Archive: Sales

Tee Off for Success


A Smart Venue for Business

Golf has its detractors but one thing is clear: The game is a valuable way for companies to bring in revenue.

“Eighteen holes of match or medal play will teach you more about your foe than will 18 years of dealing with him across a desk.”

– Sportswriter Grantland Rice

Scoring an Eagle

Golf can drive home some lucrative business. Here are some of the ways executives believe the sport helps:

It’s a good way to establish close business relationships and make new business contacts.

  • The way people play golf is similar to how they conduct business.
  • Golf demonstrates levels of competitiveness and motivation and provides time to get to know a person’s character. A person who cheats on the golf course would probably cheat in business. Similarly, a bad temper on the course probably means a bad temper in the office.
  • Some of the biggest deals involve time on the golf course and most are closed a few days after a round of golf.
  • The time spent immediately after a round eating and socializing (the “19th hole”) is a key part of doing business.
  • On the course, the back nine is the best time to bring up business.

Many executives believe golf is an essential business tool and that behaviour on the golf course indicates behaviour in business. But strategic golf isn’t the same as recreational golf. Courting business on the course means keeping your business purpose in mind and focusing on your customers. You need to shift effortlessly between business and the sport.

Golf can be expensive but it’s widely viewed as a profitable investment. According to some estimates, Canadian businesses bring in more than $1,500 in business revenue for every dollar spent on strategic golfing. That may explain why the golf course outscores the hockey arena as a venue for business. (It comes in second place just below restaurants.)

But, like any other business investment, you want to maximize the return in terms of the amount of money and time spent.

To help with that goal, here are seven rules to help keep the game above par when playing with business associates:

1. Assess your corporate goals. Prepare for the day as you would for any business or board meeting. Think about what you want to accomplish, whether it’s to network, lay the foundation for new business, or strengthen a customer relationship.

2. Know the game. New golfers should have played at least five rounds of golf and have a few lessons before attempting to play business golf. If you score higher than average, let the rest of the group know in advance to save yourself some embarrassment.

3. Stay professional and polite. As a representative of your company, show professionalism in the way you play and adhere to dress codes. If in doubt, call the club to get the policy. Never wear jeans or tee shirts.

Obviously, don’t criticize how others are playing, don’t give advice unless asked, and don’t brag about your performance. In addition, don’t lose your temper, swear, or show rudeness. People who cheat at golf are often seen as likely to cheat in business.

And forget the cell phone. Many courses ban them and even if they don’t, turn yours off. A sure way to lose a sale is to have your cell phone ring or play a song just as your prospective customer is taking aim at a putt that’s going to win the round. Checking your e-mail messages on your PDA? That’s considered rude on the course.

4. Find the right mix. Put together a foursome with similar golfing abilities and temperaments. Ask if they prefer mornings or late-afternoon tee times. Introduce everyone so they feel at ease and consider providing a short advance bio of the players.

5. Let the client bring up business. Tolerance levels for business chat on the course varies widely, so follow the lead of fellow players. Don’t put business ahead of relationship building. Formal business discussions will follow on another day. If the conversation turns to business, keep it light and brief.

6. Don’t forget the 19th Hole.  After the round is over, make sure to allow time for some food, drinks and socializing. This is the time to talk business. Mix the discussions with talk about how the game went. Focus on the highlights, not the bad shots. If the game went badly, this is also a good time to smooth things over.

7. Follow through. After the round, make a phone call or arrange a visit and, hopefully, secure a signed contract. Otherwise, you haven’t finished the game or maximized your investment.

If you really hate golf, don’t bother with it. Pretending you’re having a great time when you’re miserable probably won’t work. The time and mental investment involved in golf is too great and the return will likely be too small. There are other ways to entertain prospects that everyone will enjoy.

Price Sale Items Carefully

thmb_gate_chain_link_padlock_field_MBVendors beware: Truth in advertising isn’t just a slogan for the Canadian Competition Bureau, which is determined to enforce the ordinary selling price provisions or the Competition Act.

