Tag Archive | "profit"

Five Ways To Win At Sales Even In The Worst Conditions


While we’re starting to forget the economic recession of 2008, those dark days left a lasting impression on how successful salespeople deal with a downturn, reports Forbes.

At the time, I was at CareerBuilder, heading the Pacific Northwest territory for the mid-markets division. I can clearly remember the uphill battle our team faced while calling customers and prospects to renew job postings. In order to succeed, we started learning about where our customers were failing and what they were still spending money on. We stopped having the same old sales conversations.

It turns out we had been focusing on the wrong competition all along. They still needed to hire talent, but the top or niche candidates they wanted couldn’t be found on traditional job sites. To remedy this, we pitched ourselves and our sites for the next two years on selling against recruiters instead of simply being a job site. We focused on hard-to-fill and executive openings and found customers willing to spend big budgets to solve key needs in their business.

Even with an economic downturn, we didn’t blame something that wasn’t under our control. Instead, we took a hard look at our sales strategies and found areas that would allow us to prosper even in grim situations. Here are some top tips to maintain peak performance in a downturn:

  1. Use technology and data to make yourself as efficient as possible. On average, sales representatives are only spending one-third of their time selling. They spend the other two-thirds on research, follow-up, and administrative tasks. With the current sales tech environment, this should no longer be the case. There has never been a more exciting time to be in sales, given the amount of sales and marketing technology at our disposal. It seems like every week there’s another tool that can help to automate segments of the sales process that are normally manual and cumbersome. Whether it’s automating follow-ups using Rebump or logging all sales activity in Gmail with Streak, there’s a tech tool out there that can help you be much more efficient in your day-to-day.
  2. Think and act positively. People can sense desperation through your communication and that desperation leads to a lack of credibility amongst your customers. Remaining honest yet confident under tough circumstances is key to continued sales wins. To remain confident and optimistic, remember the high of closing deal after deal and the way you felt and acted on those days. Attitudes, both good and bad, rub off on the people you’re speaking with, so always make sure you remain positive.
  3. Focus on out-of-the-box business challenges. Like the CareerBuilder example above, it’s important to think about different ways to position your product so that its use cases are positioned to solve new or bigger challenges. When the current positioning isn’t working, it’s time to change the conversation. Strive to use the “Challenger Approach” sales style, which more than 50 percent of all high-performing sales representatives rely on. Ask questions, push your customers to areas they might be familiar with but don’t label as important, and find solutions to problems they didn’t know existed. Don’t be locked into a course of action that is failing and be always be willing to adapt and find new ways to position yourself when conditions aren’t in your favor.
  4. Block out the noise from your negative peers. Most people want to be good. But being great is a burden very few take on because they aren’t willing to put in the extra work necessary to get there. There are specific traits that separate great salespeople from the good, but the biggest difference is that they look at a downturn or a rejection as a challenge that they have to overcome. Negative peers will look to a downturn as an excuse for poor performance, or worse, no performance. Block out the noise and focus on getting better and improving yourself.
  5. Learn hard, work smart. In Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers, he frequently mentions the 10,000-hour rule: it takes around that amount of time to achieve excellence and mastery in a field. It’s not rare to find people who put in long hours and grind it out to achieve sales excellence every month. They either get the job done or come pretty close consistently. But as the psychologist behind the rule, Anders Ericsson, says: “You don’t get benefits from mechanical repetition, but by adjusting your execution over and over to get closer to your goal.”
  6. The key to above-average sales performance is to do both. Work the hours needed but continuously improve your sales execution by always learning. If you put in more hours than anyone, focus on improving every day, and constantly be looking to learn, you will see the results pay off.

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The Secret Trait All Successful Salespeople Share, According to Science


In 1960, toymaker Harold von Braunhut created a product he felt certain would be his biggest hit to date–a dehydrated strain of brine shrimp that could be reanimated simply by adding water, reports Inc. He named his product Instant Life and waited for the dollars to roll in.

The product flopped spectacularly.

