One unhappy customer may not seem like much, but when one customer shares a complaint, it represents the tip of an iceberg. According to a Washington, D.C. consulting group that conducts customer satisfaction surveys, every customer who complains is speaking for many others who feel the same way but they don’t make the time to call. Most customers don’t complain. It’s a well-known fact that most customers who have a bad experience are simply too busy to call and to make a complaint. They usually just stop doing business with you. When you don’t know, or don’t realize, that you have an unsatisfied customer, you have a problem that gets worse when that unsatisfied customer shares their negative experience with others. And, industry surveys prove that, even though they may not tell you how upset they were by your service, they will gladly tell others. Knowing that a customer is unhappy gives you an opportunity to remedy the situation for that customer today and to head off problems with other customers in the future.
Asking good questions can make the difference between making a bad sales call and engaging the prospect in a worthwhile conversation. Here are some important tips to remember:
- Use ‘assumptive problem’ open-ended questions
Instead of saying, “Do you have any problems with moving your product now?” say, “How are you handling problems that occur while transporting your product?” If you know your industry well enough, you’re aware of the problems that everyone seems to have. You are asking your prospects to quantify and explain the implications and consequences of those problems.
- Use ‘instructional statements’
Don’t ask for information; tell them to give it to you. Use phrases like, “Tell me a little about……….”; “Share with me……….”; “Give me some idea of……….”; “Detail the way………” and, “Let’s talk about how you……….”
- Ask yourself questions before you make the call
Think about the call before you make it. Ask, “What do I want them to do as a result of this call?” This will determine your primary objective. Then ask, “What information do I need from them?” This will provide whatever qualifying or information-gathering questions you must ask. Finally, ask, “What do I need them to think and believe in order to take the action I desire?” The answer to this question provides the points you’d ideally like to get across….without actually making the points yourself. They are ideas for them to discover through your questions. The reasoning is that people always believe more of what they say and think than of what you say. One of the surest ways to give yourself a fair chance at making a sale is to ask the right questions.
Often the most important part of your sales pitch is when you are completely silent. We often rush through all the great benefits of why a customer would buy, without really listening to them tell us what they need… why they might buy from us. Most people hate mimes. Why do they exist? Are they evil? If a tree falls on a mime does he make a sound? But, silence is the one important sales attribute that mimes demonstrate in abundance. So, on your next sales call, be a mime, at least for part of the call. It just may turn out to be the most important piece of the sales puzzle.
Why is it that so many salespeople think they must tell everything they know before allowing the prospect to talk? Why is it that some think the sales process involves a lot of talking when, in reality, the most successful salespeople do more listening than talking? It’s a fact that the more we listen, the more we can learn about our prospects and the easier we can find their “hot buttons.” It’s not what we say that makes the sale, it’s what we can get the prospect to say.
Begin With Questions
Think about how many times you launch right into your presentation thinking you know what the prospect wants. Sometime later, often too much later, you find you’re on the wrong track. The prospect has an entirely different need – one you might have uncovered by asking open-ended questions that required more than a yes or no response. Then you could have focused on what the customer wanted instead of what you had to sell. Stop thinking so much about what you are going to say and concentrate on what the prospect is telling you.
It’s a paradox: The more we try to tell the prospect up front, the more barriers we create to the purchase. The more we listen to why he or she wants to buy, the more we can tailor our delivery to providing very specific information concerning how our product or service fits his or her needs.
Ask More Questions
The opening question is merely the first in a series of questions that guide the dialogue. It’s an approach as old as the art of miming. If we want to involve someone – the first step in convincing that person – every comment we make should end with a question that solicits more information. The person who asks questions is the person who controls the direction of the dialogue. The one who is talking is providing information that helps the other adjust the direction.
After you ask a question, however, don’t be too anxious to fill the silence. Let the silence work in your favor. Too often we answer the question for the prospect by jumping in and providing him with an objection: “Perhaps you don’t like the price,” or, “Maybe you don’t like the resources it would involve.” Beware of the very real temptation to fill in the silence with a product weakness – the one we are most worried about.
