What’s New? (Issue 474)

In which we discuss the importance of taking new ideas and new perspectives to our clients to keep them coming back.

“The hotel looks terrific,” I said, speaking to the owner. “The paint looks new, the floors are flawless, the windows and doors look great.”

My family had stayed overnight last week at his hotel, a brief walk from the Hyannis, Massachusetts harbor.

He smiled. “Yes, and did you notice the lights over the vanities? They’re new. And the flat screen TVs? They’re new, too.”

“Wonderful,” I said. “How long have you owned the hotel?”

“Seventeen years,” he replied. “You have to keep up with it, you have to do something new every year, otherwise people don’t come back, you know?”

I know. In hotel world, it’s changes to the premises or, sometimes, the service levels. Something new to keep the guests interested, so they don’t feel like it’s the “same old place” every year. In sales world, it’s ideas or perspective from outside. Clients and prospects ask the questions, “What’s new?”or “What are you seeing?” because they want insight, innovative practices, and particularly good applications of the products or services we sell. If we show up, call after call, with nothing new to offer – no new ideas, no new products, no new perspective, no new questions – we’re not keeping our guests interested.

A similar bit of family wisdom has passed down through four generations in my wife’s family: “Never go visiting with one arm the same length as the other.” Translated: Always carry a gift for your host or hostess. Further translated: Instead of waiting for our clients to ask us “what’s new?” we should volunteer.

Our call plans (we are doing call plans, aren’t we) should include “a gift” for our host or hostess – a gift of information about market conditions, competitors, new developments at our companies, a recommendation about an action, a warning about an impending adverse change, coupled with thought-prompting questions. Four examples:

(Gift) I’m not sure what you’re seeing, and our economist expects interest rates to rise 200 basis points during the next 18 months. If this happens, we expect loan interest rates to rise by that amount or slightly more, while deposit account interest rates lag.

(Thought-prompting questions) If rates rise like that, how will that affect you? What are you considering in the future that might be better done now, while rates are low?

(Gift) Because cash and cash flow are so critical at this point in the economy, we’re seeing an accelerating trend among (businesses similar to yours in some way) to switch to electronic bill presentation and electronic payments from their clients to reduce collection cycle time and reduce costs.

(Thought-prompting questions) What have you noticed among your peer group? How do you feel about this shift? What would tell you it were time to consider this seriously for your company?

(Gift) One of the trends we’ve noticed in the last six months is that businesses as small as $1.5 million in sales in your industry are selling as much as 30% of their business outside of the U.S. They’re turning to exporting to fill the gap left by low demand in this country. In fact, we’ve been able to help a dozen or so of our clients start that process because of our extensive contacts in China and India.

(Thought-prompting questions) How have you thought about the export market? Looking a year or two out, what percentage of your sales would you hope for or feel comfortable with coming from exports?

(Gift) We’ve just introduced a new feature to our X product that will enable you to review exception items on line, real time. Based on our past discussions, I’m thinking this could save you an hour or two a week.

(Thought-prompting question) How do you think that might change your internal processes? How much time do you think you and others could save if you shifted to the on-line, real-time environment?

The idea is to delight and surprise our clients and prospects, much like the Hyannis hotel owner works to delight his guests and draw them back in future years, much like four generations of my wife’s family have carried hostess/host gifts when visiting so that they are considered welcome and valued guests who will be invited back again.

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