But Harold von Braunhut was a persistent man. He decided that the problem with his sales had little to do with what he was offering and far more to do with how he was offering it. So von Braunhut completely revamped his marketing approach.

He renamed his tiny life forms Sea-Monkeys and rolled out an advertisement depicting them as a smiling family of finned beings who would “swim, play, scoot, race, and do comical tricks and stunts” in front of their underwater castle home. He ran these ads in the back pages of comic books, amidst fantastic tales of superheroes and otherworldly adventures.

Anyone who bought these Sea-Monkeys should have realized almost immediately that the primitive organisms floating in their bowl bore little resemblance to the magical creatures von Braunhut had cooked up for the ad. Yet Sea-Monkeys made Harold von Braunhut a multimillionaire many times over, and continue to sell three million units a year even today.

Why?

A Psychological Tactic All Great Salespeople Use

The phenomenon behind von Braunhut’s success is what neurologists and psychologists refer to as “cognitive priming.” In other words, human beings are wired to see what we want to see. The best salespeople and marketers are those who embrace this.

In the case of von Braunhut, everything about his approach–from the whimsical drawings to the enclosed magnifying lenses–made buyers really, really want to believe in the vision he helped them build up in their heads. He intentionally selected messaging to filter for a target audience that had proven themselves willing to enter directly into a world of imagination. Then, all he had to do was provide the fuel for their fantasies.

The reality is that when people are making a decision about whether to buy something, they follow their feelings, perceptions, and desires above all else. What the heart wants to believe, the mind will accept. Those who accept and master this central truth will never want for customers.

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How Startups Can Get Media Attention Without Hiring a PR Agency


In my last post, I outlined four reasons why early-stage startups shouldn’t hire PR firms. There are exceptions to just about every rule, but I stand by that advice for the vast majority of cases, reports Forbes.

Still, that piece lacked actionable guidance for startups to get press on their own. This post will provide that guidance.

In simple terms, startups have two options when ultimately choosing not to hire a PR firm:

1.) Hustle it out on their own.

2.) Find cheaper, non-traditional help.

If you’re considering these options, I recommend sticking with the first. Finding high-quality, non-traditional PR help is very hard for anyone to do, but it’s particularly hard for startups. The freelance PR market is fragmented and opaque, with plenty of dubious actors who can point to a couple minor successes, amidst a history of failures, to lure new clients. 

And as a population largely lacking in the chops to effectively evaluate PR professionals, startups are easy prey for bad actors. You’ll likely spend a long, long time trying to find one of the few high-quality freelancers out there, or end up getting fleeced in the process. My recommendation is to instead spend that time making headway on your own.

I’ll outline just how you can do that.

Gut and Relationships

In simple terms, you hire professional PR help for two reasons. First, they should provide a finely-tuned sense of what does and does not work as a press story, along with a similarly finely-tuned view of how to match those story angles with different publications. Second, they should have the relationships at those publications to get stories placed.

That’s it. Gut and relationships.

So when you think about going the hustle-it-out route, you should think about it in those terms. How are you going to make up for your lack of experience and relationships?

Gut

Let’s start with the first component—the fact that you probably have no idea how to make your company interesting to the press. If you have some effort to spare, there are some easy ways to make up for this deficit.

Before you do anything, you’ll need to acquire a solid understanding for how the press talks about your industry. Step one: head over to Google and spend as much time as you can getting a feel for what people are talking about in your space. What are the big questions, controversies or trends? How do different publications approach these topics? What are people getting wrong? What are they missing?

Basically, you need to soak yourself in relevant media so that, eventually, you can internalize the different lenses through which reporters approach topics and companies in your industry. Think backwards from headlines. How can you see your company plausibly fitting into the conversation?

Next, you still need some professional advice.

As the founder of a startup, odds are that you have some kind of moderately effective network. You may have investors, mentors, advisors, other founder friends, etc. Somewhere within that network is someone who knows a PR professional. It’s even possible that this PR professional knows what they’re talking about.

