Resources

Being A Sales Mentor

What the tech industry often forgets is that with age comes wisdom. Older workers are usually better at following directions, mentoring and leading – Vivek Wadhwa

Context is a wonderful thing and it is greatly enhanced by experience. It follows that the longer you do a thing, the more experience, therefore context, you possess. Context is critical to being a good mentor because it is something you can give to another, less experienced colleague that can get them to grow at a faster rate in a safer way. 

What is the purpose of this writing? The purpose is to get business owners, gm’s and sales managers to remember how unbelievably important it is to allow your wisdom and context to bleed down to every level of your sales culture. The benefits to accomplishing this are many and powerful. Let me begin my argument in a very pragmatic fashion, using a daily occurrence and make comparisons from there. 

Here is the scene: You are in the Starbucks drive through. You pull up next to the speaker where you place your order and a young person with a put-out, just getting it done and over with tone says. “What can I get’cha?” 

That’s the whole story…it happens across the world everyday to countless people, at countless drive-throughs and points of purchase. Because a service or product is on the positive side of the supply and demand ratio, the larger entities survive and thrive despite having sloppy communications skills throughout their organizations – customer experience be damned. If you are a company like Starbucks, you may be losing untold bundles of profit but the demand for what you do is high enough that this item is not given the attention it deserves. Why should it? The lines are long enough as it is, right? The P & L looks great. Starbucks isn’t a franchise and technically/logistically has direct control over company attitudes and the customer experience. I guess “good enough” is good enough as long as the profits are acceptable. Many small and intermediate sized businesses don’t have the luxury of being lackadaisical about how their clients are handled.  A “good enough” attitude does not serve independents who need badly to provide a consistently good experience to have repeat and referral business. Remember the recent “Just OK is not OK” AT&T commercials? Being a good mentor is the very best way to explain the “hows” and, just as importantly, the “whys” to your sales and servicing staff. Mentoring is the very best way to explain why “good enough” and “just ok” attitudes are poison to the success and culture of an independent business.

Get on a personal, one on one level, however appropriately it can be done. You should let your sales staff know how you got to where you are, how you got to be in a position to offer them the opportunity of employment. In the sales process, “credibility” is the first module that needs to be accomplished and that also holds true if you are working to motivate a sales person. If they know a little bit about the “blood, sweat and tears” that helped create the career you have, they will be able to appreciate where they are a great deal more. They can also come to appreciate the person mentoring them much more. When you subsequently make statements about how important your company’s reputation is, it will ring more true and authentic if they know something about how and what it took to build that good reputation. 

That segues nicely into why you are (or should be) so concerned about the customer experience at the place of business you’ve built and also that your sales associates represent it with every interaction they have with the buying public. My belief is that it is not enough to explain to them your personal investment and subsequent wish to sustain your company’s marquis value in the community. You must also stress that, not only for a company, but for an individual sales professional as well, nothing is more valuable than your reputation. In addition to the inspiration that can encourage them to love the place where they make a living, you must give them the tools with which to perpetuate the desired company image. There should be a consistent company way to answer the phone, provide advice, present products and in short, a “play book” on how you expect everyone at your company to conduct business. Why? Because as stated earlier, you care about your company’s perpetuation which is tied to the public’s perception, therefore you would like them, injecting their own innuendos and personality of course, to conduct company business in “the company way.”    

Think of the feeling you would have if you knew that every possible consumer who came in contact with your company was given a caring and professional first impression and that all of the subsequent interactions were executed in a manner that deepened trust and the value of your company in every prospective buyer’s mind! You would be able to lay your head down on the pillow at night knowing that all that could be done, had been done. What a feeling that would be. If you aren’t in that position, then it behooves you to be your own company’s cheerleader and frame in a company way in which you can convince your people to do business. I acknowledge that perfection is not ever achievable this side of eternity BUT as the old adage goes: “When you aim for perfection you will end up at excellence!”  

One trick that has always worked to forge more loyalty, and that’s really what we’re talking about here (loyalty), is to explain the value of the person you are motivating to them while challenging them to be the best, most positive, representative that they can. In close encounters with your people make it a habit to catch folks who work for you “doing something right.” If you have slipped into a cynical, untrusting mindset you need a reset!

Storytelling can help. Share experiences that helped you arrive at the place you are in, at the level of success you have, and some of the lessons you’ve learned along the way. For years, I have had the pleasure of telling business stories that have made my advice more “real world” and believable and less like boardroom-banter designed simply to impress someone. There should always be a moral to the story. Here’s an example I’ve shared countless times, possibly you’d heard it from me in the past. It is a story about an old Texas businessman who mentored me. I was impressed with his career, his success and how comfortable in his own skin he was. I also connected with him because he had an “everyman wisdom” about him that reminded me of Will Rogers. His name isn’t important and over the years we’ve lost touch (I’m sure he’s not even with us anymore or he’d be easily over 100 years old), but what his mentoring meant to me in my developmental years as a sales pro is significant. For the sake of the story, his name will be Tom…

“Tom, I am impressed with the empire you’ve built. As a young sales professional I’d like to benefit from your years of experience. If you could give me any good advice what would it be?” I inquired. With a twinkle in his eye, obviously pleased to answer the question, he said,” Well young man I’ll give you three things.” “Thanks Tom!” The twinkle intensified,” first off – get you a business card.” I was aware that he was being humorous so I played along with a head shake. “Secondly, make your calls (then a purposeful pause followed by)…ALL your calls.” 

The second one, I thought, was much more of a convicted statement with more true substance. However, the third one was the bit of advice I took to heart and modeled my personal business approach with: “and always remember, if you’re standing still, you’re backing up!” This advice stuck. After I got out of the sign business, my next sales position was selling targeted direct mail at a time when “database marketing” was on the cutting edge. Never before had the laser targeting been refined enough that families with children, new homeowners, real estate values and other segments could be concentrated on/mailed depending on what a “prime prospect” for a business might be. You could mail only who you wanted instead of everybody. It changed a lot of capabilities and strategies and was in line with what the old Texas businessman had advised me; at that time, it was very innovative. 

Still to this day, I’m involved in bringing cutting edge lead generation to the piano industry and “innovation” is a mindset we embrace. We’re always brainstorming in keeping with his third, most powerful statement of advice. Here’s another way to put it, from one of America’s most pragmatic writers of all time: Even though you are on the right track – you will get run over if you just sit there” –  Will Rogers

Mentoring doesn’t just benefit the other person either. Just as charity also benefits the giver by bolstering their self-esteem and spirituality, mentoring helps create an internal happiness that is hard to beat. Knowing that you’ve helped someone perform at a higher level, which not only increases their self worth but also how well they’re able to contribute to their family, is a fantastic value in which to invest, not to mention the humanity you come in contact with WHILE you make your company a better place, and may I share a secret with you?  Companies that have grateful and happy employees are, almost without fail, more stable and long term more profitable. 

Here’s the link to an article I wrote some time ago about bridge-building which could be considered “shared mentoring.” In today’s world, older sales associates can benefit greatly from the technical and reasoning abilities of the younger folks around them. Conversely, an old sales-pro can provide some very needed “people skills” techniques that can make all the difference in a young sales-pro’s delivery. Although this article was written for the piano industry, it is based upon fundamentally sound business reasoning that applies to all SIC’s: https://prospectsint.com/the-value-of-bridge-building-in-the-sales-world  It’s all about teamwork.

