Neal Polachek, Founder, Think Like An App
Neal is an independent board member and advisor to companies operating at the intersection of local, SMBs, and SaaS technology. Prior to being an advisor, Neal was Director of Research and Consulting, VP of Advisory Services, CEO of The Kelsey Group and President of BIA/Kelsey. Neal is a board member at Soleo Communications and RenderAI and is a board advisor to the teams at Broadly, Agentz. ai and the Local Search Association/Tech Adoption Index.
For the better part of a year I have been speaking to small business owners around the United States. At last count, I’ve engaged with over a 1,000 business owners in markets small and large, urban and suburban. My topic – ThinkLikeAnApp – is squarely focused on why and how business owners need to reorient their business processes and approaches in order to remain competitive in today’s era of the modern consumer.
While the majority of attendees at my events are business owners, there are always a handful of account executives and sales leaders in attendance. And though my aim in these live events is to offer business owners a path forward to raise the competitiveness of their business, I have witnessed the nodding of heads by account executives and sales leaders as I walk through ThinkLikeAnApp.
But hold on—let me first offer some context. Once upon a time, I too was an account executive. I sold print Yellow Pages in the Bay Area. For most of a year, I’d set appointments, go see customers and prospects at their shops and offices, talk about the benefits of Yellow Pages advertising, and close business. I’d see four or five customers/prospects a day – each different by category, target audience, business process, age, and gender. So I do understand many of the challenges of today’s local sales environment.
Now some of you will say, “well that was ages ago, things have really changed,” and I would say you are correct, many things have really changed. True, the print Yellow Pages are virtually gone; true, the marketing and advertising puzzle is more complicated and complex than before; true, customers are more demanding than ever; true, true, true. But wait, then and now, business owners require a trusted source of information and advice. Business owners today, like yesterday, need to make sure their message resonates with their target audience. Then and now, business owners have operating processes to refine and revise. So yes, times are different, but many of the foundational issues businesses faced when I was selling print Yellow Pages, they still face today and will face for years into the future.
Now let’s fast forward to today and tomorrow. What I tell business owners is that they need to rethink their business models, approaches, and processes to remain competitive in today’s hyper-competitive marketplace. My story to business owners is that they need to fundamentally think in terms of three overarching themes:
Most of the business owners I speak to nod their heads and realize they must begin adjusting their business processes to meet the demands of today’s modern consumer. By the same token, today’s modern business owner has an ever-increasing set of demands and expectations. They, like their consumer brethren, have ever-evolving and increasing expectations of the people they do business with. And that’s how account executives and sales leaders can benefit by reorienting their sales practices to ThinkLikeAnApp.
Before we get too far into the weeds, think of these three themes as approximating the sales journey. Immediacy ties to when someone is in the consideration phase, Transparency ties to when the prospect has said yes, and Authenticity ties to the ongoing service and support phase of a business relationship.
Immediacy is all about responsiveness. Today’s modern business owner is afflicted and defined by what I call the “speed addiction”. Everything around the modern business owner is accelerating. Their competitors are gaining on them. Their customers are more and more demanding, wanting instant responses. The versions of their accounting and payroll software are changing by the minute. Their ability to meet the demands of their customers are challenging them everyday.
So as a sales person in this fast paced economy, you’ve got to recognize how you’re an important piece in the “speed addiction” puzzle. What are the implications for you as a sales leader or account executive. Here are some questions to ask yourself and your team about your responsiveness.
1. Are you super easy to find and get a hold of? What best practices have you put in place to make sure your customers and prospects can find you and contact you. If you’re an account executive do you have your own presence out on the web? Perhaps you should since potential customers really don’t care so much about reaching the company you work for, but are more interested in reaching you.
2. What communications platforms are you encouraging your customers or prospects to use to reach you? If you haven’t begun using text and perhaps live chat to interface with your customers or prospects, you should be. They’re so pressed for time that any barriers you put up (e.g. voicemail and now even email) can push them to find another provider.
3. Do you have a best practices time-frame for responding to a customer or prospect inquiry? If you’re not responding to an inbound inquiry within an hour, maybe you should be revising your business practices. According to this study, you’ll need to respond to an email within the hour to meet their expectations. In fact, here are some fascinating statistics demonstrating how poorly most companies fare in terms of email responsiveness.
In fact, here are some fascinating statistics demonstrating how poorly most companies fare in terms of email responsiveness.
If you’re not spending resources to reduce the time between an inbound inquiry and improve the experience, then you will fall behind your competitors, because I can assure you, your competitors are raising their game.
Transparency is all about being on the up and up from the get go. At minimum, Transparency is about being honest and straight-forward. At best, it is about pulling up the blinds or pushing back the curtains to expose how the sausage gets made.
Let’s dig a little deeper. If we look up the definition of transparent we’ll find, “allowing light to pass through so that objects behind can be distinctly seen,” and “easy to perceive or detect,” or even “having thoughts, feelings, or motives that are easily perceived.” I think of transparency in more simple terms – being straight with people.
For decades businesses have had plenty of room to deceive their customers. Maybe a shady business practice was something their predecessors conceived and they were simply following a SOP (standard operating procedure) that had been established. Or perhaps they were concocting a new method to “rip the customer off.” No matter their motivations in the past, today, the consequences of deceit and not being transparent are considerable.
Did you own a VW diesel in the past 10 years? Are you a big soccer fan? Or perhaps you’ve been tipping your Door Dasher. Why does it matter? Well, if you bought a VW diesel based on a notion of feeling good about it being a clean burning engine, you probably didn’t feel as comfortable driving around in it once it was discovered that VW cooked the books, so to speak.
