Serving Existing Customers Better

The Power Of Asking Better Questions - HIGHER HUMAN PERFORMANCE Podcast Episode 290

290 The Power Of Asking Better Questions

The Power Of Asking Better Questions - HIGHER HUMAN PERFORMANCE Podcast Episode 290

Spend enough time in sales and you’ll soon realize the power of questions. They serve to help you find out if you’re a suitable solution for a prospect. They also help you serve clients better.

One of the first things I learned was how powerful questions are to learn more. Namely, about the people I was attempting to serve. A couple walks into the stereo shop where I was working as a high school kid. I was naturally curious about what they were looking for, why they might be looking for it and what kind of music they most wanted to play. First, I remember being curious about who is really doing the shopping here. Is it her? Is it him? Is he helping her, or vice versa? Only one way to find out. Ask.

I was the naive sales guy willing to ask what others thought might be the stupid question. For me, it was less naiveté and more curiosity. There was also the practical element of it all. I needed to know so I could better serve them. I wanted happy customers. The road to happiness isn’t paved with good intentions or anything other than finding out what must be done, then doing what must be done.

In this particular case she was looking for her first real stereo system – not one of those all-in-one affairs that was the starter system for many of us. She wanted to have a really good, albeit not too expensive system. His job was to make sure she didn’t get scammed. I figured as much.

I didn’t ask the usual questions though. He remarked about that. Others wanted to know, “How much do you want to spend?” I never went there even I knew it was a perfectly logical question. The reason I didn’t go there was because it just didn’t feel right to me. It felt like I was just like everybody else and my big driver then (as now) is that I’m not like everybody else. That’s right. I’m better!

If you’re going to be better than everybody else, then stop doing what everybody else is doing. Ask better questions. Prove you’re different. Better!

I asked her what I asked lots of shoppers during those times in hi-fi stores. “What’s your favorite record right now?”

We’re in the mid-1970’s. I don’t remember what her answer was, but it could have been anything from Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon to ZZ Top’s Tres Hombres to some Earth, Wind and Fire funk. Who can remember? Not me.

I do remember the question taking her – and her boyfriend back. They came in for stereo gear. We talked music. I didn’t think it odd at all. Why did we want good stereo gear? That’s right. To play our favorite records. Yes, kids. It was the days of vinyl, turntables and phono cartridges.

Ballard StreetThe boyfriend observed that my question wasn’t the first question they’d been asked elsewhere. “Don’t you want to know how much we want to spend?” he asked.

“Not really,” I said. “I figure you guys will spend whatever you want. I don’t have much control of that. I just want to make sure you know what’s available so you can make the best decision.”

Oh, I had him on his heels now. Armed with specs he may have stayed up all night memorizing so as not to be taken advantage of, and so he might appear the knight in shining armor to his sweetheart, a teenage kid stood in front of him armed with nothing but my love of music, my knowledge of the gear and my desire to find out, “What’s your favorite record right now?”

Oh, I asked many more questions about her record collection including what her all-time favorite record was. Her favorite band. The last concert she went to. I knew she hated disco – beginning to be a thing about that time. I was happy about that because I couldn’t stand disco. She had roommates in college and didn’t want anything too big. Or too loud, except when they had parties. On and on this went as I put record after record on a turntable – the records she most loved, of course. Discovered only because I asked.

And I simply walked them through what an expensive system involved, all the while telling them, “I know you’re likely not looking to spend this much, but let’s talk about why these expensive systems cost what they do. That way I can show you what you give up as we walk down toward systems that may be more what you had in mind.”

It was a strategy I used my entire career in consumer electronics – up until the time I walked away from that industry in 2009 (well, I stopped even consulting in that business by 2011). Old habits are hard to break. When you’ve spent a lifetime in an industry it can be tough to walk away, but I did. I had always heard about “step up” selling, but I never did it. Step up selling is when you attempt to step people up a price point, to a higher level where presumably you can make more profit. There’s little to no profit in the low end of any market. Step customers up to a higher price point and you tend to encounter higher profit margins. It seems logical. I just never did it because again, it sounded like everybody else and my motto was to zig when everybody else was zagging. Besides, it felt much better to teach people about the higher end stuff and most admitted nobody ever took the time to do that. I did. But we both know I’m special. 😉

