How NOT to respond to a sales inquiry

Bad example for sales response

A few weeks ago I was on the look out for a new serviced residence. In Singapore certain hotels allow attractive long-term (2-3 months) stay packages and I came across this website which indicated they have “negotiated rates” with hotels. However no specifics were given except an email address to contact them, so I wrote in and asked for details indicating my budget and stay commencement date. What I got in reply was appalling (posted above).

Needless to say it was such a useless reply I didn’t bother to contact them further. The reservation agent who replied me clearly didn’t snatch the opportunity to lock me in as their customer. Instead she gave me a stock response, stating in bold letters that she cannot help me further. I took some important lessons out of this and wish to share with all of you.

1: Always remember this about a potential customer – If (s)he wrote to you in the first place that’s because (s)he had considered you as a potential client to do business with. So now your only job is to not scr*w up the opportunity. Does that remind any of you of a scene from the movie Hitch where the namesake character says “remember, she’s already out with you. That means she said yes when she could have said no. That means she made a plan when she could have just blown you off. So that means it’s no longer your job to make her like you. It’s your job not to mess it up.”?

2: Read your customer’s message properly. If (s)he has clearly asked for something, give that…and more. Not less.

3: Never say “I cannot help you”. And for heaven’s sake, do not put that in bold black letters. If you really cannot help, state so politely and advise a possible alternate solution.

4: If you have a company website go check it and see what’s on it. A customer might reach out to you when there is lack of information on your website. If you point the person back to the website, (s)he is going to walk away…for good.

4.5: And for the love of business don’t send back stock messages starting with “Dear Sir/Madam”. If your customer has written an email and signed a name on it, just copy it. A personal message shows you care.

A matter of R.E.S.P.E.C.T

A few weeks ago Singapore woke up to an interesting news online. A primary school kid was seen shouting vulgarities on Facebook. Now you may wonder what’s wrong with that, given that it’s getting pretty common these days. What’s unusual here is that the girl was actually scolding vulgarities at her teacher. That made me wonder… where is this new generation heading to?

Many years ago when we were in school, we were taught “Matha, Pitha, Guru, Daivam” (माता, पिता, गुरु, देवम्) which literally translates as “Mother Father Teacher God”. The meaning of this Sanskrit adage is the greatest truth, and is the order in which one should offer reverence.

Kabir, a mystic Hindi poet in 15th century India, who was probably inspired by this adage, wrote in one of his verses:
Guru Govind dou khade, kaake laagoon paye
Balihari guru aapki, Govind diyo milaye.

Translated:
I face both God and my Guru (Teacher). Whom should I bow to first?
I should first bow to my Guru, as he’s the one who showed me the path to God.

I guess I cannot expect the youngsters of today to uphold such high principles. But the least they could do is respect their parents and their teachers.

9.5 Tips on pricing and price strategies

Lately had quite a few people reach out to me with queries on pricing strategies. Here are 9.5 tips for you if you’re responsible for pricing in your organization. This is not meant to be a comprehensive list, but should give you useful pointers if setting price is part of your day-to-day work.

1. Dropping price is easy. Raising it back up is often near impossible

2. A 2% price increase would, on average, lead to a 15% profit increase for FTSE 100 companies

3. Demand-driven price will always bring bottom line improvement than supply (cost) driven pricing. So create demand

4. If you’re launching a new product, do no employ a Price Penetration strategy without proper research on demand elasticity

5. Wherever possible, bundle services such as after-sales support that enable you to set a higher price and create customer stickiness

6. When setting price take all costs – fixed cost, variable cost, out-of-pocket cost, opportunity cost etc. – into consideration

7. Do not fall prey to the tendency of transferring product cost-downs immediately to price-downs

8. If you’re running a Small Business, consider the ratio of your fixed cost to variable cost, vis-à-vis your competitors when setting price

9. If you are an International operating in emerging economies, keep a close tab on your FX rate to prevent price and profit leakage

9.5. Always do a Break Even Analysis and set volume commitments towards your Account teams (and to your Customers, if necessary)

Five tell-tale signs that your company needs a different pricing strategy

Here are five tell tale signs that it’s high time you changed your price, or consider a different pricing strategy:

  1. Your competitors are charging higher prices for inferior products
  2. Your storefront is plastered with SALE signs
  3. Your cash on hand (at the end of quarter/year) is taking a nose dive
  4. Your sales teams are heavily relying on price cuts to close deals
  5. Your business is attracting disloyal bargain hunters (but, your company’s mission statement never said you will be a discounter)

Unlearning the human nature – a Sales & Marketing conundrum

If you are a salesperson, skip this paragraph and go to the next. If you are a marketer, continue reading. Raise your hand if at least once in your work you came across a sales team complaining to you “Our competition has this new product X, why aren’t we making it?” or “So-and-so brand just launched this new marketing campaign, why aren’t we doing something similar?”. Looks like everyone’s hand is up in the air. Rest of this post is all about this real-life sales vs. marketing conundrum. And by the way, dear salesperson, I know you continued to read this paragraph despite my asking you to skip to the next. It was a test to make you understand the fundamental human nature – the insatiable desire to get what you don’t have, especially when you are told someone else will have it.

