No time-wasters?

Blog pix 21 March 11 001I do not like having my time wasted. However time-wasters are hard to avoid when they telephone to try to elicit free information or professional advice, even though they should know that free advice is not worth the paper it is written on, as Sam Goldwyn might have said, but didn’t.

I well understand the sentiment of wishing to avoid such people who just want to use us, but quite often I see small ads selling an item or a product, with that “No time-wasters” prominent in the entry.

It just gives a bad impression of a grumpy person or business owner. The average would-be purchaser would want to avoid dealing with an angry seller, and time-wasters would be too thick-skinned to care and would turn up anyway.

If you are selling a product or a service and are writing any sort of copy, you want it to be attractive and to sound inviting, and more genuine than someone else’s offering in the same market. That is why you need to explain what your offering will do to make the buyer feel better.

Comfort is what most people want. They do not wish to be scared away by someone’s list of qualifications which most of us have, because they think such a list sounds pompous and expensive. They do not wish to read about a business’s prestigious premises on the High Street because that sounds expensive as well.

Customers want to feel welcome and hope to get that nice warm feeling inside, and we all need to remember that when presenting ourselves and our businesses. Don’t you agree?

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Can you believe your prospects?

Do our prospects always tell the truth? Some think not and they may be right. As I offer professional services I need a new client to be as committed to our relationship as I would be.

Over the years I have been in practice I have had apparently successful meetings with people who assured me they would be delighted to have me act for them, only to find that I never hear from them again. Should I keep following up and leaving messages? I am inclined to think I should not, because if they are avoiding me they do not wish to commit to me and I need to be paid at some point if I do the work.

So why do some positively encourage us to spend a long time with them with the prospect, in our mind at least, of a happy business relationship? There are two possible explanations. One is that they are not as comfortable with us as we are with them. The other is that they think they can pump more information out of us without having to pay for it. The truth from my side is that often we can fall into the trap of giving useful information which proves to be free in simply selling our services.

For example, if my prospect says that he is unhappy with the tactics used by his current professional in a tax investigation, if I honestly agree that the incumbent adviser is on the right track I will say so. However, if I suggest that I would take a different line, I might hope that I would get the business, but the prospect might simply suggest that his current practitioner change tack in the way I had suggested.

In another instance I came across, the prospect signed up and got past my usually reliable intuition when it comes to spotting hidden agendas. Our relationship did not last long because he would not share vital information with me, and I can only suppose he had some ulterior motive for consulting me in the first place; perhaps a family dispute.

If we keep honesty on our side in terms of what we can do for prospective clients, we will sign up most of them, assuming we are comfortable with them. We must not let such knock-backs from people who are using us get us down. On the contrary, we should be happy we can rise above them. Do you rise enough?


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Just trying to keep my customers satisfied

Jetty & lifeboat ramp, St. Catherine's Bay, Jersey

Jetty & lifeboat ramp, St. Catherine’s Bay, Jersey

Paul Simon wrote a song with the title of this post. You and I know that if our customers are not satisfied they will take their business elsewhere, so it is important that we keep them happy.

Do our employees, and all those who work for us follow that ethos? One bad experience of a rude and unpleasant worker can send away future buyers of our products and services, and they will never return.

Recently my wife and I were accompanying my elderly parents on a short flight from our local airport to Jersey, which up to now I had thought was excellent. My father is ninety-one, and a sharp cookie, still very on the ball and knowledgeable, but he is not able to walk far without assistance, and he is rather deaf. While going through security on our outbound flight, my Dad rang the bell, which turned out to be because he had some keys in his back pocket. That is an easy mistake to make. I once turned up at an airport with a pair of kitchen scissors in my pocket I had used to open a bag of cat litter for our cat sitter on the way out of the door.

Anyway, I had passed security by the time my Dad rang the bell, and I could see he was left standing and rather confused, because he could not heat what the male security person had said to him. Dad looked very uncomfortable because his walking stick had been taken from him to be X-rayed. After a minute I could see he was unsteady and frankly bewildered and lost, so I walked back to him and asked if he was OK, and whether I could help.

At this point the security person drew himself up to his full height and puffed himself up, and barked to me in his best nightclub-bouncer-bully mode “Move away”, and when I said that Dad needed help, “Move away now”. I did because I feared we would have a major incident, but I was very worried about my Dad. After a couple more minutes he was cleared to join us.

