do is to get in front of your customers either face-to-face or by means of intense advertising to remind them of your business and what sets you apart from your competition. Remind them of your excellent quality, service or whatever it may be. Keep your head up, keep it positive and act like you are unaffected.  Playing your cards right in this situation may end up increasing your sales, especially if you can take some of that business from your competition.

 

2. DIRECT RUMORS (Targeted)

Target

This is an unethical, malicious attack conducted by an individual or an organization intended to harm a business.  It is also illegal and violates many codes of professional practice.  Although these types of rumors are rare, they do happen. I have seen this behavior in sales representatives, business professionals, and even some companies who do this in a desperate attempt to “win” back their market share.  If you have ever considered doing this, don’t! The egg will wind up on your face.

I hate dealing with these cases because it is such an absolute waste of everybody’s time. If you fall victim to this childish behavior, just laugh it off and clarify the facts.  If you have a solid relationship with your clients, they will believe you.  If the accusation is a serious potential threat to your business, then you will need to devise a solid PR strategy and may need to obtain legal advice.

If you are faced with any of these types of rumors or perhaps one I haven’t mentioned, follow these general steps to stop the rumor mill before it gets out of control:

  1. Qualify the Rumor: Is it a legitimate threat to your business? If not, just laugh it off. If it could be, proceed to step 2
  2. Find The Facts: In speaking with the person who brought the rumor to your attention (and no one else), ask the 5W’S: WHO,WHAT, WHEN, WHERE and WHY. Document everything in detail. Do NOT provide your opinion or commentary prematurely as that could further harm your business.

Some examples of questions to ask could be:

WHO did they hear it from? Was it first hand? Or second hand? Make note of any names in case someone may be guilty of slander. Knowing how far off from the source your client heard the rumor could give you valuable insight into how far it has already spread and how much damage could have potentially been done.

WHAT exactly did they hear? Be as specific as possible. Was it something that was covered in the media recently? Was someone in particular saying bad things about you or your company?  Or is your client just worried about something in general?

WHERE did they hear this? Were they amongst other clients of yours?

WHEN did they hear it? If it was a long, long time ago, it likely isn’t relevant anymore. If it was recently, how recently? Rumors spread very quickly, so if you are the first person they talked to about it, you have a good chance at grinding that rumor mill to a halt before it gets going.

WHY did someone say the things they did? Did the person sharing these rumors with your client share them out of concern or ill intent?

  1. Decide on the Most Appropriate Medium(s) to Present the Facts:  This will depend on your specific type of business.  Will you create a press release? Or target specific clients? Will you discuss it face-to-face? Or simply via a letter or email?
  1. Bombard Your Clients with The Facts: You can use one type of media or several. Regardless, make sure that your clients are crystal clear about the situation at hand.
  1. Consult a Lawyer if Necessary. If you are dealing with an individual or corporation who may be slandering you or your company, you should obtain legal advice.

I hope that none of you have to deal with these types of scenarios in business, but if you do, I hope you keep this article as a handy reference and find these tips helpful in grinding that rumor mill to a halt!

Happy sales my friends and remember to keep your head up and be professional!

Cheers,

 

TSW

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