Today's buyers have more leverage and expectations that ever before. They can find any products or information online, making it all the more critical for sales professionals to successfully engage and sell. Devin Reed, content strategy manager at Gong, says that to become and remain successful, sales professionals must communicate in a meaningful way. This means using your words—or sales phrases—better.
In this issue of Promotional Consultant Today, we discuss Reed's thoughts on the six sales phrases to avoid in order to cut through the noise and be memorable to potential buyers.
1. "Just checking in."This is notoriously known as the laziest and worst sales phrase on the planet, says Reed. "Just checking in" is a zero value-add for your prospect, and therefore very easy to ignore. Why are you checking in? This line is so lazy, it doesn't even bother to say why. Your recipient has to spend time and energy opening the email, figuring out whether they're missing something (surely you didn't send an email for no reason, right?), then answer. What you're really trying to say is this: "Are there updates on ___ (that thing you care about)?"
2. "Any questions?" This lazy sales phrase plagues discovery calls and demos across sales floors everywhere. Reed admits he has also used it as a quick out to spark a dialogue. What sellers and (most) buyers want is a conversation that is challenging, insightful or simply interesting. Many sales leaders would call this "meaningful." There's a time and a place to ensure questions are all answered, but "Any questions?" is the laziest of them all. Similar to "Just checking in," you put the responsibility on your prospect to generate a topic of conversation.
3. "List price." Aside from making you sound like a used car salesperson who's reading the sticker price off a used Nissan, when you use the phrase, "list price," you completely negate the validity of your asking price, says Reed. You're subliminally saying, "Here's our starting point. It's your turn to take a hack at it." Worse still, when you say any of these words — list price, typical price or standard price - at any point in a deal, you can expect your sales cycle to extend 19 percent longer than when you don't use these terms.
4. "Pick your brain." This sales phrase is a big loser, according to Reed. Getting your brain picked sounds taxing and, frankly, unenjoyable. It also means the person doing the picking is getting value at the expense of the pickee. The mistake is that salespeople try to preface an "ask" with an unattractive, one-sided dialogue.
5. "Just wanted to." This sales phrase doesn't work on multiple levels. It feels passive. It's casual. And it's selfish by definition. In speech, this phrase often goes unnoticed. We hear it as "simply confirming," which isn't terrible. Via email , however, it has much more of a negative impact. People often read the first few words of an email via mobile notification or very quickly via desktop. Leading with "just wanted to" makes it sound like you're setting up an ask or a task — and no one wants either.
It's important not to get lazy with your sales phrases. By paying attention to the words you use, you can level up your conversations, win your prospects' trust and earn their business.
Compiled by Audrey Sellers
Source: Devin Reed is the content strategy manager at Gong and host of the Gong Labs Live, a weekly show designed to provide tips and insights to sales professionals.
This article was originally published in PCT. Used with permission from PPAI.
When asked to recap an old picture from a SAAC event, I gladly obliged. I was not sure where my box of photos was stashed, but I was sure it was somewhere among my collections of stuff. Once found, it opened a flood of memories. All good ones, which included a photo collection of Robert Collins, the Minkus brothers, Bob Dorr, and Tom Mann, who I had met in 1967 while we worked together at National General Corp.
But the one photo that remained atop my sorted pile was of my three departed friends from the 1992 SAAC show golf tournament. Reg Marsh, Bob Cornell and Vince Tringali were three giants in my world. Reg was a pure craftsman. You would not know it due to his humble demeanor, but he could do things with an engraving machine that put all the current computer engravers to shame. He also was the best golfer in the group. Bob was a dreamer, always searching for nirvana, always the most fun at parties and, by far, the best looking of this group. And Vince, "the Coach," was perhaps the greatest salesman I ever met. His background as a football player and coach gave him the ability to lift me up whenever I felt down.
