What an angel with one wing taught me about running a business

I recently moved house and inherited a nice garden with a little angel figure hanging from the decking, right in front of my dining-room window. I laughed when I first saw this ornament because the angel figure only had one wing. Probably broken, I thought. Will have to move it because it doesn’t fit with my idea of perfection, I thought.

But recently I got to thinking that I rather like the angel with one wing. She reminds me that however high we might soar, it’s good to keep at least one foot on the ground.
Humility is something which serves us well. Arrogance, particularly in dealings with other business people or clients does not. It’s good to have a reality-check from time to time and look at what is working in our business and what isn’t.

When we’re flying high, it really is crucial to remember how we got there in the first place and who we need to thank or appreciate.

So whatever you’re up to, remember that perfection isn’t necessary and sometimes one wing is better than two….
Love Louise

Three lessons we can learn from ebay…

You are all probably familiar with ebay and have done some selling on there at one time or another. However, I am pretty much an ebay novice and it was only when we moved offices recently and had to sell a lot of stuff that I ventured into the world of online selling.
This whole experience has taught me a thing or two to apply to my own business:

Lesson 1: Cultural awareness and sensitivity is key to a successful sale – on both sides Find out about your target market and adjust your sales strategy appropriately.
Hamburg is a culturally diverse city with a good mix of immigrants (myself included!) and in the last few weeks I have dealt with visitors from many different nationalities all coming to the home office and looking at what was on offer. I found that all the Eastern European and Asian people who came drove a hard bargain – they really enjoyed negotiating and took their time – whilst the German people paid the asking price, stayed only a short length of time and were highly organized and reliable regarding time and date of visit.
In our institute we teach cultural awareness and we sometimes hear students say “Isn’t this clichéd? Aren’t you over-generalizing?” Well, the answer is “not really”. If you are selling a product or a service, whether that be a coffee machine on ebay or a highly specialized software system on your company’s website, it is essential to be aware of and, where possible, adjust to the mentality of your target customers.

Lesson 2: Know the difference between price and value
I generally aim for win-win. However, in one case I had to let the interested party go because he insisted on paying way too small an amount for something. Although I felt a bit bad about this, it reminded me:
Whatever you are selling in business, don’t be afraid to name your price, know your bottom line and stick to it. This is especially true for freelancers selling their qualified services: If you sell yourself under-value, you will start to resent things sooner or later. Also, never apologize for your prices. Explain how you add value and why you are worth your price. Better not to get the sale than to compromise too much and feel resentment.

Lesson 3: Respect your own needs
In your daily business as an entrepreneur your own needs are paramount. If you feel stressed or under pressure, the negative energy you feel will work against you. It is important to voice your own needs and wishes and prioritize them.
This is something I thought I was aware of. However, when I first started selling online I literally bent over backwards for all the potential customers – letting them always choose time and date to visit and adjusting my own schedule accordingly. Surely enough, this started to backfire and people sometimes just didn’t turn up, didn’t bother to cancel and stopped answering their phones even though they’d asked for a call-back. I was most put out until I realized that I was the one responsible for creating this situation. Now I stipulate time and date to suit me first and since then I haven’t had anyone go awol on me.

Until the next time – stay profitable!
Louise

Soul to Sole – by Guest Blogger, Phil Loxton

How buying shoes taught me to listen to my inner voice.

I recently went to buy a new pair of shoes. It was something I’d been meaning to do for ages and I’d seen some very nice ones in a shop round the corner from my office. They were stylish and not overly expensive and by the time I actually entered the store I’d lost count of the amount of times I’d passed by the window and gazed on the range of footwear available.

The salesman was a youngish man and from the moment we started discussing my intended purchase, everything was wrong. He disdainfully dismissed my current choice of shoe, told me I had brought the wrong size (far too big) and that very soon what was now on my feet “would look like rubbish”. He broke off in the middle of our ‘discussion’ to speak to another woman in the shop and completely ignored my question. When I told him the shoes he proffered were too tight on my heel, he dismissed my concerns as being unimportant. “There needs to be pressure”, he asserted. Nevertheless, I thought they look good on my feet and I promptly bought them.

Two days later I left home wearing my new shoes for the first time. I went to my office and then on to a doctor’s appointment. By the time I hobbled into the surgery I was in agony, I had an enormous blister on my left heel, and was developing one on the right. The nurse on duty took pity on me and cleaned and bandaged my wounds, after which I hobbled off to the shop to complain. The same man in the shop at first tried to assure me that “some rubbing was normal”. When I told him I had blisters after less than 15 minutes of light walking, he merely said it was the first time he had heard of such a case. He then offered to show me on Google how normal it was for shoes to rub! On and on, one unforgivable sales mistake after another. In fact if you analysed everything he did, you could have put it into a book and said this is how not to sell. I mean, really the guy made every cardinal sin there is to make. I, however, committed the biggest sin of all – I bought the shoes!

You see, I had already told myself I would buy them. I’d passed the shop hundreds of times before, often stopping to look in the window, I’d told myself how right the shoes in this shop were for me, how they looked good and were very English, (something I love). I had created in my mind a situation where, no matter what, I would have bought them.

The really annoying thing about the whole process was that all the time I was in the shop my inner voice was telling me “walk away, walk away”, but I didn’t. I stuck to my original thought, I refused to listen to my instincts and the result is: I now have a pair of nice looking, reasonably expensive shoes that I can never wear.

That’s the thing about your inner voice, your gut feeling or whatever you want to call it – it’s always right. It’s part of you and it beats with your heart, it knows what is really best for you, certainly more than your conscious mind does.