Those provisions state that before a company advertises items on sale, it must sell a substantial volume of the items at the pre-sale price for a period of time. Specifically, a retailer cannot claim that a price is the ordinary selling price when the company has not:

The Competition Act contains criminal and civil provisions to address false or misleading representations and deceptive marketing practices.

The criminal provisions prohibit all materially false or misleading representations made knowingly or recklessly, deceptive telemarketing and notices of winning a prize, double ticketing, and pyramid sales schemes.

The civil provisions also ban all materially false or misleading representations and specifically prohibit performance representations that are not based on adequate and proper tests, misleading warranties and guarantees, false or misleading ordinary selling price representations, untrue, misleading or unauthorized use of tests and testimonials, bait and switch selling, and the sale of a product above its advertised price.

1. Sold a substantial volume of the product at that price or a higher price within a reasonable period of time before or after making the representation.

2. Offered the product at that price or a higher price in good faith for a substantial period of time recently before, or immediately after, making the representation.

To be considered an ordinary price, at least half the merchandise must be sold at that price during the previous six months, or offered at the price for half the time.

The landmark ruling that underscores the federal agency’s determination to enforce the law was the Competition Tribunal’s finding that Sears Canada at one point used false discounts to sell tires and exaggerated the possible savings to consumers.

In its ads, Sears claimed it was offering discounts as deep as 45 per cent on five types of tires. The retailer later conceded that it sold less than two per cent of the tires at the full regular price before they were advertised on sale. Sears stated that the original price in its ads reflected the price at which competitors regularly offered the tires for sale.

However, the tribunal found that the company could not have truly believed that its regular tire prices were genuine and bona fide prices that the market would validate.Sears was ordered to pay a $100,000 penalty as well as $387,000 toward the Competition Bureau’s legal costs.

In handing down the ruling, the tribunal also upheld the constitutionality of the ordinary price provision of the law, stating that false or misleading ordinary selling price claims can harm consumers, business competitors who do comply with the law and competition in general.

The ruling was a powerful message to be careful when your business uses comparative-price advertising. There is no need to stop using these powerful marketing tools, but be sure your enterprise can legitimately establish that ordinary selling price representations are offered in good faith and not misleading. Fortunately, the Competition Bureau offers guidance to that end, including:

The general test: Would a reasonable consumer conclude that the comparison price is the one at which the item was ordinarily sold? If the comparison price isn’t the regular market price, the business is liable for prosecution.

Such phrases as “Compare to,” “Was,” “$X or X? off,” “Special” and “Value” generally convey the impression that the comparison price is the one at which the product has been ordinarily sold.

If a business doesn’t know the market price and the sale price is a reduction from its price, the comparison price should be qualified by saying, for example, “our regular price.” Moreover, a business shouldn’t compare its prices to those in another region. An Ottawa retailer should not rely on a Toronto regular price.

Don’t rely on out-of-date pricing history. The comparison price should be one from a period that is sufficiently recent. If a business is setting an introductory price, the price should not be offered for a prolonged period of time.

Consumer savings alone aren’t sufficient to avoid liability. If the actual market price, say, was $15, a business would be liable for prosecution if its ads claimed, “Reg. $20.00 — Sale price $10.00,” even though an actual $5 saving was involved.

Using the term Manufacturer’s Suggested List Price can be deceptive when it doesn’t reflect a product’s ordinary selling price. The list price is also not reliable as a market price indicator because it is often significantly higher than the market price.

Tap into the Power of Customer Testimonials

thmb_sign_ask_me_bzOut of the Mouths of Customers

“You have a great product. It was delivered quickly and in perfect shape. I’ll be sure to tell my friends.”

Statements like this can boost your company’s sales as much as 250 per cent. Even better, when you get a testimonial from a consumer, that person is likely to become a more loyal customer and help spread the word about your company’s products.

What Makes a Good Testimonial?

Not all testimonials are created equal. To ensure yours have an impact, keep them:

Real – Testimonials have to be honest and believable. Otherwise, your company won’t gain credibility and it could lose some.

