TROUBLESHOOTERS: Keep Key Employees

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February 29, 2008
Sales & Marketing

CONTRACTOR QUESTION: My sales force is in a slump. They’re a hard-working crew, but we don’t seem to be landing the types of snow removal accounts that we should be tending during the winter months. As the owner, I know we must build the business to take it to the next level, but our growth has flattened as new client development has stagnated. Recently I’ve tried bringing in sales speakers and developed incentive programs, and while the sales team seems receptive to the enthusiasm hasn’t brought in new snow removal accounts. What can I due to break them out of their rut?

EXPERT ANSWER: Every industry and profession goes through changes, and the sales profession is no different. Just because a certain sales technique or mindset worked in the past doesn’t mean it’ll work today. A top performing salesperson or sales team, today and in the future, needs to continually adapt to both market and social conditions.

With that in mind, there are six new business trends taking place -- all of which affect salespeople in every industry, including the snow removal industry. Understand what the trends are and how to maximize them so your snow removal business’ sales team can reap the rewards.  

Trend #1: Past success is the enemy.
People who are in sales long-term tend to be successful. Realize, though, that success is your worst enemy. When you’re at the top and doing well, you’re really just trying to keep up and meet demand. Having so many sales knocking at your door lulls you into a false sense of security.
As such, you’re not looking at enough future opportunities because you’re too busy reaping the rewards of the current opportunities. You’re not sowing the seeds of future success, and that’s setting you up for a fall.

An old saying goes, “If it isn’t broke don’t fix it.” In today’s world we need to rework that statement to be: “If it works it’s obsolete.”

For example, if you just bought the latest v-plow for your snow operations, is the next newer and better version already in existence and about to be released to the snow removal industry? You bet. Remember that rapid obsolescence isn’t just about products. It’s about how we do our business too.

Trend #2:  Rapid change is your best friend.
It’s human nature to protect and defend the status quo. However, you have to understand that technology is changing the future, your customers’ behavior, and your company’s reality. That means if you don’t change, you’ll be soon out of a job.

A salesperson needs to embrace change and make it his best friend rather than fight it and hold tight to the way things were. So how do you make rapid change your best friend? You spend some time thinking about where the changes that are impacting you and your customers are going. Remember that change causes uncertainty in customers’ minds. You can bring certainty to your customers when you are confident in where change is going. You can lead your customers through the change, causing them to view you as more than just a salesperson, but as a solutions provider and trusted advisor.

Trend #3: Time is increasing in value.
Increasingly time is becoming more and more important to people. Why? We have an aging demographic in the United States, with 78 million Baby Boomers. And time gets more valuable as you get older because you have less of it.

Additionally, the world has become more complex with much more for people to do with their time. Today we have iPods, cell phones, the Internet and a host of other technologies that didn’t exist when the Baby Boomers were babies. There’s so much more going on and we’re connected in so many more ways that everyone is increasingly strapped for time.

With that in mind, the last thing you want to do in sales is seem like you’re taking someone’s time. Instead, giving them time. You want your customers to feel that talking to you is actually saving them time. Think about all the time wasters your customers might experience: long wait times for service, long hold times on the phone, long delivery times for products…the list is virtually endless. Time wasters hurt your sales and profits. Therefore, make sure you have the processes in place that will keep customers from wasting their time. When you can prove that you’re a time saver, people will choose you over the competition every time.

Trend #4: Communicating is more valuable than informing.
Many salespeople rely on such marketing tools as a company Web site, flyers and sales letters. But all these things are static, meaning they are merely informing people. You hope your sales messages will entice the prospect to call, but it’s still a one-way interface.

A better way is to have your sales messages create action. One way to do that is to engage prospects with your sales and marketing efforts. For example, you could have a contest that encourages people to go to your site and enter. So instead of just saying that you want people to contract with you for snow removal, for instance, you can tell customers that they can go online and enter a contest. Now you get them involved in your company and services. The key is to generate communication, engagement and involvement through your sales and marketing efforts. If you call someone and just talk to them and aren’t creating dynamic dialog, then you’re really just giving information. You want to give people consultative advice. You want to listen and speak and create dialog. Only then do you truly capture your prospects’ interest and convert them into clients.

About TroubleShooters

In each issue of GIE Media’s Snow Magazine, we take a snow contractor’s question, contact an expert and get his or her professional advice. Submit your questions to GIE Media’s Snow Magazine, 4020 Kinross Lakes Parkway, #201, Richfield, Ohio 44286 or via e-mail to Editor Mike Zawacki at mzawacki@gie.net.

Trend #5: Be pre-active to future known events.
Almost every salesperson has been told to be proactive, which means to be taking positive action. How do you know if a certain action is positive? You wait and see. That sounds like a crap shoot with bad odds.

Therefore, you need to be pre-active to future known events. To determine pre-known events, you need to look at your customer segment and identify what types of events you are certain they will be experiencing soon. You then focus your actions on what will be happening rather than on what is happening.
 
Being pre-active also means that you change the way people think. For example, if you put out a new product or service and hope it catches on, you’ll quickly learn that it can take a long time because you’re not actively changing the way people think about how the product can be used or how it might change their life. Constantly educate your customers on the value you and your snow removal service offer so they begin to rethink the results they can achieve and the value you provide.

Trend #6: Sell the future benefit of what you do.
The value you bring today is forgotten fast. Most salespeople sell the current benefits of what your company can do. But your customers already know the current benefit you offer – quality snow removal service.

One of the reasons customers leave you for a competitor is that you haven’t cemented the future benefit you can bring them. Your goal as a salesperson should be to establish a long-term, problem-solving relationship with customers rather than a short-term transaction.
 
Your most profitable customer is a repeat customer. Therefore, you want customers to see the benefit you can give them over time, not just in the present. You want to show how the snow removal service you offer is going to be evolving with their needs into the future. In other words, you want to sell the evolution of your service. Unfortunately, most salespeople don’t know their future benefit. Therefore, as the owner or team leader you need to sit down with your salespeople and create a list of future benefits that you have for your customers. Also, talk to the snow fighters delivering your snow removal service and get an idea of how that service can evolve in the future.

You are more likely to deliver future benefits if you think of them ahead of time. As a side benefit, this kind of dialog also helps internal communications within the company.

Successful salespeople know that to stay on top, they must keep abreast of trends and changes in their industry. Only then can they stand out and be a true solutions provider for their prospects and customers. Therefore, the more you understand and adapt to today’s current business trends, the better your sales will be today and in the future.