I miss these three guys, along with Alex Kreever, Cal Wofford, Ron DeChamplain, Gus Gustafson and a bunch of others. And just yesterday I heard about the passing of Richard Anderson, and another SAAC show golf memory came to mind. We were riding together and Rich ordered a hotdog at the turn. When we got out of the cart at the No. 10 tee, we were no more than six feet away when a bird swooped down and grabbed his hotdog. One bite for Rich and the rest went to the bird. Rich may have been the kindest past president in the history of SAAC.
Thirty-nine years in this business has been a pleasure, and introduced me to some fine humans, whose friendships I’ll treasure for a lifetime.
It’s been more than a year since the Trump Administration announced plans to impose tariffs on products imported from China. On July 6, 2018, the tariffs became a reality with $34 billion worth of Chinese goods subject to tariffs. As the year wore on, news on the tariff negotiations continued to make headlines while threats to increase the tariff rate and the list of products subject to tariffs grew. As of June 1, 2019, $250 billion in goods from China are now included in the 25 percent tariff including bags, backpacks and luggage, some drinkware items, technology products and related accessories, hats, notebooks and other stationery items, fabrics and sporting gloves, among other items.
At press time, the threat still lingered of extending the tariffs to virtually all Chinese imports—more than half a trillion dollars—should the two sides not come to a satisfactory agreement. This latest turn in the ongoing trade dispute has roiled markets and raised questions throughout the promotional products industry.
When the threat of adding tariffs on products imported from Mexico was announced in late May, it stunned industry suppliers and distributors who were already dealing with the impact of the Chinese tariffs. Mexico is one of the U.S.’s largest trading partners, surpassing China and Canada in the first three months of 2019. While the majority of imported promotional products come from China, a percentage are imported from other countries, including India, Vietnam and Mexico.
Fortunately, the Mexico tariff was lifted just days before it would have gone into effect, but the China tariffs continue to confound suppliers and distributors who are trying to find their way through it.
In May, the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) announced a proposed List Four of Chinese imports upon which tariffs will be levied on approximately $300 billion in additional products, representing almost all imports from China not already covered under the previous tariff lists.
As this issue went to press, the USTR was due to complete the public hearing and comment period on June 25 on the List Four tariffs and a final decision on the tariffs’ implementation was expected soon.
“PCNA has submitted comments in opposition to the List Four tariffs,” says Larry Whitney, director of global compliance at supplier Polyconcept North America. “While in Washington with L.E.A.D., I brought up the costs related to List Four, and why it’s bad for our business, in every meeting that I had on the Hill. I’ve also had subsequent calls with one of the Pennsylvania senator’s staff members to go into more detail on the potential impact to PCNA.”
Whitney adds, “If List Four goes into effect it will have a horrible impact on our industry. While some of the suppliers have made efforts to diversify out of China, many have not, and there is not sufficient manufacturing capacity out of China to replace the Chinese factories.”
Brett Cutler, vice president of sales at supplier Greater China Industries, says, “Most promotional products come from China and the pending next tariff that taxes essentially everything from China will be more damaging than we have seen thus far. However, an interesting occurrence is taking place around the world and that is the more important element to be aware of. Almost every other manufacturer of goods around the world has had to compete against factories in China and Mexico for market share. They’ve had to reduce profit margin to remain competitive. With a 25-percent tariff on goods from China, everyone else is raising—or saying they are about to raise—their prices, because they can. Especially factories in East Asia—we see prices rising, in part, because they source raw materials from China and these Chinese suppliers have raised rates. But, also because they are competitive now by a significant amount, and they know they can charge us more and still be less than China prices with the tariff.”
Cutler adds, “Combine the tariffs and the response of factories in other countries and all we have done is drive up the cost of goods we use everywhere in our industry and economy. And, we all know that once prices are high, it will take a long time for them to come down to where they were. So, it’s all tied together. While tariffs are good negotiating tactics, they are not a very good long-term solution. Hopefully the shared pain in each country will be enough to move all parties to a solution quickly.”
The tariffs are also requiring additional communications with clients on both sides of the industry to prepare them for possible pricing fluctuations.
