Archive for September, 2009

What’s Best About North Carolina

September 30, 2009

In a recent post I shared some of the reason why I felt The Triangle would be the perfect home for Randolph Sterling’s newest branch, and thought I’d give you the opportunity to tell me what you like best about NC!


Where Have You Gone, Customer Service? Our Nation Turns Its Lonely Eyes to You.

September 30, 2009

Paraphrasing a famous Simon and Garfunkel tune aside, I really would like to know where good customer service has gone?

We spend so much time trying to find new and innovative ways to find new customers, from coupons to rewards programs to tweeting on Twitter (which still makes me feel like a fell into a cartoon and somehow am going to have a puddy tat chasing me!) to updating websites to yes, even blogs like this one here, but it seems that we are losing the basic fundamentals that show us it is easier to keep a loyal customer than to find a new one. I had a few occurrences of this a recent week’s trip to our Raleigh, NC office.

I am a frequent flier on American Airlines. Not because they have the best customer service in the world (they are OK; personally what I think is wrong with the airline industry is a story among itself) but because they fly to most of the places I do so I can at least rack up enough frequent flier miles to be able to insure my bag makes it on the same plane I do and I have a shot at an exit row seat. On this particular occasion, my travel agent waited too long to book my trip, so they put me on a United flight instead because they could no longer get me the agreed upon price on American. That was strike one.

Strike two came when I started to deal with the wonderful customer service at United. First, it was the cattle call they call boarding the plane. I was in group 3 so I am somewhat patiently waiting as they start to board the flight. They call for first class passengers first followed by group 1. Half of the people at the gate get up and start storming the doorway to get in. Person after person walking past me with big 4’s and 5’s stamped on their tickets, however the gate agent is just checking in one after the other. What happened to following the rules? Wouldn’t a gate agent following the rules have made this a more efficient boarding process?

Next, I actually get on the flight. Because of the tardiness in which my travel agent booked the flight, I have the very enviable middle seat. No really, if you want a really good workout, sit in the middle seat between two people who think it is their right to own the arm rests. It is especially fun when you use this time to write blog articles, I can assure you. I did notice, however, that while we are all packed like sardines back here, there are several seats open in the exit rows and forward. I’m thinking—great, if they are open, I will just move up there and give these rejects from the old Stallone movie “Over The Top” all the room they need. A gentleman sitting behind me who was in the same situation thought the same thing, so he asked the flight attendant if it was OK to move. Her response? “No sir, you may not move there. Those are economy plus seats and are reserved for our customers who are willing to pay more for comfort.”

Are you kidding me? First of all, way to insult us by implying that we are too cheap to fork over an additional $35 to not have the guy in front of us sitting in our lap, but why wouldn’t you want to move someone into that seat? The door was closed so he wouldn’t have been taking anyone else’s seat and maybe he would have enjoyed the additional legroom and would have asked for economy plus in the future. What would it have hurt?

Sadly, however, that was not the most ridiculous part of my trip. That came as I attempted to rent a car. I am a corporate customer and a Blue Chip member with Thrifty Car Rental, however the last three times I have tried to rent from Thrifty they did not have any cars. A rental car company that has no cars? At the airport no less? That is like going to a beach, walking into a seafood restaurant and them telling you that they don’t have any seafood left. Each time this happened I tried to talk to someone in customer service and each time I was simply told there was nothing they could do to help me. Too bad buddy, you are out of luck, we just don’t have cars. I guess you had better walk.

My Raleigh office is not too far from the airport, nor is the Chicago office too far from O’Hare, but not exactly walking distance. Maybe I should take up running. If I get really good, I can run from Chicago to Raleigh and won’t have to deal with the airlines or the car rental guys again.

Please feel free to share your own travel  nightmares below or take our poll on the worst parts of traveling.

Randolph Sterling Inc. Expands to North Carolina!

September 27, 2009

In my previous post I mentioned Randolph Sterling’s expansion to North Carolina . Now, some people might ask “Why NC?” Well, there are several reasons. First, I’m an east coast guy. I was born and raised in New Jersey. Next, as I mentioned in my previous post, we found we were receiving an increasing number of business inquiries from the east coast, and it made sense to open a branch there.