But I discovered that I am not alone in ignoring my inner voice. A client recently related the story of a failed house move. She was all set to sub-let an apartment but had asked for written confirmation from the main tenant’s landlord in order to be sure everything was all above board. Although the main tenant was going to write to the landlord to advise them of this change anyway, and she had a perfectly legal right to sub-let, she refused to ask for this written confirmation. When my client pointed out, on the phone, that it would be extremely difficult for her to take on the apartment without such assurances, the tenant exploded and let out a tirade of abuse before slamming down the phone. She then refused to agree to anything my client said– including offers of payment and attempts to return the keys. Later my client reflected that it was a lucky escape and recounted how her best friend had actually warned her against this move purely on the basis of her gut feeling.
Another friend was getting a lot of pain from a tooth and had been advised by her dentist that she should have a crown fitted (not a cheap procedure). She was unsure about this and spoke to her alternative practitioner and healer. Both said the tooth was causing a lot of damage throughout the body that would only spread (the tooth was already dead). She listened to her inner voice and had the tooth removed. Immediately, she started to get better.

If we only spent more time listening to what’s inside, we would be able to make much better informed decisions that were really in line with our best interests. Being aware of our inner voice and trusting it will ultimately make us more confident about the steps we are taking in life. After my shoe adventure, I said to myself: I will never make that mistake again and, to ensure that I do so, I created a list of affirmations to bring to mind before going shopping or making any purchasing decisions.
• I only experienced good service
• I only buy the right products for me
• I listen to my inner voice, it always give me the right guidance
• It is ok to say no

Phil Loxton is a trainer, consultant and writer and also blogs at http://loxtonenglish.wordpress.com/

Going the extra mile – even on foot!!!

I recently experienced a fine example of effective customer service whilst shopping for a present (a cosmetic product).

I couldn’t find the item I wanted on the shelf and the sales assistant offered to phone another branch (about 10 minutes away) to see if they had the product in stock. As I would be heading in that direction later I told her to go ahead and phone her colleagues. She returned, saying it was available and that if I would like to wait and enjoy a soft drink at the counter, she would get it for me. This lady (high heels and all) then disappeared off into the city to fetch my product and I was served some nice, cold juice!

After what seemed like only five minutes she returned (slightly out of breath!) and told me proudly that she had a deal with her counterpart in the other branch; they would always set off walking and meet halfway to exchange products needed by a particular customer, then head back to their respective shops, completing a kind of ‘Olympic relay’ handover.

This really sealed the deal for me. Though a competing chain of shops is actually cheaper I will now always return to this particular store in future. This store really does “go the extra mile” (or yards!) for its customers.

Good customer service is really quite simple, isn’t it? If we are grateful for every customer and go that extra mile by finding a way to serve them that makes them feel special, they will return to us again and again. Sometimes, they don’t come back instantly – in my industry for example it can sometimes take a year or too – but in that time a happy and satisfied customer will tell others. Valuable referrals will come.

What’s your tip for providing good customer service? Or have you experienced particularly good service recently? I would love to read your comments.

Til the next time, Louise

S.A.L.E.S. – what it should really stand for

If you want to sell in an effective and sustainable way, here are my golden rules – the sales acronym:

S – is for Service and Support.

We sell because we want to be of service. This should be our motivation and our starting point for our sales pitch, not making a fast buck. Don’t be money-driven. When you offer a product to a prospective client be aware how this product or service can serve them. How it can support them to be better or have a better experience themselves. Establish a supportive relationship with your client before, during and after sales and you will reap the rewards.

A – is for Allowing.

As salespeople we should allow the client to speak. We shouldn’t interrupt. We should allow him to tell us it’s not a good time to call right now, or we should call back in a month or two. Don’t become desperate and force him. Allow him his space. There is nothing worse than a pushy salesperson. Allow the client his doubts. If he likes you, he will then allow himself to be convinced! It’s a gentle process. Sometimes it takes months. Don’t be impatient. Allow things to develop.

L – is for Listening.

This is an art. We should all practise listening without working on our response. Give the person opposite you your full attention and stop feeling uncomfortable when there’s a resulting break in the conversation. By all means, make notes when the customer is speaking. But write down what he said, not what your next move is going to be. In my opinion we’re often focused too much on ourselves. Real rapport-building occurs when you listen to each other. Like my old acting teacher used to say: The lines in your script are just a guideline, the people who get the little golden statues get them for listening, empathizing with and reacting to their opposite number as spontaneously and authentically as possible – not for reciting from a script set in stone.

E – is for energy and enthusiasm

Energy is infectious. By energy I don’t mean pushiness, shows of desperation, steam-rollering or emotionally-charged behavior. I mean a genuine passion for what you do and displaying an interest in what you can do for the customer and what makes him tick.

S – is for solutions

Don’t think in terms of problems, think in solutions. If the customer wants your product but needs a flexible solution in terms of delivery times or volume, for example, enter the negotiation phase and work with the customer to get the conditions you both want. Get the customer to voice his problems and offer solutions. If it’s cost-related, tell him that you understand his concerns, but why your product and your service justify the extra cost.

P.S. I was recently steam-rollered by an insurance saleslady who didn’t do any of the above and so as a result I am cancelling my policy with her company – but at least she inspired this article and for that I say “thank you.” !

Over to you: How do you find the selling process? What’s your approach? Does it differ from product to product or from customer to customer? I would love to hear from you!

Have a great week,

Louise