I appreciate that security people have a job to do, but even the most dyed-in-the-wool “jobs-worth”should treat people correctly according to the circumstances and in this case:

  • Treat an elderly man with respect.
  • Take account of evident frailties.
  • Treat his well-meaning son with respect (and indeed any customer with good intentions).

An out-of-control employee can potentially drive away a large number of customers; both those who are witnesses to any incident and those who hear about it later.

I have written to Southend Airport to suggest they consider sending their employee for some suitable training.

Of course security personnel have to deal with all sorts of bad attitudes, and must adapt their behaviour accordingly. There is no excuse for treating without sympathy, compassion and understanding elderly people who have served and fought for their country

Have you seen a more effective way of damaging your market than this?


I have received a response to my complaint, the gist of which is that they apologise for having upset my family and me. There is no indication that they acknowledge that mistakes were made or that they will address their problem. It is not a response that helps customer relations as far as I am concerned.

Have you received unsatisfactory feedback when complaining to a service supplier? What did you do?

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Standing out from the crowd in your business

Boring shopping

I was walking through the main shopping area of our county town the other day and I could not help thinking it looked just like the main drag of every other large town I have been to recently. Even if I did not know them, it would be possible to guess which stores lined the street because they are all parts of large chains and multi-nationals. That goes for both the retailers and the coffee shops.

There are of course certain chains we might rely on for particular products such as our underwear, but the reality is that there is no variety of choice. Without real diversity in the product or service there is far less attraction to the customer looking for specific features.


Selling the same old…

It is the same with professional firms such as accountants or solicitors. I would always go with a recommendation because how else does one distinguish between them when they all appear to be the same? How do we know in what areas of expertise they particularly excel?

If we go to many accountants’ websites they say things like “we specialise in audits, accounts production, self assessment tax return processing, and management accounts and cash flow management.”

Well, firstly, they do not specialise in the services offered since they offer many. They may have specialists in each area of course. Secondly, talking about “processing” does not sound like much of a personal or individual service, does it?

Nowhere do many say what they do for the client, and how much better the customer will feel having the weight taken off their shoulders.

Your brand is the difference

The accountants do not appear to have a distinguishable brand. We do not know what they stand for. The big stores have some sort of brand, but few large companies have a personal brand. There are exceptions. Richard Branson is the face of Virgin. Anita Roddick gave her personal brand to Body Shop through her own ethics and campaigning.

You can do that too, by creating an individual brand around yourself, with a reputation for the very best and most different service to others in the market. If you have a unique product, sell it. If you make the finest shortbreads which could not be confused with other people’s shortbreads, sell that feature and the satisfaction it will give the purchaser. If your offer is the very best bespoke service anyone could expect, sell that and your personality along with it.

Small businesses do best by being different and when they grow into Virgin they still do best by being different. Try it and see if I am not right. Don’t you agree?

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Keeping your customers’ faith

iStock_000011891859XSmall bored womanWhy do our customers buy from us and go on buying.? It is because they trust us to deliver what we say we will, and we make them feel safe in our hands. Their trust is essential as Seth Godin  explained recently.

The only way we can maintain the trust is by being consistent and reliable, and offer the best service we can, considering and meeting the customers’ needs.

Of course sometimes things do go wrong, and we must try our best to rectify any mistake or mishap. Life is such that sometimes we cannot. I had a client who asked me to send her papers back by courier. The courier lost the documents and they were never seen again. Understandably the client blamed me rather than the courier and since she could not replace the documents, I lost her trust irretrievably. Some things you cannot put right.

The courier company lost my trust. I would never use them again. They were so unhelpful when I asked them to try to find the package. They were difficult to contact, only accepting email and having no telephone number for customer services.

So that is two suppliers who lost someone’s trust for ever. I feel I did not deserve it, but, hey, life goes on.

I work hard to make sure my business delivers what we are good at. I keep an eye on my suppliers’ performance. I want to trust them as I need to be trusted. Trust is the foundation of all our businesses, isn’t it?

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The magic of being different

Don't be the same!

Don’t be the same!

The way to get noticed in business is to be different. Of course you may offer the same service as many other businesses, or at least the same type of service. It is the way you present it and market it that will make your business stand out. That probably means presenting yourself, and being the trusted person that your customers will come to first and of course going the extra mile.

You may be able to find a particular niche within your area of business. In terms of tax, I am the property man. Of course I do other things, but real property and all that comes with it are a very strong theme in bringing clients to my door

However, none of us can rest on our laurels. I may provide property tax magic, but even magicians need to keep changing their presentation because people keep copying and stealing their acts. In marketing terms we have to keep reinventing ourselves even while staying in our niche.