Find a way to talk to that PR professional and milk them for 15 minutes of advice. If they’re any good, they’ll prevent you from making any number of stupid mistakes within the first five minutes and possibly give you a sense of the most promising angles for your business after the first 15. They’ll also be helpful for tactical tips and etiquette. (I.e., “How long should I wait to follow-up with reporters?”)

And if you don’t have a PR professional in your network? If you live in a media-dense market like New York or San Francisco, there are almost certainly events that have media professionals crawling all over them. Just go wherever reporters are, and you’ll probably find three PR people for every journalist. Since tech PR people need new business almost as much as they need to cozy up to journalists, they’re generally happy to talk to startup founders about a couple of their issues in these situations.

If that’s not an option, find someone who looks like they know what they’re talking about online and cold e-mail them. Some may not take the call, but a lot will. 

Relationships

For early-stage startups, PR firms often appear most valuable for their relationships with the media. This is valid, though you’d be surprised by how many firms survive by just cold-emailing hundreds of reporters. 

That said, relationships with the media are still enormously valuable. As a startup founder, you’ll never be able to match the rolodex of a quality firm, but the truth is that you don’t need to. At your stage, you likely don’t need an expensive, sustained communications strategy. You just need a couple of pieces of decent press, and a couple of relationships to get them. With a little work, that’s definitely achievable.

Here’s how to make that happen:

1.) Again, use your network.

Like I mentioned earlier, as a startup founder you should have some reasonably robust network. There are probably people within that network—investors, founders, consultants—who are on friendly terms with one or more journalists. Find those people, ask for introductions and go from there.

2.) Be helpful.

In order to do their jobs well, journalists have to continuously get information from people in the industries they cover. Guess what? You work in one of the industries they cover. By virtue of that fact, you probably have insights and opinions that could be very useful for them. 

As one prominent tech reporter noted, “If people are going to feed me information, then I’m much more likely to be their friend.”

In practice, this means providing helpful opinions and facts to relevant reporters via social media or a very concise, non-salesy email. 

3.) Go to events.

Again, this works best in a media dense market, but even smaller cities often have local reporters hanging around conferences or panels. Go to these events, talk to reporters like a normal human, and follow-up politely. To find relevant events, I recommend Meetup.com and local newsletters like Startup Digest or, in New York, Gary’s Guide.  

4.) Send thoughtful, targeted emails.

Even without relationships, an interesting product and angle, along with a couple of human-sounding emails from the founder, can do wonders. I gave this advice (pro bono) to the Columbia freshmen behind Readism, for example, and they ended up with articles in The Next WebPC WorldLifehackerBustle and Digital Trends.

Trust me, before they began the process they were just as clueless as you are now. But with a little effort you too can save yourself a couple grand on a PR firm and still get the press you deserve. 

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13 Confident Ways to Overcome Your Shyness


Shyness can truly hold people back–partly because those who are shy tend to avoid public situations and speaking up, and partly because they experience so much chronic anxiety.

If that’s you, take comfort in knowing you are far from alone–four out of 10 people consider themselves shy.

But here’s the good news: Shyness can be overcome. With time and effort and a desire to change, it’s possible to break through, reports Inc.

If your shyness is severe, you may need help from a therapist or counselor, but most people can overcome it on their own.

Take your first steps in getting past shyness with these 13 techniques to help you become a more confident you.

1. Don’t tell.

There’s no need to advertise your shyness. Those who are close to you already know, and others may never even have an opportunity to notice. It’s not as visible as you probably think.

2. Keep it light.

If others bring up your shyness, keep your tone casual. If it becomes part of a discussion, speak of it lightheartedly.

3. Change your tone.

If you blush when you’re uncomfortable, don’t equate it with shyness. Let it stand on its own: “I’ve always been quick to blush.”

4. Avoid the label.

Don’t label yourself as shy–or as anything. Let yourself be defined as a unique individual, not a single trait.