Specific – Customers should say exactly what they like. Whether it’s fast delivery, great customer service, or excellent quality, the more specific the details, the more believable and powerful the testimonial.

Comparative – Ask customers to discuss how your product or service has made life easier for them. Potential customers are likely to identify with those same problems.

Varied – Testimonials should reflect different aspects of your products and services so they appeal to different customers. The more benefits described, the more business will be generated.

If your company is a small or medium sized enterprise, it probably doesn’t have the built-in credibility of a national brand. But even on a tight advertising budget, you can build credibility with the help of satisfied customers.

Testimonials increase the comfort zones of potential buyers and help them overcome their concerns about trying new products. So consider a campaign to snag customer testimonials. Among the benefits:

Feedback - Customer testimonials provide valuable insight into what your company is doing right.

Increased loyalty - People who are willing to attach their names to your product are likely to become repeat buyers. These devoted customers also tend to develop a vested interest in your company and believe they have a hand in helping it grow.

Free advertising - Satisfied customers who put their names and reputations at stake for your company’s products or services become a source of free, viral advertising.

The first step in gathering testimonials, of course, is to provide top-notch products or services and to support them with consistently high customer service. Then, start the testimonial collection process by taking these steps:

File away positive customer comments that come in. These comments might come from casual conversations with your employees on the phone or in person. Ask employees to write down complimentary comments they hear from customers and submit them to someone in the company who is assigned to manage the file. And ask customers to write down their opinions in a letter or e-mail after you hear a flattering comment.

Actively solicit testimonials by sending out postcards or e-mail messages. Ask buyers what they like the most about your products or services.

Act fast. The best comments come shortly after a purchase when customers are satisfied. That is when they are the most likely to take the time and write something positive.

Once you receive complimentary comments, get permission to use them. Ask the customers if you can use their names, titles, and locations. A positive testimonial from a respected customer in your field goes a long way toward boosting your company’s credibility. Depending on your company’s marketing strategy, you may even want to get a picture with customers using your product or service.

What about surveys? Avoid asking for testimonials in the course of conducting them. Surveys are generally meant to be anonymous and customers need to feel free to make negative comments that can help your company improve.

Customer testimonials are among the best promotional copy around. In the end, let the customers speak for themselves so that the comments reflect their excitement and satisfaction. Edit them only when they need a little polish and get permission for the final version.

Checklist for a Successful Sales Flight

thmb_transportation_jet_airplane__bzSuccessful sales transactions don’t happen by accident and they aren’t based on luck.

Top sales people are prepared for the expected and the unexpected, which means knowing what prospects are looking for and exceeding their expectations. Accomplishing that takes proper planning and a final examination of the factors involved in the sale.

So take a tip from pilots. Have a “pre-flight” checklist. Before every sales call, go though it completely. This proactive step reduces the chance of failure and increases the chance you’ll come back with a deal.

Take a look at our checklist to get started. You might want to add factors that specifically suit your product or service, industry, or your sales prospect.

Yes No  Checklist for a Successful Sales Call
Is the prospect qualified?


Have you confirmed the appointment?


If you are driving to meet the prospect, do you have the correct directions? Do you know how long it will take to arrive on time – or preferably, 10 or 15 minutes early?


Have you organized the necessary materials, including brochures, business cards, sales aids and other information?


Do you know the prospect’s culture and environment?


Do you understand the prospect’s business structure and industry?


Do you understand what drives the prospect’s business and competitive environment?


Do you understand the dynamics behind the prospect’s buying decisions? Are you aware of economic and other factors that could create resistance to the sale?


Are you aware of the internal and external factors that could affect the timing of the sale?


Have you double-checked to see if any factors have changed since your initial contact, including final checks of the prospect’s website; news, business and economic reports, and internal sources at the prospect’s company who may have information about recent developments?


Do you have a list of questions to ask the prospect that can help gauge how you can help the company with problems, challenges and growth opportunities?


