Christmas Has Not Been Cancelled!

It's always important, especially in tough times, to surround yourself with positive people.  One of the most positive people I know is Bob Negen of Whiz Bang Training.  He's put together a short video, just six and a half minutes long, called "They Haven't Canceled Christmas."  As you might guess from the title, the video is all about how you can make this a successful selling season.

Be aware that he's going to ask you a tough question:  "Are you a blamer, a hoper, or a doer?"  You'll have to watch the video to see what the question means, but I think you can probably guess.  Anyway, it's a good, positive video from a guy who's experienced retailing first hand, in the trenches, in good times and bad. He knows what he's talking about.

Oh, by the way, not to leave you hanging, Bob has also recorded a follow up video cleverly titled "They Haven't Canceled Christmas–Part 2".  Check it out by clicking the link.

Online Training is Plentiful and Inexpensive (Maybe Even Free)

We live in a changing world.  It seems like every day we hear about some new technology that has an effect on our business.  Either it's some new tool to help us operate more efficiently or it's some new advance in the products we sell that benefits our customers.  Either way, if we're not learning we're not just standing still.  We're actually falling behind.

Once upon a time, just a few years ago, the only way to learn about new developments in our industry was to attend industry trade shows and other events.  It was expensive and time-consuming.  Our sales reps might be able to give us the Reader's Digest version at your place of business, but if you wanted real in-depth training you had to go to where the products and the experts were.

Today, that's all changed.  The amount of training that's available on the web is amazing.  There's virtually nothing that can be learned that can't be learned over the Internet.  All you have to do is run a Google search to find it.

For example, this morning I sat in on an on-line sales training presentation on sewing products.  Using a product called WebEx, our Baby Lock Training Director, Doug Thompson was able to hold a two-way conversation with dealers and walk them through the steps necessary to troubleshoot and repair one of our hi-tech Baby Lock sewing machines.  Think about that.  In the past, the dealer would have had to spend the time and the money to come to St. Louis for the same training.  Because of the expense involved, the training would have to be intense, covering as much material as possible in a short amount of time. The high cost made it unlikely that a retailer would bring his entire staff to a training event, meaning only some would get the necessary training.

Software like WebEx and GoToMeetings, to name just two, allows the presenter to transmit video and graphics from his computer screen to yours.  It's even possible to download files for the presenter's computer.  It's truly amazing.  The software is inexpensive, making it possible for just about anyone, including you, to conduct on-line meetings.

The Baby Lock WebEx training is conducted in bite-size segments, with small groups of dealers.  It can be spread over time, giving the dealer a chance to absorb each segment before moving on to the next.  As the Irish would say, It's brilliant!  Everyone wins. 

This on-line training isn't restricted to just products and service.  Whatever aspect of your business you want to learn about is available somewhere.  If you want to learn about Microsoft software, they offer on-line instruction, as do other software manufacturers.  If you want to learn about sales, or marketing, or advertising, or any other skill you need to be successful, chances are someone has a seminar just waiting for you to attend.

Product-based seminars, like our Baby Lock sessions, are usually restricted to dealers.  Others, like Microsoft, often require you to register which puts you on the sponsor's mailing list.  But if you're interested in the topic, and the sponsor provides a product or service that's connected to that topic, receiving a few selling emails is a small price to pay.  My experience is that once you tell them you're not interested, they usually leave you alone. 

Here's the thing.  There's plenty of down time in most retail businesses, especially now with a weak economy and between selling seasons.  Taking an hour to improve your business skills, or letting your staff spend time in on-line training just makes good sense.  Continuing education is always a good investment.  When the education is free, how can you afford to pass it up?

Something else to think about:  Is there a way you could use on-line meetings to increase your
business?

McCain, Obama, and the Subtle Power of Suggestion

I was reading an excellent ebook today called "The Psychological Power of Suggestion" by Lee Hopkins (more on Lee in a minute) that is very timely here in the US.  While it's always best to stay away from political discussions in a business forum, as marketers, there's a lot we can learn from the candidates and their campaigns.  After all, our desire to sell a few more widgets is nothing compared to their desire to be the Commander in Chief of the most powerful country in the free world.  Surely they must have the most creative marketing minds on the planet working on their campaigns, don't they?

According to Lee, "The psychological basis of suggestibility is simply a tendency in human nature to believe any statement that is repeated a great number of times."  He goes on, "statements which rely solely on suggestion for their acceptance must be simply expressed, confident in tone, and repeated often if they are to be effective."