5. Stop self-sabotaging.

Sometimes we really are our own worst enemy. Don’t allow your inner critic to put you down. Instead, analyze the power of that voice so you can defuse it.

6. Know your strengths.

Make a list of all your positive qualities–enlist a friend or family member to help if you need to–and read or recite it when you’re feeling insecure. Let it remind you how much you have to offer.

7. Choose relationships carefully.

Shy people tend to have fewer but deeper friendships–which means your choice of friend or partner is even more important. Give your time to the people in your life who are responsive, warm, and encouraging.

8. Avoid bullies and teases.

There are always a few people who are willing to be cruel or sarcastic if it makes for a good punch line, some who just have no sense of what’s appropriate, and some who don’t care whom they hurt. Keep a healthy distance from these people.

9. Watch carefully.

Most of us are hardest on ourselves, so make a habit of observing others (without making a big deal out of it). You may find that other people are suffering from their own symptoms of insecurity and that you are not alone.

10. Remember that one bad moment doesn’t mean a bad day.

Especially when you spend a lot of time inside your own head, as shy people tend to do, it’s easy to distort experiences, to think that your shyness ruined an entire event–when chances are it wasn’t a big deal to anyone but you.

11. Shut down your imagination.

Shy people sometimes feel disapproval or rejection even when it isn’t there. People probably like you much more than you give yourself credit for.

12. Stare it down.

Sometimes when you’re scared, the best thing to do is to face it head on. If you’re frightened, just stare it down and lean into it.

13. Name it.

Make a list of all your jitters and worries. Name them, plan how you’re going to eliminate them, and move forward.

Suffering from shyness shouldn’t keep you from the success you are seeking, so try these simple tools and make them work for you–in fact, they’re good techniques to try whether you’re shy or not.

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Leveraging Prepaid Maintenance


2016 marks the end of an uptick cycle with vehicle sales. Starting this year, industry experts expect vehicle sales to slow down and possibly plateau with little to no growth in overall unit sales. For dealers, this means customer retention and brand enhancement will become more critical to gain market share. Agents, in turn, can expect dealers to rely more heavily on them to help drive more service customers and expand in a stagnant market.

Meanwhile, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB)’s influence will continue to grow among lenders. As more lenders implement flat-fee models or caps on dealer markup, agents will feel pressure to help dealers reduce their reliance on finance reserves. However, adding products to the already crowded F&I menu can be tricky. Balancing CSI, the speed of the finance process, and providing products that make sense for the customer, as well as the dealership, is a difficult task.

One way to address current dealer needs is through a cutting-edge, customer-centric maintenance program designed to increase F&I profitability and service drive retention. Yes, I said maintenance programs. We have all heard statistics around prepaid maintenance driving higher customer retention rates — and it remains true. According to J.D. Power, maintenance packages help drive higher repurchase rates among owners, with 72% of those who have a complimentary or prepaid maintenance package repurchasing the same vehicle make on their next purchase.

A Powerful Tool

Even with statistics to back it up, this category of F&I products is one of the most overlooked and underutilized profit drivers for dealerships. But with the right foundation, it could be one of the greatest customer-retention tools at a dealer’s disposal. So rather than discuss the benefits of prepaid maintenance, let’s discuss how to effectively utilize it, starting with evaluating your dealership partners’ current prepaid maintenance programs.

The next time you visit your dealership partners, assess how successful each dealer is in offering prepaid maintenance on the sales floor, in the F&I office and in the service drive. Ask them the following questions:

  • What is their profit per retail unit (PRU) on maintenance contracts? How many are sold compared to the number of cars sold in a given week or month?
  • Does the dealership give away any maintenance contracts as a brand-enhancing value proposition? If so, how many?
  • Do they offer different levels of maintenance coverage? Of the contracts sold, how many are upsells?
  • Where on the F&I menu is the program positioned and how it is it sold?
  • What benchmarks does the dealership use to hold its team members accountable for selling maintenance contracts?

The answers to these questions will give you a clearer picture of whether a dealer is utilizing prepaid maintenance to meet their profit goals. Use the answers as a baseline to determine where you can plug in to help your clients achieve greater results.

