So You Think You’re Not A Salesperson? (For Every Small Business Owner, Ever)

If you own your own business, there’s a good chance you got into it because you love doing the job. But how do you define “doing the job”? Are you a graphic designer who loves to spend hours making sure there’s a cool underlying grid to your work? (Guilty.) Are you a baker whose passion is making the ganache come out just right? Or an accountant who sees the beauty in a spreadsheet with no question marks? Congratulations — you are great at executing, once you’ve made the sale.

I’m sure you know that a business owner is also a bookkeeper, a strategist, an advertiser, an HR person, a janitor, and a salesperson as well. Perhaps you just don’t spend much time thinking about each of these roles, or perhaps you wait until someone is standing in front of your cash register with a wallet before you think of yourself as a “salesperson.” That was me, for sure. I never did things like ask for a referral or “ask for the sale” or push for a “no.” I just went by instinct. The problem was, I was never going to grow my business unless I spent some time actually selling. If you’re in that situation, here are a few hints to get started.

A good salesperson has a good system

In any of my customer-facing roles, I’ve learned that you need a plan for each interaction. If you have a meeting with a customer, you should know ahead of time what you might have to offer the customer, and make sure you offer it. If you don’t know, then the meeting should be aimed at discovering what the customer needs and whether you can help the customer.

In a lengthy, complex sales process, this could be a systematic “steps of sale” plan that you follow with each customer. A simpler sales process occurs every time you’re in a restaurant and the server offers you the dessert menu. The main thing is not to forget it! If you’re in a complex sales process that has a next step, schedule the next step in your calendar or CRM system. If your shoe store has a special on socks, put a picture of socks next to the cash register so the check-out person remembers to offer them. Train yourself to say “Is there anything else I can help you with?”

Get rid of things that keep you or your people from getting paid

Last time I got a haircut, the salon owner told me that I couldn’t put a tip on my credit card. The haircut was $150. Did I have $30 in my wallet? That salon owner needs to fix his system immediately so his people can get paid.

Don’t abuse your customers’ trust — A tale of two chiropractors

A long time ago, I hurt my back and went to a chiropractor. Soon I was having sessions three times a week, because that was the chiropractor’s recommended practice. The next time, I ended up going to a different chiropractor. “When should I come back?” I asked on my way out. “Come back if your back hurts,” was his answer.

Guess which chiropractor got my business the next time?

Don’t sell people things they don’t need. If they ask you for your recommendation, honor it as a sign of trust. Don’t do things to your customers that would make you mad if someone did them to your mother.

Don’t over-rehearse or beat yourself up

Many selling situations can feel awkward or even combative. If a customer is “just browsing” in a retail store, they might not want to be asked, “May I help you?” In a complex B to B selling process, you might feel as if you’re in a battle with the customer’s reluctance (or the customer’s boss or budget situation). You won’t always succeed, and if you over-rehearse a conversation, you’ll get nervous. Accept that only a percentage of conversations will have a favorable outcome. Just set your intention ahead of time and do your best.

Don’t fail to sell

Sales should never be about selling people things they don’t want or need. If you believe in what you’re selling, you are actually hurting your customers if you fail to sell. Think of buying from you as the first step in your customer’s journey towards a better life — and sell with honor and joy.

 

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Is Your Customer Your Hero?

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Do you admire your customers? Years ago, I was visiting a friend who owned a small business. Our conversation was interrupted by a customer. After the customer left, my friend muttered under his breath: “Cheapskate.”

Many of my friend’s customers were looking for a bargain – in fact, his business marketed itself as friendly to bargain-hunters – and yet, at bottom, my friend didn’t like working with his customers.

I recently had a chance to visit Finland, where I produced* a video showing how one of our company’s customers is bringing clean energy to the north of Finland. I’m a fan of renewable energy, but my heroes are the people who are building and operating wind parks.

Our customer treated me like family during the long day of work on the video. One of the technicians told me proudly about his wife, who also works in the wind industry. They took me on an elevator ride up to the top of one of their wind turbines (the turbine is so tall that it took around 5 minutes to get to the top!)

I don’t know if there is any quantitative evidence connecting success with admiring your customers. Certainly I didn’t have to pretend to be enthusiastic – it came across as sincere because it is. The most successful business owners I know treat their customers like kings and queens because that’s how they view them.

Are you honored to be helping your customers achieve their goals? Is your customer your hero?

*By “produced” I mean: I hired the production company that did most of the great work, and generally got in their way while they were filming.

Naming Your Business for SEO

Today, someone asked me: “Is the name of my business important for SEO?”
Increasingly, search engines are being designed to try to think the way humans would. They want a search to bring up answers that would be relevant to a person searching. (Otherwise, no one would use search engines).
So, if you name your business something that would make sense to a person, you should do fine with search engines. At the same time, you don’t want the company to sound like one of those names you see painted on the side of a dirty white panel truck.
Here’s a fictional example to illustrate – Three women are opening a music store and they decide that they want to call it “Harmony Stones.” It’s evocative, it has a musical term in the title, and the word “Stones” brings up all sorts of cool, musical, cultural connotations. The only problem is, the name is so nonspecific that it could be a music store, a spa, a rock band, or any other of a number of businesses. Neither Google nor a person would know that this business is a music store.
They settle on “HS Music Store” but now the name is so unmemorable that people end up calling it “the music store across from the donut place, no the big one, but the small one.”  A good compromise would be something like “H. Stones Music,” “Harmony Musical Gear,” or something similar.

Are Free Tools Really Free?

