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April 9, 2008 at 9:18 pm 1 comment

Carnival of Trust – Postings Open

COT Logo

I am honored to host this month’s Carnival of Trust for Charlie Green, the co-author of The Trusted Advisor and author of Trust-based Selling. Trusted Advisor Cover

If you would like to submit an article on the topic of trust for possible inclusion in the Carnival, please follow this link:

http://blogcarnival.com/bc/submit_1693.html

You never know, you just may get selected!

What’s is it?  The Carnival of Trust is a fascinating, monthly compendium of blog postings related to trust in business, trust in selling, trust in society at large. It is kept interesting by the vibrant commentary of our esteemed hosts, and by the imposition of a Top 10 criteria on submissions. If you don’t get selected, it’s no dis. But if you do get selected, it’s a tribute.

So bring out your best stuff, and share it with the world. After all, how’s the world going to get better if you hide those great insights from the rest of us?

April 2, 2008 at 3:01 am 1 comment

Please Validate Me

Rubber StampIf you’ve ever sold in a city, you know the challenge of simple things like parking.  If you no longer pay your share of parking tickets or scramble to find ATM’s for “cash-only” lots, you’ve graduated to “insider” status, to an Indiana Jones of the concrete jungle. 

Insiders learn to scout their territory; they know when parking meters open and close, which garages take credit cards, and which buildings have unlocked restroom doors.   And if you’ve ascended to insider status, you yearn to hear the magic words, “Do you need a validation sticker?”  “Oh, do you guys have validations?” you say, with the kind of anxious hope one would experience from unwrapping the golden ticket in a Wonka Bar.

Why?  That little adhesive-backed stamp equates to at least twenty bucks of parking garage ransom.    Once you’re validated, your sticker acts like a sort of “all day pass,” allowing you to hunt anywhere in the nearby jungle before returning to your validated lot.  Etched into your memory are the names and faces of any validator in your jungle. As you exit the garage, you gladly hand over the ticket with anticipation of watching the $20.00 fee come up and the word “PAID” illuminate from the L.E.D. readout as the gate rises to let you through.  Ah, yes…the rewards of validation.

Validation stickers for parking garages are a rare commodity.  Validation in the world of sales and customer service is, unfortunately, on the endangered species list.  Sometimes those of us on the selling side can’t understand why we didn’t connect with a buyer.  We can’t figure out what went wrong.  Consider – failure to validate. To appreciate validation is to experience its absence.  This week alone, my wife and I dealt with several ongoing service and billing issues.

Consider your reaction to the following two responses after eight months of incorrect billing:  “I see a ticket’s already in.  It looks like they are working on it.  Is there anything else I can help you with?”

versus

“I see.  Looking at your account I can see you’ve called in several times about this.  Please accept my apologies for still needing to deal with this issue.  This isn’t how we intend to treat our customers and it must be frustrating.  Let me see if I can get an answer as to why this keeps recurring so we can finally get to the bottom of this and you won’t have to spend your time following up on the same issue.  Will that be ok?” Can you feel the difference?  How do your emotions evolve when you sense the person on the other side understands you?  As sellers, we can either blow air into the balloon until it’s about to burst or deflate the balloon allowing the pressure to escape.  It’s such a simple concept, yet so often bypassed.In my Trust Centered Selling sales training course, participants act out a role play that gives the seller a “a pleasant surprise” if they acknowledge the buyer’s feelings.  It’s amazing how many sellers get right down in the trenches, roll up their sleeves and defend their position.  In turn, the buyers get their backs up and win/lose negotiations ensue.

People just want to feel validated.  So, if you ever wonder why the appointment went south or the customer didn’t return your calls, ask yourself if you have validated them.

For goodness sakes, give away your stickers.

April 1, 2008 at 1:18 am Leave a comment

The Listening Chair: Wash, Snip and Tell

larger chairDo you leave more than just hair clippings behind when you visit the hair stylist?
“I’d like you to trim the sides, take an inch off the top, and oh yeah, you won’t believe what’s going on in my office right now…”

Sound familiar?

People share some of their most intimate secrets with perfect strangers. Often the equivalent of a psychiatrist’s couch, this “listening chair” opens the floodgate of personal confidences.

Perhaps we can learn a lesson about creating a “listening chair” for our customers.

Why do so many people loosen their lips while they get their snips?

According to Gordon Miller, the executive director of the National Association of Cosmetoligists, “In salons as a whole, hairdressers who don’t want their clients to tell them their troubles are as rare as those who believe in natural blonds.”

It’s the perfect recipe. Two people connecting, tuned out to their surroundings, with no interruptions, distractions or ulterior motives. Someone willing and genuinely interested in hearing your story without passing judgment and without an agenda. They just listen (cut, style and color happens at the subconscious level). When you sit down in that chair, the stylist wraps you with the plastic smock like a shield of security that implies, “I’m all yours. You have my undivided attention for the next thirty minutes – go.”

What lesson can marketers learn from inside the salon?

Great sellers are great listeners.