You may never fully know the difference you make in a younger person’s life. Their application of your mentoring may lead them to reaching a level of accomplishment you would be proud of, yet it may happen long after you are still selling, conducting business or even alive. Mentoring is about “giving back” and the benefits of being unselfish enough to help a younger professional are many. As I stated earlier, if they work for you, their ability to perform at a higher level will positively affect your bottom line but there is more to it than that so I’ll work toward my crescendo. Regardless of your religious preference, lack of, or convictions toward humanity and its plight after your exit from the planet, being a mentor is an honorable and noble thing which, in the end, helps you now and later, your legacy. I could search for quotes from philosophers of old, the renowned and quotable sales gurus and marketing minds of the past, or even a President or a Pope, but not this time. As I sit here in Nashville, remembering the down to earth advice of my past mentor and the well-grounded earlier quote from Will Rogers, I am inspired to leave you with this line from a Randy Travis hit song entitled “Three Wooden Crosses: I guess it’s not what you take when you leave this world behind you, it’s what you leave behind you when you go.”     

Being Your Own Thought Leader – a recipe

Being a “Thought Leader” is a curious moniker many marketing agencies have awarded themselves. It is an interesting positioning statement and one that makes me wonder how many who have knighted themselves this stature actually spend the time and thought to deserve it. The dictionary definition suggests that the world at large designates this term to certain firms and individuals perceived as experts in their field but many marketing firms are self-dubbing themselves as such. Just read their web sites… it’s now listed under the services they provide.   

In a broad sense, deep thinkers such as the philosopher’s of old, Aristotle, Socrates and Plato were influential thought leaders when it came to conventional wisdom. Saint Augustine in the 400’s was unafraid to tackle any subject. Our founding fathers of the United States were chock full of quotable quotes. The industrial revolution spawned Henry Ford and Dale Carnegie and previous to that railroad and shipping magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt who had his own way of thinking. Some of the authors on the Mount Rushmore of sales fundamentals such as Dale Carnegie and Zig Ziglar have given us some very sound and inspirational bites. More influential thinkers include Sigmund Freud, Charles Darwin, C.S. Lewis, Richard Dawkins and Billy Graham… obviously, on the opposite side of the debate in which they engaged. 

Since every action begins with first thinking of it, and the attitude applied to the “thinking process” sets the course that decisions follow, it stands to reason that the thinkers you align with are most likely more important to your destination than you give them credit for. I know that after my father passed away I began to have a sense of how much influence he had on the way I thought. I had never really considered it until then.

And just “what if” (a game to be played carefully) you spend very little, or no time at all thinking about who has influenced your sales thinking? That means you just sail off without a rudder… play it by ear… shoot from the hip. Does that sound like a course being set? Does it sound well thought out, deliberate and intentional? Rhetorical obviously. Have you ever observed how many totally stressed out people are in a situation where they don’t run their business but their business runs them?  Isn’t that the old proverbial tail wagging the dog?      

In modern times, in this information age we now exist in, literature and how it’s made available or disseminated has changed so dramatically from the simplicity in which we used to exist. Identifying the thought leaders of today, those worth listening to, has become a very convoluted proposition. Allow me to throw out a life line, a safe direction to head in. Always do a thorough discovery on the credibility and accomplishments of whomever you are reading. The time you spend figuring out who you are listening to is never time wasted, always time well-spent. The glut of opinions and resources that crowd the Internet can be navigated pretty well if you read the bio’s before you buy into the B.S.   

We would be happy at Prospects International to be referred to as thought leaders but would never be so presumptuous as to dub ourselves as such. We are however, very pragmatic in our thinking and would like to encourage everyone to practice critical thinking, whether the world considers them a thought leader or not. There are great advantages to being an internal, inside your own firm, or personal thought leader. You will spend more time analyzing the things most important to your business success if you dedicate some time and energy to organizing your opinions about yourself and what you do. We have done this a lot as we built PI and have learned some valuable lessons about how to be exactly who we are. The first lesson is to NOT try to be all things to all people. It is impossible to execute and control a situation where you essentially divide and conquer your own ass.* Being all things to all people is not an attainable goal. Being the best version of yourself is attainable most effectively if you define, communicate and reinforce the specific pillars on which your success must rest.    

Here is a simple method of managing your most crucial thought areas, therefore setting yourself up for success. Think backward from what your goal is and work to simplify the path on which to arrive at it. As Steve Jobs said, That’s been one of my mantras – focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex: you have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.” (He is definitely a proven thought leader.)  Simplicity being the destiny we seek, I will break this down into three defined, simple steps. These are the goals you need to define so that you can structure a culture that allows you to be the very best version of your company that it can be. Embedded in Step#1 are examples of honorable and motivational goals. 

Step #1 Identify and Clearly State the Benefit or Benefits you are Selling. Let’s use a builder as an example.  This person wants to build spaces to help people enjoy their outdoor living areas more. So is building more spaces the goal? No. He wants to help people enjoy stay-cations and really have relaxing and fulfilling times at their own home. Understand that the real goal is a benefit. The number one rule of being a contributing member of society is to do something that improves the lives of others. 

If you are an HVAC person you are selling comfort, if you are a security alarm person you are selling safety, if you are a builder of phenomenal outdoor areas on a person’s property you are selling relaxation and contentment. If you focus on units instead of the honorable benefit of the service or product you are selling, you are not thinking deeply enough about impact and possibilities. Linear thinking is NOT effective sales thinking.

Step #2 Identify Your Audience. After you have identified your goal, you must decide who it matters to, which speaks to targeting. This is true of either a manufacturer or a sales associate. Both need to target well whether they are advertising or prospecting. With a good lead generation program, targeting is ground zero. Nothing else matters if you’re not speaking to the right person. The right thing or offer to the wrong person is a bad investment, so identifying who you need to get your message in front of and how to get it there is critical. Since this is a writing about “thought leadership” and not ad logistics I’ll leave the “how” alone. Just know that you must find ways to get to the right folks. That doesn’t mean that there won’t be the inherit qualifying and disqualifying that comes with the sales game, it just means that it’s smart to know you’re fishing in the right pond. 

Step #3  Tell a Compelling Story This never happens: your neighbor buys an item that interests you (like a car, swimming pool, a nice piece of jewelry) and says, “Oh Wow! If you like this you should go speak to Barb at the XYZ showroom. She was so boring. I couldn’t wait to get out of there. She acted like she really didn’t like what she did for a living. She’ll take great care of you!” Telling good stories is the best way to have a positive reputation and get referral business.Selling is communicating and how well you do it has everything to do with your level of success. 

Know what your approach is and refine it. Repetition is best friends with refinement. Remember earlier when I said that it was important to think about who has influenced your thinking?  They most likely communicated effectively if they made a strong impression on you. They also most likely told you a story they knew well and believed in. My point? You can indeed wander around aimlessly in conversations without a well thought out story about who you are, and why you do what you’ve decided to do for a living. It is very important to be authentic and passionate, not over the top, please but appropriately passionate about who you are and why you do what you do. Some impressive credibility facts about your company, a story about how your goods or service has positively affected someone’s or people’s lives, how carefully you listen and make intelligent suggestions… these well thought out items should be practiced and framed in before you start calling on “live” individuals. Practicing with a friend or loved one, or at least the mirror ( which may or may not be a friend), will give you confidence to work on new sales relationships and keep you focused and from covering unnecessary verbal real estate. Storytellers are the top performing sales associates in all SIC’s.   

So let’s boil these three items into the take-a-way. The summary looks like this – “If you tell the right people a compelling story that highlights the benefits of what you have to offer, you are covering the most important territory that needs to be intellectually traveled on.”  

I kinda like the idea of Prospects International being a thought leader but as stated earlier would never self-appoint us. That would be the equivalent of  inviting yourself to a party you may or may not have been invited to. That said, since we’ve always been committed to self-examination and the subsequent improvements and innovations that come from that drill, our culture lends itself to being critical thinkers. Whether we are ever considered thought leaders or not is inconsequential, as our true intention is our goal, which is to give the world our best along with some things to give serious thought to.