As a soccer fan, you might have felt betrayed when the FIFA leaders were indicted for paying and taking bribes. Or maybe you’ve been including a nice tip for your Door Dasher, only to learn that the company was pocketing the tip and using it to pay their Dashers base compensation. In each of these situations, the business leaders figured – eh – the public will never know. Wrong.
The key takeaway is that self-deception and arrogance will lead us astray time and time again. Why? Because we live in a highly transparent world today – our connectivity, our use of social media, and our always on life creates an environment where fraud and deception can be exposed with a simple tap on our smart phone.
So what’s all this got to do with being a sales leader or account executive? Plenty. It used to be that selling entailed a fair measure of smoke and mirror. Nothing intentionally deceitful, but perhaps some vagueness of performance numbers, or the dreaded T&Cs. Not meant to cheat necessarily, but perhaps to make it a bit more difficult for the customer to have a complete and thorough understanding of the details.
Ok, I know you get it and realize there’s a much more positive side to the growing transparency. Many companies have turned the push toward greater transparency into a huge win. Some of you might have the Dominos app on your phone. And if you do have the Domino’s app, I’d be willing to wager that you’ve also watched, with great interest, the pizza tracker. You know, the one that shows you how your pizza is moving from dough to done. Or what about watching your Uber driver make their way to your location. Or even watching the floors tick off as you go up or down an elevator.
I spoke with a moving and storage business owner a while back. He said that everyday he fields 25 calls from customers asking him where their stuff is. Of course with sensors, he knows within a couple hundred feet where every customer’s belongings are at anytime. So after discussing this notion of transparency, he decided to send a text message or email out everyday to his customers and let them know where their belongings were. This way, he’d be proactive in engaging with his customers and, perhaps more importantly, get more time to market and sell to new customers.
So you see, thinking about transparency from a positive perspective opens new opportunities. From a sales perspective what does that mean? Here’s some questions to test yourself and see how transparent you’re being with your customers.
Think of transparency as a means of engaging differently with your customer, similar to the way apps engage with us as consumers. Like the United Airlines app that shows me how I am progressing to the next tier of frequent flyer status. Or the way Amazon tells me that my product has left the warehouse or has arrived at my house. Transparency is often simply surfacing data that is already present in the business, but has been kept under wraps. By surfacing customer centric data that’s been partitioned in the past, you’re tightening your lock on your customer relationships.
The third pillar of ThinkLikeAnApp is the notion of Authenticity. It’s right to think that transparency and authenticity are tightly linked. And they are, but in the context of ThinkLikeAnApp, authenticity takes on the role of humanizing the experience. But let me backup for a minute. If you look up authenticity you’ll get some synonyms including genuine, original, real, actual, bona fide and true. While transparency relates more to being upfront about procedures, processes, and data, authenticity is about how we interact as humans. One of the key points I make to many of the business owners I speak to across the country is to use people’s names.
I came across this quote from the famous Dale Carnegie saying, “A person’s name is to that person, the sweetest, most important sound in any language.” So often we see or speak to a customer or client and we don’t use their name in our conversation. Dale Carnegie knew that hearing our name spoken out loud can trigger some very positive emotions. It suggests that the person using our name has taken the time and energy to find out our name and use it in conversation.
There are other ways authenticity is defining our customer experiences. This is often in the form of how companies can personalize their communication to us – either in mass or one-to-one. When we can touch someone emotionally, we move business relationships to another, higher level. One of the stories I tell in my ThinkLikeAnApp live events is the story of SusieCakes.
SusieCakes was started by a Chicagoan – Susan Sarich. If you tour their company’s website you come to learn that Susan learned her cake recipes from her grandmothers. You’ll also learn that they don’t bake with any ingredients you can’t spell. You’ll learn a lot more as well, but here’s what separates SusieCakes from other bakeries. We’ve ordered cakes for special events on a number of important occasions. Without fail, a day or two after I’ve picked up the cakes, I get a telephone call. It usually goes like this: “Hi Neal, this is Hannah calling from SusieCakes. We just wanted to make sure that so-and-so enjoyed their birthday and the cake”. So they know that if they decorate the cake with someone’s name, they can be pretty sure they can use it in the follow up conversation. Brilliant. And I ask you, how many bakeries have called you to see how the cake was? Exactly. But here’s where it gets even better. On one occasion, Hannah called and I told her that the cupcakes were kind of dry. She immediately asked me for a mailing address so she could send me a gift card for the full amount of the cupcake order. Crazy right? Sure enough I’ve ordered from SusieCakes time and time again.
So as you think about how you as a sales leader or account executive can deliver a totally authentic experience, ask yourself if you’ve humanized the experience as best you can. Have you allowed yourself to be vulnerable so that the person on the other end recognizes that you have a pulse and are not just a robot seller? Maybe it is a smile that you share on a video call. Maybe you can share a disappointment or a setback that will reveal more about who you are and how you’re wired. What’s so interesting and important is to understand that when we reveal more of who we are, others will reveal more of who they are, and when that happens real authentic relationships are forged.
My Closing Statement
Let me sum this up for you. You’re a business leader, a sales executive, or an account executive. You’re operating in a highly competitive market – where large companies are using machine learning and AI (artificial intelligence) to drive their businesses forward. Some of this technology will be hugely successful, some will fail miserably. That is all well and good, and ultimately all companies will leverage these kinds of services, but while we figure out this technology stuff, I offer the concepts and themes of ThinkLikeAnApp to propel you and your business forward. By taking ThinkLikeAnApp and the themes of Immediacy, Transparency, and Authenticity to heart and making small steps forward, you can reorient your business processes and raise the competitiveness of yourself, your team, and your company.