There is no doubt 2009 was a tough year for our industry. We have seen competitors close, employees laid off, and salaries cut. But we must put that behind us and move forward. As we look ahead, I recommend we emphasize the following 10 things in our businesses:

  1. Make the Customer Feel Welcome. What do your people sound like when on the phone with the customer? Do you have Chamber of Commerce stickers on the door from 1972? Are your desks and office environment warm and welcoming? How professional are your quotes and cover letter? (Do you even have a cover letter for quotes? If you would like a great sample that I received from a roofing company, e-mail me.)
  2. Follow-Up Phone Calls From Management. Flip through your delivery tickets each morning and call five people who purchased products from you the day before. Ask questions about the timeliness of the delivery. Ask if it shipped in full. Ask questions that will help you improve. Then ask: "Can you offer us any advice on our next delivery?" You then must pause and wait for a response. You will find out many more things about your business and competitors business by listening to your customers. You will uncover positive and negative events that will not surface in a sales meeting. But don't wait for your customers to come to you. Call them.
  3. Stop the Rat Race and Focus on Profit. Let's face it: We only have so many hours in a day, and if we go to every event we're asked to attend, we will never have time to work at--and more importantly, on--our business. Rank your monthly commitments from 1 to 10 and take out the ones that are adding no value to your business and community. When you receive invitations over the phone for events, consider how these will also help the business or community. You can't focus on profit if you don't first focus on where you are and who you run with.
  4. Answer the Phone. I want to be remembered in our industry as the one who said "Answer your phone, because the person on the other end of the phone wants to give you money." If you start thinking about it like that, you will soon realize that people call you because you have products and services that they need. If you do not answer your phone, they are going to call your competitors. Make it easy for your customer to contact you.
  5. Filter Your Own Calls. That is, take every call. When you do not want to speak to a person because it is not business-related or will add no value to the bottom line, use lines like "Thanks for calling, please send us something via e-mail or snail mail and if we think this is right for us, we will contact you." If you do not do this, you will spend time listening to the same voice mails over and over again.
  6. Spend More Quality Time with Customers . If you have the opportunity to go fishing, hunting, or play golf with a customer, seize the opportunity. Think about your past and then ask yourself and your fellow employees, "How many more deals have we closed on the fishing trip, hunting trip, or golf course, than we have closed in the lumberyard?" The classic ones I like to hear about are vendor trips that also include some training.
  7. Thank Your Vendors. We too often beat up our vendors over price and service. Without the vendors, we would not be in business. Look at your top 10 business vendors in 2009 and write them at least a three-sentence thank-you note for their service. You will invest about one hour in this exercise. You might be surprised as to what they will do for you next.
  8. Stop Throwing Darts. Too often it is easy to cold-call prospects and then say nothing other than that you have the best price, service, and quality. Have you ever tried to make a sales call and deliver no information, but rather ask questions? Have you ever listened to those answers and made a follow-up call with well researched answers and promises that your company can keep? Try it. You will be amazed.
  9. Read at Least One Sales Book This Year. I recommend two easy reads. In no particular order, they are Bill Lee's Gross Margin: 26 Factors Affecting Your Bottom Line, and Chris Lytle's The Accidental Salesperson. Bill's book discusses sales techniques and dealing with objections, while Chris' book discusses preparing for a sales call and how he survived and became successful without the training that you normally should have as a salesperson.
  10. Arrive for Work 30 Minutes Early. There is absolutely no reason to arrive at work on time or even arrive late. Come on guys, how can you play the game if you are not in uniform and ready before the game or game day starts? I have never met a successful salesperson, business owner or manager that arrived at work late, or even on time. The most successful people are those that arrive early.

I hope that each and every one of you reading this column can have a profitable 2010. Start now and get back to the basics. Get closer with your customers and vendors and listen. Listen for opportunities to make a difference in your business and the community. Think, sleep, dream, and exercise profits. Have a great 2010. Chris Rader is a consultant based in Lafayette, La. Contact him at [email protected].