- Your sales enemy is time. Not your prospects.
- Three stories about telling prospects their time isn’t valuable to you.
- Creating a good first perception with your prospects.
- Make sure all customer phone calls are answered by a live person.
Your Enemy is Time. Not Your Prospects.
What is the one valuable commodity that is in short supply for both your prospect and you, the seller? It is time.
If you’ve read any of my work you know that your prospects are making economic decisions on how to efficiently allocate their limited time, and attention, among the many demands that are placed on it. In this excerpt from my book, Zero-Time Selling: 10 Essential Steps to Accelerate Every Company’s Sales, I discussed the concept of a Return on Time Invested (ROTI) and its importance in selling:
“A sell/buy transaction is essentially an investment opportunity for both the customer and the seller. For each party to do its job well, both have to invest a certain amount of time (which we all know is money), as well as money. Both the customer and the seller want to maximize their Return on Time Invested (ROTI) in their respective buying and selling cycles.
For the buyer this means making an informed decision to purchase a solution that meets their value, budget, and feature requirements with the least investment of time possible.
For the seller this means supporting the buyer with the information they need to make the optimum informed purchase decision in the shortest period of time possible.”
If you make good use of the time a prospect invests in you as a seller; if the prospects realizes value and a good return on the time they invest in you, then you will be rewarded with more time, and have the inside track to win the order.
The concept is so simple and yet it seems that every day I encounter examples of bad sales service that needlessly waste a prospect’s time. At the same time, the sellers appear to be completely clueless about the negative consequences of their actions, and as you will see below, even celebrate their poor sales service. Here are a few quick stories to illustrate the point.
I returned home from a vacation to find that a prolonged drought had driven several million thirsty ants to relocate from my backyard into my kitchen in search of water. They were marching in thick black lines from one end of the white tile floors in my kitchen to the other. I needed help and immediately hopped online to find a local exterminator. The first company listed on the Google search returns, which I’ll call Ant-Away Exterminating, claimed they had an organic, technologically advanced solution for exterminating pests that was safe for people and pets. Perfect! Riley and Nico, my golden retriever and exuberant poodle-type mutt, would appreciate that. Plant friendly, pet friendly (unless your pets are insects…), people friendly, environmentally friendly, and absolutely lethal to bugs of all stripes. What more could be better?
Ant-Away published a number for their 24-hour hotline on their website. Twenty-four hours a day. Wow, good service! Help when I needed it. I was ready to buy. I dialed their hotline number which offered up a recording that invited me to leave a message for one of their customer service technicians. Then the exuberant female voice on the recording proudly trumpeted “our company policy: your phone call will be returned within 24 hours. Guaranteed!”
Twenty-four hours. They thought that was fast. But their fast was my slow. I had ants all over my house and I didn’t have 24 hours to wait for them. I needed to take care of the problem now.
Ant-Away had the perfect opportunity to capture my business. But, like a lot of companies, they prized their convenience over being responsive to their customers. And they had the chutzpah to attempt to turn their shortcomings into a virtue. Instead, what they communicated to me, and all their other prospective customers, were three negative messages:
- Your call is not that important to us. In fact, you are not going to talk with a salesperson or customer service rep when you call. In fact, you won’t even speak to a live person at all.
- The only guarantee we can offer is that we won’t call you back until tomorrow. What’s the rush? We’ve given ourselves 24 hours!
- We need to have a company policy in place to force someone to call you back at all.
I called the next pest-control company on the search returns.They actually answered their phones with a live operator and set me up with a same-day appointment with their technician. Within a few hours the ants had been persuaded to quench their thirst outdoors.
A client was going through a growth spurt and was hiring a lot of people. They were inundated with resumes being submitted online so the CEO, Dennis, decided to invest in a software system to track resumes and applicants. He spent an entire weekend researching the various software options that were available to him and narrowed his options down to three companies. He sent each a detailed email to each firm with his requirements, reinforced the urgency of his situation and asked that he be called ASAP. Two weeks passed before he received the first response from any of the 3 vendors.
The salesperson seemed a little confused when Dennis informed him that he was going to stick with his current system for the time being. Hadn’t Dennis just sent his company an email stating he needed their solution? Dennis said he had but he figured that if it took two weeks just respond to his sales lead how much would he have to invest to go through the whole sales process? He couldn’t wait so he had figured out a way to cope with the volume of resumes they were receiving with his existing manual system. Six months later Dennis invested in a solution to manage and track applicants. None of the three vendors he had originally contacted were given the chance to bid on his business.
Recently I needed to purchase a particular software solution for my company. I invested several hours researching the alternatives. I spent more hours setting up accounts to try free trial versions of the applications. Over the course of several weeks I narrowed my choices to one application from a California-based B2B SaaS company that appeared to best fit my needs. I’ll call them AAATech. However, after using their application for a couple of weeks, I still needed some answers to a few specific questions before I could make my final decision. I couldn’t find the necessary information on AAATech’s website. I needed to talk to a salesperson.
