Build Your Business by Being Sincere

I recently called a large national bank to get some information about my account. Before even speaking with a human being, I was prompted to enter two personal pieces of ID into the phone. When I finally reached a representative, I had to answer another two personal questions. Now, I understand the security issues associated with telephone banking, it’s for our own (and their) protection. I do believe however, that this was a little unnecessary. But, okay, I got over it. As I finally started talking with the representative, my brain detected a hint of annoyance in her voice. Maybe it was just me, interacting with people everyday has taught me that mostly everyone follows mainstream values; politeness, professionalism and open communication. But in this instance, I detected a surly attitude from the representative as soon as I spoke with her. Why? Maybe she was having a bad day, but I really don’t think so. I also don’t think she hated her job either. It was all about the bank not properly monitoring this associate or, not stressing enough about the virtues of being people friendly. In any case, this is a big mistake from the consumers point of view.

This is an example of a company forgetting where they came from. When a new business opens their doors, they may be virtually unknown. The goal is to build the business by taking care of the customer. It’s a shame that many large companies (too many to mention by the way) appear to not care about their public persona. They do take notice however, when an irritated consumer posts a mocking video on YouTube and the media picks it up. It’s actually quite amusing to watch companies squirm through an insincere public apology, but unfortunately it changes little in the company culture. These companies run on mass marketing, and every company rule, regulation, policy and procedure is digitally copied into each employee. If the wrong tone is bred into employees and continuously used, that message seeps into consumers’ heads for permanent storage.

When I walk into a business, the first thing I notice is if I’m acknowledged and how. The atmosphere may be busy or quiet, but what’s important to me as a consumer is feeling somewhat important and welcome. There are customers in retail who actually try to avoid contact when they walk in due to the stereotype much of the public believes about salespeople smothering them. The job of a salesperson however, is to greet the customer, qualify them and then take the appropriate action. It’s unfortunate that mistakes are made by salespeople who unenthusiastically and boringly blurt out “can I help you?” without showing any enthusiasm whatsoever. Lack of sincerity openly invites negatives, such as the infamous “just looking” response. In many people, this is automatic, even if they might need assistance later on.

Avoiding repetitive and overused sales lines altogether is ideal, but how does one handle introducing themselves in a way that soothes the customer? It’s <em>how</em> it’s said. Sincerity is everything. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been greeted by a clerk who sounds like he’s pulling a tooth from his gum while talking to me, or the person texting on her phone while I interrupted her “boyfriend crisis”. People representing the business must be trained and retrained on how to make the client feel genuinely welcome.

In my early career days of pounding the pavement door-to-door, my mentors and successful peers would always tell me to “have fun, make money!”. Due to my social immaturity or perhaps the pressure of the job, that expression sank into my head as strongly as “an apple a day keeps the doctor away”. Who actually sits down and thinks really hard about what it means? But as I developed self confidence in dealing with people in a sales situation, I found myself more concerned about building a mini relationship with customers and fully engaging myself with business. And it was fun! The time passed quickly and at the end of the day, I felt great about myself. More importantly however, I really was making money. I cherished the feeling of being profitable and work was no longer a chore. I was fully in control of my career through confidence, which led to <em>natural</em> advancement up the chain.

Sales people should want to have fun engaging customers on a personal basis. If they are not, the business may be suffering. At this point, re-training needs to be re-introduced because there is probably an air of tension or some other negative situation affecting an individual or team. People are the strongest asset in any business and companies need to perform maintenance work with employees to keep the system running properly. Sitting down one-on-one with people and just talking about their situations can alleviate many problems. This is called motivation. It rebuilds their confidence so they can perform at full capacity and strengthens the bond between people. I have seen situations where the exact opposite occurred, people were reprimanded or even let go simply because of some corporate procedure written in a manual. In these cases, I felt more sorry for management because they weren’t allowed to use personal judgment to fix a problem, thus being victims of poor management themselves.

Re-training also creates the opportunity to teach new techniques or re-iterate basics. For example, salespeople should avoid asking closed-ended questions, such as “can I help you?”, which can quickly end the chances of creating a mini relationship. They should try striking up a conversation instead. In the case of retail, a browsing customer might be approached with a “you look like you’re on a mission” opening line. People usually smile at that point. Allowing peers to participate and display examples of knowledge gained through experience is a great asset. But again, how friendly, professional and welcoming the greeting is makes a huge difference. The key is to have fun, so make it fun. Making someone smile goes a long way in their perception of the business and how that perception trickles into their memory.

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Robert Zackon is a business entrepreneur specializing in small business growth and development. He has helped numerous small companies expand and grow through sales mentoring, new system development and financial and operations management using a people-oriented approach. He has worked with Fortune 500 corporations as well as small business in both retail and direct sales, financial services, bookkeeping and operations management.

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