Not Just Any Program Will Do

Next, evaluate the maintenance program itself. Underutilization could be due to not having the right maintenance program in place, poor handling of claims reserves, negative customer service from the administrator, lack of training within the dealership or ineffective compensation incentives.

Review the dealership’s top-selling inventory, customer demographics and surrounding geography, and ask, “Does the current maintenance program cover the required maintenance for the types of vehicles sold and the conditions in which the vehicles are driven?” If not, customers might not find it valuable, which could be another significant reason for a product’s underutilization.

Beyond looking at the product itself, it’s also important to partner with the right administrator to equip the dealership with tools to sell it.

Is the administrator backed by an A.M. Best rated underwriter/insurer? This signifies the administrator’s ability to pay claims and create products beneficial to both customers and dealerships.

How does the administrator benchmark customer service excellence? The claims process must be incredibly efficient for the service department. Is their current process automated? If not, what is their average speed to answer claims calls and average call handle time? How quickly do they pay claims?

Dealers benefit more from an administrator with strong customer service standards and happy customers in a couple of ways: First, it signifies that the products the dealer sells will be better received and seen as more valuable by customers. Second, those happy customers who bought a maintenance program from your dealer partners will be more likely to return to the selling dealership for their next vehicle because of the positive ownership experience the dealership delivered.

Does the administrator provide ongoing training and engagement to ensure the program’s success? No F&I product is successful without the right support, training and dealership buy-in. Seems obvious, but when we are all honest with ourselves, we know ongoing training is sorely lacking in many dealership environments. And as an agent, there’s only so much training you can provide without the in-depth knowledge of an administrator. With that in mind, selecting the right maintenance product for your dealership partners also comes down to the engagement model of the product administrator. Ask whether they do any or all of the following:

  • Conduct formal product installation and market launches
  • Implement quarterly account planning and performance tracking
  • Work with dealerships to develop incentivizing pay plans
  • Provide ongoing F&I development and one-on-one training

Successful prepaid maintenance programs are backed by dealerships equipped with ongoing training and development. Solid programs are priced for both effective claims management and dealership profit, and they are deemed valuable by customers.

Creating a Supportive Culture

To further ensure successful dealership utilization, work with your product administrator to focus training on the differences of selling prepaid maintenance compared to other F&I products.

While it is common practice for dealerships to maximize profit on an F&I product like a vehicle service contract, this approach is not effective when selling prepaid maintenance. When developing F&I pay plans, and in training, it’s important dealerships don’t apply the same markup rules they do for other products. In fact, it’s better to almost give the product away for little margin. This will help F&I managers demonstrate the value to the customer and how the dealership is working to save them money, making it very easy for managers to sell.

Prepaid maintenance programs are designed to be sold for a small margin upfront, for the purpose of gaining customer loyalty and attaining a larger, long-term margin on repeat business in both sales and the service drive.

Now, at this point, most dealer principals and general managers might think, “That’s well and good for my dealership, but my guys won’t sell it if they can’t make something on it too.”

This is a very valid point. In fact, the No. 1 reason most prepaid maintenance programs are underutilized is because dealership employees aren’t motivated to sell it. You can overcome this obstacle by creating a supportive culture around the program.

Cultivating this culture starts at the top. General managers, sales managers, F&I directors and service managers must buy into the idea of making prepaid maintenance central to their operations. Sales and service-drive teams must be trained on when and how to tee up the conversation about prepaid maintenance during the sales process. F&I managers need in-depth product knowledge training. Everyone needs training on asking questions to help position the program as relevant and valuable to customers. Lastly, tie the program to the dealership’s values. If they tout being family-oriented, then train team members to position the program as another way the dealership takes care of its customers like family.

Beyond training, one motivating factor in any dealership is pay plan development. Review the pay plans for your dealer partners and walk them through a retooling process for F&I, sales and the service drive, all geared specifically toward prepaid maintenance programs. Have them consider paying F&I managers on the number of programs sold versus the margin increase.