I just read a great blog post on HubSpot about using Trello’s free tools to manage your relationships with contacts. While I don’t think that this is a substitute for a full-featured CRM like Salesforce, it’s a great example of how free tools can be hot-rodded to do the same things as “big business” users are doing with their expensive systems.

While I’m a big fan of free tools, there are some cautions to consider before using one.

Sometimes the free or cheap tools actually perform better than their costly counterparts – but aren’t scalable, or lack key functionality. Website builders like Squarespace and Wix make absolutely fantastic websites, but if you decide to abandon that platform (or the platform fails, as some do) you are stuck with some really hard-to-work-with HTML code. Excel creates great charts, but you can’t make them into EPS’s, and if you want to make beautiful graphs in a professional tool like Illustrator you need to jump through hoops.

These kinds of drawbacks are extremely frustrating to a freelancer who might use a more standard, professional set of tools, because it’s hard to explain the risks to someone who just wants a “really cool website, fast.”

There’s also a danger in using too many free tools. If you own your own small business, you’ll be tempted to adopt a free tool ‘because it’s there.’ But then, you either need to become an expert in using the tool yourself, or you need to find an expert in using it. Suddenly, you’re spending time on the tool or on a problem caused by having adopted the tool, instead of on running your business.

One freelancer reported that to succeed with one client, she needed to be an expert in MailChimp, Wix, and WordPress, Unbounce, and integrations between Unbounce, eBay and Amazon. Doubtless a large agency could have done this, but my client was exactly the type of client that these ‘free tools’ appeal to – a small client with a low budget, so by definition they weren’t hiring a large agency. She said, “I used to be concerned about scope creep – now I’m concerned about tool creep.”

Here are some questions to ask yourself before you hop on board with a new free tool:

  • What’s my plan for integrating this tool with the others I already use?
  • If it’s a design tool, how will I keep my branding on-point if my current designer can’t or won’t use it?
  • How much time is it going to take me to learn to use the tool?
  • Is it really going to solve my business problem or am I adopting it for the gee-whiz factor?
  • What is the risk of the tool “going away” in a few years or months, and if it does, how will that affect my business?
  • What happens when I exceed the terms of “free” – can I afford to pay for the tool?

A few of my favorite free tools are Box (I use it to store professional certificates, study materials, downloaded eBooks, etc.), Evernote (Recipes!) and Brainscape (I’ve been using its free flashcards to learn Finnish). What are yours, and what are the risks you think about when committing to a free tool? Please add your thoughts in the comments.

 

Argh! Your Email Went Out With A Mistake

One of my favorite customers always finds mistakes in my marketing email, so I have an extensive list of the mistakes you can make. Wrong date, missing link, old subject line . . .  My favorite one? I misspelled my own last name in the “Reply-To” field. I picture this guy (he’s in a different time zone) spending his evenings combing through my emails, clicking every link, and topping off his glass of red wine with a smirk when he finds an error.

I’m sure this has never happened to you, but if it has, read on.

Anecdotal evidence (probably along with some studies) shows that your “Oops” email may actually get more attention than the original email. Why is this? As any good salesperson knows, people like to feel “better than” you. This is why presidential candidates try not to act like smarty-pants (smarty-pantses?) and why a popular selling system coaches its trainees to borrow a pen from their prospects.

Depending on your company culture, you may be able to inject some fun into the subject line. My favorite of all time came today: “Argh! GRB Hubba Hubba Gala – Address included” . . . what made it so funny is that “GRB” (the company’s acronym) actually sounds like an extension of “Argh!” and then “Hubba Hubba” . . . OMG. I bet the open rates went through the roof.

Don’t go doing this on purpose, but if you do make a mistake, send out an “Oops” email and move on. You may be pleasantly surprised.

Flag

His shirt was white and so crisp-looking I imagined I could hear the hiss of the steam iron; his suit, equally perfect, a somber charcoal color. He stood tall on an expanse of dewy grass, in an early spring chill, cranking three flags down to half mast – to honor the victims of the attacks in Brussels.

Everything about this man spoke of respect – from the way he dressed to greet his customers and colleagues to his assumption of the morning’s first duty – something he could easily have delegated to one of his staffers. His appearance and actions made an indelible impression upon me. And this impression associated itself in my mind with his company’s brand – Northern Bank.

As the company’s three flags flew at half mast, and I continued my walk to work, I saw another company across the street that hadn’t bothered to lower its flag even as the death toll climbs past thirty.

Everything your employees do both inside and outside your company, reflects on your company’s brand. Curious, I Googled Northern Bank and one of the first articles I saw mentioned it had been rated one of the Boston Globe Top Workplaces. This didn’t surprise me at all – it takes a good company culture to reinforce a company’s brand.

What kind of flag does your company fly?

We Are Teabags

This was the subject line of an email I recently wrote to a colleague. The email was about why it is a good idea for people from completely different departments in a business to exchange ideas and share information – because, like tea, their ideas about best practices can diffuse throughout the company.

But that is not the point of this post.

The point is, it started an email chain. The subject line “Re: We are teabags” has hit my in-box a few times today, and every time, I’ve opened that email first because the subject line is so weird that it jumps out at me.

I’m not recommending you write subject lines that are completely different from the subject matter. This is disingenuous, and while it may get higher open rates, it will also annoy the recipients.

My point is that a little creativity in subject line crafting goes a long way towards attracting extra attention in your recipients’ in-box.

This works whether you’re crafting a marketing email that will go out to a large audience, or whether you’re simply asking a colleague for a meeting.

What are your favorite subject lines? What’s your pet peeve with subject lines?