Take a look at the two major party presidential candidates.  What are their brands?  Obama = Change.  McCain = Experience.  That's the message each man is trying to convey.  It's simple.  It's proclaimed confidently.  And it's repeated, not just often, but ad infinitum.  Change vs. Experience.  Experience vs. Change. 

Forget the fact that both men have chosen running mates that represent exactly the opposite of their stated brand.  Forget the fact that both men's former oponents in the primaries are now stumping for them trumpeting as virtues the very same things that they called fatal flaws just a few months ago.  With everyone on the "blue" side shouting "change" and everyone on the "red" side yeling "experience", both campaigns are counting on the power of suggestion to drive voters to punch, press, or otherwise mark their candidate's name on the ballot on November 4.

The lesson here is pretty simple.  In all your marketing, whether it's traditional advertising or web 2.0, you must have a consistant theme, simply expressed, confident in tone, and repeated often.  If it works when the stakes are as high as the job of President of the United States, it will certainly work for us.

I said I'd tell you more about Lee Hopkins and here it is.  You can download the aforementioned ebook from his web site, along with several other excellent articles for free.  He also has some very good stuff that you have to pay for.  During the month of October, Lee is offering all his materials for 1/2 price.  For example, his "Better Business Writing", which normally sets you back $69.95 is just $34.07 for the rest of this month.  You can only take advantage of this offer by going to his special sale web page.  Besides the BBW program, you also get a plethora of free stuff by Lee and some other very good writers.

MYOB doesn't normally promote or sell other people's products, but we do want to help you save money on worthwhile tools whenever we can and this is a good investment.  [FYI, we aren't affiliated with Lee Hopkins in any way, shape, or form, except as a fan.  Your humble blogger paid $34.97 of his own hard-earned cash to download "Better Business Writing".]  Check it out.

About Clueless Customers?

This post is originally from 8/15/07.  It’s a still a silly example, but it still makes the point.  Sometimes sales people have to pass on a sale.

Bnet.com’s Sales Machine asks the question, "Is your customer clueless?"  While the article is directed at business-to-business sales, the same principles apply to retail as well.

You know the drill.  For whatever reason, the customer is convinced she needs a particular item.  Either she’s been influenced by advertising, or word-of-mouth, but she knows what she needs even though you, the professional, know better.

Let me illustrate with an example.  To stay industry-neutral, let’s say you’re running a bakery.  The customer is planning a hamburger cook-out.  She asks for three dozen hot dog buns.  Her good friend, who she considers a gourmet cook, has told her that hot dog buns are the best way to go.  Nothing you say can convince her otherwise.  What are your choices?

1.  Bite your tongue and sell her the hot dog buns.  You assume that if she’s so bun-illiterate, chances are there will be other problems with the meal and no one will blame you when the patties hang out over the edge of the bun.   Meanwhile, you’ll make your weekly bun quota.

2.  Continue to try to convince her that your recommendation will work out for the best.   If you’re a strong enough sales person, you might eventually win the day.  Or you might just waste a lot of time.

3.  Pass on the sale.  To quote Bnet, "Why waste your time with customers who, even if they buy, are destined to fail?"  You’ll sleep better knowing you didn’t contribute to a party that’s likely to be a disaster anyway.  Of course, you may lose the customer’s future business as well.  Obviously this is a silly example, but surely you’ve been in similar situations.  Most of us have.

Of course, number 3 is the hardest choice.  We’re sales people.   For us, turning down a sale is like a cat turning down a saucer of milk.  It just ain’t natural! But, at the end of the day, we have to be able to look at ourselves in the mirror and see a person with integrity.  While we’re called sales people, our job is really to be problem solvers.  If we haven’t solved the problem, or heaven forbid, we’ve made it worse, we haven’t done our jobs at all.

A Tale of Two Sales again

Hi_shirt_dog This post originally ran on October 17, 2007.  It’s still a great story.

Here’s a great story of two salespeople from the Retail Contrarian blog by Doug Fleener.  It seems he went looking for a Hawaiian shirt at a Tommy Bahama store.  (Somebody please tell Mrs. B that I’m not the only person who still wears them.)  Anyway, the salesperson at TB did a good job and Doug bought the shirt.