Richard Anderson, owner of distributor AAAA Designs LLC in Morrison, Colorado, replied to a post on PPAI's Promo Connect about the verbiage he is using when communicating with clients about the tariffs. “I added this line to my SAGE website: Please confirm pricing with your AAAA Designs representative due to new tariff implementations as of May 10, 2019. Prices shown on our website may not reflect these new changes and are therefore subject to change at any time,” he says, adding that he also included the line to his default presentation template in SAGE, just to be safe.
When communicating with her customers, Janie Holbrook, co-owner of distributor Tee It Up Promotions in Oakton, Virginia, says, “I often send out quotes that do not become firm orders for days, weeks or months while customers wait for internal purchase orders, work with committees, etc. Since last September, I have been adding notifications that read: ‘Pricing subject to change as a result of tariffs on Chinese imports. Pricing will be confirmed when order is finalized.’”
Jo-an Lantz, MAS, CIL, president and CEO of distributor Geiger in Lewiston, Maine, says the company has had to address the ongoing issue of tariffs and pricing uncertainty for quite some time, so it has implemented several measures relating to communicating with clients.
“When sending a client a quote, we state the price is only valid for X days (it depends on the product) due to tariffs. If the client orders after that time period, we double-check to make sure pricing is valid, and if there is an increase we go back and explain,” she says. “There is so much in the media about tariffs, clients truly understand.”
Geiger took a proactive approach beginning last year by providing an explanation of what the tariffs are and preparing clients for what they could mean for prices. “In many cases, we urged clients to order earlier, and some did,” she says. Although Geiger has absorbed some of the tariff increases and has seen a decline in margins on some products, she says that “overall, the suppliers have been terrific in communicating, our sales partners have done a really fine job in communicating and our customers understand.”
“We have been really proactive about this issue with our clients,” says Larry Cohen, CAS, president of distributor Axis Promotions in New York City, adding that the company is including the following clause in all customer quotes: “Due to the impending tariff increases, all pricing must be confirmed at time of order. Pricing is subject to change.” On sales orders, this copy is included: “Please note that on May 10, U.S. Customs Border and Protection implemented the additional 25% tariff. This item is currently NOT subjected to the additional tariff. However, please note that there is a potential for duty rates to increase an additional [X percent] for this item prior to shipping.” In addition, prior to the announcement of the tariff escalation, Axis Promotions emailed a nearly 500-word letter to all clients explaining the tariffs and their impact on pricing, the product categories included and how the new trade regulations, along with spikes in gas and freight costs, are affecting the cost of raw materials. The letter noted that Axis Promotions would keep clients updated and fully aware of the impact on the promotional products industry despite the uncertainty of the situation at present.
“Once you know what the tariffs are going to be, you have some options,” says Cohen. “Everybody is going to adjust. Once you know what’s going to happen, you just adjust. If it costs more money, the impact will be maybe choosing items that aren’t subject to a tariff or trying to find another location to get them from.” One thing he has not heard from customers, fortunately, is that they won’t buy promotional products because of the tariffs. “We’ve not heard that at all,” he says.
For companies that have a certain budget for an event, he believes that if prices increase because of the tariffs, it may affect quantities. That means his team is constantly adjusting to what’s going on. “We have flexibility; there are so many products at so many price points that if the budget was $X [per product], now I can show you one for $X [per product], and move things that way. Other industries don’t have the flexibility that we do. Look at car manufacturers. There’s not a lot of elasticity there,” he says.
Tom Goos, MAS, president of Kirkland, Washington-based distributor Image Source, Inc., describes the current situation as very dynamic. “It’s not black and white—there’s a lot of confusion for my sales team and our clients. What they are hearing is it’s a set percentage increase and that’s not really true. If it’s a component part, on a lanyard for example, the increase may be on the clip but not the strap. It’s impossible for us to say, with all the million different variations of products we sell, exactly what that increase will be for our customers in overall, broad categories.”
