Friday, January 31, 2014

You Don't Have a Sale Until You Get Paid!

You don't have a sale until you get paid. That should be ingrained on your brain if you own a business, manage a company, or consider yourself a professional sales person.

All master sales people have a definite sales process. Some are formal selling systems for which they attended classes, purchased training tapes, or had the benefit of sales coaches. Others are self-designed. But whether or not you're aware of it, if you are selling, you've got a system.

In order to always get paid for every sale...and here's what really matters...get paid on time, you need to understand that the "getting paid" process in almost every company is completely different from the "closing the sale" process.

While you are in the sales cycle, whether the cycle for your product or service takes a few hours or a few months, you have got to find out the detailed process within that client's company to pay invoices. Here's why. 

In many companies, the accounts payable department routinely holds invoices 90 days before paying them. You need to know that before you agree on the terms of the sale. You've got to make it a condition of the negotiated terms that no matter the company policy, you will be paid within ten days.

If this is the first sale to the company, there is likely to be some sort of vendor approval or vendor set-up process...and it's got to be in place and you need to have your vendor number before you present the invoice.

At some point after you close the sale, you will present the invoice. If you don't know the internal process, you will almost always present the invoice to the person who is your client and approved the purchase of your product or service.

Almost without exception, that is the wrong person to receive your invoice! Here's what you need to do to get paid on time, every sale:
  1. If your customer has an executive assistant or secretary, sometime during the sales cycle go directly to the admin and say the following: "As you know, I've been working closely with your boss and it looks like we're close to a sale. Assuming that happens, what is the most efficient and effective procedure in your company to get my invoice paid promptly"? Then do exactly what the admin tells you to do.
  2. If your client does not have an admin, talk to the manager or chief clerk in the accounts payable department. You may have been dealing with the CFO or controller throughout the sales process. But don't ask them. They are usually too far removed from the daily desktop procedures and work flows to know exactly how it works. (They might know how they designed it to work; but things rarely stay implemented as designed.) Ask A/P exactly the same question you would have asked the admin and do as they tell you.
  3. When it's time to present your invoice, follow the procedure as learned above but add this step. Speak on the telephone to the person who kicks off the process. They may have told you to email the invoice but follow-up with a conversation, "just to be sure my invoice didn't get lost in the spam filter."
  4. Once you know for sure the process has started, you need to hand over the follow-up to someone in your company who is passionate about getting paid. I'm lucky. I started my business career in 1974 as a bill collector for Household Finance. I haven't been shy about asking to be paid since I was 22. If that's not you, and you're squeamish, there's someone in your company who views getting paid on time as an absolute necessity. Find that person. Put them in charge of getting paid on time. 
  5. If you're a 1-person business, but you're still squeamish, go home and tell your spouse that the client who's late with the invoice is holding on to your house payment. Trust'll have a wire transfer that day or a check delivered overnight.
The point I'm trying to make is that there is no process connection at all...absolutely none...between closing a sale and getting paid. You need to learn and control the "getting paid" process for every sale.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Helping Customers Make Decisions

The folks we want to discuss today are the ones who can't seem to make a buying decision. A professional sales person can and should assist these customers in making a decision...but should never put pressure on them to decide a certain way.

Naturally, it's tempting to steer the prospect toward deciding in favor of your product or service. But it'll backfire every time, usually in the form of buyer's remorse. Forget about repeat business then!

To ethically and professionally help a prospect make a decision, simply ask them the following question. "Mr. Prospect,  how do you like to make decisions on products or services such as we are discussing"?

And then stop talking! The dead air may almost kill you; but what's happening is that the prospect is thinking about your question and formulating an answer. If you wait patiently for the answer, the prospect will tell you how he or she plans to decide.

All you need to do from that point is follow the plan and offer to be helpful. For example, suppose the prospect says, "I'll want to circulate your proposal to a few others and get their input before making a decision."

Being helpful, you should then offer to do more than was requested. "Mr. Prospect, if you would give me the names of those folks, I will save you time by making personalized copies for each of them and sending them overnight delivery before I leave the office this afternoon."

Or you could say, "Mr. Prospect, you and I have had several discussions and you've had some very insightful questions. We can reasonably expect those others will also have questions. Why don't we go ahead and schedule a conference call now with you and your group so that I can answer all their questions? Wouldn't you agree they will want some answers before giving you their best advice"?

What you are trying to do is manage the decision making process. You are not trying to force a specific decision, but instead are trying to make progress toward a final decision. And the key to moving forward is to continually offer to be helpful. 

Friday, January 17, 2014

Getting and Keeping Customers

It takes cash to pay salaries and all the other bills that are part of staying in business. Cash comes from customers. They give us their cash because we gave them something of equal or greater value.

Selling is all about explaining the value of our products and services. If we can clearly explain the value, and the customer has enough information to assess the value, we're done selling.

Of course, we still don't have the cash. That's because there are two more steps after we're done selling. The first of the remaining steps belongs to the customer. That step is called deciding. Sometimes customers make prompt decisions. That's especially evident when the decision is to NOT buy your product or service. Sometimes, the customer takes a while to decide. You really can't speed that up. It's a matter of temperament and personality.

Some folks, once thy have all the necessary facts, make prompt decisions. And some people simply never make prompt decisions...but they do follow a consistent decision making process, whether or not they are aware of it.

But there's a third category of folks who can't make decisions. And I think these are the folks you're thinking about when you have negative thoughts about the nature of selling. That's because you think selling is all about convincing this group of folks to buy your product or service. It's true you can apply various techniques to "get" these folks to buy...but here's the can't keep them. There's a delay, but eventually they figure out that you talked them into something and even if they were deliriously happy with the service, they will resent the way you got them to buy it and will never return.

There are some appropriate, moral, and ethical things you can and should do to assist customers with the "deciding" step. But more about that in the next post. And then we'll talk about the final step, which is actually getting paid.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Five Marketing Items For Your Yearly Tune-Up

Unless you exceeded your sales goals last year, you should take 3 minutes to look at a service we're offering this month. It's a sales and marketing annual review. We check five essential areas that can easily get out of alignment if you don't check and calibrate them at least once a year.

Three of the areas are pretty focused on marketing; one is about sales; and the last one covers both subjects. If we find anything that needs adjustment, we give you the tools and training so you can fix it yourself...and keep it on track. And for the items that are working fine, you'll have peace of mind.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Following My Own Advice

Over the past few weeks, we've put together a Sales and Marketing Annual Review for our clients. One of the steps in the Annual is to audit a client's website for content, stale material, and recent updates. I asked one of our folks to use the AirPSG website for training. Boy, was I embarrassed when my staff pointed out to me that I hadn't posted anything new to my blog since 2010!

How could that be?

As it turns out, before they hit me with the bad news, they asked me when was the last time I remembered posting anything. I thought it was early last year…admittedly, still an embarrassment but nothing as bad as finding out it was in 2010.

I know how this happened. While it's true I write a lot of posts for the clients, and have even published some industry articles, I haven't been diligent, rigorous, or structured in keeping Mike's Blog current. My friend Dee Reinhardt at tells me the secret is putting a recurring appointment on my calendar so I get a reminder once a week that it's time to update the blog. "Or," she says, "take it down."

It's now on the calendar. Let's see if I can keep this current in 2014!