The boyfriend was disarmed right away because he knew I was no threat to him, or his girlfriend – or their budget. I didn’t even know or care what their budget was. I knew it really didn’t matter. The only thing that mattered was that I have a clear understanding of what she (they) wanted so they could make the best, most informed decision possible and have the system that fit her needs and desires. These things take time. The grand thing about all this for me, at the time, was that we could do it while listening to music. It just doesn’t get much better than that for me. I still miss the hi-fi business. 🙁

I don’t remember how expensive the most expensive system was that we first looked at, but I briefly went over a few key reasons why expensive systems were expensive. Why hi-end turntables performed much better than low-end ones…and why she’d be better off spending more money on the phono cartridge where most people skimped on that and ruined any hope they had to get a great sound. She was learning and my questions demonstrated one key element that good questions always do…

I cared about her.

My competitors hadn’t asked her these questions. They’d gone straight into pitch mode, trying their best to sell her whatever they could. I gave her time, attention and was genuinely interested to know what she most wanted in a hi-fi system. That was over 40 years ago and I’m still the same guy. I’m no longer selling stereo gear (sometimes I wish I were), but I’m still selling, serving people and trying to do good. Working hard to make a positive difference.

You Can Make The Biggest Difference When You Take The Time To Find Out More

I’m typically an impatient man prone to just get on with it. But in the rush to make a sale, I’m like a camel. I can go for long periods of time waiting as I build the relationship, finding out all I can, teaching as much as possible along the way. I know I’ve got my hang up’s. We all do. Maybe for me it’s the desire to appear genuine, knowledgable. I’ve never been too bothered about not being the smartest man in the room. I’ve long joked that even when I’m alone I’m not the smartest guy in the room. But I’m almost always prepared. It doesn’t mean I’m ready, but it means mostly I’m ready enough.

The other day I ran across this little graphic with a quote by Hugh Laurie, the actor who played Dr. House on TV.

The Power Of Asking Better Questions - HIGHER HUMAN PERFORMANCE Podcast Episode 290

Pretty good, huh? I agree with Hugh. Now is as good a time as any. I just always figured it was up to me to put myself in the best position to make now be as right as possible. And with that, you’d think I might over prepare, but not so much. Perfectionism is not my problem. My willingness to accept imperfection is pretty high, but when you live behind my eyes — that’s just how you have to roll.

You’ve heard the famous quote.

“People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care”  Theodore Roosevelt

It’s true. Conversely, I can tell how little you care by how little homework you did, or you little you care to find out what I think, or how I feel. Tell me, don’t ask. And I’ll confirm the shallowness of your concern for me. Ask me, and take the time to really listen. And I’ll know you likely care. Keep doing it and I’ll know how much you care.

Speed dating just gets to a faster no I suspect for those who participate. Speed selling does the same thing.

So I hope I’ve shown you that questions can make you stand out, stand apart from the crowd. They display your genuine care to learn more about the people you’re attempting to serve (those people who may buy something from you). They also serve to give you insight and information that help you make customers happy. Good salespeople are good servants. They don’t want returns, refunds or buyer’s remorse. Ever!

Questions are so powerful they deserve more time than we give them. And more creativity, too.

During my years running retail companies I was fanatically against hearing anybody in stores say, “Can I help you?” It screams, “I’m a salesperson intent on selling you something.” Instead, I taught sales staffs to simply welcome shoppers with a simple, “Good morning” or “Good afternoon” or “Good evening” followed by “Welcome to (insert the same of the store).” Then just shut up, but be attentive.

Inevitably the shopper would ask the first question. It might be asking where something was located. Or something else, but the question they asked would be the ice-breaker where our staff members could begin to build the relationship by asking questions designed to help serve the shopper. The intent behind the questions is important.

They must be designed to find out more in ways that demonstrate you want the person to be armed to make the best decision they can make. All the while arming you with the information you need so you don’t waste their time, or get it wrong.