Instead, Goos is educating his sales team and, in turn, his customers. He sends out a weekly newsletter, the Weekly Heartbeat, to report on what’s going on with the business, industry and employees, and recently has been including tariff updates in every issue. He’s also looking at factories outside of China. “We moved a program out of a factory in China to one in Cambodia because at least we’ll have consistency in pricing,” Goos says. And the company has begun adding a disclaimer on quotes for large projects that reflects potential changes in pricing because of the tariffs. “But if you are going to add a disclaimer, I don’t think it’s a good idea to hide it under an asterisk,” he says. “For me, it’s much better to have a really good conversation with the customer about it instead.”
Bill Mahre, CAS, president of supplier ADG Promotional Products in White Bear Lake, Minnesota, says he has not added any tariff-related information to the company website, but is making sure everyone knows that published prices—especially in catalogs—may change if the company sees significant impact to its raw material costs. “We do not intend to make changes that amount to a couple of pennies but dramatic cost impacts to certain categories may necessitate a price change in the future,” he says. “Overall, we still believe the tariff issue is essentially an economic tool for the administration to negotiate better trade deals. Never before have we seen this type of strategy, so we are definitely in unchartered waters on how to handle the costing impact on a short-term and long-term basis. Our intent is not to raise and/or lower prices broadly or without specific rationale. For example, just because an X-percent tariff has been announced today doesn’t mean it will impact our product costs immediately. In some cases, we have existing inventory that will keep us status quo from a cost structure for months.”
Mahre adds that his sales and customer service team members are being communicated with on how to answer questions and provide the best information available at the moment. “The difficulty is that things seem to change on a day-by-day basis and we are just one tweet away from a whole new direction,” he adds.
Ira Neaman, CAS, owner of supplier Vantage Apparel in Avenel, New Jersey, recently recorded a video designed to communicate with customers about the tariffs. In it, Neaman speaks directly to the camera letting customers know that the company has a diverse supply chain and is not solely dependent on China to source products, so it won’t be raising prices in the near term. The video also reassures customers of the company’s continued commitment to its current level of quality and service. The video was shared internally to guide associates in answering questions, and externally via email to all active distributor contacts, and it was posted on the company’s social media platforms—specifically Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. “To date, customer responses have been positive, affirming the importance of keeping them up to date,” says Gina Barreca, Vantage Apparel’s marketing director.
On June 3, supplier Polyconcept North America in New Kensington, Pennsylvania, emailed a letter to customers explaining the actions the company needs to take as a result of the tariffs and outlining a new pricing schedule effective July 1. “Consistent with our strategy to date, we will continue to take a measured and moderate approach to passing along price increases,” the letter stated.
Supplier Hit Promotional Products, Inc., in St. Petersburg, Florida, is also keeping customers informed. The company sent a letter to customers in early June to let them know it was working to keep the tariff’s impact on pricing to a minimum and it also shared a new price schedule. With no relief in sight from the possibility of more tariffs, the letter stated that, “The next couple of months bring a level of uncertainty as to what will transpire regarding what would ultimately be the balance of our product line that would be impacted by newly imposed increased tariffs. Please be prepared for this possibility, and additional price increases, accordingly.”
Cohen forwards letters such as these to his internal team and sometimes they are included in communications to clients. He says this kind of supplier communication adds credibility to what his team is telling customers. “It’s good not just coming from us,” he says of the tariff updates. “It’s a good way to show your clients that you aren’t selling them; you are educating them on the impact of tariffs. And if you have items in a program that just went up [in price], well, you’d better tell your clients.”
Jonathan Isaacson, president of supplier Gemline in Lawrence, Massachusetts, says his company is not getting inundated by questions from distributors at this point but the interest will likely pick up steam as more tariffs are applied. “We had seen this eventuality for quite a long time, so we had prepared as much as one can and are executing on the plan we put in place,” he says. That plan includes solid customer communications. “We’ve taken some time to make sure that we had a good assessment and we will be feeding back information to our internal team and our customers. This is a very fluid situation. There’s likely to be a number of twists and turns but business has to continue one way or another. Businesses can prepare and take action to mitigate some of the impact of this; there are some areas that will be very difficult. Communicating [that] will be very important.”