Don’t Rush In With Answers
Salespeople have a terrible tendency to try to get their point in as soon as the customer stops talking. Think about how often you find yourself stepping on your prospect’s last words, rushing in right after the prospect has finished making a point.
Salespeople can break themselves of this self-defeating habit by training themselves to wait several seconds after the customer has stopped talking before they begin. That gives you ample time to think about your response and answer in a way that reflects the customer’s concerns.
Get in the habit of paraphrasing what the prospect has said. This will accomplish two things. One, it reduces the likelihood of misunderstanding what was said, and two, it boosts the prospect’s ego. People like to hear their thoughts repeated – it makes them feel like what they said was important.
Learn to Listen
You have had a bad sales experience when you have done all of the talking. We were born with two ears and only one mouth for a reason! But don’t listen with just with your ears. Listen with your eyes and your entire body. Use body language that shows you are paying more attention, and your listening habits will automatically improve. Lean forward intently, look the prospect in the eye, and focus on the valuable information you are hearing.
And finally, listen for buying signals. You’ll never remember a buying signal from the customer when you’re doing the talking. Sure, we want to talk so the prospect will learn how smart we are. But the prospect only really knows how smart we are when we’ve “listened” to the information he or she wants to share.
It may seem boring at the time, maybe it seems like too much trouble, or maybe we’ve simply lost practice in today’s email and text driven age, but your Mom was right – writing a thank you card is the right thing to do. I think it’s interesting to note that recent scientific findings link gratitude to increased optimism, stress reduction, and a better night’s sleep. Few who sit down to write a short note of thanks are aware that by doing so they are not only making someone else’s day, but they are improving their odds of becoming happier and less stressed.
A text message or email can’t compete with a hand written card or letter for the simple reason that conveying real emotion in digital formats doesn’t work. Somehow a sea of exclamation points, shouting in ALL CAPS, loaded acronyms and cute little emoticons can’t come close to delivering a heartfelt message scratched out by hand onto a scrap of paper.
It’s funny to me, but nothing I do or say, no amount of work I do, no matter how many long hours I put in, and regardless of all my good intentions, there’s nothing I do regularly that receives the same glowing and positive response as when I take the time to write someone a hand written card or letter. Maybe it’s to say ‘thanks for your business’, it could simply be to tell someone ‘I appreciate your hard work and dedication’, or even simply ‘I was thinking of you today’. People receive so few handwritten notes that receiving one is almost as rare as spotting a unicorn in an open field on your drive in to work. Don’t laugh……I think I saw two unicorns on my drive in this morning (of course, I guess they could have been deer).
Many famous people send hand written notes and cards. Jimmy Fallon (talk show host), Anna Wintour (Vogue editor), Ralph Lauren (clothing designer), to name a few. I’m a card and letter writer too. Telling someone thanks is the right thing to do. And, it really does make you feel pretty good when you do it. Start small. Give it a try – write a couple of cards this week. It will make at least two people happy – the person you send it to, and not least of all – you.
For some reason you’re not having success on a sales call. So, because you think there’s nothing left to do, or because you want to get off the call quickly and painlessly, you simply blurt out:
“Well, please keep us in mind if you ever need any help.”
“Here’s my number, just in case.”
“How about I give you a call in a couple of months to see if anything has changed?”
When I’m the customer, I typically say, “Sure, I’ll keep you in mind”. I then hang up, and immediately forget that the call ever took place.
The truth is, that customer has no intention of “keeping you in mind”, or “giving you a call if something changes”. When these ‘bad calls’ happen, there are better ways to wrap them up.
Make a determination if there is any real potential with this particular customer
Clinging to a prospect where there is no real opportunity is a time and money waster. On the other hand, letting a prospect go when there really is potential is a big mistake too. You must find out for sure. Ask something like, “Kim, under what circumstances would you consider switching to another service provider?” Pay particular attention to that wording. It’s a question that not only asks if they would ever use someone else, but it also asks for the circumstances that would make this a possibility. For example, I’ve heard of prospects responding, “I guess if I ever got into an emergency situation and my current provider couldn’t deliver, I’d have to know what my options were elsewhere.” That gives you the opportunity to take that remark and continue asking questions.
