Saturday, May 26, 2012

The 1st 100 Days in Your New Sales Territory: Winning Correspondence and Responsiveness Tips

In my series, "The 1st 100 Days...", I provide tips and tools that I have learned over a selling career that spans 3 decades. Bad communication habits and mistakes made by a new Sales Professional in their territory can greatly hamper success. This is critically true when it comes to a sales professional's responsiveness to customers and how correspondence is managed. Here are a few good tips and rules-of-thumb that will help you sidestep the pitfalls and drive your sales success.

Let's begin with the most basic of good ideas.

"Have an unyielding personal policy to be timely with all your call-backs and written communications."

We all know to promptly return calls, texts, and emails from our customers. But calling or emailing to say, "I don't have the answer" or, "the answer is no" or, "The part is on back order and I don't know when it will be available", causes even the most experienced Sales Professional to hesitate. You may think the problem is not your fault, but you're the one that is going to take the heat when you call. Or, you think it best not to call until you have some good news. The best option is simple. Make the call immediately. Let the customer know that you are on top of the situation and will be giving them regular updates on your progress. Oddly, this is an opportunity to positively set you apart in their eyes. If you empathically and diligently effort a solution you will, at the same time, be growing your personal relationships with the client. The problem they are having with your company may be out of your control and you may not be able to affect a quick or positive outcome. Handled correctly, you will be seen as one who did everything you could to help. And, regardless of their frustrations with your company, they will remember your efforts and chose to continue to do business with you.

"Use your windshield time for customer care and to grow your business"

My wife spent time as a GM for a fine dining corporation. Employees in her restaurants new here famous adage, "if you've got time to lean, you've got time to clean'. In other words, if you're on-the-clock, then stay busy. The same applies to road warriors. Driving to your first appointment or from one appointment to another can be good customer contact time. I like music, sports talk radio and socializing on the phone with my friends as much as the next sales professional. But, effective business use of travel time will set you apart. Here are a few ideas that will help you take full advantage of your time behind the wheel.

Update your car's "hands-free" technology (microphone and speakers) to give you the highest quality of clean sound. Your customers will be as irritated as you would be when fielding a call with poor or inaudible sound quality.

Practice the discipline of updating your business contact lists daily in your company's CRM, laptop and mobile phone. You will thank yourself for years to come and your travel time will be that much more productive when using voice command calling and voice texting.

Take a moment to pre-plan each day's travel in and around your Sales-Zones (Sales-Zone = a segment of a sales territory that can be canvassed or worked in 2 to 4 days). Often you are being pulled into a territory-zone to further develop specific sales, qualify leads, or address customer needs. The best use of your windshield time is to extend the length of your stay and develop your relationships in the Sales-Zone. Before hopping in the car, make a list of all those in and over your sales funnel that you will want to make appointments to visit. Making plans by searching contact lists and reading texts and emails while driving is much less effective. More importantly, I am sure it breaks many states' "Distracted Driver Laws".

Apply these 3 tips for working while driving and you will add several affective hours to your sales week. You will truly be "Working Smarter, Not Harder".

"Your voice mail lead-in message should be an anxiety reliever"

The smart practice of turning your mobile phone off during an appointment will send your customers to your voice mail. The most common last words of a voice-mail lead-in message are, "...and I'll get back to you right away". Your caller has heard this promise from others a thousand times. They know that many a company representative does not do anything "...right away". A simple way to help relieve customer "call-back anxiety" is to have your lead-in message assure them that you are On-The-Job and actively working today. And, remember to always keep your lead-in message short. Telling callers to leave a detailed or short message, to wait for the tone, to leave a call-back number, etc., is no longer necessary. Here is just one example of a brief, call-back anxiety relieving lead-in message that you can use for your company voice-mail.

"Friday, December 23rd; this is John with ABC Corp. I'm sorry I missed your call. Leave a message and I'll call you back today."

It only takes 45 seconds to re-record your company voice-mail lead-in message. Make it a habit to update your lead-in at the end of a work day. Colleagues and customers in Eastern time-zones who call before the sun comes up will be nicely impressed as well.

