Julie McCullough Vernon Services for Real Estate Pros



Julie McCullough Vernon
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1.  Create a Culture of Sales Excellence

Today CEOs really must create a culture of sales excellence. CEOs less cognizant of personal fallibility or company vulnerability are less likely to see this need, putting them and their organizations at greater risk. Lee Colan does a great job of capsulizing this as one of his "Top 10 Risk Factors for Growing Businesses"  as the "Sense of Invincibility" or "Titanic Syndrome."

Leaders should understand the science of selling and sharply focus the entire organization on metrics that define "Winning." This requires that each functional area be aligned around a common roadmap and speak a common language so that every person in every department knows their role - and their value - in driving organizational success.

It's this language that breaks down silos and egos, allowing everyone to team together in winning the prize. So CEOs must speak the language and be personally involved in sales pursuits with key prospects and other aspects of the growth agenda including product development and customer service initiatives.

CEOs must mobilize the entire culture as a selling machine focused solely on winning new customers and expanding customer relationships.

2.  Understand Your Customers

CEOs and sales leaders normally have a good "sense" for the strength of customer relationships but rely on the CRM and personal interaction as a gauge. It's always an eye opener when a customer leaves unexpectedly to go with a competitor.

Fortunately, some simple tools exist for understanding customers better and measuring their vulnerability to competitive threats. Unfortunately, not all companies use or are aware of them.

Good questions to ask are: What percentage of my company's revenue stream may be vulnerable to loss? How is it concentrated?

Understanding your customers' value drivers and strategic agendas makes it possible to align expectations, develop greater intimacy and either avoid or better manage problems and miscues. Communication protocols and avoiding "Relationship Pinches" is a complex topic to discuss more thoroughly at another time.

3.  Know Your Competitive Posture

An dear friend of mine at KPMG, Jerry Chapman, used to tell me to "keep your customers close and your competitors closer." Knowing the internal alternatives to your offering and each competitors' offer and tactics is often a daunting task.  Assessing their relationship depth and breadth is no less difficult, but it is doable and good methodology exists for this as well.

CEOs and sales and marketing professionals can assess risk and opportunity if they know how competitive offers are perceived and whether they connect well with the known and latent agendas of prospects and customers. Knowing this makes assessing competitive strengths and weaknesses and the vulnerability of competitive offerings much easier.  The following are some good questions as you consider your competitive posture.

First of all, are we competing on the basis that best matches our capabilities?

For example: Are we in the race to win on price or on value, and how does that fit our go-to-market strategy and corporate objectives such as profitability, share growth, etc.?

Secondly, do we do an effective job of helping our customers and best prospects understand how the value of what we deliver is more in tune with what's important to them than the competitive offer?

Or, do we make ourselves vulnerable by making customers and prospects "connect the dots" themselves?

4.  Align Your Strategy and Messaging

To paraphrase Art Saxby of Chief Outsiders, "the CEO should be the #1 marketing visionary for the company." Being the chief visionary for your company, making sure the corporate growth strategy is consistent, being well supported by sales, marketing, and business development activities is job one for the CEO as it concerns messaging.

Successful CEOs work with sales and marketing to identify the markets and prospects where winning is most likely, company products and services are most needed, and their offer is most compelling. The most fruitful markets are not always the most obvious. Often the most unattractive and seemingly difficult markets provide the greatest opportunity for margin enhancement as well as market momentum you can use to accelerate brand awareness. These less desirable target markets attract less competitive pressure and are more easily be won.

How your organization is branded and positioned in the market place will determine whether or not your ideal prospects believe you have the right to enter into a dialog with them. That dialog will most certainly not be about your competencies and your products or services, but about the prospect's organization and how you can make life easier for them by improving their business. When the conversation is about connecting with the customer's key agenda's and partnering with them to achieve their goals, your message stops sounding noisy like everyone else. This often leads to developing a trust that you can help them meet their objectives and a win is possible.

CEOs ensure that the company's value to the market is well communicated and understood by targeted markets. Sales and marketing position your organization as being the best and most capable provider of products and services most needed by your customers.

Value messaging should agree with the company's positioning strategy and ensure that the perceived value received exceeds the cost and pain for the customer to buy and implement it, while maintaining or improving margins.

Its important to asses market requirements continuously so as to insure that your offerings remain aligned with the most compelling needs and key agendas of your customer and prospect CEOs.

Some basic questions to ask yourself about your company's strategy and messaging are these:

Is the business I think I'm in the same business my customers think I'm in, and do our customers appreciate the value we bring them?