How about this idea? Since we’re always learning from our clients, the marketplace, and one another inside the company, we’ll continue to provide “selling thought content” to stimulate thoughts about selling more and better. Then maybe we’ll coin a new phrase… thought stimulators! Or maybe not. I guess we’ll have to think about it.    

* Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind by Ries and Trout warns about line extensions and overextending yourself. Sometimes new ventures can be exciting, even exhilarating, but often they create more problems and costs than they’re worth if they are not compatible with your original goal.

Paralysis by Analysis

The human psyche has a lot to do with how productive a person is. It also has a lot to do with how productive a person isn’t (or ain’t). Emotional and psychological fatigue are real things that actually should be felt by sales professionals who put in a hard day’s work. This canister sitting on top of our shoulders, called a head (most of which house a brain), does a magnificent job of processing information as a buyer or seller. Oftentimes, it works on a limited basis because our senses, those that feed it, detect way more data than we can process. Psychology Today contributing author Douglas Van Praet in his article “Unconscious Branding” states: “Every second your senses are taking in about 11 million bits of information, but you are only aware of about 40 of those bits. Because our conscious mind is so limited it works on a need to know basis.” Wow! There’s a lot going on here, and a lot of filtering in action. 

Our very composition dictates that we only are presented with as much as is appropriate, but our innate thirst for more data than we can actually use is a behavioral issue. Another issue relative to the amount of data we attempt to process is the proliferation of social media and news media with which we are constantly barraged. These invasive media items can be informative, persuasive and addictive. The appetite for “current event” information can be vitally important, especially if you have investments to keep an eye on and business decisions that can be affected by the world’s events, BUT a modicum of moderation should be considered by sales professionals.

Allow me to state a critical fact about receiving input: We aren’t designed to be exposed to everything, about everybody, everywhere, at all times! You can see some very positive and inspiring things on social media if you know where to look and are influenced by encouraging and positive contacts. Unfortunately our current culture is not that nurturing or positive in its make up. You can see murderous, aggressively sexual, corrupt and evil things, and I grant you that these things have always existed.Yet, technology has shrunk the world so incredibly that the volume of negativity available for humans to process, much of which is involuntary ingestion, is a violation of the way we, and the world, were designed. We simply weren’t built to process as much emotionally and psychologically intense information as we are being fed.

In the mid-twentieth century, there were hundreds of thousands of bits of info being processed by each of us daily. The main media sources were newsreels at the theatre, radio, newspaper and eventually TV. There were stories about war and tragedy and all the important items people needed to be aware of, but the “real timeliness” and volume were much more manageable back in the day. 

Times changed and as the volume of noise proliferated marketing, so did sales. In 1994, Al Ries in his classic “Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind” wrote, The mind, as a defense against the volume of today’s communications, screens and rejects much of the information offered it. In general, the mind accepts only that which matches prior knowledge or experience.”

The “Information Age” moniker started being used in the late 1990’s, and appropriately so. The information highway is flooded with data, much of it accurate but some very suspect; yet, the point of this writing is not to address merely the quality, but also the sheer quantity of it that we are exposed to on an ongoing basis. Not only are we being fed some disturbing stuff but an overflowing tsunami of it! The flow is like sticking your head under the garden hose (we call it a hose pipe in the South) and being drowned by a wide open spigot! The reason for this word picture? Because, as business people and sales professionals we MUST reach up and control the flow or what happens? ??? – The title: Paralysis by Analysis  

Becoming emotionally disposed from the purpose of a sales person’s existence is the kiss of death for productivity, especially at a high level.  The noise around us can be so distracting and concerning that we lose the most important thing that athletes, musicians and yes, even business people need to do in order to be at their best – focus!   

In a recent webinar, we, PI, Joey and I spent a lot of time promoting the value of having a clean “process.” The noise of the outside world can create exactly the wrong environment in the workplace if it takes up too much time and thought real estate. It takes discipline to be good at anything, and too many times, sales professionals don’t protect the environment they need at work because of world events that concern them, or personal issues that weigh on their minds. It’s easy to do… we’re all human. The cold hard fact is that blocking out the external static including family interaction, can be the discipline that allows you to serve them best because you will be working and generating income efficiently. 

Continuing to be a contributor to your company and family by winning the battle for the usage of your own mind doesn’t seem to be something we should be addressing right? Wrong. The POWER of the public narrative is hypnotic and destructive as hell to the independent owner or commission based sales associate. I’m SO thankful Hitler didn’t have, as terrorist groups do today, social media and the Internet as tools. The proliferation of distractive narratives and information (espousing whatever) is a phenomenal amount of noise for professionals who sell and communicate professionally for a living to ignore, cherry pick or work through. Now I’ve come to the solution portion of this writing. I’ll start with a story to prove that the solution has merit before providing it.

I have a dear friend that was the managing director at Steinway Hall London for several years. He observed that his sales associates/piano specialists spent a goodly amount of time discussing world events and local politics every morning to start their day. It set the precedent or tone of the day, and not the preferred one. After observing that an inordinate amount of time was being spent on something other than selling on a consistent basis, he knew he needed to correct it. He brought them together and requested that they wait until after the work day to discuss things other than work and strongly suggested that getting exposed to the media storms on a daily basis was not a mentally healthy or profitable mindset. As time went on, he had to remind them a time or two to focus but a funny/odd thing happened. After a time of keeping their mind on the matter, they became more productive, therefore happier in their work. 

Eight years ago Graham C.L. Davey, Ph.D. wrote an article in Psychology Today in which he made this statement, “Not only are negatively valanced news broadcasts likely to make you sadder and more anxious, they are also likely to exacerbate your own personal worries and anxieties.” How about this lens to look through – did your parents ever mention that who you hung around with would have a lot to do with how you would turn out? What we put into that canister we call a brain matters, and a steady diet of “the sky is falling” is not, and never will be, a recipe for success.

The solution is self-government, self discipline. Monitor how many positive vs. negative things you ingest. A well balanced person must know what’s going on in the world around them so that they have some sort of context, but when the glut of things you try to process far and exceed the capability with which you were created, it will impede your daily walk and attitude. Amy Morin in her book from 2014, “13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do”, states this: ”Good habits are important but it’s often our bad habits that prevent us from reaching our full potential. Think of it this way: you’re only as good as your worst habits.”  

Draw your own conclusions, make your own adjustments. Everybody has their own threshold of being influenced but everybody has one. Know what it is and be sure to feed yourself good and positive thoughts on a regular basis. 

In closing I’ll borrow this old Native American proverb. It applies to much more than selling but then as we’ve all noticed, selling well has a lot in common with living a well balanced life. Here it is:

An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.

“It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.” 

He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

How do you avoid Paralysis by Analysis? Self-examine your intake of good vs. productive influences, balance it accordingly, and feed the right wolf.

Things Critical to Reopening your Gallery

As the country moves closer toward inviting guests back into businesses here are some important items to consider that may help you get back to the desired profit level more rapidly:

  • Call every prospect you have and let them know that your company is taking every precaution to make your gallery the most safe and enjoyable place to play and get piano information.
  • Back it up with an email blast.
  • Make sure that those who express health safety concerns are assured that they can schedule a “one on one” private, sanitized appointment.
  • 100% no risk involved virtual demonstration and selections.
  • Include the words,” Virtual Appointments Happily Scheduled”… or the equivalent thereof, on your correspondences.
  • Script a story for yourself and your sales staff to share with every visitor and prospect that mentions how much more extremely important playing music has become to thousands of people and that it has been a silver lining to the pandemic in that it inspired many people to include more music in their lives.
  • Focus on selling the well-known health benefits of music: mental, emotional, physical, spiritual and educational.          
  • Arrange to do some virtual cultivating events. Some things that you used to do in the store or recital hall that you want to share with your Facebook followers during a “live streaming.” This is also a time and a way to promote the safety of live visits

These are just a few of the things that you can do to connect in our increasingly more virtual world. Some galleries and teachers have been forced to jump in and make virtuality a lifeline during the pandemic and the long term benefit is that as we get back to whatever the “new normal” will be these heightened skills will come in handy as some buyers will prefer them. It is also a way to serve prospects with more than one home and institutional business as well.