"Less is more when leaving a voice messages for customers and colleagues"

The best rule-of-thumb is to simply request a call-back in your voice mail message. It is a very good idea not to attempt to accomplish more. But, often in business it is expeditious to let the one you are calling know the reason for your call. If your verbal message is to be long or has multiple topics or points, make it your habit to let your voice mail recipient know that at the very beginning of your message. Say that you have, "...2 quick topics" or, that your message, "...may take 30 or 40 seconds". This will give your recipient the option of saving your message for later. It will also prevent the one you're calling from mistakenly deleting your message early; not realizing you had a second topic. Most importantly, be the "Champion for Brevity".

Here are a few "Best Practices" for the emails of Sales Professionals in the field.

"Make time every day for emails"

Obviously, respond to or, at minimum, personally acknowledge receipt of emails and texts as soon as possible. If it is a busy day, be sure to schedule 2 or 3 times during the day to return written communication.

"Keep your emails short"

Practice the "Economy of Words" when writing business emails. Years ago, while boarding a plane I noticed a sign overhead. It read, "Bathrooms Aft". It would be difficult to craft a clearer message with greater brevity. When I think of short emails I remember the example of "Bathrooms Aft". Lovers may pour over every word of a partner's email, but everyone else, particularly in business wants the sender to get to the point - fast! I appreciate the old adage, "If I had more time, I'd write a shorter letter".

"Keep your emails sweet"

A sweet greeting or salutation is a good way to off-set the smart brevity of a business email. Something as simple as beginning with, "Good morning John" or "Sally - Good Afternoon" can let your email reader know that all is well and friendly that follows. And yes, first names are most always acceptable. Should you be in a true gray-area regarding the use of the recipient's first name or, have a need to be a little more formal, try the following: "Dear Mr. Jones (Dave)".

"Business emails: no place to practice your standup routine"

Over time, many learn that written humor is a skill and a risky endeavor in business emails. What you think is hilarious or a cute reference in your written communications can be easily misunderstood. In business it is best to leave comedy writing to comedy writers. Unless you are really good at penning a joke, just say "no" to your urge to write something funny.

"Don't complain and don't explain"

It is never a good idea to manage a heated topic or a misunderstanding in an email. You may think your logical and righteous paragraph will win a convert but, very often, it does the opposite.

"If you are going Off-The-Grid, let them know"

If you are going to be unable to read emails for a day or more, be sure to use your "Out-of-Office" notification feature. Many of your colleagues in the field only use this feature if they are vacationing for a week or more. Be sure your auto-send notification lets them know when you're returning and provides alternative people to call should there be an urgent matter.

"A mailed handwritten note sets you apart"

Emails are the accepted business standard for most written communications. But, handwritten notes and cards in the customer's mail box are number 1 of all the forms of written communications in business. Statistically, they are most often read, remembered and responded to. I am not suggesting that sales professionals should start handwriting their business communications. I am suggesting that handwritten notes of appreciation can be a powerful tool. I mail notes to clients, prospects and colleagues when I wish to convey a sentiment or evoke a response where an email would fall short. Few would disagree that appropriate handwritten notes in sales can be a powerful relationship building business tool.

These were my excuses for not mailing a handwritten note.

My handwriting was, at best, average
I've become dependent on "spell-check"
I am a slow proof reader of my own work
Stamps, cards, and envelopes required prior planning
It was significantly faster and easier to send the text or email
I don't have the time right now to pen a note and mail it

Technology has solved all the above. Yet, I am confident only a very few in sales know about or, are taking advantage of the recent advancements and web services. I took the time to fill-out a handwriting-font-form and provided several of the ways I write my signature. I mailed the form to the web based service. My handwriting font is now accessible for me to mail business postcards and enveloped cards from my laptop or mobile phone. The service stuffs and addresses the envelopes, uses real stamps, and mails my personal notes, in my handwriting the next morning. The cards and envelopes are very professional in look and feel. I use the image of my company's logo on the front with a header that reads, "from the desk of...". I can now send a handwritten message as easily as sending an email.

The tips I provided here were learned over decades. They have save me time, earned me sales, and helped me avoid problems and pitfalls. Pick the ones you like and make them your good habits going forward and, especially for "The 1st 100 Days in Your New Sales Territory".

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