And, in no particular order, I like to be outdoors, I feel better when I am out in the fresh air, I am the poster boy for the winter blues, and I just don’t enjoy leaving for and returning from work in the dark, thus missing an entire day of sunlight. After years of walking from Union Station to Clark and Washington in 5 degree weather on winter days with the wind blowing off the lake and up the street, I felt I was ready for some warm weather.  

If you’ve never visited the Raleigh/Durham area, I urge you to do so and then you will understand why we picked it as the location for the newest Randolph Sterling, Inc. office. It is a growing area filled with a great mix of those born and raised there along with those who relocated, generally from a warmer climate. They both do a wonderful job of balancing each other out, which makes for a great place to live, work, and for me, one day raise a family.

You also have some of the greatest minds coming out of this area, known as The Triangle . It is bordered by the University of North Carolina, NC State University, and Duke University, forming a triangle of great businesses and great people.

So what about my adopted home of Chicago, which has served us so well over the years? We have certainly not forgotten you. While I continue to make my weekly trek from Chicago to Raleigh and back, Randolph Sterling World Headquarters still remains in Mt. Prospect and Lisa Pickens supervises the inside sales teams in Raleigh and the Chicagoland area from the inside sales center in the northwest suburbs. We are close to hiring another Chicagoland area sales rep and another sales management consultant. Things are definitely hopping.

We thank all of you who have helped and continue to make our growth possible, both in Chicago, Raleigh and in all of the places where we have clients but don’t necessarily have a local office. We have been lucky enough to be able to grow in a difficult economic time and look forward to even greater horizons while never forgetting where we came from. The core of our business is, was, and always will be to help growth companies continue to grow the right way and to develop the best salespeople possible.

Randolph Sterling Inc: Sometimes Growth Can Be a Great Thing!

September 26, 2009

Since starting Randolph Sterling, Inc. back in 2002, it has always been my goal to grow the business beyond our home base in the Chicagoland area. Back then, with no experience running a business–unless you count the lemonade stand I had when I was 7 (not the best business plan since I lived on a relatively quiet street) or the landscaping business I started one summer when I was 18—I had no idea how we were going to do it. Franchising sounded like a good way to grow.  It worked for Ray Kroc with his little hamburger venture, so why not for a sales management and inside sales company?

The problem was I didn’t know how to start a franchise. At that point, I wasn’t even sure I knew what we brought to the table for clients, so how could I duplicate it like a Big Mac and McDonald’s fries? I decided it wasn’t the time for franchising, however, keeping it in the back of my head has certainly helped me to continue to help the company grow.

When I started Randolph Sterling, we were a sales management firm. This is only part of what we do today. I had enjoyed my work as a sales manager prior to that, but realized there was an opportunity for me to help several companies, not just one. I figured that for companies who did not have a sales manager on staff, where the sales team was being supervised by the president, I could come in and offer additional sales insight. It would also give me an opportunity to broaden my scope of knowledge and be a better resource to my clients. This has changed over the years since we work mainly with companies who are growing quickly and don’t have the structure in place to handle the growth. But, the same ideas remain from those early days.

The part I hadn’t realized was that as only one person, your time is limited. When you figure in your hourly rate, then multiply it by 40 hours in a week, then by the 50 weeks a year you would work, the numbers looked good even if you did take two weeks vacation. Just one problem: there is no way you can provide this service for 40 hours a week, or at least not while billing clients, collecting payments, running the business in general, looking for more clients…you get the picture.

As I have mentioned in previous posts, we also are constantly looking for ways to expand the services we can provide to our clients. It would have been very difficult to do that while building a franchise. It would have blocked the creativity we implement within the business that allows us to continually adjust what we bring to the table to help our clients. I doubt we would be providing some of the other services we provide today if we had been building a franchise from the beginning.   

