How do you get and keep customers? The most important question in business and one that companies spend billions of dollars trying to figure out. I am going to put forth a strategy that works and has worked for centuries: Pay close attention to details.
Selling is Psychological
Customer acquisition is a function of sales and marketing. Selling is a psychological function, convincing a potential prospect that you and your company are the best suited to help them achieve their needs, wants, and desires. Couple of things to note in that statement, I said “YOU” and “HELP THEM ACHIEVE THEIR NEEDS”. They do not care about the features of your equipment, about how big or efficient your company is, or what types of products you sell! Oh, I can hear your objections already, “my customers do care about my equipment, it was the new piece of equipment that got me the account” or “my customers like the fact that my company is small, well organised, and everything is tracked via Excel” or “I got the account because I had XYZ product”.
While all of these objections have gained you business, do not be fooled into thinking that all customers think this way. You were addressing an issue that the customer had a preconceived notion about. YOU inadvertently helped them achieve their needs without realizing it. Even a blind squirrel can find a nut!
Ask Questions – Understand the Answers
Details: What is important to the customer? How do you get the information? How do I apply this to my current customers? Here is the magic statement: Ask lots of questions and fully understand the answers. Get a candid conversation started. Listen: pay attention to minor details. Pay close attention to your contacts personal details particularly if that person controls the account (caution, in any account, you do not really know who is in charge, although someone has a title, that does not mean they are the ultimate decision maker). Take notes, the old Chinese proverb applies “the palest ink is stronger than the strongest memory”. Don’t assume anything.
Open ended questions are best (questions that don’t have a yes or no answer), asked with the goal of finding out their needs. These types of questions get a person talking and explaining their position, their wants and needs. Your job is to match your abilities to their wants and needs. Calling on a new prospect, a good sample vending machine operator question would be, “why are you considering change?”, “what do you like about your current vendor” and “what about your current operator would you change” (don’t ask negative questions what don’t you like about your current operator has negative connotations and you do not know if they are actually changing vendors, nobody likes to be told they have made bad decisions).
Want to make your business “bullet proof”, ask your current customers the same questions! Preface the questions with a statement “In order to provide better service, I have a couple of questions for you, when you chose our company, what factors did you consider before changing. What do you like about our service? What would you change to make our service even better?
Review your notes. Act on the suggestions. In a new prospect situation, tie the customer down with an action plan; don’t blurt out a response without calling for forward motion. If a customer asks “can you put new equipment into our account?” don’t respond with a “Yes, yes we can.”, instead, ask a counter question, “Mr. Customer, I have new equipment, how soon can you contact your current vendor so that I can schedule an install?” My favourite counter to this question is “Why do you want new equipment?” (Financially, new equipment requires massive volume to sustain and most vending accounts do not have the type of volume needed). This brings out a whole series of statements that allow you to tailor your next statement to their needs. Don’t make statements that you cannot deliver upon. Nothing will kill a relationship faster than making promises that you cannot deliver upon. One highly successful strategy is to commit, and then deliver more. An example, you tell a customer that your procedure is to clean your equipment once a month, but you do it once a week. Actions like this do not go unnoticed.
Another detail-oriented strategy is to adopt the philosophy that you will not create extra work for your customers. Let’s face it; no one needs more to do. If your actions create work (problems) for a customer, they will change. Sometimes it is the smallest activity that can get you into trouble.
Examples: leaving trash in their trashcans, excessive talking on cell phones while servicing, foul language, poor attitude (if you don’t want to be there, why are you!): any activity that can cause a person to have to speak to you. We have enough issues in the vending industry with equipment malfunctions, product expiration, product mix, so forth and so on, that we do not need other reasons to be replaced.
The Devil is in the Details
Details, Details, Details, get down to the very basics of your operation and work on the details. In business, success comes to those who make good on the minor details; it’s called the slight edge. No company is that much better than any other company, and it is the slight differences that make the difference. In horse racing, the horse that wins the Kentucky Derby by a nose is only a nose ahead of the other horse in performance, but the dollar difference is huge. Win by a nose!