Still, Isaacson is positive about the industry’s future. “We, as an industry, need to do this in a way that is not going to panic our end user. We can work our way through this without turning it into a giant demand detriment for promotional products. We have to find our way through this as an industry. It’s a difficult issue but there will be suppliers who can work through it and help mitigate some of the impact from the tariffs. There’s a lot we can do as an industry. There will be hard work involved but it’s not impossible.”
He is expecting tariffs to be an issue for quite some time. “Part of that is the domestic politics on both sides, they are difficult issues. It’s an issue we’ll have to manage around for the foreseeable future. We will find ways to mitigate a reasonable portion of this issue—we have long understood that there is risk everywhere we do business, so we have contingency plans. That doesn’t mean it’s perfect, but we are better positioned than many to be able to react to the changes in the market that we are seeing today.”
Tina Berres Filipski is editor of PPB. James Khattak, PPB’s news editor, also contributed to this article.
This article was originally published in PPB Magazine, July 1, 2019. Used with permission from PPAI.
Every sales professional encounters difficult clients from time to time. How you choose to respond to these clients makes all the difference in whether you walk away frustrated or win a customer for life. Author Jason Aten says there are four key ways to handle difficult clients. We explore Aten's tips in this issue of Promotional Consultant Today.
Know the difference between difficult clients and clients with difficulty. Aten says there's a huge difference and it turns out that it changes everything about how you should respond. Most of your customers are reasonable people, but for one reason or another, you haven't met their expectations or they are having a difficult time. They aren't difficult people, but somehow their expectations aren't aligned with their experience. Whatever the cause, you can likely help them through it and make them happy. On the other hand, difficult customers are the ones who can't be made happy. There's just something about them, that no matter what you do, no matter how hard you try, no matter what heroic effort you make, they won't be happy. It's not your problem that they are difficult.
Fire difficult clients. When you discover that you have a difficult customer, fire them. No questions asked. Too often, we entertain this abuse and allow these customers to suck valuable energy and life out of us. We think that, somehow, we might be able to make them happy, and we're afraid of what they might do if we don't coddle them. If there's nothing you can do for a difficult client, why on earth are you spending any time at all on the relationship? Aten says your responsibility is to fulfill any previous obligation to these customers and then terminate the relationship as professionally and swiftly as you can.
Understand that expectations are everything. You can often set yourself and your customer up for a win by taking time to clearly communicate expectations. From the very first encounter you have with a customer, your job is to create and manage their expectations. When you don't, they fill in the blanks based on their assumptions and understanding. Give them a clear understanding of your process, how you work, what they should expect and when, and how to reach you if they have questions.
By the time a client is asking you for something they thought they should already have, it's too late.
Take one for the team. Aten says that many times when we face a customer having a rough time, we get defensive about their problem and place blame and fault on them. Even if we think we've done everything right, the reality in front of us is that we failed to meet clients' expectations. In most cases, the best choice is to ask yourself what it will take to make this customer happy. Often the answer is much easier than it seems, and a simple apology for the misunderstanding, with an offer to make it right, goes a long way toward creating a win.
Sometimes, difficult circumstances give you an opportunity to create customers for life. If you face a difficult client, think about how you can apply the guidance above.
Source: Jason Aten writes the Tech Inc. column about the intersection of technology and business.
This article was originally published in PCT Today, July 18, 2019. Used with permission from PPAI.
The Specialty Advertising Association of California (SAAC), serving the promotional products industry in Southern California for more than 30 years, has announced the recipients of its 2019 SAAC Member Awards—Rick Greene, MAS, HALO Branded Solutions, Honorary Life Member; Beverly Walter, Brown & Bigelow, Volunteer of the Year; Robert Collins, Collins and Associates, Representative of the Year; and Paula Cortes, PromoShop, Customer Service Award recipient. The award winners will be honored at the SAAC Awards Reception during the 2019 SAAC Expo in San Diego, California, on August 7.
SAAC’s Honorary Life Member Award is presented to a long-standing, dedicated member with over 10 years of service to the regional association. The award recognizes members who exemplify eagerness to assist in SAAC matters, demonstrate a creative spark and dedication to the association, and are selfless in time and effort in SAAC matters and business.