We decided it was best to grow the same way you make good barbecue…low and slow. We wanted to be smart and meticulous in our growth so that the company always maintained the same ideals it was founded on: providing our clients with the best that the sales profession has to offer in everything that we do. Plus, we realized that we could serve clients coast to coast from our Chicago office.

However, as time went by and we continued to grow, we were receiving an increasing number of inquiries from Charlotte, Atlanta, Raleigh, Washington DC, Philly, and New York. I found myself constantly on planes visiting these clients and prospects and it was getting quite costly. Finding an office in one of these locations would certainly help reduce those expenses. And, when it was time to pick a location, NC was where I wanted us to be.

Closing the Deal on the Go: Referrals are Gems

September 22, 2009

Referrals are gems. In prospecting they are crown jewels. However, many sales people are reluctant to ask for them. Why? They fear rejection and do not want to appear in need of help. But the truth is most people like to be asked for help and will likely be flattered by the request. In fact many people ranging from Benjamin Franklin to today’s social psychologists have found that a good way to make another person find you more likable is to ask for a favor.

So, try asking your customers for referrals, especially right after you close a deal. Not only will this lead to more potential clients, but it will help strengthen the relationship you have with the client that gives you the referral (research shows that this causes your clients to further justify doing business with you on a subconscious level). Also, feel free to ask prospects, friends, relatives, and other referrals for referrals. Be specific when you ask. And, when possible, ask for the referral face to face. The eye contact will help you batting average go up.

Then, when you get the referral, ask for more than just a name. Try to get the person making the referral to make a call. If they say no, see if they will write you a note. A line on the back of a business card will suffice. And, if all they will provide is a name, see if they will allow you to mention their name, because without that, the potential of the referral goes down.

After you receive the referral, be sure thank the person who provides it, inform them of how it went, and ask for another.

So, do you ask for referrals? Take our poll, or leave a comment.

Do you ask for Referrals?

This post is based on material originally published in Closing the Deal.

For more information on Closing the Deal, check it out on Amazon.

(Burghgraef, Richard. Closing the Deal: Hot Sales Strategies that Make Money. Encouragement Press. Illinois: Chicago. 2007)

I Love Sales Training…But Not Another 12 Step Program!!!

September 20, 2009

Living my life in the world of sales, I have been exposed to my share of sales training, so when I started Randolph Sterling, Inc. I wanted to make sure we always had a way where we could help salespeople become better leaders in their field and, overall, hopefully leave the profession stronger than when we entered it. As we began as only a sales management company (before expanding into inside and outside sales and sales peer advisory) many companies asked about our sales training and how many steps our program had.

How many steps? I don’t know, how large is your office from one side to the other? How much walking does the average rep do in their territory?

I was completely confused by this question because I never looked at sales training as a 12 step program. I have heard of 12 step programs, but my understanding (with all due respect to those who have worked so hard to enter and stay on their personal programs) was that they are more for trying to stop doing something rather than learning how to be more effective at doing something.

Sales training, in my humble opinion, is not something that is completed in a set number of steps, but an ongoing process of individual improvement within a team concept. (Note: for those of you new to my blog, this is the time where I remind you how often I compare sales to baseball, so here is the next comparison.)

I look at what we do less as training and more like coaching. Think of a baseball coach. How long do you think the hitting coach would be employed if he said, “OK, day one of spring training all of you are only going to hit the ball to the second baseman. I will spend “X” amount of time with all of you in a group and tell you exactly how to hit to the second baseman so by the end of that time, you should all be able to do it. Tomorrow, we will be trained in hitting home runs. I don’t care if you are 6’5”, 240 lbs or 5’6” and 140 lbs, I will teach you the technique so you can all break Barry Bonds’ home run record.”

Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? It is easy to picture a baseball team and realize that you would not train each individual player exactly the same because you can tell just by looking at them that they have different strengths and weaknesses. However, in reviewing many of the sales training programs out on the market, there is an abundance of “one size fits all” programs. Why? Simply put, they are easier to sell. The person who signs off on this training wants to know exactly what they are getting.

