Building your business? Put honesty to work.

by Jeff Mowatt, BComm, CSP

It’s always interesting to hear the responses from managers when asked about what factors impact sales. Many will reference the economy, customer demographics, competition, and recent innovations in technology.

While those factors certainly play a role, I often find — when brought in to train sales and service teams — employees inadvertently chase away new potential customers. It usually happens within the first 10 seconds of customer communication, and most employees have no idea they are committing these offenses. See if this is true in your organization. Consider these three reasons potential customers may distrust you or your team members.


1. Faking Familiarity
Imagine that you are relaxing at home at the end of a long day. Supper’s cleared away and at last it’s time to relax with cookie, blankie, remote. The phone rings. You drag yourself off the sofa to answer. The voice at the other end replies, “Hello, is this Mr. or Ms. So-and-so?” “Yes,” you answer. The caller’s next line, “And how are you this evening?” Thinking quickly, you extend the phone to your sweetheart, “Honey, it’s for you!”

The telemarketer made a common mistake — faking familiarity. It’s true that customers want to be treated in a friendly manner, but managers and employees need to recognize that before you can foster friendly feelings, you need to create trust. The telemarketer lost trust in the first five seconds when he asked a stranger, “How are you?” The potential customer realizes that the caller had never met them, so really doesn’t care how they are. One of the techniques I share in my training sessions for salespeople on cold calling methods is to never ask a stranger, “How are you?” Instead, salespeople get better results by opening with, “Hello, is this So-and-So? Hi, I’m So-and-So with ABC Company. We’ve never met. The reason I’m calling is…”

Today’s consumer is more educated, streetwise and, frankly, way more cynical about sales peoples’ motives than ever before. Consumers seem to be taking the advice that parents give their children: “Come straight home, and don’t talk to strangers!” That means managers need to do more than instruct employees to be friendly with customers — they also need to equip staff with the tools for establishing trust.

The truth is . . .

Guy Fawkes masksYou’ll get better results by acknowledging you don’t know the customer — it proves you are up front and honest — than by insincerely asking about the health of a total stranger.


2. Avoiding the Point
Which person would you trust in this scenario? Picture yourself as a customer asking this simple question of two employees: “When can you deliver the product?” Employee A’s response is “This is the busy season for us and the plant is operating at about a two-week turnaround. That means it will be delivered by March 15th.” Employee B’s response to the same question is, “By March 15th. This is the busy season for us and the plant is operating at about a two- week turnaround. That means delivery by March 15th.”

As the customer, you’re likely to have more confidence and trust — there’s that word, again — in Employee B because he answered the question with a direct answer, then elaborated. Employee A sounded as though he was avoiding the question. (That’s also referred to as ‘sounding like a politician’.)

The truth is . . .

Guy Fawkes masksWhen trust is our primary objective, it’s better to opt for instant honesty. Answer the question, first. Then explain. It’s a subtle technique that’s often overlooked.


3. Pumping up the facts
I have spoken at conventions for three major real estate corporations that each claimed they were number one in the industry. While you and I know all three companies can’t be first, when we read the fine print, we find that each is using different metrics to rank themselves at the top. My comment for those three organizations — so what! What does the client care if you happen to have the most sales, most realtors, or most offices in the country? At best, those are features — not benefits — that aren’t particularly meaningful to the average customer. By claiming to be number one, all they’ve done — when others are doing the same — is raise the skepticism of the customer. This use of slight exaggeration or “puffery” is the third reason customers distrust us.

Fortunately, there are three pieces of information that do help to sell ideas, products or services. Your message should convey: the benefit of your product or service; ways in which you are unique; and the evidence. Together the benefit, uniqueness, and evidence are known in marketing circles as a Unique Selling Proposition or USP. Your USP helps to remove doubts and raise buying interest.

The truth is . . .

Guy Fawkes masksCustomers have become so inured to organizations claiming to be the first, best and biggest, that they often tune out when the message comes from employees, advertisements, the media or the Web. To influence customers’ buying decisions, we’d better provide more than grandiose claims.


Bottom Line:
There are plenty of reasons and excuses for sales not meeting expectations. Before blaming external factors, managers would do well to look at their customer communications to see if there’s room for improvement.

Based on Becoming a Service Icon in 90 Minutes a Month by customer service strategist and professional speaker, Jeff Mowatt. For a copy of the book, more tips, self-study resources, and training services, click here

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