Have you changed your act recently?

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My thanks to Zig Ziglar

Zig Ziglar speaks at the Get Motivated Seminar...

Zig Ziglar speaks at the Get Motivated Seminar at the Cow Palace in Daly City, California. © BrokenSphere / Wikimedia Commons

Zig Ziglar died this week. He was described in a report in his local Dallas newspaper as a motivational speaker. Yes, he was that, but to most of us who have read his books he was the guy who taught us how to sell in a nice way.

Seth Godin  as always puts his message over succinctly and well. Of course I never met Zig and cannot remember how I stumbled upon him, but I keep a copy of his “Selling 101” (not an affiliate link) on my bedside table (or night stand to North Americans).

When I left employment, or it left me, I had little idea of sales technique. The every expression sounds clinical. I had been expected in my employment to sell money-saving schemes to potential clients. I had a strike rate of one-in-three or one-in-four, which wasn’t bad, but let us remember that the prospects had already been warmed by their introducers. I really didn’t know how to deal with objections.

When I became an independent business person I did an intensive sales course which was based on a hard sell to prospects who were found through cold-calling from specialist appointment makers. Many had probably agreed to an appointment to get rid of the caller. They felt no obligation to even be at their premises when we arrived, on at least one occasion I was greeted with two words, the second of which was “off”, and if we did get to have any sort of interview it was going through the motions with little prospect of business being done.

The course I had been on and another I drove a long way to do focused on practically grabbing the prospect by the throat at the end of a very structured interview (from our side) and saying “sign here”. Of course they didn’t, and I wouldn’t have in their position.

I thought I was a hopeless salesman, but then I found Zig and read “I’ll see you at the top”. He with his tales of selling demonstrated how to befriend the prospect, not in a dishonest way, but how to establish a rapport and find out what she or he really wanted. As Zig said, it is about being brief, warm, sincere and friendly. The last three seem obvious now, especially having only later read Dale Carnegie, but the “brief” bit was also important; knowing when to be quiet, but sharing just a little personal information to build the relationship. It all works for me.

No one buys what they don’t want, and I know now that selling can only be done through genuine relationships of mutual respect. I don’t doubt that Zig appreciated “How to Win Friends and Influence People (a volume also beside my bed) but he himself was a giant on the shoulders of giants.

Thank you, Zig.

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Never assume

Happy customers

Once upon a time, my first job was with an international and mainly Far-Eastern bank. I wrote a nice letter of application in my best handwriting and was placed in the “Income Tax Department”. We only dealt with personal tax. Most of the bank customers we looked after had share portfolios, which were a lot more popular then than they are now.

I was taught the basics of dividend listing for tax returns. I remember with one of the early cases I was given I had compiled my dividend list in part from a book called Moody’s Dividends because some of the customer’s dividend vouchers were missing. I was quite proud of my initiative in looking up these dividends, having been shown how by another junior; the one next up the pecking order from me. I had replaced her as the tea-maker.

When I thought I had finished my dividend list I took my work to be checked by one of the more experienced clerks (remember we worked for a bank). I had to sit next to him while he went through my work.

His first question was “Why have you put in the list dividends for which you haven’t got vouchers?”

I said “I assumed they must have been paid” to which he responded “Never assume!”

Of course he was right. The shares might have been sold. Perhaps they were and there was a possible capital gain to declare. I should have asked questions. Of course that was my inexperience showing, but “Never assume” really should be our motto in business and maybe in our personal lives too.

  • Never assume our prospect knows what she wants
  • Never assume our prospect knows what we do and how we can help.
  • When we are working for our client, never assume any fact if there is any possibility we are wrong, for the job can then go wrong.
  • Never assume our client has told us everything. Ask those questions as I should gave done as a teenage junior.
  • Never assume our customer is happy with what we have done. Ask her if she is happy. Ask her if we could have done anything better.
  • Never assume our customer will keep coming back. Stay in touch with him. Make a telephone call if we have not heard from him for a while. Customer relationships are so important.
  • In fact, never assume.

That more experienced clerk who taught me a great lesson has been retired quite a while. I saw him at one of those staff reunions a few months back. Of course he doesn’t remember giving that lesson but I have never forgotten it. Facts are what we know. Everything else needs to be checked to ensure business runs smoothly, we make money, and customers keep coming back.

