The hard sell and me

Playing hard ball

When I moved from employment to running my own businesses I did a few sales courses. The first one I was obliged to undertake as it went towards getting and accreditation with a membership organization. The technique they employed was the hard sell.

Being wet-behind-the-ears as an independent business person, and also intimidated by being overseen on my first sales appointments by a “mentor”, I thought this was the way to go. The plan was to make the “prospect” or victim feel really in pain and then offer a solution at a price. The “close” involved applying psychological pressure along the lines of “Imagine how disastrous your business future will be if you do not sign” and “This price is for today only. We are only taking on a few clients at this special price so you must sign now”.

Fortunately I was no good at this type of selling. I did not like my “prospects” to squirm because I tended to empathise with them rather than see them as prey. I did not have the stomach for the hard sell.

One could well imagine that if any of my “victims” had caved in, he or she would have regretted the decision all too soon. Had she paid too much? How could he work with someone who had scared the proverbial out of him?

I never made a sale that way, thank goodness. I would have had it on my conscience.

Buy from me!

Buy from me!


Softly, softly

I learned that customers do indeed seek comfort and reassurance. They know when they need help. They answer a familiar ad; one that they have seen many times. They come by referral from a friend or fellow networker. They qualify themselves because they seek a solution, and they want to buy that solution from someone they like.

The failed biter bit

Last week my wife and I agreed to see a “surveyor” about perhaps having solar panels fitted to our roof. We want to help the environment and of course we want to save money from our electricity bills. So we had this person round and he brought his “compliance manager” with him. They spent five minutes in the garden looking at the roof, but none in the house looking at our loft access or current wiring. It turned out that rather than being surveyors they were a two-handed hard sell operation.

These guys were in our house for two and a half hours. They were very pally and friendly. They filled in various forms and made estimated projections of savings. It was only on the last half hour that suddenly the offer was only for “today”, there was a credit agreement with a bank for us to sign, and we had to decide. Despite the fact my wife and I knew exactly what they were doing, there was that psychological pressure and we feel we had been ambushed.

I said I needed time to look at their figures, and I could not agree to sign anything until I could go through them. They tried for several minutes to persuade me I was passing up a great opportunity and they tried to play my wife and me against each other.

A sour taste

When it was obvious that they were not going to get signatures on any agreements, suddenly the palliness had gone and the “manager” said they had to get back. They departed and it was obvious from their demeanour that we were no longer their “friends”. They left no figures or other documentation with us either, which seemed very strange, and I still have no idea whether the offer was good.

I could not sell like that, even if I had the ability. It seems immoral these days that anyone should be selling in this way, particularly in the domestic market where vulnerable people could be exploited. After all, even if it is a great deal on offer, no one should feel obliged to sign up to something they do not understand.

Do you think I am soft and lack ambition to be very rich? I would rather be comfortable in my own skin. What about you?

“You do not have a problem”

Someone called to ask my advice because he was worried about a perceived problem to do with tax. This gave rise to a dilemma all professional services business owners have to deal with now and again. The caller thought he had a problem. I did not think he did.

The dilemma for some is that they could charge a fee for “professional advice” to tell the client that they had absolutely nothing to worry about. The alternative is to say in two sentences why there was not a problem and allay the concerns of the caller. The downside of the second option is that there is no fee.

As usual I took the second option and “earned” no money. Am I stupid or merely ethical? The caller was grateful anyway and said that if again he thought he needed advice he would certainly come to me.

I hope it was good marketing on my part even if I did not earn a bean for the conversation. Was I stupid? What do you think?

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Customer service, reputation and call-out charges

photoxpress_4931100In a professional service business a call-out charge is alien. If I meet a client for the first time just to get to know them, I am not going to charge a fee; that is unless I have to go half way across the country at the risk of being seen as a source of free information. However, generally speaking, the first meeting involves deciding whether we can work together, what we expect of each other, and agreeing a fee for the work or project. Paid work comes later in the relationship, and of course we need to manage that payment.

The situation is not the same as with those who visit our homes to fix things. I am talking about plumbers and electricians and gas fitters. I accept that if you have four or five appointments in a day and you do not know what is involved before you get to a customer’s premises, it is reasonable to say “I have a call-out charge of £50.” Otherwise you could have days of not much paid work if you were unlucky, and generally most customers will pay £50 for peace of mind even if the repair turns out to be trivial.

However, some traders repeat the mantra of the £50 call-out charge when something they are supposed to have fixed or replaced goes wrong within hours, a day or a week. That is when a customer is going to start to feel ripped off. One might have paid for significant work beyond the initial call-out charge. If something goes wrong with the initial work we should expect it to be fixed without a further charge. If there is another problem, of course we should expect to pay for it to be fixed.

Much of my own work involves dealing with Government departments. They are not very efficient. My service and on-line filings can be perfect (well of course they are :)) but the response from HMRC for example can be wrong and need correcting. I include the second bite of the cherry in the fee the client pays; in other words there is no more to pay and it is my loss if it takes me an age to sort matters out. Usually it does not.

Call-out charges need to be thought about carefully. The real issue is partly about business ethics, but mainly how the customer feels after her / his interaction with you. It is about your reputation. Will they be happy, use your services again and recommend you, or will they feel ripped off and tell everyone?

Fee management and charges affect not only our cash flow and current business, but also our future business in terms of repeat work and growth. It needs thinking about, doesn’t it?

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