Dr. Stephen Covey describes “empathetic listening” in his book, the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Empathetic listening requires you to listen deeply, to really hear the other person. You listen, not just for what they’re saying, but for what they are not saying. You’re listening for what they are feeling. If you just listen to the words, you can miss something, something important, often critical.

Charlie Green, co-author of the Trusted Advisor, and trust expert says that often we listen for content. “Selling is best understood (and done) by anchoring transactions in the context of relationships—not by treating relationships as a phase in a transactional process…the value of listening is in disposing the client to engage differently.”  Here’s a thought. The listening process itself, can and should differentiate you from the crowd. Most sales reps are quick to give their opinion, share solutions and offer up suggestions without fully listening.

Empathetic listeners ask open ended questions, ask for clarification and validate the other person’s feelings. Once a point has shape and texture, they can “frame” it. Framing restates the essence of what the other person said, often times helping the customer to see the problem in a different light.

“So, you’re tired of dealing with a stack of invoices?” or “You’ve tried every conventional solution and now you’re looking to go in a different direction, am I on target?”.  Notice, there’s no judgment.

In other words, listen to understand, not to discover needs or figure how your product or service will “plug in” to what they’re saying. Instead, listen because you are genuinely and authentically interested in the relationship and not for personal gain. When you do, the customer will be willing to open up.

Do your customers feel like they’re in the listening chair?

March 4, 2008 at 4:25 pm Leave a comment

The Loyalty Chasm

Can you hear it?chasm

It’s the sound of plummeting customer loyalty.

Much akin to a five-year old’s adventures with his matchbox car on the kitchen table, customer loyalty can mirror the follies of a Daytona 500 “wanna-be”. The miniature Formula car cruises along on the flat plane of Formica at the mercy of the next Dale Ernhardt, Jr. (in his pajamas). The car reaches the table’s edge. Its fate is clear. With increased adrenalin and a face filled with intensity, the future Nascar driver let’s gravity pull the #88 car to an abrupt meeting with the linoleum tile.

CRACK!

Damage assessment? It’s just a minor scratch on the headlight; so he picks it up and repeats it no less than 100 times (you know boys).

Unlike matchbox cars, when customer loyalty drops off the table, the damage assessment reveals a lot more than a scratched headlight, but often goes undetected.

So what causes this drop into the “loyalty chasm”?

It’s a trickle-down effect that starts in the boardroom and ends with a severing of the sales rep/customer relationship.

A publicly traded company anxiously awaits the analyst’s reports and their shareholders’ response to quarterly performance numbers. If reports are favorable, and the stock ticks upward, high fives and a free round of drinks for everyone. If the reports go the other way, panic sets in. “We’re going to have to make some mid-year ‘adjustments’ to get back on course.” After numerous closed-door emergency meetings, a new strategy emerges, press releases go out, re-organizations ensue and heads get chopped. It’s called “Quarteritis”, the illness of leading and being led by Wall Street’s reaction to quarterly performance.

Bad news from Wall Street often equates to draconian measures, such as drastically changed sales compensation plans, territory re-alignment and hiring freezes (even for replacement positions). All these chess-like moves are designed to improve financials for the next quarter, often in direct contradiction with the firm’s core values.

It’s like turning around a battleship in a creek. If you turn too fast and hard, some passengers fly off the side…and some will jump off. Employee morale and trust erodes, triggering undesired turnover. When reps change, the loyalty chasm opens, helping to surface the last symptom of Quarteritis, a precipitous drop in customer loyalty.

Gee, didn’t think you might lose some high performing reps along with those marginal reps in those closed-door meetings?

Didn’t think how those decisions would impact morale and employee trust?

Didn’t think the loyalty to your company, that took months, even years to build is all but gone the day a customer learns their rep is no longer servicing their account?

Didn’t think that the customer has already starting thinking about their alternatives?

Didn’t think.

Publicly traded companies may want to think beyond the next quarter and give more weight to each decision that affects rep/customer relationships. Failing to do so, equates to saying, “c’mon, it’ll just be a scratch on your headlight.” From the customer’s perspective, it feels more like a hit and run.

February 19, 2008 at 2:43 am 1 comment

A Slam Dunk Lesson on Trust

College Park, Maryland; January 16, 2008 fans

Maryland Terrapin fans had a lot to cheer about this week.  No, I’m not talking about last Saturday’s upset of #1 North Carolina on the Tar Heels home turf.  Another shocking victory delighted the 15,000 plus fans during their game against Wake Forest last Tuesday.  I had the great fortune of witnessing this historic event.  Ironically, it happened when both teams were in their locker rooms at half-time. During the break, fans experienced the now typical, parade of carnival-type contests designed to delight the student body while relentlessly promoting products. 

For example:

The Papa John’s Pick-the-Prize-in-the-Pizza-Box Contest.

The Pepsi One Half-Time, Half-Court Challenge.

The Chevy Chase Bank Spot-the-Most-Ridiculous-Looking-Fan-Scan.

You get the idea.

While most people were settling back into their seats, the PA announcer introduced student contestants for the Pep Boys Fan Challenge. These two young men were competing for a year of free windshield washer fluid.  I couldn’t make this stuff up!  Regardless of where you sat that night, any fan could tell that both competitors had enjoyed their share of super sized Pepsi’s and grande nacho cheese tortillas.