We didn’t intend to get so good so fast at videos and face timing etc. but sometimes being pushed into an adaptation is a strong reminder of this immutable fact: The only constant in life is change” – Heraclitus

 

If You Want to be a Good Sales Organization – Act Like One!

Kind of a contentious title don’t you think? I apologize mildly but when you get to the end of this simple set of guidelines you may not require one from me. Why? Because, as I’ve stated repeatedly over the years – fundamentals are never obsolete and it is NEVER time wasted to review and self-examine, especially if done earnestly and not defensively. It ultimately always leads to improved performance.  

Allow me to establish “a tad” of credibility first so that you won’t view this writing as an editorial but an article of fact and substance. This is not one of those times when I will mince words or exercise a great deal of diplomacy… pardon the mini-resume yet – in my early thirties, after a healthy stint on the road as an entertainer, I willingly entered the sales profession, read insatiably and learned from a talented mentor. A couple years later, after outperforming my sales manager (who I caught stealing leads from me) I became the youngest computer based direct mail district sales manager for Cox Communications in the national network.  I had four sales associates working under me, the larger markets had anywhere from eight to twelve. My sales team then proceeded to outperform all the major markets including Atlanta where the home office was and where the boring district sales meetings were held. This, Atlanta, was where I had to act like jokes from more tenured sales management individuals were funny when they weren’t. I also had to attend cocktail parties where grown people lost all their class and acted like asses. People who can’t handle their liquor should quit drinking… whoops an opinion crept in, sorry. 

The point of the snapshot resume? Two-fold: Firstly, to let you know that the advice provided is experienced and educated, based on solid sales fundamentals and not simply a set of opinions or a waste of time. Secondly, and most of you know me, to prove that a method committed, normal* person, who cares about people can outperform more intelligent and better looking sales people. It speaks to the strength of the activity not the individual because if I, Jack, can do it… well, you know the rest of the cliche’. The things about sales culture structure provided herein are “tried and true”, I repeat – this is not an editorial article.    

Following are some solid framework elements which need to be in place to run an efficient sales organization. The majority of all the activity recommendations are related in some form or fashion and tie back naturally to accountability.  A culture of accountability is the only efficient way to build the proper environment for maximum sales performance of individuals therefore collectively as a staff. The greatest production problem most dealers encounter are as a result of their approach and attitude relative to accountability. With the few highly efficient principals and sales managers exempted, I offer this observation… in the spirit of constructive criticism naturally – most piano sales organizations either have a lack of structure or are totally inconsistent where it is concerned. Therein lies the purpose of this writing, to offer some suggestions with which to tighten up the ship and therefore elevate sales.  

On the subject of the essential building block which is Accountability – The two crucial items needed to install and maintain it are regular, well structured sales meetings (not just the elementary “ so what you got working?” while passing by type) and a CRM which provides a birds eye view of all the activity that is being documented. 

Here are some tips you can use to conduct a productive and good-natured sales meeting:

  • Perform scheduled group AND in addition to group individual activity reviews with your staff. If everyone knows they will sit in front of their supervisor once a week and discuss details of their prospecting activities “documentation” and “effort” will immediately improve.

  •  Create a culture of idea sharing because sales is a creative act
  • Encourage your staff to share stories, victories and losses, so that everyone can learn from them.  
  • Craft a “company way” or “method of selling” that people can revise and add their personalities too, but one with enough structure that you know the customer experience of each prospect. Be mindful that it is based upon “question based” not “the more you tell the more you sell” exchanges. Provide scripts and encourage your sales people to write them. Scripts force them to exert the focus needed to hone their mental sales abilities. The secret of using a script properly ? Never let it sound rehearsed.
  • Be sure the millennials are learning people skills for the boomers and the boomers are learning tech skills from the millennials and that the gen X’ers are helping both build that bridge. Offering professionally crafted virtual communications to the prospects are critical to the culture. They require both good technical and people presentation. 
  • Enforce the importance of approaching each lead with a process and a chronological order of communications which is arrived at from past successes. 

Here are some tips on how to use the power of PianoLeads CRM 2.0 to its fullest extent: 

  • Watch your staff’s activity and be sure they are logging in daily.
  • Be sure they are changing colors, therefore qualifying and disqualifying. 
  • Be sure (through manager status monitoring of the notes) that they are using different methods to find what each prospect is most likely to respond to.
  • Monitor activity to assure yourself that leads are not ignored either when they first come in or later, so that they won’t grow old without attention. 
  •  Weigh in with a note of advice on individual prospects which is a diplomatic way to coach and let them know you are keeping your finger on the pulse without being oppressive. 
  • Know what your staff’s individual automations are and be sure they end in questions

All of the above should be installed and administered in a caring and supportive way. Accountability rarely works if you get out the interrogation lights and act like the Gestapo**.  Building the most efficient sales culture takes dedication and some education. Unless you can quote some scripture and verse from the guys on the Mount Rushmore of sales fundamentals (inarguably Zig Ziglar, Dale Carnegie will accompany those you chose also to to award this status too), unless you cite real life past experiences of your own or your mentors and unless you can create a culture where your people take and share ideas and constructive criticism you have not built the most profitable sales culture and are leaving a awful lot of meat on the bones. 

The purpose of structure is to have a track for your company’s attitude to run on. It is not to dictate every word or thought your sales staff has with others or themselves. Since sales is a creative act, the “give and take” between sales professionals is necessary for the team as a whole to hit on all cylinders. True leadership is not oppressive but highly influential. The DNA of your team members should know that they are expected to interact, challenge one another and grow themselves therefore the company who provides the opportunity for them to excel. 

Culture is key. The tools to organize and view all the activity are there to reinforce the culture but they are subservient to the culture in terms of value. Product-knowledge, determination, and technical skills are all an integral part of a well oiled machine but culture is king. There can be no better environment than a sales staff “charged up” to place music in people’s lives. This view makes money secondary and that is important because money is a by-product, it should never be the singleness of purpose” or only goal. If your company’s culture is one of “serving” it will generate much more revenue than one who puts the old proverbial “cart before the horse” and focuses on dollars first and people second. Believe me it doesn’t make cents.  

I’ll leave you with two supporting quotes from one of my favorite business minds Peter Drucker: “The best way to predict the future is to create it.” and  “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”  

*probably a poor choice of a word where I am concerned

*The Geheime Staatspolizei (Secret State Police), abbreviated Gestapo (German: [ɡəˈʃtaːpo]; /ɡəˈstɑːpoʊ/),
was the official secret police of Nazi Germany and German-occupied Europe – Wikipedia

   

The Exciting Positives of Working by Appointment

With the pandemic in full swing and many dealer principals operating by appointment only, we wanted to revisit a topic which has now become more important than ever… thus the title of this writing. Before we all got sucker-punched by a circumstance no one saw coming, I was constantly and consistently encouraging sales associates, especially the newbies, to consider running their sales activity lives by appointment. The funny (not funny “ha-ha”, but odd and amazing type of funny) thing is that even the owners, sales managers and experienced piano sales pros get very lax in their habits and forget the value of appointments. In fact, with digital marketing and great follow up, we should all endeavor (when it resumes) to make walk-in traffic the icing on the old proverbial cake.