Make sure that you give them something to think about
“Keep us in mind” is a worthless statement. It’s a waste of words. If you truly want someone to keep you in mind, you have to give them a reason. And, that reason usually means matching it into a problem they may experience….a problem that you could solve. That may prompt them to not only think of you, but to actually give you a call.
What if you know that you can provide your customer with the same or better service they’re currently getting, but you feel sure that you can provide more frequent updates and information that they have said they want and need, and you’re sure that what you offer is better than what they’re getting? But the prospect hasn’t seen it demonstrated, or doesn’t believe it. You should end the call with, “I still feel sure that I can help you. Here’s something to consider: please take the time to review the shipment information and updates you receive from your current provider. If you feel that you simply aren’t getting enough information, and you’re not getting it when you need it, keep in mind that it’s one of the benefits you’d get from working with me and my company. Timely updates is one of the benefits we’re known for. I’ll send you my card to keep on file when you feel you need my help”.
Do your best to never make a liar out of your customer. Don’t make them say – “Sure, I’ll keep you in mind”, or “Yes, I’d like you to call me back in a couple of months (so you can waste my time again)”. Determine if there will ever be potential with them. Give the prospect examples of situations to be on the look-out for when you could help, and make sure that they associate you with that solution. Then, when they do experience those problems, there’s a greater chance that they’ll think of you.
For over 35 years I’ve worked with some of the very best sales people around. Without exception, there’s one thing that they all do. Oftentimes, it seems like they know more about their customers’ business than their customers do. They learn from all their customers, and that experience and knowledge gives them a head start when talking with a new or different customer. They’re able to take their experience with one customer and then build on that experience with the next.
One saleswoman who I worked with in Indiana comes immediately to mind. When prospects would ask her to tell them about our service, she wouldn’t. Instead, she would reply that she was very proud of our service and would be happy to explain it in greater detail – but first, she’d request permission to ask a few more questions on just what her prospects were looking to accomplish by using our service. Were they looking to cut costs? Were they hoping to get better service? Did they have needs that weren’t being filled by their current provider? Was their current service provider difficult to use, or difficult to contact or communicate with? For every response from her prospects, Julie would have an example of how others have looked to her to solve similar problems. And then, she would ask more specific questions.
Julie would supply just enough information on each exchange to earn the right to ask the next question. Eventually, she would recommend a course of action that was specifically tailored to what the customer was hoping to accomplish. She didn’t close every sales call, but she did give every prospective customer a forum to explain exactly what they were looking for, and she got almost all of them to give her enough information to determine if our service was a good fit, not just for the customer, but for our company as well. I heard a great quote that best describes Julie’s method, it was about a doctor – the quote is “Don’t prescribe medicine until you’re sure what all the symptoms are.” Take a page out of Julie’s book. Be sure to diagnose all your customer’s symptoms before offering your prescription.
How will you remember 2015? Not everyone is looking back fondly. In a December 25th article, THE WEEK magazine reported some pretty disappointing survey results. Here are a few of them:
- 69% of Americans believe that the nation is on the wrong track
- 72% feel that the country isn’t as great as it once was (Bloomberg Politics)
- 59% stated that the economy is doing poorly (CNN/ORC)
- And, 61% believe that the American Dream is broken and that only the wealthiest can get ahead
Face it, the loudest voices you hear are typically the pessimists, and there’s no shortage of them. There’s nothing wrong with being realistic, but there’s a difference between being realistic and being pessimistic. I prefer to look on the bright side of things, especially as it pertains to our business in the coming year. And, I’m not the only one. On December 3rd, BB&T Capital Markets published a report titled ‘Freight Brokers Can Take Advantage of Weak Economy’. Here are some highlights from their report:
“We are a little mystified why there is not greater enthusiasm for freight brokers. Brokers do well during periods of loose capacity or tight capacity, i.e., when the market has volatility”
“We believe larger brokers have opportunities to gain market share the next few years in ways that not everyone appreciates”
“As regulations the next two years (ELDs, speed limiters, etc.) make asset carriers less productive, many will experience cash flow problems and will rely on “quick pay” programs that larger brokers offer, but many small and mid-sized brokers do not have the balance sheets to pay carriers in 7 days or 48 hours, etc., while waiting for shippers to pay in 30 to 60 days”
Freight brokers, when aligned with the right back office service provider, are positioned for growth for the foreseeable future. Don’t give in to the naysayers. Focus on what you do best. Continue to invest in your business. Embrace change and technology, and stay positive and confident.