Does our messaging demonstrate that we understand our customer's business better than anyone else?

A great resource for understanding the role of the CEO and the Chief Marketing Officer is Art Saxby's article entitled "The Five Frogs of Mid-Size Company Marketing."

5.  Achieve Relationship Superiority

A company can achieve market dominance by pushing one of three disciplines - Operational Excellence, Product Leadership or Customer Intimacy -  to the limit while meeting industry standards in the other two. This implies total alignment of an organization's operations and culture to  serve that value discipline.

It is possible to excel in Operational Excellence or Product Leadership or both and still fail as an enterprise. In the end, one can trail significantly in the other two disciplines and win the market if relationship superiority is achieved.

Making relationship superiority a cultural imperative is essential to thrive and grow, let alone to achieve market dominance. To accomplish this, CEOs must insure that the following are accomplished:

The entire culture must be focused on delivering value to customers and prospects. Organizational relationships must be "many to many", not "one to one" or "one to several." The company must continuously generate and deliver new, valuable ideas for its customers and prospects. The company must be willing to deliver exactly what the customer wants within increasingly fine customer and prospect definitions. Methods and processes must be in place to ensure the discipline develops

The First Rule Of Using The Phone is to realize that you are having a conversation with someone. When you meet a friend on the street, do you talk to them in the same way you do on the phone?

Most people would say no. You are having a face-to-face conversation with someone. You are smiling as you are talking. Smile when you talk on the phone. Pretend they are right there in the room with you.

The Second Rule Of Using The Phone is that the person asking the questions in any conversation is always in control of the conversation. If the customer is asking the questions, they are in control. They have you on the defensive. You can't sell effectively until you regain control.

The Third Rule Of Using The Phone is to understand that it is physically and emotionally impossible to be polite and courteous and aggressive and pushy at the same time. You are either one or the other.

You can't be polite and courteous at work if you are naturally aggressive and pushy at home.

Discovering Your Customers Needs


If you were going to purchase a car would you just pick a dealer, call them up, and ask, "Hey, how much are cars today?"

Probably not. Why? Because there is a lot of information you don't know. Here are some questions the car dealer might need to know the answers to:

1. Mid-Size, Compact , Luxury?2. Color?3. Brand Name?4. Car, 4-Wheeler, Mini-Van?5. Two-Door/4 Door?6. Accessories?7. In Stock/Special Order?8. New or Used? 9. Available Financing?10. And yes, you might even want to know the price.

Notice that Price is not the number one question on the list. Why? Because price is a perception of value. If I were to simply ask you, "How much is a car?" , you would have a hard time coming up with a price until you had more information.

You Can't Give Information If You Don't Have Information


The sales person should be responsible for a variety of information. Customer service, product sales, product promotions, accuracy of order or customer information along with courtesy and diplomacy.

Here are some areas your phone people need to be trained to do:

Sales orders Inquiries of merchandise or services Dates of delivery or service scheduling Follow-up or service calls Policies re: returns or exchanges of goods or services Complaints Customer Services - price adjustments, follow-up calls, replacement merchandise.

In order to be effective, phone salespersons must be familiar with all departments and products the company offers. Some things the sales person might need:

Copies of all current marketing and adverting promotions and ads. Copies of competitors ads (to match offers) Order/Shipping/Credit Card Forms Calculator/Scratch Pads Pricing Guides Product or service availability and schedules. Company policies and legal disclaimers


Suppose you were a real estate agent and every morning when you walked in your office, there on your desk, would be a list of people ready to buy a house that day. They qualified for the credit, and were ready to buy. All you need to do is show them your listings.

Would that make your life easier? What would a list like that be worth to you? Well, that's sort of how direct mail works.

Who is most likely to buy?


As far as I know, no such list exists. But what you do have is a direct mail list that will tell you, based on past history, surveys, industry studies and collected information, a profile of the person most likely to purchase a home.

The most likely home buyer might be X years old, is married, has X children, makes X dollars per year, has X years of education, favorite pastime is X, hobby is X, favorite car is X and so on.

Junk Mail: Don't ya love it?


Junk mail. Unwanted mail that fills your mailbox day after day that you must sort through to get to the real mail...the bills. Did you ever stop and consider, "How did I end up on this mailing list?" "Why are they sending this stuff to me?"

