Author Archives: Peter Coombs

35 Ways to Make Customers Smile

It doesn’t take much to make customers smile. It just takes a little thought and a little effort.

  1. Call them by name.
  2. Listen closely to them, without interrupting.
  3. Write them personalized “Thank you” notes.
  4. Refer business to them.
  5. Tell them how much you’ve learned from them.
  6. Ask their opinion.
  7. Take them to lunch and don’t talk about business.
  8. Offer them suggestions.
  9. Tell them how much you value their business.
  10. Ask great questions to get them thinking.
  11. Ask to shadow them, learning more about their business.
  12. Encourage them with sincere support.
  13. Ask them about what’s important to their customers.
  14. Remember their birthdays.
  15. Post something about them on social media.
  16. Offer to help them solve a problem.
  17. Give them the respect they deserve.
  18. Be honest with them.
  19. Spread good news about them.
  20. Encourage them to try something new.
  21. Show up early.
  22. Give them a personal compliment.
  23. Show up for your morning meeting with coffee and bagels for everyone.
  24. Give without expecting to get back.
  25. Empathize with their challenges and victories.
  26. Help them see the bigger picture.
  27. Ask how you can help.
  28. Sponsor them in charitable fundraisers.
  29. Display a sense of urgency.
  30. Ask how business is going.
  31. Be patient with them.
  32. Help them make great decisions.
  33. Inspire them to succeed.
  34. Check in with them if you haven’t heard from them lately.
  35. Observe them without judging them.






The 4 Secrets of Building Rapport Quickly with a Prospect

Think about your sales call from the prospect’s point of view. They don’t know you well and so they are guarded. Help them feel comfortable with you as a person before discussing what you sell.

Here are some suggestions to help you:


  • Use humor. But not just any humor. Forget jokes, most of us are terrible joke-tellers. Leave joke-telling to the professionals. Instead, show that you have a warm and friendly sense of humor. The goal is to make the prospect smile and be open to you.


  • Be friendly. Ask great open-ended questions about them. One example: “I’m always curious about career paths. Tell me how you got into this business.” Open questions are much less threatening than closed questions. A closed question is one that is answered with yes or no. Or with one word that ends the conversation. Open-ended questions also give the prospect the chance to talk about themselves and their business. Nod, listen and take notes. There are gems hidden in these answers.


  • Be nice. Sounds obvious, doesn’t it? Treat the other person with respect. Don’t interrupt them, let them finish their thought. Build on what they say.


  •  Be a good communicator.  Ask clarifying questions to better understand what the prospect is saying. Maintain eye-contact and good posture. Your words, tone of voice and facial expression should all be saying “I’m interested in you and what you’re saying.”


  • BONUS! Next steps. Now that you have established rapport, you will gently exert some control by stating the agenda: “Today, I thought we would talk about your needs for next year.”  Many prospects are expecting you to control the sales call. They don’t want it to be their responsibility.

Overused Words and Phrases to Avoid in a Sales Call

If you’re like me, you encounter countless overused words andphrases in a sales situation. When I hear them, my attention level goes right down. I’m distracted and I stop listening closely to the speaker.  I ask myself “Don’t they know not to say that?”

Here’s a short list, with some of my prime offenders. Some are jargon, others are overused, and some are just inappropriate in a sales situation. Try to use straight forward respectful language of your own. That would be awesome, dude.

  1. We’re lean and mean
  2. No problemo
  3. At the end of the day
  4. That’s what I’m talkin’ about!
  5. I’m not gonna lie…
  6. We want to go to the next level
  7. That’s why I get the big bucks
  8. It is what it is
  9. Let’s push the envelope
  10. Grab the low hanging fruit
  11. Let’s take this off-line
  12. Let’s think outside the box
  13. Absolutely (when used in place of “yes.”)
  14. Holistic approach
  15. Make an apples-to-apples comparison
  16. Customer-driven organization
  17. This will provide greater transparency
  18. They drank the Kool-Aid
  19. They don’t have enough bandwidth
  20. These are actionable items
  21. Remember, there’s no “I” in team
  22. To tell you the truth…
  23. Have you got a work around for this?
  24. I’m all about Win-Win
  25. We got a seat at the table

7 Things You Should Never Do During a Sales Call

Don’t sabotage yourself by misbehaving on a sales call. Understanding how to conduct yourself with a prospect supports all your good product knowledge and your understanding of your industry. Bad behavior can make it irrelevant.

1. Never underestimate the value of business-related objects in their office. Team photos and sales awards are golden nuggets, waiting to be mined. Show interest – ask about them. Do be careful not to make it the focus of your meeting.

2. Never look at your watch while your prospect is speaking. This is really bad form. It’s telling your prospect that you have somewhere else to go. Keep eye contact with your prospect. It’s a sign of respect and it will help your listening.

3. Never accept a cup of coffee. Once you have it, the cup becomes a distraction for the prospect. They don’t know what you’re going to do with it or where you’re going to put it. They won’t be insulted if you politely say “no thank you.”

