By Karen R. Smith
A Day at the EWQA with Adrian Miller
For the first time in its history, the Eastern Water Quality Association offered a pre-conference seminar day for the benefit of its membership. Investigation revealed that help with business prospecting was a desire of many as the marketplace grows more competitive. So they brought in Adrian Miller, who engaged participants in role playing, market analysis, and free-form debate to reshape their thinking about how to increase their customer base by prospecting more successfully.
Re-think your approach
Miller surprised many when she began by stating that the fastest return on investment will come from existing customers. Noting that every company constantly works the top five to ten percent of their business, she challenged them to look at it in reverse: from the bottom end. “Have the bottom 90 percent of your customers been tapped for their true potential? Do they even know all the products and services you offer?”
Participants were challenged to name 15 reasons why a potential customer should do business with them—and not their competition. Mark Williams of EcoWater Systems, York Springs, Penn said, “Customer service and staff.”
While recording that on a wall chart, Miller explained that unless you are an individual retailer offering one truly unique and specific product, that will, in fact, be the top reason customers choose you, pure and simple. She noted that several recent surveys attribute trust and respect for an individual sales person as 87 percent of the buyer’s decision process.
Try the exercise yourself. Can you list 15 reasons for doing business with your company? If not, why not? The EWQA members at this seminar had no trouble coming up with a solid selection. Miller found it interesting that no one mentioned competitive pricing, which is the top answer in most of the groups she speaks with. The dealers, distributors and manufacturers who made up the audience all responded in the same way to her discovery, agreeing that they do not vaunt pricing. “We sell the right product,” said Jon Davis of Commonwealth H2O Blue Ridge (Charlottesville, Va.) to the agreement of all.
If you have a good product, you have to give somebody a reason to go elsewhere. Bad service is that reason, according to Miller. Your customer service reps usually speak to more clients in a week than anyone else on staff. Realize that they have a great deal of impact and power on the business relationships that form between your company and its customers.
Many smaller dealers and distributors many not have a customer service department, per se. However, designating that responsibility to specific individuals and training them accordingly can have a huge positive impact.
Miller noted that in some companies, successful sales people are literally not allowed to maintain their proficiency. Instead, they must spend their time ‘managing’ their existing accounts—becoming glorified order takers. Let your successful sales people continue to prospect and they will continue to grow your business, Miller instructed.
How to’s with prospects
The discussion that ensued here was fascinating. Miller’s knowledge of the ins and outs of the Do Not Call Legislation made that a hot topic. Tacit approval for a call, she explained, can be obtained by getting a party’s signature and telephone number, which makes handing out cards for free water testing an even more valuable practice. Existing customers may be called up to 18 months after their last order—meaning database management is a top priority so as to keep marketing and prospecting efforts within the parameters of the law. Some of the seminar participants were unaware that the legislation only applies to residential calling and does not hamper B2B efforts.
Those who’ve been in the industry for decades—Bill Butler (Wm. Butler & Associates, Perkiomenville, PA) probably the veteran in the room that afternoon—talked about their personal ways of prospecting. Butler still goes to each business directly, in person, because he has found over the years that it works best for him. “ I ask who I can see. Better results that way, and fewer turndowns since I’m already there,” he explained.
Miller gave participants an overview of such practices based on her experiences with clients across the country. It seems in the majority of states, knocking on doors has gone the way of the buggy whip. And many people in a variety of locales do not take calls from unknown numbers (thank Caller I.D. for that).
Having a contact management system can be a valuable tool for efficient prospecting, she explained. Don’t leave it to memory or rely on sticky notes. Even if your company’s client database contains 6,000 names, the goal is to contact each of them at least once a year.
Now you’re talking
Whether you’ve gotten the opportunity to speak with a prospect via telephone or a booth at the local fair, the manner in which you conduct the conversation is critical to your success.
Ideally, the conversation should screen, qualify, probe and close by getting an appointment. Close-ended questions (those that require only a yes or no answer from the prospect) can kill the conversation completely. ‘The reason for your call is?’ may be the most powerful way to chat with a prospect.
The audience worked on identifying adjectives that signal potential benefit to the prospect—‘improve and enhance’, for example—as well as phrases that speak to the quality of the business. “We are a leading water treatment dealer,” is one approach; “We are a local purification specialist,” another.
Miller believes that it is vital to ask if the prospect is talking to anyone else. It tells you how serious they are about solving their water problem and who your competition is for the sale. “Sales people are traditionally uncomfortable with asking this question, but it can be the most important information you receive.”
Wayne White (Clean Water Systems, State College Penn.) noted that you’ll find out the answer without asking that question just by inquiring whether the prospect has had their water tested recently. “It’s the fastest way to determine if they are already shopping around,” he said.
Prospecting existing clients
Carl and Renee Jolley, a father and daughter team based in New Jersey (Aqua-Soft, Inc., of Englishtown) noted the value of annual check-ups for existing customers. The opportunity to cross-sell and up-sell is there and can benefit from a structured outreach.
In reviewing service call records, White found that people were regularly low on salt. “If it’s in the truck, you can fill and charge for it. Customers will pay for the convenience of having that taken care of when your service tech is already there. Now all of our trucks carry salt, and it’s the service people selling those and other upgrades, not our sales people.”
Miller advised that if the service staff is uncomfortable at the idea of selling, they can be given a flyer they can give to customers, which will effectively limit how much they need to talk. The audience agreed that while many had not considered the option before, the service person is in a prime spot to tell the customer about the option to upgrade, or to add additional services and to do the deed right then and there.
There was much more to the day’s presentation and a continuing exchange of information, ideas and insights. At the Board meeting later that evening, the EWQA agreed that the program had been well received and spoke of doing another at next year’s gathering. Make your reservations early!
About the speaker
Adrian Miller is the president and founder of Adrian Miller Direct Marketing, a results-driven sales training and new business development consultancy. She is a frequent speaker at business conferences and a regular contributor to many business publications. She can be reached at Adrian Miller Direct Marketing, 43 Park Avenue, Port Washington NY 11050; telephone 516/767-9288; fax 516 767-0702 or via her website, www.adrianmiller.com