Have you taken a few moments to visualize your success? If the goal is to make the sale, that’s the image you want to see. Of course, not every sales call is aimed at completing a sale. If the goal is to make some headway toward clinching a sale, visualize yourself and your prospect coming to an understanding. Remember, mental preparation can be half the battle.


Customers Aren’t Always Right

As a successful business owner, you know customer satisfaction is the key to continued sales and profits. But you also know it’s harder to please some customers than others, and some can be downright problematic.

Of course most customers take little time and effort. They understand that their relationship with your company is commercial. That is, your business offers a product or service and they agree to a set rate and terms.

Tips on Defusing and Solving Customer Problems

lores_hr_cost_cutting_man_yell_phone_anger_unhappy_customer_service_amHere are some general guidelines on handling customers in tense situations:

  • Arrange to have no interruptions during your time with the customer.
  • Assume the customer is truthful.
  • Treat complaints as problem-solving sessions.
  • Let the customer talk in order to defuse some of the emotion.
  • Listen closely without interruption and gather enough information to be able to make a considered response.
  • Ask for clarification if the facts aren’t clear.
  • Ask how the customer would like the situation handled.
  • Provide options on how to resolve the problem.
  • Take the problem to the person who can fix it, or who needs to know.
  • Keep a log or journal of customer complaints to help spot trends.

The remaining customers can run the gamut from moderately annoying to extremely difficult, and although they are smaller in number, the time and energy they require can make them seem to outweigh all the others.

The first step to take when confronted with a difficult customer is to determine if the complaint is legitimate. Most of the time, it is. Many problems stem from a particular situation, for example, a rude salesperson, unsatisfactory customer service, a product defect that causes havoc in the buyer’s own business or a late delivery that caused the customer to miss a deadline.

In those instances, you apologize, do what you can to appease the customer, and take steps to correct the error and ensure it doesn’t happen again. At the same time, consider that the customer has done you a favor by highlighting a weakness in your operations or by calling attention to a problem employee.

If all goes well, you both end up satisfied and the customer stays with you.

But sometimes customers are simply annoying. When that’s the situation, you can choose between two paths:

  1. Determine that the customers are valuable enough to your company that it is worth the effort to try to satisfy them – even when the complaints aren’t legitimate – and to improve the relationships. This would be the case when the customers are those your company depends upon for long-term success.
  2. Sever the relationship altogether because the customers are so difficult that you question their value to your company. These are the buyers who remain difficult regardless of how much you try to appease them. In the end they actually can become obstacles to the smooth operation of your business.

Letting a customer go is a difficult decision and before you do that, you want to consider several factors:

Mitigating Circumstances: There could be an unapparent reason for a customer’s attitude. For example, the individual may be having financial difficulties, grieving, going through a divorce or working under a sudden change of management. If you can determine a reason behind the difficult attitude, you may be able to come up with a strategy that can salvage the relationship. If there appears to be no mitigating circumstance, consider the relationship in light of the following three factors.

Financial Effect:  If the customer is one of your major sources of revenue, determine how hard it would be to replace that income. Also consider whether the customer is a potential source of other valuable customers, as well as how much influence the individual has in the community and over other current buyers. Statistics suggest that one disgruntled customer tells seven people about his or her experience. The more influential your customer is the more people may hear about it and be swayed to switch to the competition. If, however, you think your business can handle the loss of this customer, end the relationship quickly and firmly. You and your employees will gain that much more time to tend to your other, less troublesome customers.

Operations Effect: If you personally have to deal with one of these difficult customers on a regular basis, consider how that might be affecting your ability to tend to the rest of your business and your employees. Constant and unsuccessful attempts to appease troublesome customers can distract you from your other responsibilities as a business owner.

Staff Effect: Your most intransigent customers can create employee burnout, low morale, and turnover. Having to deal regularly with an extremely difficult person can quickly send even the best sales personnel looking for other jobs. If a customer is abusing your employees, deal quickly with that problem or you may find performance spiraling downward and your payroll dwindling.