My college couple shopping for a small starter hi-fi system may have been willing to spend the money for a system that would play twice as loud as she’d ever play it, but it would have been the wrong system for her. How would that have helped me serve her better? How would that have given her anything good to say about me, or the store I represented? I wanted her to tell all her friends about me. I wanted her parties to be successful and for my name to be dropped as the guy who sold her that killer system everybody was enjoying. Getting it wrong would have negated all those things.

Getting it right demands that you ask the right questions at the right time. And today, I’m challenging you to formulate better questions. Get outside the space you operate in. Your industry – whatever industry it may be – it overrun with “me, too” copycat-itis. Every industry is. We find somebody succeeding at something and instantly put it into practice never fully even knowing why it may work for them. Sales gurus peddle scripts guaranteed to bring in more sales. “We’ve tried this script on over 10,000 calls and we know it works.” Well, maybe so, but if you hop down that road copying it, sounding like you’re reading a script I guarantee failure. Besides, if you don’t take the time to understand the value behind it, you can’t own it. And if you can’t own it, then neither will your prospect.

It’s not about scripts. My admonition about store greetings was a script of sorts. How we answered the phone was, too. But it was natural. It was easy. It was straight-forward, friendly and simple. Too many times we get wrapped up in contrivances that we think will “make” people buy from us. Listen, you’re not going to make anybody do anything they don’t want to. You may as well quit trying because it’s a waste of time and energy. Besides that, it’s wrong-headed.

Instead, spend your time crafting questions that will actually help you help your prospective clients. Show them how much you care about serving them well…and getting it right. Do everything in your power to make them feel and understand how motivated you are to “get it right” for them.

The crazy bottom line to all this is stupidly simple: care more. 

Care enough to prepare. Care enough to learn. Care enough to teach. Care enough to share.

Care enough to ask.
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Unforgettable: The Value Of Sequential Marketing - HIGHER HUMAN PERFORMANCE Podcast Episode 264

264 Unforgettable: The Value Of Sequential Marketing

Unforgettable: The Value Of Sequential Marketing - HIGHER HUMAN PERFORMANCE Podcast Episode 264
Nat King Cole sang about it, but you have to practice every day in your organization.

People stop buying from you for the following reasons:

a) They had a poor experience the last time they bought from you, so they don’t come back.

b) They don’t need your products or services any more.

c) They moved.

d) They shop price and have gone to a new lower priced provider.

e) They died.

f) They forgot about you.

It’s that last one that I want to talk about. “How can they forget about us? We’ve been in business since 1938,” said the business owner. The store was located in a market of about 200,000 people. The owner assumed everybody knew all about his business. Because his store had been a fixture in the market for over 70 years he wrongfully concluded that nobody could forget about him. He was wrong.

A casual meeting with the staff revealed that frequent comments were made by shoppers, “You guys are still here? My parents used to shop here. We didn’t know you guys were still around.” In these cases, another generation of shoppers had emerged who simply didn’t think of this store.

Markets, like businesses, are alive. Organic. They’re fluid and always moving.

We can’t assume our business will thrive today just because it’s been around for 70 years. Like people, businesses can grow old and die. Some die of natural causes. Some die due to neglect and abuse. Others are murdered by competition. The job of the business owner is to protect the business – maintain the heath of the company. Part of that job is making sure the market doesn’t forget about the business.

One way to do that is by using sequential communication. Sequential simply means regular, consistent and one after another consistently. Communication can take on many different forms. It could be in traditional advertising such as newspaper advertising, radio or TV spots – or maybe direct mail. It could be in other communications that you don’t think of very often. For instance, it could be the way your phones are answered, the way your employees greet shoppers and all the various scripts that might exist to convey information to your prospects, shoppers and customers. Communication includes how your business cards look, and the message they convey. It includes the message or music used when you put callers on hold. It includes the messages that appear on your sales invoices. The cleanliness and order in your business also conveys important messages to the people who visit your business. Frankly, every interaction with prospects, shoppers and customers screams a message about your business.

Some businesses make the mistake of failing to have congruent messages. That is, they say one thing, but do something else. They may say they’re the lowest price, but shoppers may find it’s just a slogan. They may say they’re fast, but buyers may find their execution is slow. Make sure your business is making good on whatever promises are made by your marketing efforts. Talk is cheap. Your actions must be in step with your marketing promises.