Passing through the men’s department at a nearby Nordstrom’s after using the restroom, he was approached by a sales associate who noticed the Tommy Bahama bag he was carrying.  To make a long story short, he ended up buying another TB Hawaiian shirt at Nordstrom’s.  This associate didn’t make a sale, she created a sale.  Big difference!

It’s not a surprise when Nordstrom’s sales people give excellent service.  They’ve been a role model for outstanding service for years.  But they don’t have an exclusive.  Any retailer can follow their example.  In fact, they’re not bashful about sharing what they do and how they do it.  The book "The Nordstrom Way" was first published in 1995.  A Google search of nordstrom and service returns over 2,000,000 hits.

Good service nearly always results in a sale when the customer has the intention of buying.  Excellent service will often create a sale where there was no intention to buy.  Click here to read the entire post.  I suggest you print it out and post it on your store’s bulletin board, or better yet, use it as the basis for your next sales meeting. 

You might also want to subscribe to the Retail Contrarian blog. I’ve also added a link on our blogroll.  It’s one of the very few blogs aimed specifically aimed at retailers.  You’re reading the only other one that I know of.  If you know of others, please let us know so we can pass them along.

They Can Still Afford It

It’s amazing how some things never change.  This post originally appeared on October 5, 2007.  The link to Seth’s blog still works and the advice is still good.

The always insightful Seth Godin suggests that when the customer says "I can’t afford it", they really mean is "It’s not worth it."  He writes, "As in, it’s not worth reprioritizing my life, not worth the risk, not
worth what I’ll have to give up to get this, not worth being in debt
for."

A lot of us try to overcome the "can’t afford it" objection by lowering the price when, in fact, the fault isn’t with the price at all.  The fault is our inability to sell the value of our product to the customer.  A sales trainer once told me that there are two reasons why a person does something.  One is the reason that "sounds good".  The other is the real reason.  Sometimes the two reasons are the same.  Most of the time they’re not.

We can drive ourselves crazy trying to close a sale by overcoming the wrong objection.  Our job as salespeople is to dig deeply enough to find the real reason why the customer won’t buy and then dealing with that objection, not just at the close, but throughout the presentation.  In a retail situation, the price of an item should be right there on the sign or tag, visible to the customer from the outset of the conversation.  Confirming the fact that the item is something the customer can afford should be done as early as possible, eliminating the "can’t afford" objection long before the close.

Ask For The Sale!! Again

This post originally appeared November 8, 2007.  Obviously it’s not really two weeks until Thanksgiving, but the principal still applies.  Most of the time, you won’t get the sale until you ask for it.  Enjoy.

Two weeks from today is Thanksgiving, the traditional beginning of the Christmas selling season.  Of course, every customer who walks through your door any time is like gold, but for the next few weeks, each one is even more golden.  If you’re ever going to "Mine Your Own Business", now it the time!

Let’s start today with a basic truth.  Unless you’re either (a) giving away free food, or (b) you have the only public restroom within a few miles, no one comes into your store "just looking."  This is especially true during the holidays.  Nowadays, people do their "looking" on the Internet.  They study specs, features, and yes, even prices before they ever leave home.  People are too busy to wander from store to store "just looking".

Another basic truth is that selling is a skill.  It’s something you can learn.  It’s not hard, but is work.  It’s very unusual to find a "natural-born" sales person.  If you find one (or if you are one) consider yourself extremely lucky. 

Here’s a little secret.  There are hundreds of experts in the field of sales training and every one of them has books and tapes and CDs (or maybe a blog).  From Tom Hopkins, Brian Tracy, and Zig Ziglar, all the way back to Earl Nightingale and Napoleon Hill, they all have something to say.  But if you line them up side-by-side, they’re all saying the same thing, each in their own way.  Selling is an art and a science.  The science part is simple.  You do A, then B, then C and a sale happens.  It’s like mixing the right amounts of hydrogen and oxygen and getting water.  How you do A, B, & C is the art.

So, if you were to take one thing away from all these selling stars, one thing that would guarantee that you get the most from every customer contact, what would it be?

It’s simple, really.  ASK FOR THE ORDER!!  It’s amazing how often people walk away from a purchase because no one asked them to buy.  Each one of us has a certain number of "no’s" we just have to get out of our system before we can say "yes".  It may be just one.  It may be two, or three, or more.  But most sales people stop after just one or two at the most. Some don’t ask for the order at all. And the customer walks away empty-handed.  How many more sales would be made if the sales person closed just one more time?