The best way to handle difficult customers is to put yourself in their shoes. Listen without arguing and get as much information as you can to understand them as individuals. Try to find ways to adjust to their needs when it is reasonable. But don’t hesitate to turn one loose if that solution is best for you, your staff and your business.

Ramp Up Your Conversion Rates

thmb_computer_mouse_scroll_hand_ergonomic_bzLocation, Location, Location

Conversion rates may spark controversy over their definition and accuracy as indicators of success, but it seems here to stay. It is the figure that determines the bottom line of your e-commerce business. In fact, the actual conversion rate may be less important than the fact that it trends upward.

The conversion rate metric is defined as the percentage of Web site visitors who actually complete an action that you want. By measuring a percentage of traffic, you can gauge how well your site is doing regardless of traffic levels. But rates vary from site to site and there aren’t any standardized measurement techniques.

The Basic Tenets

Conversion is essentially driven by sound selling practices specific to each merchant’s business model. The study Merchant Secrets for Driving Conversion lists the following ten basic tenets that successful online retailers follow:

  1. Designing a well-branded catalogue.
  2. Stocking desired merchandise at a fair price.
  3. Offering consistent policies and convenience tools across all channels.
  4. Providing intuitive navigation throughout the site.
  5. Presenting key pages with well thought-out design and functionality.
  6. Deploying merchandising features that meet the needs of your primary shopper types.
  7. Testing suggestive selling strategies to increase the average order size.
  8. Maintaining a keen awareness of the competitive landscape and category benchmarks.
  9. Striving to deliver more personalized shopping experiences.
  10. Prioritizing responsiveness to customer actions and communication

For a retail Web site, the conversion rate is usually the percentage of visitors who actually make a purchase from the site.

The rates vary according to industry, target market, site quality and other factors, but generally range from 0.5 per cent to eight per cent, and even more than 10 per cent for the lucky few.

So, given that this metric appears here to stay and is used as a benchmark by many, what can you do to boost your conversion rate? Several things, according to a study entitled Merchant Secrets for Driving Conversion, conducted by Chicago consultancy the e-retailing group and based on interviews with 30 merchants

While many factors that drive conversion rates upward are situational, depending on the specific category or season, the study shows that several appear to work for everyone, including:

The Products

Right Product – It doesn’t really matter if you have a store or a site, or both, first and foremost shopping is about product. Having the right product is the number one tactic for driving conversion. So regardless of the season or the category of your product, you must have the winning goods on your site. If you don’t, your competitors will.

Right Price – You have to match the right price to the right product. Whether you are simply aware of what the competition is charging or you use webcrawling technology to determine your competitors’ pricing, you need to keep what you charge on a competitive level.

Freebies – Most people like to get something for nothing, so major drivers of conversion are enticements such as deep discounts, a free service with the product or the old standby, “buy one get one free.” And free shipping can go a long way toward boosting your conversion rate. There is anecdotal evidence that offering free shipping drives sales better than a 30 per cent discount and that conversion rates bump up a few percentage points whenever free or minimal-cost shipping is offered.

The Web Site

Search – You must have a search tool, it must work quickly and accurately and it must offer items relevant to the shopper’s keyword. Search results also help cinch sales if they bring up special offers, top sellers, cross-sellers and up-sells.

Streamlined checkout – The customer may have the cart full but if that consumer is confronted with complicated and time consuming steps before the sale is completed you run the risk of losing the sale. Optimize your shopping carts, keep everything in the upper half of the page and let the shoppers know where they are in the purchasing process. Of course abandoned carts aren’t always a major issue and that metric needs further study. Some shoppers return and complete their order within 30 days and use the cart as a placeholder.

Navigation – Speed and ease highlight a site’s performance and it is imperative that your navigation is easy, logical and intuitive. Ease of shopping encourages not only conversion but also more purchases. Good navigation includes quick access to key categories, customer service, cross-channel capabilities, as well as information that supports the company as a whole. A number of merchants mentioned the value of easy access to such subcategories as Men’s, Women’s, New, Gift Ideas, Top Sellers and Promotions.

