SCORE's Top Sales & Customer Service Tips
Bring in more customers--and keep them happy--with these handy sales and customer service tips from SCORE.
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5 Tips for B2B Selling
- Listen well. Let your customers talk so you can learn their needs and determine how your products or services can help them.
- Learn as much as you can about your prospects' industry. You may come up with ideas to help them that they haven't thought of before.
- Make yourself a part of their team. Demonstrate that you're there to help them increase their bottom line.
- Emphasize the benefit of your products or services. Show how you can help customers cut costs, increase profits, or beat the competition.
- Follow up. Keep customers coming back by making sure your products or services work well for them. If not, show concern and fix things cheerfully.
- Teach employees to answer the phone with smiles on their faces. Phone experts say customers will hear the smile in the employees' voices.
- Hire people who love people.
- Require that employees speak clearly and slowly enough to be understood--especially on the phone. Nothing turns off customers more quickly than impatient, sullen, or indifferent employees.
- Make sure employees have a thorough understanding of your products and services so they can answer customer questions.
- Give employees leeway to meet customer needs. Does a vegetarian in your restaurant want a meatless meal? Be sure waiters know they can make substitutions.
- Make sure your employees know that courtesy and friendliness aren't enough. What customers really want is effective, efficient help.
- Introduce your clients to your customer service representatives. Meeting a customer face-to-face instead of just on the phone can motivate employees.
- Thank customers for their referrals. One real estate agent sends a fruit basket to clients who refer other home buyers or sellers to him.
- Encourage employees to go the extra mile. One dry-cleaning employee couldn't find a customer's garment because it was missing the usual identification and price information. To make up for the inconvenience, she let the customer have the order free.
- Don't lose the human touch. If most of your business is done via technology, you have to try even harder to make customers feel valued.
- Referrals always begin with providing your current customers with prompt, reliable, quality service. They'll be happy to spread the word on your behalf--often without you having to ask.
- Ask your current customers if they know of any colleagues who are looking for the kind of service you provide. Follow up with a call or letter to those businesses. Make sure you get your customer's permission to cite them as a referral source.
- If a customer compliments you on your work, ask them to put it in writing for use as a testimonial in your marketing materials. Again, make sure you have their permission to use their name for that purpose.
- Always acknowledge a customer's referral with a thank-you note or phone call. If you send a card, consider including a coupon to popular restaurant or discount on a future purchase.
- Many retail and service businesses lend themselves well to formal referral incentive programs with cash, gifts, or discounts. Make sure these "rewards" fit in your budget, and that you have clear rules and guidelines (e.g., only one referral reward per customer during a defined period).
- Educate your customers. Entrepreneurs whose businesses are ahead of the curve need to help customers understand the value of their products or services.
- Put prospect identification on the front burner. Keep developing sales leads and cultivating the people or organizations most likely to become your customers.
- Make an offer the customer can't refuse. One professional association offered $250 off on next year's annual conference if members signed up and paid now. Only $50 wasn't returnable if the member couldn't actually attend.
- Don't give up. Persistence pays off--as long as it's friendly and helpful and not overbearing.
- Show customers that you're an asset to them. Prove you can improve their businesses or enhance their lives.
- Develop meaningful sales forecasts in terms of basic business units. Predict weekly sales for the first few months and monthly sales for the first year. Consider possible scenarios, such as a 10 percent rise or fall in sales.
- Develop profiles for your products or services, customers and markets.
- Know how customers will buy from you.
- Plan how you'll make your product or service available to them--wholesale, retail, direct or internet.
- Develop a plan or strategy to follow if your sales forecasts completely miss your predictions.
- Define the types of businesses or industries you want to serve, and how your new business can help them. This should be an integral part of your business plan.
- Go where your prospective customers are. Many trade and professional groups are open to vendors such as yourself. This creates opportunities for spreading your name through advertising and face-to-face networking.
- Position yourself as an expert by writing brief articles on issues that affect your prospective customers. Offer them free of charge to newspapers and trade publications. Be sure to follow their editorial guidelines and focus on providing helpful information, not making a sales pitch.