Consistency is a key component in the battle against being forgotten. Part of the challenge of consistency is finding something that works. Businesses tend to chase the quick fix. An owner tries a marketing strategy – let’s say, a direct mail campaign – and it fails. Immediately, he’s looking for a different strategy. However, it could be that the offer wasn’t compelling. It’s the classic case of blaming the messenger for the message. Direct mail is still an effective marketing tool, but the very best list in the world can’t convert if the offer is poor.

Sequential communication, as I’m using it here, is an old concept. It simply means that we don’t just communicate with our prospects once, then hope for the best. It means we plan a series (a sequence) of communications all designed to generate business. The objective is to generate buying customers!

As old as this idea is I’m finding more and more business owners who have never heard it. Trust me. This is not an original idea. My career only goes back to the early 70’s, but it seems I’ve known of this strategy forever. We’ve got some advanced tools today to help us execute it better, but the idea is relatively unchanged.

Here’s the recipe:

1. Contact your list with an offer. This offer can be made via direct mail or via email. It should be made directly to the prospect though. Make the offer as compelling as possible. Spend some time on the offer so it’s unique and not some “me-too” campaign. Build in a way to track the response. You want to know who responds and who does not.

2. Plan a second communication only to the people who failed to respond to the first offer. This is where some business owners fail to see the logic of sequential communication. Many of them see it as a wasted effort. No, it really makes sense if you’ll stop to think about how people behave.

Have you ever asked somebody for something, or invited somebody to something – and they were non-responsive? Sure, it’s happened to all of us. Sometimes they just don’t want to do whatever we’re asking. But other times, they’re doing what we all do. They’re neglectful, forgetful and they procrastinate. Why do you suppose your dentist sends you a postcard reminding you of an appointment you made months ago to have your teeth cleaned? Why do you suppose that same dentist will have somebody call you the day before? Man, they already sent me the postcard. That phone call following the postcard is sequential communication. It’s what brings you back to the same dentist time and again. They’re continuing to make contact and keeping you in the fold of their business. You are their customer and the sequential communication is a crucial part of their strategy to protect their most prized asset – their customer base.

That’s exactly what you want to do for your business. Some people will neglect your first offer. Regardless of the offer, they’ll just fail to act. Maybe they’ll think of accepting your offer when they first see it, but life will take over and they’ll forget. Timing is everything. Sometimes our offer just arrives at the wrong time. You can’t catch everybody at the right time.

When you send your follow-up communication you’re reminding them that you’re still standing ready to serve them. You’re refusing to let them forget about you.

I’m not talking about two different offers. This is the same offer. In fact, it’s important that your second communication remind the prospect that you’ve offered them this before. I suggest that you keep the second communication within 2 weeks of the first one. I have heard of a few businesses that have successfully followed up with a reminder communication beyond 2 weeks, but I think it’s dangerous. Why? Because when 2 weeks have passed the prospect will see it as a brand new offer instead of a reminder of the offer you made earlier. You lose the value of sequential communication when you wait too long. The objective is to make the communication a reminder, not a completely new offer.

Give prospects a reason for the reminder. You have to answer the “why?” question for the prospect. When we get the phone call from our dentist, after we’ve already been sent the postcard – we know exactly why they’re calling us. Apply that same logic in your sequential communication. Help prospects see the clear logic of the second communication.

Let me interject here that I know businesses who have successfully used a series of communications – either direct mail or email – to increase their conversions. Instead of sending one follow-up message, they send more. In some cases, quite a few more.

One of the most discussed topics in marketing is how much communication is too much. You’ll have to judge that for yourself. My thought is, if your offer is compelling enough then it’s hard to over do it. If your best friend was neglecting to take advantage of some offer that you thought was really valuable – would you bug them until they finally told you, “I’m not interested” or would you just let them neglect to take advantage of the deal? Most of us would bug them by telling them how crazy they are if they don’t jump on it. Make sure your offer is compelling, then give prospects every possible consideration to accept it.

Think about how often you reach out and touch prospects. Pay attention. Remember, your first offer will likely hit some people at the wrong time. It may not mean they’re uninterested. It may mean they’re just distracted. Give yourself the best chance to be memorable. Refuse to let people forget about you.