When they look at:

  • Week 1—cold calling
  • Week 2—planning for the appointment
  • Week 3—overcoming objections
  • Week 4 and beyond…special topics,

they see that each week, their reps will be learning something. It doesn’t matter if some are already pretty proficient in that particular area or if others need more time on a particular concept, each week they are learning something. By comparison, our inside sales service (which includes a component of training and coaching) takes a different approach to the concept of sales training which was adapted from many different influences but mostly from reading about how the single most successful team in professional sports, the New York Yankees, “train” their players.

When a new player joins the Yankees via trade, free agency, or is drafted into their minor leagues, that person is given about 200 at bats, or roughly 1/3 of a season, to do things “their way.” It is only after this time that the coaches will make any significant changes to the approach that the player takes. The reason for this is so that the player, who conceivably has some decent skills or they wouldn’t be in the organization in the first place, can find their own comfort level and show what they do well and what they may need help on over a decent evaluation period. This also gives the coaches time to better understand the player, his strengths and weaknesses, so they can tailor the coaching they give to get the most out of this person. Yes, there are certain absolutes that come into play once you become a Yankee, much like the certain absolutes that will be in the employee manual of any growing company, but to get the best out of a player, they have found it is best to teach them what they need to be taught rather than what they want to teach them.

Our sales approach is quite similar. We first evaluate the company and hope that they are evaluating us. Are we a good fit for them? Are they the type of company that we will best work with? Then we will do exactly what the Yankees do…watch and learn so we can find the personalities, strengths and weaknesses of the individual reps within their sales system. Once we have understood that, we will tailor our approach to fit the individual and work with them so their time is spent on the areas they need to work on, not in a class going over information that they do not find valuable or buy into.

I hope that this doesn’t sound like I am anti-training. I am not. There are some great training programs out there that fit certain industries and teams. I recommend quite a few of them. But, overall I feel an individual approach is quite more valuable.

Closing the Deal on the Go: Where to Find New Leads

September 17, 2009

Here’s a quick list of potential sources for finding new leads:

  1. Current Clients or Customers
  2. Non-Competing Sales People
  3. Newspaper Business Sections
  4. Industrial Directories
  5. Yellow Pages
  6. Employment Ads
  7. Company Generated Leads
  8. Friends, Relatives, and Social Acquaintances
  9. Land Developments and other Physical Indicators
  10. City and County Public Records
  11. Receptionists and Other Employees
  12. Lead Clubs
  13. Retailers and Other Merchants
  14. Trade Shows and Expositions
  15. Online Databases

So, what do you think? Which of these works best for you? Did we leave any out?

This post is based on material originally published in Closing the Deal.

For more information on Closing the Deal, check it out on Amazon.

(Burghgraef, Richard. Closing the Deal: Hot Sales Strategies that Make Money. Encouragement Press. Illinois: Chicago. 2007)

Closing New Business in a Recession

September 14, 2009

The other day I let you in on my response to a discussion question on LinkedIn: How has the recession changed the way you look for and close new business? What I posted yesterday was part one of my answer to this two part question. As promised, here is part two, dealing with closing new business. And, when you are finished reading, please tell us what think. Tell us your response to the question.

Part 2- Closing New Business

As for closing new business, my experiences have somewhat remained the same. The current economic climate has actually helped us close new business with the type of clients we like to work with.

If you go for the close at the right time, your chances of landing the business increase dramatically. When is the right time, you may ask? Well, there are many sales books which will provide a theory, including mine, Closing the Deal; Hot Sales Strategies That Make Money. While I always appreciate adding another person to the growing list of people who are the answers to the question I posed when asked to write the book, “who would ever buy a book authored by me?” I will give you my Cliff’s Notes version of knowing when is the right time to close a sale.

While some sales take years to close and others take minutes, every deal is closed when you have been able to find out the following:

Do you know who the decision maker is for what you are trying to sell, and any people who influence his decision?

Do you have a good understanding of the client’s need and does he/she/they have a good understanding of your solution and how it will help them?

Do you have a good understanding of the budget process? Do they have the money to implement your solution?