The winning contestant would need to complete a “speed drill”.  The goal?  Dribble the ball from under one basket to the foul-line and back, then to the half-court line and back, then to the other foul-line and back, and finally to the far base-line before finishing with a successful basket.

The labored breathing started for both men as soon as they hit the first foul-line.  As they reached the half-court line, one appeared to glance upward to see if an oxygen mask would mercifully drop from the Jumbotron.  As they headed for the final turn, one warrior had gained, what they call in football, separation, from the other – nearly the full length of the court.

At this point, fans started to cheer.  Not for the apparent victor, but to support the guy who was grasping onto hope…just to finish.

Then it happened. 

The contestant who was gliding to an easy victory slowed down about eight feet in front of the basket, got down on all fours, and waited for his competitor, a complete stranger, to approach.  As the athletically-challenged straggler huffed and puffed his way toward his competitor, he saw the offering of a human trampoline in front of the basket.  Hands and knees now firmly planted on the hardwood floor, the first contestant pointed up to his own back.

The anticipation and noise level escalated as he neared with slow motion speed.  Without breaking stride, the newly anointed crowd-darling picked up steam, took a final dribble, jumped on the back of the first contestant and slam dunked the ball to an erupting Comcast Center crowd.

Unexpected.                                                         

Unnecessary.

Unselfish.

Both men hugged and held each other’s hand in the air in victory as the video camera sent their image to the arena mega-screens.  The Terps went on to win the basketball game; but, these men were the real victors that night.

So what’s the lesson for us?

By humbling ourselves and not seeking the spotlight, we build trust. 

By giving credit instead of taking it ourselves (especially when we can), we build trust. 

By doing what is unexpected, unnecessary and unselfish, we build trust; capturing the hearts of everyone in our arena.  The one-year supply of windshield washer fluid is just a bonus.

February 9, 2008 at 11:42 pm 2 comments

The Invisible Wall of Distrust

wall
You can’t hear it.
You can’t touch it.
You can’t even smell it.

But make no mistake; it’s there…the invisible wall of distrust.
Your buyer knows it’s there and sees it with perfect clarity. It’s the elephant in the room that they rarely tell you about. One brick at a time, year after year, it was built with the mortar of false promises and layers of incompetence.

MBA students in my Sales Management and Strategies course at Loyola are fairly reserved. When I asked them to think about the perceptions they have of sales people, hands started flying toward the ceiling. “Dishonest”, “money motivated”, “interested in making their quota”, “don’t listen”, “don’t follow through”, “talk too much” and the list goes on. Suddenly, they all found their voices at once. More proof the wall exists.

Trust, as Stephen M.R. Covey calls it, is the one thing that means everything. Without it, friendships dissolve, marriages deteriorate, communities divide and governments fall. On the other hand, high trust relationships strengthen people, teams, organizations, cities and even countries. In the business world, sales people who seek trust centered relationships will experience a road less traveled; but, find it a worthwhile journey.

So how do most sales reps deal with the wall? Here are a few ways for starters:
• They are unaware it exists. (Not after reading this).
• They ignore it.
• They shift blame (not my fault, the last rep did that to you).
• They go around or over it (a great way to turn the wall into a fortress).
• They lower their price (sorry, it’s still standing tall).
• They delay or procrastinate.
• They give up.

The wall exists because sales people inside and outside of your industry have violated the same basic principles that I call the five pillars of TRUST. So what are the principles?

Transparency – Have no hidden agendas. Don’t say your product can do something you’re not sure it can do. Be upfront about anything and everything that the customer could perceive as a “surprise”. Someone once said, “It takes twenty years to build a reputation and five minutes to destroy it.”

Reliability – Making promises that you keep are trust deposits. Making promises that you break, are at best withdrawals and at worst, overdrafts. Follow through on your commitments. According to a recent study published in the Harvard Business Review that rated the biggest mistakes sales people make, one in five reps fail to follow through.

Understanding – According to that same study, one in five sales reps don’t listen to customer needs. “First seek to understand, then to be understood”, says Dr. Stephen Covey. From my twenty six years in the sales arena, too many reps “show up and throw up”, dumping irrelevant information and experience. Listen, listen and then listen. Instead of thinking about what you want to say next, try clarifying anything you’re unsure about. Then understand the impact to the customer.

Sincerity – Show the customer that you care. The old saying, “people don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care” still rings true. Be honest and genuine – they can see through the invisible wall and they can also see through insincerity. What can you do tomorrow to show your customers that you are sincere?

Transform – When you’re viewed as a “me too” supplier, the only way you can provide value is to lower your price. That’s a pattern that leads to nowhere. Instead, bring your customer to a new place. Help them uncover a need that no one has revealed to them and then lead them to a desired outcome.

Putting the five pillars of TRUST into practice help you breakthrough the wall of distrust. And trust is everything.

Mark Slatin helps organizations attract and retain loyal customers through trusting relationships. You can learn more at www.truecolorsconsulting.com.

February 9, 2008 at 11:09 pm 1 comment

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