Remember, not all the time, but most of the time, the customer who says "I’ll be back" won’t.  If you don’t get the sale while they’re in your store, chances are good that they won’t be back.  Not to be repetitive but ASK THEM TO BUY!!  You’re not going to pick up tomorrow’s paper and see a headline "Retailer Shot and Killed for Asking Closing Question".  It won’t happen.  ASK FOR THE MONEY!!  No, let’s rephrase that, ASK FOR YOUR MONEY!!  It is your money, they just haven’t given it to you yet.

From now until the end of the year people will be in a buying mood.  They don’t have time for recreational shopping.  They’re in your store for a reason.  Find out why they’re there, give them your best demo, then ASK THEM "WILL THAT BE CASH OR CHARGE?"

Keep asking until they buy.  Once they say "yes" don’t stop there.  You know those dogs that sit in the back window of the car, the ones who nod their heads when the car starts and stops?  Once they start nodding, they keep doing it for a while.  People are like those dogs.  Once they nod "yes" their tendency is to keep nodding.

Once the customer says "yes", show them something else.  Show them accessories.  Show them add-ons.  Show them related products.  Ask them if they’d like a second widget to give someone else for a gift.  CLOSE THE SALE!!  Keep asking until they run out of money or you run out of merchandise.

You may have noticed that in this post we used the phrase "ASK FOR THE SALE!!" or something similar a very redundant eight times.  You may have also noticed that each time it was phrased a little differently, just as your closing attempts should each be phrased a little differently.  It may be bad writing, but it’s good selling.

The point is this, your time and your customers’ time is valuable, especially at this time of year.  Do your customer a favor by letting them cross at least one item off their shopping list before they leave your store.  You’ll both be glad that you did.

Getting Back to (Sales) Basics

From Downtown St. Louis:

I finished my day at Baby Lock Tech with a class on selling.  Frankly I thought it would be a waste of time.  What could I possibly learn about selling that I didn’t already know.  I’ve been doing it since a teenager.  I was only partly right.

The speaker didn’t say a single thing that I didn’t know already.  But you know what?  He reminded me of things that I haven’t thought about in years.  Which made me stop and think.  No matter how much we know, no matter how good we think we are, we need to be constantly refreshing ourselves.  We need to be continually renewing our skills.  Even when we think we know all, we’ve forgotten a lot.

When I was actively selling I owned dozens of sales tapes (That’s what we used to use, cassette tapes.  In fact, I think I even had some sales 8 tracks.)  I listened to them all the time.  If I had a two hour drive to a sales call, I’d spend the time listening to the experts.  Even when I listened to the same program several times, which I often did, I’d always pick up something that I’d either missed before or forgotten.

It’s even easier today.  Selling material comes on CDs that you can upload to your mp3 player.  Where I used to have a trunk full of tapes, you can carry hours of material in your shirt pocket.  Tom Hopkins,  Brian Tracy, Zig Ziglar and all the other experts in the field have materials you can buy.  In some cases the stuff is even free.

There are dozens of podcasts that you can download for free from iTunes and other podcast networks like blubrry.  Of course there are hundreds of other free downloads on every business subject you can think of and some you probably can’t.

If you’re listening to music or sports or talk radio while you’re driving to and from work, you’re wasting some valuable learning time.  If you have a fifteen minute drive each way, that’s thirty minutes each day, two and a half hours in a five day week when you could be expanding your skill set and improving your business.  It’s a good habit to get into.

Survivin’

I suppose that if anyone has a right to feel down in the current economy, it would be real estate agents.  But Chris Johnson, writing at the Bloodhound blog is taking a positive approach.  He lists five positive things that his fellow agents can do to survive the current downturn in the business.  If his tips will work for real estate agents, there’s no reason why they won’t work for you.

  1. Ruthlessly Control Your Personal Spending.  Now may not be the best time to buy that new BMW.  According to Chris, in the real estate business $100 saved is $150 earned.  You know your own situation and the numbers are probably different.  But the logic is sound for any business person.
  2. Control Your Environment.  Simply stated, clean up your work space.  You’ll feel better and it will be easier for you to work. 
  3. Lead Generation = 35% of your time, minimum. Finding new prospects isn’t just a concern of real estate people.  You know what your closing ratio is.  Getting more people through your doors should be your number one priority.
  4. Have Your Head in the Game and not in Your……..  Act successful and you’ll be successful.  Turn off the talk shows and turn on some uptempo music.  As Chris says, "Just walk away from idiots and zealots.  Don’t focus on the [bs], focus on the opportunity.
  5. Define and Seek Peak Experiences. This is an interesting one.  Make a list of cool things you’d like to do and do them.  They don’t have to be expensive, just fulfilling.  Chris says, "Figure out what your happy memories are and go make more."

