While we should always be aware of our expenses, I suggest we take a break and focus more on selling.

Chris Rader Some dealers have reduced expenses below what's required to service a customer. It might be they cut staff so much they lack the people needed to make necessary deliveries. And some dealers have their head so far in the sand about cutting expenses that they not only have forgotten about the customers, they have forgotten how to sell to customers.

On a recent Sunday morning, I traveled over to The Home Depot to purchase some last-minute supplies, as our local lumberyard was not open. There are certain things that you expect in lumberyards or even big box store, and that includes there being a live human to check you out, accept your payment, and wish you on your way.

But when I went to check out I was amazed to find not a single register open; the only lane available was self-checkout. I am computer-savvy and had no problem, but I am certain many other people walked out. That local Home Depot had cut back so much it was running customers away.

I also know of an independent dealer that has a rolling vacation one week a month for each employee. There's such a revolving door of personnel there that it is almost impossible to get anything done. No doubt that dealer has a lot of confused customers.

If you or your management team has dived head-first into the sand and have forgotten about customers, consider implementing the ideas below and get back to selling.

  1. Make sure you are still connected in the community. Get involved in the local Chamber of Commerce, church, school, baseball, or civic organizations. You will not only be giving back to the community, you will have a captive selling audience. It may take months to recultivate these relationships, but referral selling produces more dollars than cold calling and advertising.
  2. Throw a party when you land your next "whale customer." What's that? A "whale customer" is one that ranks in the top 10% of your sales or profits? Invite the customer and their staff to your facility. Make sure all of your employees put forth a special effort to mingle with the whales and make them feel cherished.
  3. Go on a sales call and become a coach for the presenting salesperson. Make sure your salesperson is asking more questions of the prospect customer than that rep is selling your services. How can you sell a customer a product if you don't first about their needs? Think about the last time a salesperson asked questions, paused, listened, took notes, and closed a sale. Too often, rookies irritate customers by not understanding the needs and instead overwhelm the customer with unnecessary information.
  4. Manage your sales team with a sales funnel. This may be new for those of you not tracking sales leads, but this one technique is the best bang for the buck for your salespeople and management team outside of transparent pricing. Imagine putting customers into categories such as prospects, interested, committed, or delivered customers. Imagine adding to these categories two other important data factors; the customer's likelihood to purchase from your company and the project dollar amount. You do not need any fancy software to make this happen. But by putting your prospects into this sort of funnel, you end up with a smaller, more valuable group of potential buyers.
  5. Add a cover letter to your quotes. Let's face it: if the customer is comparing your apples to that of your competitor, the person with the lowest price will win. But separate yourself from your competitor by adding a one page personal cover letter on every significant quote. I received a cover letter from a roofer who recently provided me with a quote to change the roof on our office building. The letter was more professional than our corporate lawyer. If you e-mail me, I will send you a copy.
  6. Cruise your customers' sites. Visit your customers' offices and jobsites. Take vendors along and make it a point to learn new things about your customers. Your customers want to tell you about their business and tell about their trophy jobs.
  7. Take a customer hunting, fishing or golfing. You learn a lot about a person in a deer stand, on a boat, or in a golf cart. Sure, the sport is great, but the camaraderie with the customer will fuel sales. You might also consider a football game or other sporting venue.
  8. Implement your CRM now. CRM stands for Customer Relationship Management. While some may think it is Old School compared to social networking sites like Twitter or FaceBook, I feel that customer documentation and timely focused conference calls are necessary to close sales. I have written in the past about my father-in-law who managed a paint store for 40 years. He often mailed a gift certificate to the home of a painter on their marriage anniversary date. Guess where the painters bought their paint? Sure, sometimes these little things actually give you a leg up on closing the sale.
  9. Hire on attitude and fire on attitude. If you have employees with crummy attitudes, call a time out right away, do not go on to tip No. 10, and fire them right now. That might be a little harsh, but in today's economy you have a large talent pool. Hire the best and the brightest. Don't let that rotten apple ruin the entire team.
  10. Work on your strengths and manage your weaknesses. If you have quality products and services, always improve by finding more quality products and step up your service a notch. If your weakness is your location, go out and meet your customers at their place of business.

Continue to focus on selling more products to your existing customers and potential new customers. Manage your expenses, but don't try to drive that truck on just three wheels.

Chris Rader is a consultant based in Lafayette, La. Contact him at crader@radersolutions.com.