Another alternative is pay the same flat dollar amount derived directly from the markup. This ensures consistency and prevents managers from trying to mark the product up to maximize a percentage of the gross profit payout, resulting in a lack of value for the customer. Use this same approach with pay plans for sales, paying them for every handoff to F&I where they proactively informed the customer about the program during the sales cycle and when the customer bought the program prior to leaving.

On the service side, it’s important to remember that the dealership isn’t looking to make a huge profit on the individual sale of each program. This gives dealerships the opportunity to empower service managers to sell the program to their customers outside of a vehicle purchase. This further cements in the dealership’s customers’ minds the value they can receive from the dealership, as well as the dealership culture of putting customers’ needs first. To motivate service managers to sell the programs, it’s important to pay them on the number of programs sold. However, it’s even more important to make it easy for them to get paid.

If dealership team members have to verify the number of programs sold in three different ways — and work with accounting to get paid — the service drive simply won’t do it. While sales and F&I might have more time in the day to complete extra paperwork, the service drive doesn’t. The average service drive manager handles five times more transactions than anyone else in the dealership, and is working at a much faster pace. They don’t have time to jump through hoops to get paid and won’t do something that makes their job more difficult. So more important than determining what a service manager will be paid, focus on making the process to be paid easy for successful deployment in the service drive.

As dealers place higher demands on their agent partners, we will see agents become more efficient with their clients. If you’re looking for a deep and long-term relationship, consider providing a solution that keeps dealers thinking about how to increase market share and profitability, like successful implementation of prepaid maintenance.

The topic of prepaid maintenance repeatedly comes up because it has a lot of potential. While industry insiders can probably list the benefits of prepaid maintenance off the top of their heads, very few know how to actually implement it effectively. Those agents who use it to differentiate their service offering will better position themselves in a crowded market.

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How Can We Sell More on the Worst Day of the Week?


What’s your worst selling day? Let’s assume you picked Wednesday. So every Wednesday is a terrible selling day because there’s no traffic, no incoming calls, nothing to do, nobody to talk to, no sales, no nothing.

And yet, Then, all of a sudden, for some incredible reason, Wednesday usually becomes the best day of the month!

How could that be?

For one thing, at the end of the month, you’re down to the wire. So you start doing your follow-up a few days beforehand so you can get some of those people back on the lot. When that phone rings the last couple of days, instead of blowing the call, talking price or educating the caller, you do whatever it takes to get them in the door.

On those last couple days, when you’re out in the service department or pass the waiting room, you actually talk to a couple of people there to find out if they, or someone they know, may be in the market to trade cars soon.

Oh yeah, and when you finally get an up, you start treating every prospect like they could be the very last person you’ll get to talk to this month, representing your last chance to hit your next-level bonus or maybe even make enough to pay the rent.

When the month is running out, you don’t wait for the ads to generate traffic, you work the phones to schedule as many appointments as you can so you can put more people on the lot. You give each prospect your best, most enthusiastic presentation, and you end up selling two or three units and pulling out your month on the worst day of the week.

Here’s a new thought: It isn’t the day of the week at all. It’s how you spend that day that makes the difference. Just like we teach service writers to schedule appointments during their slow time instead of first thing in the morning, when they’re slammed, you can do the same.

When someone says they’ll come back Thursday, try to push it to Wednesday. Just give them a logical reason: “I know you want a lot for your trade, and I’ll have the highest bidder in town here Wednesday afternoon. Can you swing by after work?”

In summary, to double your sales this month, try this three-step method:

  1. Treat every day you work as though it’s the last day of the month or the year, and give every day 110%.
  2. Treat every prospect as though they are the last one you’ll ever get a chance to talk to and give each of them your very best “basics” process, including the warmup, value-building and closing.
  3. Learn something new every day about how to sell more. You could read a new book about sales every day and not run out.

If you can do those three things, you can double your sales and income right away — and you’ll continue to grow year after year.

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