Product page – Where the shopper lands on your site is often a product page, which in essence becomes your home page. That, then, needs to be complete and full of information that can answer every question or concern. Product descriptions should allow for a quick overview and provide in-depth information. If a single feature is missed, you risk losing the sale. Merchant guarantees can help boost conversion rates, as can product ratings, zoom photos, and colour change technology.

When selecting the location and nature of the items on the product page, consider:

  • The category and what works best.
  • The number of items you wish to promote (three or at most, four).
  • The most relevant tactics, such as cross-selling items, up-selling items or similar products.
  • Supporting messages so shoppers quickly scan recommendations, for example customer favourites or top sellers.

Entry and Exit: While you’re at it, take a close look at where your online shoppers land and where they leave. Exit pages could indicate a place where you need to add some encouragement to stay or to buy. And if you compare conversion rates based on where customers landed, you may find that some of those landing sites need improvement.

Salesmanship Without the Human Touch

Compensating For the Five Senses

thmb_office_computers_workstation_bzMost consumers want retailers to compete for their business. They’re looking for information, options and complimentary products – along with assurances that their business is wanted.

This is true with online and traditional shopping. Just because your Web site uses new technology, don’t think that consumer psychology has changed too. Customers generally buy the way they always have. The difference: On the Internet, you don’t have the nose-to-nose opportunity to persuade them that your product is the one they want.

Nevertheless, a five-step sales process is still valid online. Each step feeds the others, so two or more steps may operate at the same time on the same page by e-customers:

Step 1: Prospect – Customers usually come to your Web site because they were lured with good marketing, they are familiar with your product, or they searched the Internet and your name came up.

Whatever the reason, the customer is there. If you have a promotion, make sure it’s on the first page. And be sure the landing page offers immediate guidance to the cyber department customers are seeking. If you don’t deliver quickly, you run a big risk of losing them.

A word about promotions. They are an effective means of cross-selling related products. But keep in mind that what you think is logical may appear nonsensical to the customer, who could wind up not buying either the main product or the related promotion.

Step 2: Rapport – With traditional shopping, customers’ five senses work overtime. They are presented with product arrangements, eye-catching designs and opportunities to smell, feel and try merchandise. In addition, a motivated and skilled staff is ready to answer questions and add a sense of comfort when shopping in person.

Online, there is usually little of this. Rapport is built through navigation and links, which both involve sensitivity to customers’ shopping habits. If you make navigation too simple, you can lose cross-selling opportunities. Make it too complicated and you could lose customers due to confusion.

In terms of linking, every sentence is a potential link to a buying opportunity. Links replace human sales staff, provide more information, meet shopping preferences and offer new ideas (for example, “customers who bought this product also bought…”) But then again, too many links lead to frustration and too few lead to disinterest.

Step 3: Qualifying – This is a big online challenge. In person, you can start a dialogue to determine, or qualify, what the customer needs. Online, you must set up categories, sub-categories and cross-references. Classify by department, brand, function, gender, age, best-sellers and price, among other categories. Make changes after watching your Web logs for navigation path activity.

Your web architecture should clearly and easily lead prospects to the right aisle and take into account the three basic shopper types:

Determined shoppers know just what they want because they have a need or have responded to an ad.
Curious shoppers have a general idea of what they want but need guidance.
Browsers are window shopping and need a nudge to purchase.

Step 4: Presenting – By now, the customer has a better idea of what’s available and you present options: Colours, sizes, materials, price, men’s, women’s, children’s, consumer, industrial, commercial.

Step 5: Closing – Clinch the deal by outlining service plans; payment, ordering, shipping and discount options; warranties and guarantees; toll-free customer service lines, secure payment system and privacy policy. Consider giving the customer the opportunity to offer feedback on the online shopping experience. Don’t give up if they don’t buy. Online shopping often involves several visits.

Be persuasive: Address the user’s needs at every step of the process. Captivate shoppers with colours, shapes, sizes and prices. Appeal to the emotional aspects of making the purchase.