“Rick always has SAAC top of mind and has a desire to see the association grow and thrive, and advocate for the association and our industry,” says his nominator. “He is consistently positive and will support SAAC no matter the situation.”
The Volunteer of the Year Award recognizes an outstanding association volunteer whose unselfish and dedicated service to programs and events has made a significant difference, and mirrors the commitment to success in our professional ranks.
“Serving as a chairperson for the Foundation for SAAC, Beverly has been instrumental in re-energizing the board and executing some of the most successful fundraisers for our members,” says Walter’s nominator. “Her involvement with the Jim Buesher Golf Tournament has made it one of SAACs best-attended and most positive events.”
The Representative of the Year Award is presented to an inside or outside sales representative from a member company who exemplifies integrity and professionalism for their company and the industry, while also elevating the industry and its members by exhibiting excellence through best practices.
Collins’s nominator says, “Bob has served in the promotional products industry for almost 45 years and as the SAAC president in 1984-1985. His knowledge, integrity and great character help to better our association.”
The Customer Service Award Recognizes a member who exemplifies superior customer service, reliability and integrity consistently in their daily professional life. It is awarded to members who serve as an example of integrity and professionalism for their company while making contributions to elevate the industry.
“Paula is a pillar of integrity and professionalism in the workplace,” says Cortes’s nominator. “She is consistently kind and committed, getting the job done at 110 percent every time. Every vendor, account team and internal staff member expresses joy at working with Paula, as she operates in a way that allows people to do their best work in every setting.”
This article was originally published in PPB Newslink, July 11, 2019. Used with permission from PPAI.
What is your title/role within your company? National Key Accounts
What do you like best about your company?I work for great bosses that truly know how to run a company and actually listen to my suggestions. The family atmosphere and the fact that we pride ourselves on being a different product out in the market.
How were you introduced to the promotional products industry?I was recruited by an apparel in the industry which I’m grateful for. I was able to learn and get my feet wet in promo.
If you had to pick one, what is your favorite promotional product?100% ALight Promos #11456 Alarm Clock! No bias here but it’s been something I’ve used as a night light around my house and I travel with one.
Tell us something about you that most people may not knowI aspired to play professional basketball in the NBA when I was young but I came to the realization that it wasn’t going to happen when I stopped growing at 5’10.
What is your title/role within your company? President/CEO
How were you introduced to the promotional products industry? I was introduced to the Promotional products industry when I worked for Newport Printing Systems in Irvine, over 18 years ago. There I was asked to sell everything to my clients. So, I learned what my clients needed and in many cases it was promotional items. Through my prior sales experience of solution selling from Vanier Graphics I helped create solutions using promotional items and logo wear programs for my clients.
If you had to pick one, what is your favorite promotional product? The 12 oz. double wall stainless steel camper mug from ETS Express. Keeps my coffee warm for hours and no need for plug in warmer.
There are clients—and then there are high-profile clients. These VIPs often have very different expectations. When you have a chance to work with a high-profile client, preparation is paramount.
James Harris, co-founder of Bond Street Partners and star of the hit television series Million Dollar Listing Los Angeles, says working with high-profile clients presents many exciting opportunities. The trick is to take time to understand their needs. In this issue of Promotional Consultant Today, we share Harris' tips for succeeding with customers who are considered VIPs in their companies, industries and communities.
1. Always use discretion. Harris says that high-profile clients appreciate discretion and confidentiality. No one wants their personal information given to perfect strangers. High-profile clients are no different except every move they make is under a magnifying glass. Never broadcast your client's next step. Not only is it an invasion of his or her privacy, but it's also a security issue. Harris recommends using your discretion as a selling point. By understanding the importance of your client's privacy, you will build a reputation for being dependable and trustworthy.
2. Be respectful of their time. When working with a high-profile client, Harris says it's best to keep your communications succinct and only reach out when necessary. Try to schedule calls and meetings in the morning as early as possible. As the day progresses, it only becomes more difficult for your client to remove themselves from their business to speak with you.