I try never to assume. Have you ever made an assumption which got you into trouble?

Getting out of our depth in business


Modern version of stitching yourself up

A raging storm

As I write this there has been a furore about certain wealthy or high-earning celebrities who have been involved in tax avoidance schemes in the UK. The furore is because of anger that these rich and successful people are seen to be paying to the Government less than their “fair share” in tax, whatever that is. I am not going to debate the subject here.

As you know, I work in tax. What this row has brought to the surface is that there are a number of promoters of tax schemes, and many of these are just “front-men” or “front-women” if there is such an expression. In other words, whether qualified financial advisers or not, they are first and foremost sales people encouraging people to buy into these schemes.

Gullibility and greed

I have read the websites of some of these people, and I assume they wrote their own copy or at least approved it. What terrifies me is that there are often serious inaccuracies in what they say, either because they are setting out to mislead or (much more likely) that they do not understand how these schemes work and they believe everything they have been told by the direct introducers and the devisers of these schemes.

This means that as business or financial advisers, they do not appreciate that these schemes are risky not only to the clients but to themselves. They are only interested in a fat commission, like the cartoon characters with cash-register eyes.

Compensation culture

Now if the woman or man in the street were sold any sort of financial arrangement which did not work or caused them some financial embarrassment, they would consider looking for compensation. A very wealthy or high earning person would look for a lot of compensation. From whom might they look for that compensation? Why, from the person who first introduced them to the scheme.

Even if the scheme promoters and devisers were to take responsibility ultimately, there would still be the heartache for the “front-person”, the embarrassment and yes, once again, damage to the person’s reputation.

Within the tram-lines

Now, I am very good at what I do. That is because I make sure I understand everything about it. I keep myself up-to-date with my CPD. However, I am not an expert in everything. In fact I am not an expert in many business skills, or even in some aspects of tax, which is why I know when to refer a project to someone else. I try to be a business good connector, but I keep out of the loop.

If we involve ourselves in business matters we don’t understand fully, at the very least we make fools of ourselves. At worst we can get sued for a lot of money, and if we have strayed from our comfort area we may not even be covered by our insurance.

It cannot be worth anyone putting at risk the roof over their heads for a reckless business decision. I wouldn’t do it. Nor should you.

The Marketing Apple


Practical phone

Taking a bite

Some people get really upset about Apple, so much so that when a writer gives his take on why Apple is so successful in marketing their products, commenters immediately take it as a criticism or bashing of competitors and particularly one, which is dear old Microsoft.

Whether we agree with the writer that Apple do operate in a vacuum, there is no doubt that their marketing and image is extremely successful, such that the fashionistas in the tech-consumer world fall over themselves to buy the latest product. It doesn’t matter to these consumers whether they actually need the functions of the latest IPhone. They like to be seen with that latest gadget.

That fashion element drives the price too, so that Apple can make a tidy margin and a bigger profit on turnover than others who sell gadgets.

Practical wireless

I am not one of those consumers. I have an Android phone so that I can check my email and calendar and Facebook if I really want to. I can post to Twitter, but if I am honest I seldom “do” social media with my phone. That is because I have perfectly good computers which are more easily used for that purpose than a phone because I have “fat fingers”. But then I am the guy who when starting out in ham radio did not have the ability to build my own set but declined (and did not have the money) to buy a new “rig” as we call them. I bought an army surplus radio (19 Set) and adapted it for amateur radio use with a little help or at least advice from my friends.

So I admit I am the type who acquires the functionality I need. I “make do and mend”. It is great to take an apparently obsolete PC, load Linux and see it go with speed and more functionality than it ever had when it was new.

I would be that certain sort of client or customer who is practical. I would like to know how everything worked before I bought a product or service. To sell to me you would have to explain in every detail what I was buying and how it would benefit me.

Practical selling

Yet if I were an Apple fanatic I wouldn’t be bothered about the detail. I would be more interested in owning the latest whizzy gadget, being seen with it and showing it to my friends.

When we are prospecting for business or seeing a potential customer, we must remember there is more than one sort of buyer. We must adapt our sales technique to the person, whether it is the “mechanic” like me who needs to understand the fine detail, or the feel-good purchaser that has made Apple such a success.

I don’t buy Apple because their products don’t have a good fit with my business. I don’t knock them either. You have to admire their style as they appeal to their customers’ style. Are you an Apple person?


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