We humans evolved with desire. “This is the monstrosity in love, lady,” Troilus tells Cressida in arguably Shakespeare’s most vexing and ambiguous play, “that the will is infinite and the execution confined, that the desire is boundless and the act a slave to limit.” Human desire, in other words, is infinite – we are perpetually unsatisfied even when we get what we want, and we are capable of wanting anything at all. And when we get what we want, we usually start to wish for what the neighbor has.

Good sales people are generally relentless and aggressive in nature. They want to sell the best products and services (who doesn’t?) and that’s when marketers and product managers get thrown the question “why aren’t we making the so-and-so product, when our competitors have it?”. Reasoning about tight budgets and resource constraints and technology challenges and vendor issues won’t work in this context.

In my 15 years of international experience, I’ve come across salespersons who are blatantly ignorant of their company’s products and services – people who cannot even articulate the real differentiators of their own products – but are well versed and thoroughly knowledgeable about their competitor’s products. Why? Because of the fundamental human nature to desire and want what they don’t have. Remember how kids crave for a certain toy, and once dad brings it for them, they play with it for a while, toss it aside and start wishing for their next toy. Very often I see the same tendencies in sales people. Needless to say, this is not good for the organization as a lot of energy and creativity is being wasted on wishing and wanting what they don’t have yet.

When Airbus launched the A380 super jumbo, the Boeing sales force must have rained over their product team asking for a matching response. Instead of wavering from their course, Boeing stuck to their core message of fuel efficiency and eco initiatives, and developed the 787 Dreamliner which has eventually taken to skies earlier this month. At the same time they also worked on a new version of their own jumbo jet, the 747-8, which is slated to fly by year’s end. Industry analysts have obviously shared varying opinions about Boeing’s approach, their production delays etc. But I do see them as a great example in the context of this post, as they stuck to their strategy rather than jump all over the place. Agree, this may not be applicable to your industry as the capital investment profiles, production costs and timelines are very different (prohibitive) for an aircraft manufacturer to change course every now and then. So treat this as an example to drive home my point.

Enough of understanding the problem, you will now be asking “is there a way out of this?” Absolutely yes. But it demands both marketers and sales leaders stepping up and acting as a team. Here are some practical tips that can help your organization get out of this perpetual cycle.

  • Come together as a team and think about selectively unlearning the human nature of desire. Observe the usage of the word “selective”. Be aware that it is desire that drives the sales force to perform and outperform. So don’t spill water over the fire and make them lose their passion to sell and achieve. Instead, brainstorm together on ‘how can we sell what we have, instead of crying out loud for what we don’t have’.
  • Sales leaders could coach their field sales force to channel their resources and energy and emotions to selling “the bird in hand”, instead of fighting in vain for “two in the bush”. They must handle it sensibly and sensitively as some sales people may get de-motivated when they see their manager “take sides with marketing” (this is particularly true in Asian context).
  • Product managers could take the opportunity to clearly articulate the company’s product strategy. Explain in simple one-two-three steps, why they chose to make product A and not product B, unlike competitors.
  • Marketers could build sales force training materials that can be used for educating the team as well as for external client presentations. Re-deploy existing marketing collaterals to reinforce the main messages and themes, so the sales force is well trained on their product benefits and differentiators.
  • Leaders could encourage sales force to go for a solution-sell approach instead. If backed by deep customer understanding, a total solution offer would appeal more to the customer than a stand-alone product, thus eliminating product-to-product comparisons, sanity check of features and technical specs etc.
  • At the same time collectively investigate any possible quick product wins, so long as it doesn’t jeopardize the company’s product strategy or trigger a financial debacle.

Yes, it is human nature to desire… but channel your desire in the right direction and you could be the next sales superstar.

Why a blog?

Am not the first one to say this – we are living in a digital world today, more socially connected than ever before.

Thanks to the world wide web we now have industry experts sharing their experiences, business tips and case studies freely over the net, enriching our collective information (and hopefully, intelligence). I have been using Facebook and Twitter to share some of my shout-outs in the past few months, and I will continue to do so. However this blog will be the one-stop-shop where I collect and jot down all my thoughts.

What you can expect in this space

  • You will read my thoughts and quotes on various topics relevant to business – including leadership, strategy, marketing, people management, technology etc.
  • I will also share some relevant articles and news clippings that I come across during my daily scouring of the net.
  • Last but definitely not the least, you will read my thoughts on one of my most favorite topics – developing one’s self.