Let your competitors wallow in self-pity.  Let them whine and complain about how tough things are.  Just don’t join them.  At its worst, our US economy provides more opportunities to make money than many country’s economies at their best.  Like Nike says, "Just do it!"

If you follow the link to the original post, be sure to read the comments.  (Some blogs have lots of comments. (hint, hint))  There are some good observations there.

Also, thanks to Matt McGee for the heads up on Chris’ article.

The Age Curve in Retailing

Thanks to Mack Collier for pointing out this post by Thomas R. Clifford on Generation Y, called The Age Curve and Corporate Storytelling.”  It’s a review of a new book called “The Age Curve” by Ken Gronbach.  The article caught my eye because (1) I’m very interested in the subject of generational differences and (2) I just read a post the other day from a retailer who believes that Gen Y’s aren’t inclined to shop with independent retailers.

Keep in mind that Clifford is in the video production business, so his post is about using story telling in corporate videos, but there are some points that are worth our consideration here. 

Generation Y, defined as people born between 1985 and 2010 (zero-23 years old) will amount to 100 million folks by 2010.  They will be the largest generation in history, larger even than the Baby Boomers.

According to Gronbach, Gen Ys won’t just buy from you.  They’ll want to know more about you first. for example, they want to know your policies on: 

       

  • recycling
  •    

  • environmental responsibility
  •    

  • company iniatives
  •    

  • pollution history

  Clifford adds the following media habits and values to the mix: 

       

  • social networking
  •    

  • reality television
  •    

  • user-generated content
  •    

  • on-line video
  •    

  • humanitarian causes
  •    

  • honesty
  •    

  • family time
  •    

  • flexible hours

At this point in the post, Clifford moves into how Gen Ys will affect his business.  I think the challenges to retailers are even more complex.  The retail model has been fairly constant for a long, long time.  Good products + good service + fair price = sales.                                               

This new consumer wants all that too, but they also want you to show them your recycling containers.  They want to see what kind of light bulbs you use.  And they want to hear about it on Facebook and MySpace and they want to see you on YouTube.  They even want to follow you on twitter.

All of this may seem a little scary at first, but keep this in mind.  It’s much easier for you to establish a presence on the social networks than it is for Wal-Mart.  As the owner/manager of your business, you can tell your potential customers about your business without going through  corporate communications and legal departments.   

You can shoot a video with a digital video camera that sets you back less than $200.00 and have it on the web in a matter of minutes.  $100.00 spent on recycle containers and some new light bulbs and you’re “green”.

No, rather than a problem, this new retail model is a tremendous opportunity for retailers who aren’t so set in their ways that they won’t make a few changes.  For some of us there may be a bit of a learning curve to master the new social media tools, but if I can do it, you can do it.  It’s not that hard.  If you have any Gen X or Y staff, I’m sure they can teach you in a day. 

According to Gronbach, “Communicating to Gen Y = Telling a poignant story.”  Who can tell the business’ story better than the entrepreneur who started it all?

Here are some earlier MYOB posts on social media for your reference: 

Social Ice Cream?  The Common Craft blog compares social media to ice cream.  Cool!

Starbucks Ideas  Starbucks uses the web to tap into customers’ ideas. 

Getting a Clue  After nearly ten years, "The Cluetrain Manifesto" is still relevant.

Communication IS NOT Conversation  A review of Joseph Jaffee’s book "Join the Conversation." 

Tell Seven People  All about viral marketing.

Simple Explanations  In praise of the Common Craft blog.

Find more posts on social media by clicking on the "social media" category on the right. 

If you like to learn by listening, I highly recommend the Personal Branding Summit,  a series of 24 one hour presentation on the subject of personal branding that you can download to your mp3 player, and the Podcast Sisters, a weekly show that covers social media tools “for non geeks”.  Be sure to check the archives for past episodes.  Plus, it’s extremely entertaining.