Why? Because you fit the profile of the person most likely to purchase that product based on past experience. Does your neighbor receive the same junk mail you do? Except for the Publisher's Clearing House mailing probably not. Why? Because you are different from your neighbor. You have a different model car, different clothes, different hobbies and interests. They may receive mailings on outdoor products and you receive mailings on books and indoor hobbies. They golf you hunt and fish. They like beer, you like wine.

How Did I End Up On This Mailing List?


The two most popular means of getting on mailing lists are: Using a credit card to purchase something or filling out a warranty card when you buy a new product. Third is magazine subscriptions.

Do you have an American Express Card? American Express allegedly keeps 450 pieces of information on each cardholder. Each time the card is processed, you decide by your purchases, which sales offers will be included with your next bill. Direct mail is major business. More money is spent each year on direct mail than any other media. Why? Because it works.

How does direct mail compare with other advertising?


Let's suppose that one of the magazines your target market reads is Time Magazine. I know as a small town business you aren't going to advertise in Time. Humor me to make this point. You want to place a full page ad in Time. Cost: $75,000. Let's say, for this exercise, that Time has 500,000 subscribers. So, our message is going to reach 500,000 people, right?

Well, it won't reach the people who just read a portion of the magazine that doesn't include our ad. It won't reach the people who go right past our ad looking for something else.

I also said that Time is ONE of the magazines our target market reads. Actually our demographics only fall within a small cross section of the total Time readership. Our target market might be ages 18-45. Times age demographics might be 18-65.

Your market is in there but it is a portion of the overall demographic. You are wasting your money reaching people between the ages of 46 and 65. They are not your customer. And last but not least, our ad is there with our competitors.

Why does direct mail work?


It's efficient and cost effective. If your research and profile of your target customer is correct you have eliminated contact with unqualified customers. Huh? What does that mean?

Each time you refine your mailing list you eliminate more and more non-customers. Every non-customer you eliminate lowers the cost of the mailing.

For example: My target market is left handed Italians, who live in towns of less than 9,714 people, in two story houses, on the south side of the street, own female Clydesdale horses and are married to women named Inga. Does this list eliminate most of the population? Yes it does. But why would I want to spend a ton of money on conventional advertising hoping I would reach this small market segment.

If I want to reach homeowners, why would I waste money advertising to renters? Don't you do this now with your current ads on the radio and in the newspaper? Are there radio stations renters aren't allowed to listen to that I could advertise on? Newspapers renters aren't allowed to read?

The more I know about my customer, the easier they are to reach and sell. The more non-customers I can eliminate from my list the lower the advertising cost becomes.

Why does direct mail work in small towns?


This is really a no brainer. Direct mail really becomes an effective weapon in towns of 50,000 or less. The smaller the better. In a town of 50,000, how many potential customers do you have? Let's say it's 20% for this exercise. The other 80% are the wrong age, don't need your product, deal with your competitor or don't buy from you for a variety of reasons. It's sort of the old 80-20 rule. 80% or your business comes from 20% of your customers.

Twenty percent of 50,000 is 10,000 potential customers. Do you mail to all 10,000? No. These are only potential customers. How many fit the exact profile of your ideal customer? The people who buy from you now and keep you in business. It may be 8,000 or it may only be a few hundred. But that's who gets your offer.

How to use direct mail in small towns.


If you are a regular here, you've heard me say many times, the purpose of any ad is either to promote name recognition of the business or a "call to action." By call to action, I mean, bring in a coupon, make a call, come down to the business, etc.

My favorite is postcards. Give the customer a reason to keep the postcard. A drawing, valuable coupon or some other reason to keep it.

Here are a variety of reasons why I like postcards so much:

Everybody looks at them. You have 3 seconds to make your point. They are a miniature billboard. They make perfect coupons. People who would never think of picking up a letter off your desk think nothing of picking up a postcard and reading it. Your message is exposed to many people as it travels through the mail and around the office. At .20¢ they are a penny more than bulk mail and go first class. At .20¢ you can do small specialized mailings without having to qualify for bulk mail. No pre-sorting or bundling. In black and white on colored card stock they are inexpensive to produce. Mail 500 or more with presorted bar coding and nine digit zip and the postage can go down as low as .14 1/2 cents. (check with post office for exact pricing and restrictions) Add "Address Correction Requested" to your return address and undelivered mail will be returned by post office with new addresses updated free. Even with printing and postage cost can often be less than newspaper or radio.

Some final thoughts on direct mail


The main thing to remember about any advertising is that nothing works in every situation. Direct mail is not the answer to all advertising problems and may not be the best option for your business. Compare costs and possible effectiveness of all types of advertising. Advertising is always a test.