And last but certainly not least…do you know when they are able/willing to implement your solution?

Many people think that most deals are won and lost over price. However it is my contention that very few are lost over price. I see more deals lost because the decision maker does not feel a level of comfort in the fact that the salesperson can do what they say they are going to do (often because they tried to close too soon) and a remarkable amount because they simply did not realize the process needed to implement the solution and because it was taking longer than expected, they simply gave up and moved on to another deal, leaving money on the table.

Think of it this way. I have a client who sells rather large manufacturing equipment and another that is a mid sized accounting firm. The clients for the manufacturing equipment company will plan out projects 12-18 months in advance, allocating funds to equipment, manpower, etc. Do they want to spend $300,000 for a piece of equipment today, only to have it sit idle for 17 more months? Of course not! They still need the product, but will wait until they are closer to purchase the equipment, allowing that $300,000 to gain interest in their account rather than risk a piece of equipment losing value on their shop floor (or heaven forbid, have a change in work scope during planning that would render that piece of equipment obsolete.) Speaking of interest, unfortunately many sales reps will lose interest during that time and when it is time to buy, maybe the prospect calls him and maybe some other company happens to call at the right time and get the business.

As for the accounting firm, it is even simpler. One of the services this firm provides is audits for proprietary schools (trade schools.) Many times, they will meet a school at a trade show and they have just had their audit completed. While they are not 100% happy or another reason comes up that they have decided to find a new firm, it may be another full year until my client does work for them. Again, if they do not stay in touch, they will risk losing a perfectly good opportunity, not to another firm but to impatience.

Finding New Business in a Recession

September 13, 2009

How has the recession changed the way you look for and close new business? The question came up in a group I belong to on LinkedIn and I thought I would share my responses with all of you. The first deals with finding new business. The second, which I will post here tomorrow, deals with closing new business. And, when you are done reading one or both posts, please tell us what you think. How do you answer the question?

Part 1, Finding New Business

I am actually finding that the current economic climate has helped us at Randolph Sterling to find more of the clients we like to work with. As an outsourced inside, outside sales and sales management group, our ideal client is a growth oriented firm. Before the downturn, we would find a lot of companies who really didn’t have “their act together” and were looking for us to come in and perform miracles for their sales. Today, we find more companies who realize one or more of these issues:

  1. They have grown quickly and “threw money at the sales problems” by hiring more people but not necessarily developing any process to the sales function
  2. Their sales team is spending the majority of their time keeping current clients happy, trying to either keep or grow them while neglecting new business development
  3. The sales team has generally been reporting to a manager or even the company president who is not a sales manager (Usually a problem in manufacturing)
  4. They have grown to a point where they are considering making one of their top salespeople the sales manager
  5. The reps do not have an open dialog with the company or sales management and/or the company has no plan for the increased development of their sales team.

In addition to finding clients who have a better definition of their needs, we have also found that they better understand that the best way to bring in new business is to define their ideal client and focus energies–both in marketing and in sales–in finding them. This sounds easy enough but how many people REALLY understand the traits of their ideal client? For a firm like us, who works with companies in manufacturing and service from used equipment to accounting, we define our ideal client less by an SIC code and more by their level of growth and company culture.

Closing the Deal on the Go: Making a Prospecting Notebook

September 11, 2009

Here’s a great tool to help you in prospecting.

Make a prospecting notebook.

Set goals. List them. Ask yourself questions about how much business you need to make or exceed quota.

Make a list of prospects. Note the following information for each prospect:

Source of your lead

  • Name, company, & contact information of the person you need to see
  • Best time to contact your prospect
  • What you have that your prospect needs, wants, uses, or could use
  • Potential value of the account
  • Competition
  • Record of contact and interactions with your prospect
  • Evaluation of your progress with your prospect

This post is based on material originally published in Closing the Deal.

For more information on Closing the Deal, check it out on Amazon.

(Burghgraef, Richard. Closing the Deal: Hot Sales Strategies that Make Money. Encouragement Press. Illinois: Chicago. 2007)