Thursday, April 8, 2010

Never "Check In"

We're often told that it's imperative to maintain contact with customers and prospects so that they don't forget us, so that we stay top of mind. Intuitively, this makes sense. After all, "out of sight, out of mind" is a saying we've all heard since childhood. So it would seem to make sense that being "in-sight" (or "in voice") would - in and of itself - be a smart strategy for us in Sales.

Well, maybe. Like a lot of things, it depends.

Put yourself in the shoes of one of your customers. You're in the middle of an important project, and your phone rings. You pick it up.

"Hi, this is Bob from Acme Company. I was just checking in to see how things are going."

What's your reaction? Gratitude? Exhilaration? Appreciation? Or...annoyance? You get the picture.

Simply calling to "check in" is not going to score you any points. It's not going to advance your agenda. On the contrary, it may lose you a few points. You may become the sales rep whose phone number customers dread seeing on caller ID, because your call represents an unwanted interruption - instead of the welcome break you want it to be.

So how can you ensure that you're perceived as that welcome break, and not the unwanted interruption? By making sure that every contact with your customers contains value. And what kind of value can we provide? Information. Insights. Ideas. Connections. Stuff you believe your customer doesn't know, doesn't have access to, or may but is too busy to dig it up himself - but which he should be aware of, because it'll help him do his job better, gain a competitive advantage, or accrue some other benefit. It could be a piece of industry scuttlebutt that didn't make its way into the industry press yet, let alone into the general press. An idea you picked up at a seminar or webinar. Some nugget that was tweeted by an authority you're following - that your customer likely isn't (because they don't tweet). Or a person you met whom you believe would likely become a customer of your customer. What you're accomplishing is solidifying your relationship with your customer (which helps to stave off competition) or, in the case of a prospect, positioning yourself as a useful and valuable resources, which elevates you in their mind from an average vendor to the preferred one.

Set aside some time - an hour, perhaps - to think, really think, about what's important to each and every one of your customers and prospects (especially those you find yourself chasing). Review your notes to see what seemingly innocuous comments were made that in fact might present an opportunity for you to address. Then think about what you can provide them, or advise them on - that would be beneficial to them. Make this a regular part of your prospecting/account management repertoire, and you're sure to see a higher closure ratio with prospects, and a higher retention rate (and greater up-sell and cross sell revenues) with customers.

Craig James is president of Sales Solutions, a sales productivity improvement company. He helps sales organizations get increased production out of their sales people, and entrepreneurs and individual sales people to be more successful at selling. Learn more at


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