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May/June 2002

          Customer Service  tips for quality service

Turning Fear Into Fun
by Carl Tompkins

Having completed a lengthy study on the habits of successful glass shops, the most prevalent habit discovered of glass shops that are growing profitably is their outside sales efforts. Their selling efforts are critical, professional, persistent and delivering value. I would go so far as to say that if you are not out selling, your doom is certain. It's only a matter of time. As harsh as this may appear, it's reality.

So, if this is reality, why don't people invest more time, effort and money into this vital habit? My 26 years of experience tells me that a very high percentage of glass shops feel outside sales work to be just downright scary. They've never done it, don't feel they know how and it's a new habit on which they just cannot get started. Others just don't see the value.

If these glass shops knew the truth behind successful selling, they wouldn't feel this way at all. In fact, when I get done telling the "rest of the story" (as the great Paul Harvey would say), the activity of selling should be the most delightful experience within anyone's business. Take into careful account each of the following truths of successful selling that should turn fear into fun.

Truth #1: Mindset
Within any field of business, there exists many funny and sometimes intimidating stories about the "typical professional." In sales, it's the picture of the fast-talking, shrewd operator that never takes no for an answer. I think back on some consulting I did in 1983 for a company in the window business. They wanted to set a new benchmark in the industry when it came to their outside selling efforts. They wanted to be viewed differently and as a team of people that were welcomed into every customer location. Their opening exercise was to brainstorm and draw the "typical window salesman" that they did not want to be. On the wall was a 7-foot-tall, 3-foot-wide poster board. It was there that a hilarious picture began to take shape. Illustrated in a cartoon-esque figure was a guy that was 6-foot, 1-inch-tall, weighing 147 pounds. He was dressed in gator-skin boots with hip-hugger pants that were held up with a belt and polished buckle on which you could serve a 12-pound turkey. From there it went on to the multi-colored satin shirt with a 5-inch collar opened down the front to the fourth button. His bare chest enabled him to show off his "Mr. T" starter set of jewelry. The outfit was topped off with a fancy hard-leather car jacket and slicked-back hairdo that would make Pat Riley (coach of the NBA's Miami Heat) blush. This salesman's opening statement to the customer, which was caught in a caption, was "Hi, glad you could see me."

There are probably hundreds of additional negative images we could conjure up, all leading to the feeling, "I could never and would never want to be like that."

The good news is that any look, tactic or presentation of one's self that fits this scenario is the farthest thing away from being successful at sales.

Understand within your own mind the truth behind effective selling. Words that are synonymous with effective selling are "partnering," "listening," "caring," "sharing," "providing," "helping," "solving," "supporting," "friendliness," "responsiveness," "dependability" and "reliability." Note that all these terms come from the school of being a great human being and that everyone has the ability to excel at these functions.

Are you a person that really cares for your customers personally and professionally? Do you want to help your customers succeed? Will you always be there for them in a time of need? Are you a responsible and reliable person? Can you be trusted? Are you more interested in hearing their stories rather than telling that of your own? If your answers are yes, then you are the one for whom those customers are looking.

Never before have we faced times that require more of this type of attention and association with one another. If this is what successful selling requires, then you should be confident within your own mind that you can accomplish this mission.

Truth #2: Action
The cure of fear is action. Action avoids procrastination. Your mindset creates the confidence of ability—now you must add the physical activity of going out and seeing your customers.

A tip to help get going is to not think of your efforts as being "sales calls." If you are to accomplish all that was stated under that mindset, you are really going out to either create new friends or improve relationships with existing friends. Everyone can do that.

Consider the goal of each call to be shaking hands and then learning ways in which you can help these friends succeed in life. This approach stimulates conversation where they do the talking and you do the listening.

The greatest example of how I've seen this accomplished was by a great man named Carl Overstreet. When he had a lunch date with a potential glass shop customer in Richmond, Va., a few years ago, I witnessed Carl having a fair amount of small talk with the customer following their handshake at the door of the restaurant. Following the friendly chat, Carl leaned back and said, "Pat, I would be very interested in hearing what goals you've set for your business this year and how I can help you get there." Pat sat back and scratched his head a little and pondered what answers he could give.

This was a great question in that it was easy to ask, demonstrated interest by Carl and got Pat to really think hard about what type of advice he could provide. Once Pat's thoughts came together he talked for 40 minutes without stopping. Carl took notes. Looking down at his watch, Pat jumped up and said time had gotten away from him and he had to return to the shop. He never touched his BLT sandwich. As Pat stood looking down at Carl, who was still seated at the table, he said, "This has been the best sales call I've ever had with a salesman in 13 years." Carl blushed and thanked Pat for the kind comment. Most importantly, Carl asked, "Why do you say that, Pat?" Pat responded, "Because it's the first time I ever got to do the talking."

Set schedules to be out in your market so many hours per week. List exactly what customers you will see each of those days. Make phone call appointments. Then get going and don't fail to keep your schedule. When you arrive, ask a couple of discussion-stimulating questions like Carl did. Then sit back, listen and learn what the customer wants to buy from you.

Truth #3: Money
Financial reward is an automatic by-product of excellence in selling. Studies have concluded that the highest-performing companies are those utilizing highly skilled sales people. The highest-performing glass shops in America all have dedicated outside selling efforts taking place constantly. Without this effort, customer loyalty and willingness to do business erodes away because that same loyalty and willingness transfers to suppliers that pay attention to their needs and deliver the best solutions. It is the outside selling efforts that create this attention.

One last proof of this truth comes from a situation that occurred in the Cleveland area in 1992 following a selling course attended by 19 glass shop owners. When these owners finally took action toward their commitment to be out selling, the worse outcome was that one shop only grew its business 18 percent—not a bad return on 90 days worth of outside selling effort.

Survivor Business-Style
The motivation to be out selling is money that, in turn, equates to business survival. The confidence you require is having the mindset that customers need partners. They need people to show up and listen to their stories. They need people who will support their efforts to succeed. You already have this ability. And finally, action is all it takes to set this strategy in motion and earn the reward.

Just showing up with the right attitude and mindset will create great accomplishments. Get started today.

The next three editions of AGRR magazine will feature a series of advanced selling skills that you can incorporate to better grow your business though greater customer relationships.  

Carl Tompkins is western states area manager for the Sika Corp. of Madison Heights, Mich. He is based in Spokane, Wash.


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