Let’s examine some innate and inarguably solid facts about the selling positives that appointments provide us. In support of my statement that, “I’ve always encouraged living your piano sales life by appointment” and to see a list of these benefits please read these past but “even more relevant than” ever articles: 

https://prospectsint.com/leadflow-appointment-setting                                                             

https://prospectsint.com/eventflow-appointment-setting-method

In my last article entitled “ Selling Confidence During a Psychological Storm”, I shared a script example of how to sell the value of “one-on-ones” in a believable way, to prospects in our current environment.  Here it is again:

Dear ____________, for the sake of honoring your time and mine I’d like permission to ask you a few brief questions about the type of piano you may be most interested in and here is the reason why. Because we are the regional representative for __________________(name of anchor piano brand) we have many responsibilities to service and care for our past customers along with organizing all of the increased (critical word to use) need for people who are needing music in their lives. In times like these music becomes an emotional lifeline for countless people.

You can understand the need for us to organize all of this interest so that everyone safely gets what they need. What day this week etc., etc then on to setting the appointment. 

Embedded in the event article is an area which is critical to appointment setting success in event settings, here is an example that can be used for “day-to-day” appointment setting. It is designed to facilitate the highest possible attendance rate:

Dear Diane,

Thank you so much for allowing me to provide pianos for you to consider as your new family member! As I stated, I’ll have three or four pianos in your price range prepped and sanitized for your consideration Thursday at 2:00pm on our showroom floor. We are located at 1234 Firestone Lane in the Industrial Park just off of the loop. Your confirmation number is: 75189A. Upon receiving a return email from you, your date and time will be confirmed.

Please accept my gratitude for the opportunity to serve your musical needs  and I look forward to your return email as well as your visit. 

At Your Service,
Herb Richards

Regional Piano Specialist
Prestige Pianos
   

P.S. Please let me know at least 24-48 hours in advance if you are unable to attend so we can reschedule and I can stay as organized as possible in how I serve the public demand.

I want to stress that “casual” appointments are the enemy! For years I’ve heard event coordinators recite an appointment number and ask, “do you have something to write with?” then tell the person to “please call them so they can give the time slot to the next person in line” if they need to cancel or reschedule. I don’t know that I would use that verbiage for a day-to-day sales appointment, but one thing I do believe is that verbal confirmations are weak compared to the attendance rate that can be achieved by getting an email back from the prospect. In fact, if you do not receive an email back, you should go right back into the appointment setting process via phone, text and email (listed in priority order) reminding the prospect(s) that you would really appreciate an email back so that you can have the instruments that are perfect for them to consider ready to meet them. Until they DO email you back, you have a “casual” or “intended” appointment, which they are happy to own in order to decide closer to the time the appointment is to occur whether or not to exercise the option to visit and play or receive a demo of their options. 

You don’t have to be strong personality wise, but if you stick to this habit/protocol, you will have the highest possible attendance rate and avoid many, many of those emotional “down” experiences that happen when you think you have a sales opportunity and no one shows up.

Every circumstance life throws at us is an opportunity to improve and become stronger and better than before. There are some sales associates who don’t have the habit of running their day-to-day sales lives using a disciplined appointment protocol. If you fall into that category, we just gave you a method that can easily double your income. If you are a dealer principal or sales manager who isn’t sure that everyone in your staff is encouraging appointments at every appropriate juncture and nailing down the confirmation process in writing – give this try. If you are already doing these things, don’t feel like I wasted your time reviewing these important selling items because as I’ve said many times in the past: “Fundamentals are Never Obsolete!”

We are always on the anvil; by trials God is shaping us for higher things – Henry Ward Beecher

Selling Confidence During a Psychological Storm

In light of current events digital marketing has taken the forefront for many piano dealers as the most reliable source of new potential sales relationships. This articles intention is to accurately couch the situation at hand and in the end find some strengths and solutions to focus on. The first opinion I want to express is that now more than ever MUSIC IS AN ESSENTIAL and that dealers should exercise the right to operate by appointment (regardless of government urging) all the while honoring all the CDC guidelines. This my friends, is survival.

Please forgive the thoroughness, depth of detail, and set up that follows. Since we have never lived through a time quite like this, it deserved some sincere research and explanation. By providing the context correctly in the beginning it is our wish to make you feel optimistic about the solutions and methods recommended after you get past the considerable, but critical, minutia on the front end. I think I’ve said this before but in light of our “new normal” this may indeed be the most important writing we’ve ever offered up. Here we go…

In October of 1929 the stock market imploded and on the 29th of that\ month, now referred to as “Black Tuesday”, the Great Depression was  ushered in. It lasted five years. Having music in your home was a means of inexpensive entertainment and a way to keep your spirits up  while the country tried to find its way back to solvency. Most historians agree that the overreaction to the stock market crash caused a severe lack of confidence in the economy causing extremely high unemployment and widespread bank closures. During that period of time, admittedly, some piano manufacturers went out of business, yet over 250,000 pianos were sold while many waited in bread lines.

The US went years including through the second world war and far beyond without a notable financial dilemma but previous to WWII an interesting social occurrence took place on October 30,1938. Orson Wells narrated an adaptation of the H.G. Wells’ novel “The War of the Worlds.” Instead of taking a step back and fact checking what was being broadcast over the airwaves, a huge segment of the American population (many of whom missed the introduction) mistook the broadcast as an unfolding current event and widespread panic, then anger at the radio broadcast ensued. It is an example of how when masses of people believe a thing, it creates a historical event. It’s a good thing the story wasn’t about the economy. Who knows what the over-reaction on Wall Street would have been!

Flash forward to the 1973 OPEC Embargo when gas prices quadrupled. It was considered the first major economic crisis since 1929 and Time magazine warned in the days after it started, “it could easily lead to cold homes, hospitals and schools, shuttered factories, slower travel, brownouts, consumer rationing, aggravated inflation and even worsened air pollution in the U.S., Europe and Japan.” During that year over 250,000 pianos were sold.

Black Monday in 1987 marked the single largest (-508 points) drop in  the history of the Dow Jones Industrial Average. The entire nation was paralyzed with worry and concern. For years we’ve heard that “as goes  Wall Street so go piano sales” yet in 1987 approximately 174,000 pianos were sold in the face of all the financial uncertainty.

1993 marked the entry of “electronic units” as its own column in the  piano sales record books. It is the year the first Pentium chips are shipped by Intel, the year the word “spam” was coined and version 1.0 of the Mosiac web browser was released. Computer sciences were becoming more deeply ingrained in the business fabric of America, soon to trickle down to the small business sector. The advent of more technical – recreational options and competition for those dollars, not the lack of consumer confidence, was fueling the decline. The world was changing. Entities previously dominant, that were no longer cutting edge, were feeling the change. The economy was strong but changing, evident in the fact that IBM announced a $4,970,000,000 loss for the year previous (1992), the largest single-year corporate loss in United States history to date. It was the first year in sales records that less than 100,000 pianos were sold… this figure includes the new “keyboards” being built.

In 2001 the Dot.com Crash was fueled by speculation in tech and Internet Stocks. This crash lasted a while and volatility was the norm on Wall Street which paved the way for the early 2000’s recession. During the years of 2000-2002 well over 250,000 pianos were sold in the US.

The purpose of examining these events and numbers? To illustrate that even in the worst of financial times music does not become unimportant and piano sales continue. Every single one of these financial problems was exacerbated by a “lack of confidence” in the economy and a subsequent radical reaction.

Before we submit some selling solutions, verbiage and some discuss Methodology let’s (since very few in the media tend to) put the current pandemic into some sort of context. The most deadly viruses in the world in order to date have been:

#1 HIV which leaves your immune system unable to fight kills an average of 3.1 million people annually, globally.

#2 Ebola which is incurable and takes approximately 100 lives a year. The scariest thing about it is that the mortality rate is 50% or more.