4. Never rest anything of yours on your prospect’s desk.  Hands off, it’s their turf. No papers, notebook, elbows, Smartphones, etc.

5. Never, ever, ever trash your competition. Think about it. You’re telling your prospect that they made a terrible mistake when they chose the ABC Company. They don’t want to hear that from you.

6. Never use company policy to tell a prospect “no.” You’re hiding and not being willing to engage in a discussion about what your company can and can’t do. If you insist on quoting policy, be prepared to explain and defend it.

7. Never dominate the conversation. Ask a question, and then pay attention, listening to the prospect’s answer. It’s okay to take a few notes, but try to maintain as much eye contact as possible. Let them speak. Ask questions to refine or clarify their information.

What 3 Businesses Are You In?

Many of you are in small-businesses, working with and supplying other businesses. You sell a specific product or service. And some of you have been doing this for many years. But I’m guessing that you don’t have the volume of business you would like. You want more business from your existing customers. Or, you would like more new customers, or to expand into additional markets.  Or maybe all three. It’s all possible. But the first step is challenging and counter-intuitive: you need to stop selling your product or
service. That’s right. Stop selling. Instead you need to get actively involved in three brand new businesses: Building Relationships, Overcoming Fears, and Providing Solutions. Let’s look at these businesses:

1. Building Relationships. You want to stop being seen as a stereotype: a typical salesperson. You’re not just an order-taker. You are much more than that, but people may not know it.Reach out and meet people. Tell people about you, the person, not the
salesperson. Go to networking events that are attended by your customers and prospects, but don’t go with the goal of landing business. Instead, go with the idea of meeting interesting, new business people. And understand that you are also one of those interesting business people. Go with the idea of representing yourself, not your product.

2. Overcoming Fears is all about helping prospects and customers get through change. If you are a brand new source for them, they’re going to be anxious. They’ve never worked with you before, so you need to calm them down. Be there for them. Let them see they made a great decision in choosing your product or service. Anticipate theirquestions or concerns, bring them up yourself,  and offer strong responses. Another great method to diminish fears is to demonstrate your reliability. Show up on time. Answer voice-mail messages promptly. Make sure your product arrives when promised. Keep your word. All of these will diminish fears and concerns, and build confidence in you.

3. Providing Solutions is simple. You are a specialist, not a generalist. You need to position yourself as a valued resource that will help others solve problems. You do this by using your intelligence, experience, skills, etc. Everything that goes into making you a valued resource. Once you are seen as a solution-provider, you will no longer be seen as a typical salesperson. Instead, you are perceived as someone who supplies value.

These three businesses provide value to your customers and prospects. By focusing on them, and doing less selling, you dramatically increase your chances for success.


“I Was Lucky!”

I recently heard Dr. Mark Hillman, an individual and corporate therapist, speak about Sales Call Reluctance. He is a highly engaging speaker with an interesting mix of humor and directness to his topics.

As part of his talk, he listed different reactions that salespeople have to getting an order. Many of these reactions are based on relief that the sales process is over. It’s great that the sales call was successful. But the relief would have been there no matter the outcome.

The salesperson’s response that struck a nerve with me was “I was lucky!” I hear this with some frequency from my sales coaching clients, and it always prompts a discussion. You getting an order is not a matter of luck or chance. It is the result of working with a customer, asking great questions, and providing a solution they can afford. It is the result of following a selling structure, and knowing what you should be doing next in the sales process. It is also about believing in yourself, your product and your company.

Salespeople many times get in their own way. Their success is blocked by their own words or actions. Here’s an example:

Many years ago, I had a totally different business named The Woodworks. We designed, built and sold custom wood furniture from a storefront on Charles Street in Boston. Our space was lit with track lighting that was full of flood lights, probably around 50 bulbs. Once a month, a light bulb salesman would stick his head in our front door, and ask us “You don’t need any light bulbs today, do you?” My partner and I would look at each other, shrug our shoulders and tell him no, we didn’t need any. “Okay, thanks. I’ll see you next month.” And he would disappear, only to show up again four weeks later with the same negative question. The fact is, we always needed light bulbs, but he put a barrier up between us and his sales efforts with how he phrased his opening question. It would have been simple to ask us “You use a lot of light bulbs. Let’s make sure your space is always lit. How about I set up a buying plan of 15 bulbs per month?”

It sounds obvious, doesn’t it? But I experience this negative mind-set all the time with salespeople, especially those who are selling business-to-business. So, here are a few suggestions for you:

  1. Remain positive in your outlook. Believe in you and your product.
  2. Follow a structured approach to selling, so you know what the next step will be.
  3. If you don’t get the sale, do a quick analysis. Why not? What could you do differently in the future?

Luck, does it ever play a role? Yes, occasionally. But don’t wait around for your luck to change. Take control of your future and stop relying on luck. Better to depend on your skills, knowledge and experience.


End Your 2011 Sales Year with a Bang!

The year is almost over, and you still have time for a last minute push to meet (or exceed) your sales goal. The overall rule with these tips is to let the end-of-quarter and end-of-year time frames work in your favor.