3. Stay flexible. High-profile clients typically don't work a traditional schedule. They expect you to be available 24/7 as they travel and may be in another time zone when they call you. Make sure you take their calls and respond to them on their schedule—not your own.
4. Provide top-tier service. High-profile clients rely on you to ensure that all their needs are met. They are typically involved in large transactions and expect your service to be in line with what they are spending. Harris says it's important to take yourself out of the equation. When dealing with high-profile clients, it is all about their needs. Put your ego aside and put them first. Your clients may not necessarily need the things they are asking you for, however, you must listen to what they want and deliver. If you don't, they will think you are wasting their time.
5. Anticipate their needs. Actively listen to your client and pay attention to what they are requesting. Make note of little nuances like their daughter's recital or corporate functions. By taking note of relevant information and applying it to the clients' needs, they will appreciate that you were listening, and you will service their needs accordingly. Harris also suggests noting any allergies, dislikes and uncomfortable moments. If your client mentions that she is allergic to shellfish, you don't want to make the mistake of making lunch reservations at a seafood restaurant.
6. Deliver value. Harris says that just because high-profile clients are successful doesn't mean they don't appreciate the value of a dollar. They want the best investment possible, which means they want a service that fits their needs and bottom line. Harris notes that high-profile clients aren't difficult—they're just busy and need a partner who understands how they do business.
Landing a high-profile client can be an exciting opportunity. Use the tips above to manage expectations and focus on their needs. When you do, you lay the groundwork for a long and fruitful partnership.
Source: James Harris is co-founder of Bond Street Partners, director of The Agency Real Estate and co-founder of thepls.com. Harris is also the star of the hit television series Million Dollar Listing Los Angeles, which airs on Bravo.
An article in January’s issue of PPB Magazine shared recruiting ideas for finding good hires in today’s tight job market. This month we’re focusing on some ideas for retaining your best employees as the market continues.
In a strong economy, your business could be at risk of losing its best employees as your competitors work to lure them away. Maybe your employees are just looking around for a higher salary or more opportunities. Maybe they’re just plain unhappy where they are.
A 2018 Conference Board survey reported that only 43 percent of employees are happy in their current positions. That number is up slightly from previous years, but the percentage of happy employees still represents the minority of the workforce.
So how do you keep your best people without breaking the bank? This, too, is a complex issue with no simple solution. There are some steps, though, that you can take to increase retention. And the good news is they don’t all involve big salary increases.
Invest time and dollars in your managers and supervisors. According to a recent Fortune.com survey (and lots of other surveys, too), the No. 1 reason people leave their jobs is because of bad supervisors and managers. “Bad” supervision and management comes in all shapes and sizes. Employees may feel their work is not recognized or appreciated, they may not be given clear direction, or they may receive little to no feedback on their performance until appraisal time, when a host of issues that might easily have been addressed sooner suddenly appear.
To be fair, employees who are promoted into supervisory and management positions often lack the skills to succeed and aren’t given enough guidance and support by their supervisors and managers. And if they’re not successful and leave the organization or move to another position, that means another new, inexperienced supervisor may assume the role. Unfortunately, it’s not unusual to hear employees say, “I’ve had six different supervisors in the past 18 months and I have no idea what I’m supposed to be doing.” Investing in your managers and supervisors can help your organization avoid this chronic problem.
Be proactive. Often, employees don’t get asked about their intentions for staying with an organization until they announce they’re leaving. Being pre-emptive and proactive—through regular employee communication using both formal and informal channels—can help identify employees who may be thinking of leaving. In 2014, recruiters at Credit Suisse started calling employees identified as being at risk of leaving and notifying them of openings within the company. By taking this action, the company estimates they successfully retained 300 employees and saved $75 - $100 million in recruiting and training costs.
Start thinking—and communicating—total compensation. Most organizations don’t do a good job of thinking about and communicating total compensation to employees. A typical total benefits package is worth 30 to 35 percent of base salary, and a robust package may be worth almost 50 percent. Add in incentive and profit-sharing plans, and your total compensation package may actually exceed that of your competitors. Make sure your employees understand that. And just like it’s possible to create a customized benefits package for a potential new hire, offerings like an extra week of paid vacation or an increased contribution to health insurance can be useful tools for retaining an employee you don’t want to lose.