#3 The Rotovirus which kills a half of a million children yearly, primarily in third world countries.

#4 Thank God and medical science that Smallpox which killed approximately 4 million was eradicated by the time the 21st century arrived.

#5 Influenza is the current world traveler which kills 500 million a year. It is the worst pathogen in human history. “If there is a virus that keeps me up at night, it’s influenza. I put it at the top of the list from a worldwide standpoint,” says Dr. John Swartzberg, clinical professor emeritus of infectious diseases and vaccinology at the University of California—Berkeley School of Public Health. The main reason: This virus mutates every year, making it virtually impossible to fully defend against.

And the flu’s total death toll rises annually. “There are lots of bad actors out there, but influenza comes every year,” Swartzberg says. The CDC’s estimates through March 7 include upwards of 51 million flu infections, 24 million medical visits, 670,000 hospitalizations and 55,000 deaths, including 136 children, just this flu season alone, and just in the U.S. “That’s pretty horrific, but because we live with it every year we have gotten used to it,” he says.

We’ll finish the list, and not complete it, because the above is enough to provide the context we need for this article. Here are the final two examples: Hepatitis C infects approximately a quarter of a million people annually and takes 56,000 lives which equals a 22.4% mortality rate, and the measles for which we do have a vaccine still takes 197,000 lives per year.

By comparison, the *CDC reports that as of this writing at 1:10 on 3-23-2020 there are  33,404 total Covid-19 cases and 400 deaths in the US. It remains to be seen where this CoronaVirus will end up ranking but suffice to say never has our country been so enthralled and concerned about a virus, justified or not, in our history.

Truthfully, there are and have always been strains of flu which are infectious and deadly and unfortunately new ones will surface. We agree that we need to act safely and pragmatically so as to contain the spread of any virus yet the irrational behavior of the world leaders and society where this one is concerned is baffling when it is lined up against its predecessors. This virus has created a HUGE media obsession and panic, some believe politically motivated, in an election year. Social media has also fueled this pandemic more then previous ones, as it has become an ingrained, regular part of every part of our culture. In this instance it has NOT been a friend of reason.

Maybe the silver lining is that when people interact through social and travel activities in the future they will take the value of cleanliness and hygiene much more seriously. We as a country and society can’t afford to have this type of healthcare event on a regular basis therefore my prediction is that in the “new normal” more common sense practices to protect ourselves and one another will become the norm. In the long term that is a good thing. Things will go back to normal. They always do. Humans are relationship seeking beings by way of their innate DNA. We will once  again interact and play music and “live” music will continue to be an important part of our culture. It is necessary for our sanity!

Yes, The Novel Coronavirus disease, or COVID-19, is bad and a scary thing. Yes everyone needs to take it seriously, yet placed into context the current paranoia is unmerited and counterproductive. Whether you, yourself personally come down on the side of believing that “all the reaction is overblown” or if your opinion is that “folks aren’t taking it seriously enough” the die is cast. The entire world has it under the most intense magnifying glass ever afforded a virus and whether it ends up in reality to be so devastating or not it doesn’t matter at this point. The leaders of our country
on the federal and local levels have been so frightened at its potential that the world is shutting down to battle it. As unimpressive as it stacks up to the biggest and baddest killer viruses in history, it is believed to be by enough experts, that it is, at least temporarily, crippling the world economy. People’s perception is their reality so we must deal with the consumer mindset as is.

It is now time to tie all this back into what we do for a living – place music in people’s lives. We have an important story which still needs to be told and told more effectively than ever before if we are to not simply to survive but be profitable. Let’s address that next…

Many of the suggestions I will provide next are pragmatic, therefore many of you will instinctively have already not only figured them out but already employed them to battle the current selling landscape. It may however be helpful to have some good sales ideas together all in one place, so let’s take a good look at the story we now have to tell and how best to tell it… Looking at any selling situation through the lens of the 5 Steps to Successful Sales process has been a dependable practice for me and one I will continue and strongly suggest you apply to our current selling environment. If you would like a refresher before we continue please find it here: 5 Steps to Sales Success

Step #1 Establishing Credibility just became more challenging and important than ever before. While you are introducing a prospect to your company and brand names… years of company experience in the local market in finding the right piano inside the right price range yada, yada, yada, you must now not only tell the prospect how great of an experience it is to find the perfect piano for them at your gallery but also how paramount health safety for your employees and visitors are to you/your company. How all precautions are taken to not only tune and prepare but sanitize the instruments so that the playing experience of those shopping for a piano will be risk free and as enjoyable as possible. Harken back to the title of this writing, “Selling Confidence During a Psychological Storm.” Relative to Step #1 Establishing Credibility – to effectively sell confidence (which builds your credibility in the prospects mind) you must sell safety and your concern for another human’s health as an integral part of the first territory you cover with a new prospect. As time goes by and we place his current health scare in our rear view mirror you may not need to hammer on it so hard but during this particular juncture in time it is best to paint a picture of controlled, isolated exposure to instruments that cannot hurt but only bring joy to them.

The verbiage will vary a bit per sales associate yet the comfort level of the prospect needs to be achieved if you are to talk them into a “live” visit in today’s world. You must paint a picture of your company being the most conscientious choice in town! In fact, unless the competition hits on health safety as well as you do, you may have no competition! Do not hesitate to mention you are willing to wear a mask, keep a socially accepted distance, and go to whatever level of protection the prospect desires. Being willing to mention the willingness to create a stress-free shopping environment so
that in many instances the result will be yours is the ONLY visit they decide to make.

An example of a safety infused vm intro would be: “ Hello ____________, this is ____________ from ________________, the most friendly, stress free, and safe place to find the perfect piano in your price range…  

An example of a safety infused text would be:
The same verbiage – then I would keep my texts short and to the point and end them in a question such as: “Would talking on the phone, a text or email be the most convenient way for me to provide piano information to you?” or “What type of music are you most interested in playing on a piano?”

An email affords you the opportunity to be a bit more verbose but don’t get too lengthy. The encounter should still end with a question and always bear in mind that the goal of your first attempts are simply to create dialogue and start a relationship so you can…. once more “Sell Confidence During a Psychological Storm. NOW IS NOT THE TIME TO DISPLAY DESPERATION if you are to sell confidence. DO NOT PUSH. DO NOT try to move the relationship out of the prospect’s comfort zone. The achievement you strive for in these troubled times is simply to become the trusted concierge so you have the opportunity to talk them into a selection… be it virtual or in person, and in person is always best. If you get the cart before the horse it will most certainly get away.

Step #1 Establishing Rapport This is the step where you should attempt to be on a more personal level with the prospect. In “live” and phone encounters the conversation doesn’t even need to be on topic, just relationship deepening and there certainly is much too discuss in our current climate! In texts and emails your goal is to work your way into a relationship deepening position so gaining permission to continue the conversation is goal number one. Firmly establishing credibility will afford you the opportunity to deepen the relationship and be successful in step #2. As always, abiding by the chronological order of this 5 step method is crucial to your success.

This is the perfect time to get a little personal and encourage them to empathize with you. How? By explaining that it has become critical for your safety and the safety of your customers to work by appointment. It is ok to state that you long for the days when the doors were constantly revolving with walk in traffic but that in today’s world we deliver a more controlled therefore better and more safe shopping experience when working by appointment. I do not recommend that you go into ALL the benefits of shopping by appointment on the front end but simply impress upon the person you are in dialogue with that you provide a pristinely safe environment and abide all the necessary, recommended guidelines to do
so. If they encourage a conversation about health safety certainly oblige them because it is a sincere, built objection/concern that should be addressed as soon as they need it to be.