- Offer your services to local community and charitable groups. You get free visibility in return for your pro bono work, and your fellow volunteers may prove to be potential customers.
- Network with other businesses in your industry or specialty. They may need help with backlogs and overflow business, or with specialized services they're unable to offer.
- Determine what you need to know. For example, what do they like or dislike about your product or service? How do they feel about the way your company handles complaints? Are they repeat customers? Why or why not?
- Use one or more survey methods to measure customer satisfaction, such as direct mail, telephone calls, or focus groups (groups of 6-10 people who share their ideas about your product or service).
- Hire an outside market research firm to develop questions and interpret findings, unless you have an experienced person in-house.
- Have employees keep ongoing written records of customer compliments and complaints. Review these at staff meetings.
- Once you know what your customers want, make the adjustments and improvements necessary to keep them coming back.
- Never let the telephone ring more than twice before answering. The last thing a customer wants to do is wait, no matter how routine the call may be. Greet your caller in a warm, professional manner.
- Document everything that happens with the customer's call, including time and date; a description of the question, problem or request; actions taken; and any follow-up contact. Keep the information on file, particularly for your regular customers.
- If you're short of time and the service call isn't urgent, politely explain the situation to the customer and get his/her contact information, including a convenient time when you can call back and discuss the issue at length.
- If you need to use automated answering system, your customer service line should be one of the first options. Limit any subsequent menus for routing calls by specifying to as few selection options as possible.
- Always follow up with customers to make sure the issue was addressed to his/her satisfaction. You may receive some valuable suggestions for improving your service or--even better--a happy customer who will refer your business to others.
- Educate your customers about your products and services. If you own a hobby shop, you can keep customers coming back by helping them develop knowledge of their own hobbies.
- Make sure items are delivered in good condition. Call the customer after delivery and if a piece isn't right, offer to fix it or replace it.
- Offer your customers personal attention, even if they don't buy anything. Engage them in pleasant conversation and find out why they aren't buying. Make use of what you learn.
- Go out of your way to meet customer needs. One interior designer got draperies made for a client in a hurry so they would be ready for an at-home wedding.
- Show appreciation. Make sure employees always thank customers for their business. Consider sending occasional handwritten thank-you notes.
- Make sure sales representatives have adequate training. They should have a thorough understanding of how your products or services can help potential customers.
- Develop an annual sales plan. It should include sales and gross-profit goals and plans for increasing sales to current customers and developing new ones. See that sales reps implement the plan and modify it as necessary.
- Make everyone in your company understand that they're part of the selling team. Courteous treatment of customers, quick responses to telephone calls and e-mails, and pleasant demeanors go a long way toward supporting the sales staff.
- Offer meaningful incentives. One company told salespeople they could go home at 2 p.m. the rest of the month once they hit their monthly goals; the first sales rep to sell more than $50,000 would get the last two days of the month off. Result: broken sales records.
- Encourage salespeople to put a lost sale in perspective. Getting angry yourself only adds to their frustration. Help them concentrate on making the next sale.
- Try direct mail. Buying or renting a good mailing list helps you reach the people most interested in your product.
- Partner with another business and sell each other's products or services. If you're a caterer, for example, join forces with a wedding planner.
- Use your website as a marketing tool. Sell items directly on the site or use the site to educate customers about your product or service.
- Test coupons--in the Yellow Pages, in your local newspaper, or on your website. Or, participate in a cooperative direct mail program like those offered by Val-Pak, Carol Wright, and other advertisers.
- Offer a seminar and use it to sell--such as a cooking class if you make food products, or a meeting on long-term care insurance if you're a financial planner.
- Determine who your customers are, and what their wants or needs are. Know how your product or service satisfies their wants or needs.
- Instill and practice the concept of continuous quality improvement and quality customer service as a way of life in your business.
- Make sure you select the proper medium to carry out your message, and choose the proper location within that medium.
- Direct your message to where your prospects are listening, viewing or reading.
- Create a forum or place of business that's unique is some way. Make customers feel different while they're doing business with you.
Brought to you by SCORE , "Counselors to America's Small Business."
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