I tried to locate a phone number on AAATech’s website so I could call to speak to a salesperson. But they didn’t offer one. In fact, they didn’t publish a single phone number anywhere on their website. That was the first red flag. However, I was undaunted because I had already invested hours of my time and invested a more time to track down an email address for their Sales department. I submitted a list of five very specific questions. Within an hour I received an email response. I was encouraged. Taking an hour to follow-up a lead isn’t what I call great responsiveness but it was certainly better than most companies. I enjoy doing business with like-minded companies. But, then I read the response.
Thank you for your interest in AAATech. We are here to help you. Please let me know if you have any questions.
Seriously? I invested the time to pre-educate myself about AAATech’s products. I invested the time to write a detailed email about my requirements and send it to [email protected] And, in return for my investment of time and effort, I was thrown into a lead nurturing queue and sent a general auto-responder email that was somehow supposed to lure me into their sales funnel. For me it was a negative return on the time I had invested.
I bought from another company. I am sure that many other prospects have also.
Are You Telling Prospects You Just Don’t Care?
Take a Simple Step to Create a Good First Perception
It is essential to have all incoming phone calls to your sales and service teams answered by live persons rather than auto-attendants. Providing a personal sales experience for your customers is an important element in winning orders. This is especially true for small- to mid-sized firms competing against larger companies. Integrating a human touch into your sales and customer service processes directly affects how your prospects and customers perceive and engage with your company. And, in turn, has an impact on your sales and profits.
Doing something as simple as providing a potential customer with a live person to answer their questions is a key sales differentiator. As my mother, and countless other mothers throughout the years, have always stressed, “You only have one chance to make a good first impression.” However, it is not about the first impression, but the first perception you create in the mind of the customer. Impressions are fleeting but perceptions are reality and it is very difficult to change a prospect’s or customer’s perception of your company and offering once it has been formed.
Having your company’s phone answered by a voice recording is not the way to create that good perception. In fact, you are communicating just the opposite message to your prospect and customer: “Your phone call was not important enough for us to actually answer it.” This is even truer for SMBs. Customers expect big companies to be faceless, impersonal and slow. For the SMB, this initial contact with a prospect is a golden opportunity to differentiate you from the competition and create a positive perception in the mind of the customer about your responsiveness and follow-through.
Only bad things happen when a live person does not answer calls to sales.
1. The odds of any lead ever being followed-up are slim.
If you force prospective customers to leave a voice mail for sales you are giving them a pretty reliable indicator of the likelihood of the call being returned. Industry research estimates that anywhere from 30-50% of sales leads are never followed up. Even if the number is only 30% that quantity of lost sales opportunities is astounding. Factor into that the odds of a salesperson returning a call to a lead that left a voicemail and the chances of that lead ever receiving a response from your company are pretty dismal.
2. The prospect has a negative perception of your responsiveness.
The key to sales differentiation today is responsiveness. A study cited in the Harvard Business Review estimated that you were 7 times more likely to convert a lead into a qualified prospect if you followed up within the first hour. Now think about what happens to prospect calls that get routed to voicemail. If the call is ever returned it will be hours, if not days, later. (See #3 below for what happens then.) Many SMBs have a sales voicemail box that gets checked about once a day. I had a client that checked their sales voicemail box only once per week. (That changed in a hurry.) Why would you knowingly put in place a sales process that is guaranteed to send a message to your prospect that you don’t share their sense of urgency?
3. You open the door to your competitors
What happens when prospects call your company with an inquiry and are forced to leave a voicemail? They dial the number of the next seller on their list. If they talk to a live salesperson that is responsive and able to provide answers to their questions in zero-time, then you are suddenly in staring at 2nd place in the competition. By the time your salesperson responds, the customer may have moved a substantial way down the road to buying from someone else.
I once came home from vacation to find a river of ants streaming across my white tile floor from one end of the house to the other. I searched for pest control online and chose the brand-name company on the top of the returns to call first. I got a voice mail in their sales department telling me that my call was so important to them that they had a company policy that guaranteed it would be returned within the first 24 hours! They were so proud of this. I thought was “Wow. Your fast is my slow. I’m calling the next guys.” The next guys answered their phone and had someone out the same day to escort the ants off the property.
4. The prospect doubts your commitment to support them.
Think about it this way. Do you really think you are providing the best sales service (or customer service) when you force customers to leave voice mails rather than talk to your salespeople? Is that what you prefer when you call a company for information about their products or services? Would you rather have to deal with an auto-attendant and hunt and peck through a dial by last name directory instead of talking to a live person? Of course not. You hate it. We all do. And yet, so many of you that hate it, continue to use it in your own business as the first line of communications with your prospects and customers.
Remember that every interaction with a prospect has a zero-sum outcome. It is either a winning interaction or a losing interaction. You either provided value to the prospect or you wasted their time. Every time you communicate with the prospect you are being evaluated and compared with your competition. Squander the first contact you have with a new prospect by not enabling them talk to a live sales person and see how long it takes for your competition to win that business.