An aside – a web site article espousing all the benefits of selection by appointment would be an appropriate thing to publish. Playing “Mr. Obvious” here are some of the benefits that could be listed:

A) Spacing out visitors and assures controlled contact.
B) Operating by appointment allows for time to police the sanitization of the gallery and instruments in between visitors, ensuring a risk-free environment.
C) The selection/shopping process is a much better shopping experience in that there will not be any distractions.
D) You will not show up and have your representative already busy therefore you will get the advice, answers and service we intend for each customer to receive.
E) Your instruments can be not only be tuned and properly prepared but sanitized was well before your arrival.
F) Anticipating your visit, your piano specialist can procure the very best “out the door” price (including taxes, prep and deliver) for the instruments you are considering.

I’m sure we could craft some more but you get the jest… the entire attitude needs to be one of installing comfort and confidence in the exchange between your company and the potential buyer. The above were benefits to consider posting on your web site. Let’s infuse the value of the appointments into a conversation which can be an extension of the first one conversation or a separate one at a later date, however the dialogue takes place, be sure you are selling the opportunity not the piano…

Dear ____________, for the sake of honoring your time and mine I’d like permission to ask you a few breif questions about the type of piano you may be most interested in and here is the reason why. Because we are the regional representative for __________________(name of anchor piano brand) we have many responsibilities to service and care for our past customers along with organizing all of the increased (critical word to use) need for people who are needing music in their lives. In times like these music becomes an emotional lifeline for countless people.

You can understand the need for us to organize all of this interest so that everyone safely gets what they need. Then proceed with your fact finding and making them feel like a “live” appointment to look at pianos properly prepped is one of the very best, healthy and stabilizing things they can possibly do for themselves. This will hold true, not only in these troubled times, but this positive lifestyle enrichment would end up benefiting them from here on out and the rest of their life.

Summary:
Knowing exactly what you are selling is critical to the success of any sales pro and/or company. Years ago I was working with an Army/Navy Outdoor store having a challenge with their image. When I got them to quit focusing on solely promoting their inventory they understood that they needed to sell the intangibles and agreed to a slogan which simply stated.” We Sell Fun!” My point is that people don’t buy a thing, they buy what a thing does for them. The attitude change did their image and sales staff a great favor. They began being unique to the big box store competitors and provided a better experience and expert advice that allowed them to recover much of the market share they had begun conceding.

In the piano industry, even before the current epidemic, we had fallen into some “nuts and bolts” selling habits. Habits that had us speaking volumes about the capabilities of the instruments long before the benefits to a prospects life had been nailed down in the exchange. We aren’t selling the approximately ten thousand working parts in an acoustic piano first my friends, or even the exciting and sophisticated technical capabilities of some of these new instruments and player systems. In today’s world we are selling SO MUCH more than that. We are selling SANITY. Therapy. Mental Health. Emotional Health therefore a bridge to better Physical Health. We are selling Self-Esteem. We are selling Music, Spirituality, Escape. We are selling Happiness. Pianos are simply the beautiful tool of expression that acts as the conduit to an advantageous lifestyle.

Now more than ever, the consumer population needs what we do and there is a no faster path to financial recovery for a piano dealer than having your sales pipeline full of friends you can talk to about making their world a better place. We will be challenged but we will persevere. Our commitment is to journey with you and come out stronger on the other side of this than before.

I am not personally sold on the magnitude of our current pandemic as you probably could tell earlier, but as I stated the leaders and marketplace have bought into it, therefore the sensationalism will continue until it burns out. People’s perception is their reality. This current circumstance does not change our mission and that is to evangelize an immutable fact, the piano is very healthy choice. Our job still is and will continue to be to convince as many people as we can that whatever world they live in, life is always more fulfilled and best lived with music in it.

Wise men put their trust in ideas and not in circumstances – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Sources:
Past financial event information was referenced from:
https://time.com/3957499/american-economic-crises-history/

Past piano sales numbers are referenced from: http://www.bluebookofpianos.com/uspiano.htm

The information at about Orson Wells come from:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_War_of_the_Worlds_(1938_radio_drama)

Information about viruses was sourced at:
https://health.usnews.com/conditions/articles/the-deadliest-viruses-on-earth

and: https://www.mphonline.org/deadly-viruses/

*https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/cases-updates/cases-in-us.html

The Power of Lead Enrichment

You Can’t Judge a Book by its Cover… or a Lead by its Response.

Lead Enrichment is a game-changer and an eye opener. Through the PianoLeads 2.0 CRM approximately 50% of the leads populate with valuable social media information about the person who filled out the form and converted.

How is Lead Enrichment a Game-changer? Knowing what a person does for a living, their Facebook address, their twitter account, LinkedIn, and public online information from sources such as these, provides a deeper profile for many of the leads we provide since PianoLeads 2.0 was launched. Since information is power, it is extremely helpful for a sales associate following up on a lead to know as much as possible about said lead. It gives insight into many lifestyle elements and in many instances their level of purchasing capability, assuming their piano interest is something more than casual or passing.

One HUGE benefit of knowing more about who you are selling to is that you can take a fast track in establishing rapport and forging a relationship. One inspiration for the development of Lead Enrichment was a conversation with a client who was selling more high-end pianos than the average bear. Joey asked him what his secret was, and he said that he spent a lot of online time researching the leads before he made initial contact. In one specific case he sold a grand piano to an author but not before researching some of the books she had written and making sure to mention that he was aware of her craft and her writings at the onset of his approach. Some of the best time you can ever spend with a prospect is time gaining confidence and trust by caring about them as a person, not necessarily talking about pianos. His good habit of researching the leads before ”approaching the runway” told us we could save some sales folks valuable time by querying the internet and providing that info as the leads were served up whenever possible.

Interests that are exposed by peoples online profile can be very helpful to the sales pro who wants to build a confidence level by working on the relationship before launching into the closing process prematurely. (re: step 2 of the Five Steps to Selling Success blog: https://prospectsint.com/sales-success)      

All the technology and Intel in the world will never change this one looming sales factoid – people want the benefits of technology but still want to be treated as a person with feelings. My suggestion? Use the information in creative ways to make friends online. An incredibly shrinking number of relationships are being initiated by “face to face” initial contact and more and more are being born in cyberspace… and the trend will continue to accelerate. The trick is to learn how to inject the human element and Lead Enrichment gives you valuable clues on how and where to start approaching people with caring that will allow you to humanize the process. People, regardless of how techie we get, will always be (by their very DNA) relationship seeking beings. If that were not true how could we explain the explosion of social media? Lead Enrichment aids your ability to make more online friends that can be convinced it is a great idea to come and see you in person… this causes me to repeat one of my favorite mantras, “The Company With the Most Friends Wins!”  Using enrichment to make more friends and place music in more lives is indeed a game-changer.    

How is Lead Enrichment an Eye Opener? 
I can’t believe I can start a sentence like this but “years ago, when we first started LeadFlow” our only lead engine was the used inventory list method. We are proud to state that it rapidly grew into the most powerful piano interest lead generator in the world. As with all successful new endeavors there are learning curves and LeadFlow riding on the back of the word “used” presented it’s challenges. We soon learned that targeting metrics needed to be tested, monitored an tweaked in every market (and back then it was manual, not automated) so that we could eliminate as many bottom feeder leads as possible but stopping shy of sacrificing volume and legitimate opportunities. In the early days, before we had as much AI and follow up data, some of our clients (mostly those who did not have an aggressive enough follow up mindset) would complain that ALL the leads were Craig’s List quality. In some markets we would keep ratcheting up the targeting toward the top of the market and it helped discernibly some but never came close to eliminating all the people who were looking for grand pianos for $500.

I mention this because we didn’t know if we were falling prey to poor targeting metrics from our ad placement, a lack of perceived value of the instrument or people just acting cheap and worrying too much about price and not enough about quality and the benefits of fine instruments.The truth that manifested itself as a suspicion “before” Lead Enrichment, was confirmed after it began providing online profiles in mass for the leads we were creating for our clients. The reality was “D” all of the above.