By the way, if you’re operating an organization in a space that doesn’t involve selling something for money, sequential marketing is still highly valuable. Establishing ongoing, profitable communication with the people you serve is crucial in order to be top-of-mind with them.

When I was still a teenager I learned a valuable lesson about selling hi-fi gear. It was quite by accident, but it proved invaluable to me through the years.

At the time mail order houses were the bane of the local retail hi-fi store. People would shop at a local store, listen to the gear they were thinking of buying, then call an 800 number in New York City to get a deep discount on the exact same item. We were used to these things, but knew if we did our job well then we’d likely be able to influence shoppers to buy from us based on a variety of things we could do that the New York mail order houses wouldn’t. For starters, if there was a problem, the shopper knew they could return the item. But that wasn’t the lesson I learned. I learned something far simpler and more powerful.

If I educated the shopper about a feature that meant quite a lot to them I got the credit for that feature. Let’s suppose you cared nothing about the tuner section of a receiver – that is, the radio part of it. I could drone on and on about that and it wouldn’t resonate with you. But if I found out you were really into the preamp section of the unit because records were your thing, then I might mention how a particular unit was known for having a superior preamp section. You’d perk up and pay closer attention. I had already learned the power of asking questions and listening in order to find out what mattered most to shoppers. But now I was learning that if I told you about a feature or benefit that was critical to you, then you’d give me credit for that. It was as though I had personally engineered that feature or benefit into the gear just for you.

Here was the magical thing about it. You could go find that unit cheaper in the back of a stereo magazine and buy it from somebody you’d never met in New York City. Or you could come see me, a guy who had sat with you in a sound room listening with you to your favorite records, and buy from a person who had told you about a specific thing that really mattered to you. By getting credit for the most valuable feature or benefit, you remembered me. And hopefully, it resulted in you becoming my customer.

So it’s not always about being a purple cow. And it’s not about doing something insanely out of the ordinary. Putting the people you serve at the forefront of your efforts is the key. Making it about them, not you. You’ll be remarkable and unforgettable by focusing on helping others in the most selfless way possible. Why? Because it’s rare. It’s unique. And it always will be.

Reach out to serve. Yes, it’s marketing, but it’s because you’ve got something others need and want. Don’t deny them the opportunity to experience what you can do for them. Get in touch. Stay in touch. And don’t stop until they opt out or tell you to quit. Those who opt out or tell you to quit weren’t going to let you serve them anyway so don’t fret about what you fear you may have lost. You’ve lost nothing. You’ve gained tighter focus on those who are most interested in what you have to offer.


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Taking Advantage Of The Disgruntled Customer

Do you know how much it costs to get a new customer? Figure that out. Then, take a new look at your customer recovery/retention practices. You may find that the money you think you’re saving is costing you valued customers.

Another video that I recorded 5 years ago for the retailing space focuses on a supreme opportunity every company has in turning around disgruntled customers. It’s a fast path to greater customer loyalty.

It doesn’t matter if you’re selling software, tires, cars or ebooks. The magic is still in taking care of customers. My business philosophy is still valid.



"We're Not Smart Enough About That Yet" - HIGHER HUMAN PERFORMANCE Podcast Episode 267

Finding The Shortcut To Customer Loyalty

Five years ago I recorded this video. It was primarily for people in the retailing or online selling space, but the message is true no matter what space you’re in, and no matter what you’re selling. Customer experience is still at the heart of the matter.

Some thing never change. Namely, my philosophy that outstanding customer experience is the path to remark-ability! And it doesn’t matter what you’re selling.

Is it possible to create loyalty even when you haven’t sold anything?

Yes, absolutely. It can happen if you’re committed to being remarkable.

People talk about a “loyalty ladder” but I’ve always thought of it as a circle. It starts with a “suspect” (anybody who is breathing), moves to prospects (anybody who might be interested in what you’ve got to sell), then goes to shoppers (somebody who has a higher interest in what you’re selling), then a customer (those are prospects we’ve converted into buyers, but they’ve just bought from us once), then to clients (those are the folks who buy from us more than once) and ultimately ADVOCATES (the people who wouldn’t dare buy from anybody else, or recommend anybody else). We can create advocates from folks who don’t even buy from us though.


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