Anyone can take the pessimistic view – one other survey result from THE WEEK found that 44% of respondents think machines with artificial intelligence could wipe out the human race (Monmouth University Poll). Okay, I’ve seen the Terminator movies – that may happen……..but probably not until 2018.
Happy New Year to you and to your computer (I can’t take any chances. Your laptop could be my next boss).
• Slow down – At fault accidents are mostly due to excessive speed. Driving at the speed limit may be legal, but is often too fast for snow covered or icy road conditions.Take as much time as necessary..DO NOT HURRY. Speed kills. This rule should ALWAYS be at the top of any winter trucking safety tips list.
• Keep a safe following distance – Leave plenty of room between your vehicle and the vehicle in front of your truck, and beside your truck, when possible (approx. 1/4mile).
• Don’t travel as part of a pack – Traffic seems to move in ‘packs’ on the highway. Find a safe way to get away from the pack and travel alone, with the goal being to maximize the distance around your vehicle.
• Don’t follow the tail lights of the vehicle ahead – When the snow is so heavy, visibility is low, seeing the tail lights of the vehicle ahead…means following too closely.
• Keep a safe driving distance back at all times, especially in bad weather. If the leader makes an error, you will too. Trucks can leave the road, and yours could follow the lead truck off the road.
• Use good, solid judgment — If the weather is so severe that you need to get off the road….. do it. Find a place to get off the road safely and wait until conditions are safe.
• Don’t stop on the shoulder of the road — Especially in low visibility situations, when driving in winter, especially ‘blinding snow’, other vehicles can mistake your position for being on the road and as a result, may slam into the back of your rig.
• Don’t try to be a hero — When the road conditions are severe, you need to recognize that it’s very dangerous to be out there. Hours of service rules, dispatchers etc., are extra pressures when it a difficult, dangerous position. Don’t feel that you’re letting anyone down by not meeting a scheduled appointment.
• Braking – Some drivers like to use the jake brake in less than perfect weather conditions. Some don’t. DO NOT ENGAGE THE JAKE BRAKE ON ICY ROADS. Try to avoid overusing your foot brake, unless the entire unit is absolutely ‘straight’ on the road. Don’t over brake when the entire unit isn’t straight… the trailer can slide and spin you out of your position…..the truck slows down, and the trailer does not. This is especially true, when the trailer is empty.
• Ensure ‘all systems’ are a go — Be absolutely certain during your circle check before you leave, that the defroster and heater are working properly. Wipers, wiper motor, lights, esp. brake and tail lights, washer fluid is topped up, drain moisture from the air tanks, all brakes are set up and windows and mirrors are completely clean before departure.
• Keep fuel tanks topped up, for extra weight over the drive tires, to aid with traction. Good quality lug tires, with the proper tire pressure, are essential for good traction for the best safe winter driving.
• Keep tractor and trailer lights clean — When you’re able to stop in a safe place, clear the lights off of snow and ice, which builds up in foul weather….they are vital, more than ever when visibility is poor. LED lights especially accumulate snow and crud. Keep everything clean, so you can BE SEEN.
Pack winter driving essentials — Besides the mandatory roadside emergency kit for trucking safety.
• A smart trucker is always prepared for bad weather conditions….the truck is equipped with necessary supplies and outfitted for all driving conditions.
• A smart trucker always uses common sense and their best judgment…..one of the most critical of winter trucking safety tips.