  1. A) We had to find better ways to improve our targeting inside our ad placement protocol which we did, no details here as I do not want to share that secret sauce.
  2. B) after monitoring the comments over time it became painfully obvious that the perception of what a piano should cost has taken a lot of “hits” from the advent of digital pianos and keyboards… the Guitar Center mentality, and here is the BIG ONE:
  3. C) An alarming percentage of wealthy people act cheap! One would assume (remember what that word means) that most all surgeons, high powered attorneys, CEO’s, CFO’s and successful Mom and Pop’s would understand and choose value over price. That proved to be a myth. Do some? Absolutely, but there is a reason why Valpack still mails the wealthiest zips in every city. Another confirmation is the fact that Costco does as well or BETTER in wealthy areas of town than they do in the areas with less discretionary spending capabilities.

People love to save money and sometimes get into a habit and buying mindset that does not encourage value but rather price purchasing. Building the value of what a fine piano does to enrich a person’s life is a critical job a sales associate has to embrace. It is an educational process which has to overcome the devaluation of a fine instrument which has occurred over the last two decades at an alarming speed. Can it be done? Sure, it is done successfully everyday by salespeople who know how to tell the story of fine pianos with passion and conviction. The challenge? They have to sell against weak “price point only” selling, Craig’s List and the tsunami of toy pianos that are available in mass. Remember this: People Don’t Buy a Thing, They Buy What a Thing Does” – Harry Beckwith.  I’m not playing manufacturer favorites here, but one shining example of positive value perception is the Steinway & Sons marquis value. In the early 1900’s and well into the last century Steinway was running image ads in the New York Times which was circulated worldwide. Although they no longer run with any frequency or with that type of an ad, the branding was so deeply successful that a handmade Steinway grand piano is to this day the perceived standard by which other, in many cases just as well constructed, handmade pianos are judged by. Perception is a buyer’s reality and Lead Enrichment has shined a light on the fact that not enough prospects value the intangible and beautiful, life changing, benefits only an extremely well made and well-crafted piano can bring to their lives.   

A, B, and C Solidify the Statement that Lead Enrichment has Been an Eye Opener!

So, in summary, what have we learned about the power of Lead Enrichment? We have learned that it gives us valuable insight into the true nature of a lead so we can approach it more socially and psychologically appropriate. We have learned that Lead Enrichment is a validation of the fact that as an industry we must do a better job of selling benefits and not specs. Benefits my friends, mean the results of the technology of a smart piano or the audio results of the blood sweat and tears of taking a year to build a fine handmade piano… not the nuts and bolts. As Zig Ziglar taught us decades ago – “Sell the Sizzle, not the Steak.”  Specs and nuts and bolts are important to analytical types and the workings of technologically advanced pianos is important to share BUT the “Ah Ha! Moment” is when the prospect EXPERIENCES the benefit. 

The insights provided by Lead Enrichment have helped us understand and put in context the task at hand and it is simply this – we need to use this intelligence to be evangelists of the instrument. As a company Prospects International will continue to improve our products and services in support of your mission to bring more music and fine pianos to the world. Our survival and growth depend on the expansion of what many have called a shrinking industry, and rightfully so, yet with all the online interest we believe that, that trend and perception can and should be changed. It appears that there is a phenomenal amount of piano interest online which spells a HUGE amount of opportunity for piano sales pros which is supported and bolstered by the power of Lead Enrichment.

Intelligence is quickness in seeing things as they are – George Santayana

The Power of a Diversified Digital Portfolio

Diversification is something that can be a powerful strategy in the financial world. It is also the best digital marketing approach for the piano industry.

Let’s examine some realities about the piano industry that mandate how much sense a diversified digital marketing approach makes: In any given six-month period, about 4% of the national population is searching online for piano information. The makeup of this pool of individuals is diverse in and of itself; some are traditional, some techie, some a combo of both. This prospect pool has a plethora of budget capabilities and many levels of understanding of the instrument. Many are just entering their discovery process and are desirous of a trusted concierge but wary of sale people in general… and deservedly so.

Since different items provide more or less motivation and hot spot for prospects, (to use an outdoor recreational analogy) you need to have different spinners and baits in your tackle box depending on what you are fishing for.

Here is an example of a well-thought out mixture of prospecting methods:

One that cashes in on the worldwide favorite search word “used.”  This method/bait accommodates the largest online pool of piano info searchers, so this school of fish is most successfully attracted by this key word. This is not advice or conjecture, but a reality dictated by the marketplace.

One that creates interest at the top of the market and promotes premium piano sales. Let’s face it, premium piano sales make a dealer’s profitability strong. Sure, in today’s world most dealers must move used and entry level pianos as well to fill in the revenue gaps, but the institutional sales and larger residential sales that include the larger units with the higher ticket prices are the life’s blood of a dealer’s “good year.”

One that sells technology or “enhanced technology” pianos. The importance of this segment can’t be overstated. The existence of smart pianos that can be given commands from a tablet or phone opens up a brand-new marketplace segment. The advent of pianos that access the net and stream TV brings into play wealthy, socially active buyers who don’t necessarily even play the piano! It shouldn’t take anymore mention than this because we all know how the tsunami of technology has changed our lives and how much it means to millions of consumers.

A fun match game or survey on your home page. This allows you to have a home page optimized for conversion, where a percentage of customers can raise their hands digitally and share what types of pianos they may be in the market for. We encourage clients to pay attention to the inquiry experience that their local prospects experience. Fun and engaging is the best way to present yourself… simply getting down to the point is, well, just plain boring. Remember to “sell the sizzle, not the steak.”

A new home-owners program.  Be sure to position yourself as the “go to” place for all things piano before your competition has the chance; be the information “headquarters” in town. New homeowners don’t typically purchase inside a short time window but do indeed purchase twice as much or more than any other segment inside a 24-month window. With survival instincts running rampant, short-term ROI thinking rules the day, but as an old Texas businessman once advised me, “If you don’t plant seeds for the future, you may not have one.” Building new homeowner relationships is a fantastic way to “build more of tomorrow’s business today.”

There are other important COI (centers of influence) segments to address but the above listed categories are the main categories for which you should have strategies in place. Over time, if you do and your competition doesn’t, the market share is sure to shift dramatically in your favor. Having a mousetrap set for these different types of suspects, which gives them good cause to evolve into being prospects, is serving the entirety of the online pools and its diverse nature. Having a well-rounded diversified digital marketing portfolio that touches the main types and segments of those who buy is just plain common sense. That is how we ended up espousing its power and value. True marketing success in today’s world is the sum total of several targeted and well thought out strategies. I trust that this seems pragmatic to you as well.

We believe that if you simply serve people and position yourself as the best available concierge, you will be doing the marketplace, your income and your company the best possible favor. Here is a quote by Rand Fishkin that embodies our current sales and marketing philosophy. – “The best way to sell something – don’t sell anything. Earn the awareness, respect, & trust of those who might buy.”

When we began Prospects International, we were simply helping piano dealers access the wonderful world of online piano interest in the short-term by supporting their events through our first application – EventFlow. Today we endeavor to help our client base get so good at “day to day” lead follow up that events will be totally optional and not needed to make their annual numbers.

We operate exclusively per market with our three programs: EventFlow, LeadFlow and New Neighbors. If you would like us to help you examine how efficiently your digital approach is positioned, we would be glad to visit with you. If we aren’t already obligated, we would be honored to consider being your digital marketing partners.

Happy Selling and I’ll leave you with one more quote, this one from Ann Handley. – “Even when you are marketing to your entire audience or customer base, you are still simply speaking to a single human at any given time.”

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