Dealing with Your Customers’ Time Constraints

If you can't spend quality time in front of the customer, your days as a successful sales person are numbered. - Dave Kahle

By Dave Kahle

My customers don’t have as much time to spend with me as they used to.”  That’s a comment I’m hearing more frequently in my sales seminars.  It’s a growing phenomenon.  Your customers used to be able to spend more time with you.  But lately, it seems as though they are on tighter schedules and are harder to see.  You just can’t spend as much time with them as you’d like, because they’re pressuring you to move on.

This is a real Information Age issue.  You know how confused and pressured you feel these days.  Your customers feel the same way.  As pressures brought on by rapid change, growing competition and the need for every organization to become more streamlined and efficient have hit your customers, many of them have reacted by trying to make everyone more productive.  As a result, your customers have too much to do and not enough time in which to do it, just like you.  Time, more than money, is the precious commodity of the Information Age.

It’s not that your customers don’t like you, (although they may not) nor that they are not interested in your products and services.  It’s just that they have too much to do, and simply don’t have as much time to spend with you as you’d like.

Implications…

This development is truly ominous because the implications strike to the heart of your ability to perform for your company.  Let’s think for a minute about the value you bring your company.  Why do they employ you?  What do they really need you and other sales people to do?  If you were to boil it down to its most fundamental level, you’d probably say that your company needs you to create relationships and spend face-to-face time with your customers.

Here’s another way of looking at it.  Suppose you were to make a list of all the things you do in the course of a week.  Then look at the list, and ask yourself this question, “How many of those things can be done better or cheaper by someone else within my company?”  If you answer honestly, most items on the list can probably be handled more effectively or efficiently by someone else.

But, the one thing that you do that no one else can do as effectively as you is interact with your customers.  It’s the face-to-face, person-to-person interaction with your customer that is the heart of your job, the core of the value you bring your company.

That’s what makes this challenge ominous.  If you can’t spend quality time in front of the customer, your days as a successful sales person are numbered.

Here’s how to attack this challenge…

First, remember to respect your customers’ time constraints.  If you try to overstay your welcome, you’ll only succeed in making him/her more irritated with you.  Do unto him as you would have him do unto you, if you were in his place.  Protect the relationship.

Then, focus on making the time that you do have with him more productive for both of you.  Think of the issue being quality time, not quantity time.  Here are three strategies that will work for you.

1. Focus on the quality of the time you have with your customer.

If you’re not going to have as much time in front of the customer as you’d like, then you must concentrate on making the time that you do have as valuable and productive as possible.  That requires you to spend more time planning and preparing for each sales call.

Gone are the days when you could just “stop in.”  Rather, make sure that you have at least three things prepared for every sales call:

* a specific objective — what do you want to accomplish in this call?

* an outline of how you’re going to accomplish that objective, and

* all the necessary tools you’ll need to do it.

That way, the actual time that you spend with your customers will be more productive.  Your customer will appreciate your organization and your respect of his time, too.

2.  Set an agenda — talk in terms of your customer’s needs.

Begin every sales call with an agenda.  Tell your customer what you want to cover and how you’re going to proceed.  Mention the needs and objectives in which he is interested, and explain how you’re going to address them.  This will relieve him of the worry that you’re going to appropriate his time unnecessarily, and will allow him to focus on you.

For example, at the beginning of your sales call, you could say something like this:

“John I know you’re interested in the cost payback of a possible investment in a new telephone system.  I’d like to share with you some of the numbers that others have used to investigate this kind of purchase.  After we go through these, I’ll address any other questions you may have, and then we’ll talk about the next step in this process.  Does that sound reasonable?”

3.  Always have something of value to discuss.

This a longer-range strategy.  As you consistently hold to this principle, over time you’ll build up a certain expectation in the customer’s mind.  Don’t expect an immediate payback from this strategy, but, nonetheless, stick to it for the long haul.

Think of the time that your customer does spend with you as an investment by the customer.  Put yourself in his shoes, and see the situation from his perspective.  Is he gaining something of value from you in exchange for his investment of time?  You want the answer to that question to be “Yes.”

In order to generate that perception in your customer’s mind, make sure that every time you see him, you have something of value to share or to discuss with him.  That means something in which the customer is interested.  If you have nothing that the customer will think is of value, don’t take his time.  Wait to see him until you do have something.

After a few such calls, your customer will come to respect you and look forward to your calls, knowing that you’re not there just to work some agenda of yours, but rather he’ll come to expect to gain something from your sales calls.

You’ll find it easier to make appointments and get time with your customers when you’ve built in them the expectation that the time spent with you will be well worth the cost of it.

Your Meter’s Always Running

This is a Sales Tip of the Week from guest poster Shulman & Associates.

If you give it away for free, then don't expect to ever get paid for it - ever.

The STORY:

Jim was on a roll.  In the past five months, he had come from the bottom of the sales chart to the top.  Everyone at the office was impressed.  He was determined to stay number one.  With this in mind, he decided that every client was going to receive additional attention at no charge.  Stop in and visit them, see what “no-charge” help was needed and provide it.  Let his clients know that he was available twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

And for the next three months, Jim’s clients thought of him as the best salesperson they had ever known.  One client in particular was flabbergasted when Jim drove two hundred miles to get and then deliver a needed spare part on Saturday afternoon.

Another client even called Jim’s manager to tell her just how impressed she was with Jim’s sudden appearance late one Friday when he sat down and helped them get an order out the door.  “He pitched right in,” she said.

But then a strange thing happened that no one, not even Jim could figure out.  He started slipping down from number one in sales to number two, then to number three and then a sudden free-fall to second from the bottom.

Something’s wrong, thought Jim.  Every client loves me, but I don’t have any more orders.  Don’t they appreciate what I do for them?

The Result:

Jim’s clients love him because they get extra services for free. If, and when, they have a need for more of Jim’s product, they might buy from him. But a curious thing happens when people get something for free; they are less likely to buy in the future. After all, why should they? They get so much for free without asking.

DISCUSSION:

There is nothing wrong with going beyond the call of duty for a customer.  But here’s a question – you take a New York City cab to your destination, get out and tell the driver to wait for an hour while you run inside to a meeting – do you think, assuming he even waits, that he’s going to wait for free or is the meter always running?

Let’s assume for the sake of argument, that this same taxi cab driver doesn’t charge you for waiting and neither of you discussed it.  Every other taxi cab driver you know charges for waiting, and this one doesn’t.

Suppose you get in his cab again two days later.  Aha, you think, the fellow who doesn’t charge for waiting.  So you attend a three-hour meeting, get down to the cab and find out the meter has been running for three hours.  How do you feel?  Like you have been robbed?  Like you’ve been cheated?

Do you have any right to these feelings?

APPROACH:

Customers, if given free services will be trained to expect more and more free services.  Their expectations of what is free will escalate in direct proportion to the amount of free service provided.  And like your experience with the cab driver, if you stop providing these free services the customer will feel robbed and cheated.

Does the customer have any right to feel robbed and cheated?  Probably not, but that still does not make the customer feel better.  So what does the customer do then?  Goes somewhere else.

The best approach to free service is to never give it.  Ever.

THOUGHT:

If you give it away for free, then don’t expect to ever get paid for it – ever.

About the author:

Shulman & Associates is a professional development firm specializing in sales and management training and sales force evaluation. Visit their website to register for a FREE Sales Training Workshop. Learn how to increase sales, improve margins, and accelerate new business development. Breakfast is included in this workshop.

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