Restructure jobs. If you’re balking at giving each of your customer service reps a $10,000 raise to match the salary of that new CSR, consider restructuring or adding more responsibility to their jobs. Do they handle more complex calls? Do they work more closely with the sales representatives? They may already be functioning as senior CSRs but without the pay. However you choose to address this type of issue, be sure that you are rewarding them with something tangible and meaningful. Most importantly, be transparent. Remember, your employees will talk about it.
Offer a variety of training and development opportunities. According to the same Fortune survey cited above, after bad bosses and compensation, the third most frequent reason for employees to leave their jobs is lack of opportunity. There are multiple ways to provide your employees with training and education to prepare them for new opportunities. These may include formal training courses, industry conferences, webinars and online learning or inexpensive alternatives such as providing a mentor or a cross-training opportunity.
An increasing number of employers are also offering tuition reimbursement for education not related to an individual’s current position. Many traditional tuition reimbursement plans limit reimbursement to course work related to a current position, but a 2015 International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans survey reported that 46 percent of survey respondents offer tuition reimbursement for any course work, regardless if it is related to the work currently being performed.
The bottom line is to get creative and ahead of the game to keep your best employees.
Susan Palé is a contributor for Affinity HR Group, Inc., PPAI’s affiliated human resources partner. Affinity HR Group specializes in providing human resources assistance to associations, such as PPAI, and their member companies. www.affinityHRgroup.com
Is your sales strategy focused mainly on price? To reach their quota, many salespeople resort to lowering their prices. While everyone loves a bargain, savvy B2B buyers know that you get what you pay for. They consider more than price when reviewing providers and making purchases. That's why it's important to explore alternatives for turning prospects into buyers.
Julie Thomas, CEO of ValueSelling Associates, says sales professionals should avoid relying on price as a differentiator and instead focus on understanding the prospect's unique needs. In this issue of Promotional Consultant Today, we discuss Thomas' thoughts on what to do instead of dropping your prices.
Focus on features that fit a unique need. Thomas says this accounts for the largest degree of differentiation, regardless of an industry, and is typically what product education focuses on. What features, functions and deliverables do your B2B solutions provide that are ideal for a particular prospect? How are these an improvement over what already exists in the market or within the company? Can you cite specific customers who have seen quantitative improvements since adopting your products or services? These brief stories will stick with the prospect, especially if they were battling similar business issues.
Offer more favorable terms and conditions. If you're in a crowded field or your solution is now commoditized, you may distinguish yourself by offering more favorable payment terms or extended product warranties.
Save time by delivering convenience. Time equals money, especially if a company lacks internal resources for anything but a quick deployment. How easy is it to explore your offerings? Does a contract come with 24/7 support online or over the phone? Do you offer free resources? Think about how you can provide value by offering convenience.
Provide a higher level of assurance. Thomas notes that this advantage typically goes to industry leaders with a proven track record of delivering quality goods and ongoing support. If you are a startup without a strong client list, tout the expertise of your staff to assure prospects of your solutions' durability, flexibility, security and any other highly sought feature or function. Most B2B entrepreneurs were first successful somewhere else; that's why they went out on their own. They also tend to bring solid talent with them. Leverage that expertise to quell any concerns about the lack of long-term successes.
Don't strive to be known as a low-cost provider. Instead, aim to become known as someone who provides the best value for the price. Whether you're working with a prospect or a long-time client, make sure you show how your vision for success and their vision match. This is where differentiation makes all the difference.
Source: Julie Thomas is CEO of ValueSelling Associates. She has personally consulted and trained in a wide variety of industries and corporations, including The Ken Blanchard Companies, ON24, Adobe, NCR and PrimePay. Thomas serves as a board member to the Value Selling and Realization Council and is the author of ValueSelling: Driving Up Sales One Conversation At A Time.
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