 Here we go:

 1. Remember the customers who said they had to “think it over?” Call them and carefully remind them that they have had a lot of time to review your ideas. It’s time for them to act.

 2. Add-on to a sale. Sell just one more product per order. These can be simple sales and can quickly add up.

 3. Check to see if you have customers who need to spend money in 2011, even if they don’t take delivery until 2012. You’ll be surprised at how many businesses need to spend money before December 31st.

 4. Call the prospects who have been giving you the brush-off.  Talk with them about how you could help them with their first-quarter goals.

 5. Each time you speak with someone, whether you land a sale or not, ask  for a referral. Contact those referrals immediately. Again, let the approaching deadline work in your favor.

 6. Who were your best customers in 2011? Schedule a meeting with each of them. This is a combination of “Thank for the business” and planning for 2012.

 7. Review the proposals that are still not closed. Is there any life in them? If yes, jump on them.

 8. The best way to start off the New Year is by lining up sales calls for January. You’ll go through the holidays with a totally optimistic outlook.



Fifteen Ways to Lose a Sale

As difficult as it is to land a sale, it can be incredibly easy to lose one. Our behaviors and attitudes always need to be positive. We need to be tuned in to the prospect throughout the call, and focused on what’s important to them. Here are a few things to avoid:

1. Assume that every prospect is the same, with identical needs and wants.

2. Arrive late for the sales call, and don’t acknowledge it.

3. Assume you know enough about your prospect, their business, their competition and their industry.

4. Deliver a canned presentation, minimizing the energy and enthusiasm in your voice.

5. Be annoyed when the prospect asks a question, interrupting your presentation.

6. When the prospect is speaking, instead of listening to them, focus on what you are going to say next.

7. Do all of the talking during the sales call. Tell them how great you, your product and your company are.

8. Be slow in answering or following-up to a prospect’s request or inquiry.

9. Promise the prospect the moon and the stars, knowing you cannot deliver.

10. Allow the prospect to control the sales call by focusing on price early in the call.

11. Call the prospect “you” instead of using their name.

12.  Only ask closed-ended questions, not allowing the prospect to expand on their answers.

13.  Ask the prospect for a commitment too early in the sales process.

14.  Make assumptions about the volume of business they could give you.

15.  Assume that you did a great job in that sales call, and think about how much you are looking forward to the next one.


Sales Lessons Learned from Godiva Chocolatier

Some clients are more fun than others. That was true for me with Godiva Chocolatier. I worked with them for six years, delivering countless workshops and talks on sales and customer service. They were a great client. Fun, open to new ideas, and willing to try different approaches. Plus, it was a fun product. I know they learned from me, because they told me so and because I witnessed it in their stores. But I also learned from them. Here are a few of my learnings:

1. Focus on the value. You aren’t selling price if you have a super-premium product. Don’t let customers get you into a price comparison with a lesser-grade product. There are reasons you cost more. Tell your customers these reasons.

2. Engage. Engage. Engage. Don’t hide behind that counter. Get out and meet your customers face-to-face. Shake their hands. Ask them great questions. Welcome them back. Compliment them on something they’re wearing. Make them feel like this is “their” store.

3. Hire the best. Compete by having enthusiastic and energetic salespeople. Hire them for their interpersonal skills. You can always train them in the product and the systems later. Godiva frequently recruited salespeople from cosmetic companies. They were high energy, willing to work with the public, and not afraid to go after a sale. Perfect.

4. Be comfortable selling something you can’t afford. One of the first assignments I had was analyzing why some stores were under-performing. Turned out that several of these stores had managers who couldn’t explain the higher price of Godiva to their customers. Some serious coaching took place, and most of those managers found religion, and sales went back up.

5. Be super-proud of what you sell. The most successful salespeople at Godiva were also the proudest. They loved everything about the product and the company. They knew everything about how the product was made and how it was packaged. They knew the history of the company. They knew everything possible about the ingredients in each piece.  These salespeople wanted their customers to be as passionate about the product as they were.

They took their business seriously, but they never forgot that they were selling a wonderful experience.

Do You Have Customers from Mars?

Some customers make me think they are from a distant planet. They’re the ones that ask me the bizarro questions that I can’t even begin to understand, let alone answer.  They ask questions that begin with “I know this is a crazy, but…” or “You’re going to think I’m nuts for asking you this, but…”  or, my personal favorite, “This has probably never happened before, but…”

I kind of like these visitors from another galaxy.  I accept them and their alien ways. It keeps me on my toes. I have to listen really closely, trying to make sense out of their questions and comments. I keep telling myself that somewhere in this mish-mash of words there is something of value. Nine times out of ten, there is. I have to stay patient, just like when dealing with customers from Earth. And I have to focus and pay attention to them and their thoughts, no matter how Martian it might sound.

The good news is, if I listen, and if I remain patient, and if I pay attention, they will buy from me, just like here on Earth. 

So, here’s to the customers from other worlds. May they continue supporting me, and challenging me with their questions and comments.