Where Rex isn’t the local dog, but a pedigree in giving the right service…

What are the two main business drivers that determine most sales deals?

Price and service!

Neither are straight-forward – the price is easy to get wrong, because you can be obviously too expensive, but also you can be too cheap.

However, good service is something that many businesses think is easy to get right, but so many get it wrong, even when they think they’re getting it right!

It isn’t as confusing as you think – this is the trick: it’s not always about giving a good service; it’s more about giving the right service to your customers. Let me give you an example…

If you like going to the cinema, the chances are you’ll watch most of your movies at one of the big multi-screen complexes in the middle of an out-of-town retail park. Each time I go, I always find myself mumbling about the cost of the tickets, and the cost of the bucket-sized fizzy drinks, yet I always go back. Why? Because they have the largest choice of movies, the most screenings, and they have the movies I want to see on the day they are released. So the service they offer has me hooked despite, not because of the other parts of their offering that make me grumble (price etc.)

However, I discovered the flip-side of cinema-going the other day – and it made me realise how effective offering the right service can be.

Since the advent of the multi-screen monoliths in the late 80’s and early 90’s, most of the traditional single-screen cinemas of my youth have unfortunately gone by the way-side. However, one or two of these privately-owned old palaces have bucked the trend and are proving to be a success, even when lost in the huge shadows cast by their digitally-enhanced cousins. How do they manage to do this? By offering the right service to their customers.

I had the happy experience of visiting one of these tiny shining lights the other day with my better half and her little boy. It would have been easy to let misty-eyed nostalgia effect my observations, so I tried to be as hard-nosed as the ice-creams during the intermission would let me!

So, how do they compete with the might of the multi-plex cinemas? Well, they don’t even try – which is brilliant.

Their admission is cheaper, and their drinks and ice-creams certainly are – but that isn’t the reason for their success. They don’t even get the big movies on the day they are released, because the one we saw the other day had probably been showing elsewhere for a month. So what exactly have they got?

Well, for starters a nice line in homeliness. The place actually felt welcoming instead of clinical and efficient. There was an aroma of polish and bees-wax rather than air-freshener.

Next, the staff all actually looked like they were genuinely interested in the running of the cinema and giving the customers a good time – the young guy serving the pop-corn actually explained to the kids that he had to make some more, rather than saying they had sold out.

They also chose the movies they were going to show, rather than being told by share-holders what block-busters to have on the screens. This meant they could hand-pick the films their customers actually wanted to see, rather than being forced to see. They even run successful retro film nights, which sounds like a great idea.

Basically, I felt my custom had been actually appreciated. Of course, I had paid my money and I had got what I was buying (which is what big cinemas trade on) but in reality I had got so much more. I had got an experience of being wanted, which was the right service for me, and one that I will be repeating soon.

Take a look at your business – are you offering what you think is a good service, or is it the right service for your customers?

Smiths lose to the young Bucks…


My inspiration to blog about all things sales-y comes from many sources, and often from the observations I make as I make my way through my every day, normal life – like this morning for instance.

It’s a Saturday and I have just been to the gym and was looking forward to having a flick through the newspapers whilst enjoying a Starbucks coffee. But first I needed the newspaper, so I went to the WH Smiths store across the road.

I have fond memories of WH Smiths from my childhood – it was where I used to buy my drawing pads and pencils so I could draw my favourite super-heroes from the comics I had just bought with my pocket money. In fact, its name is almost as much a part of my childhood memories as the much-missed Woolworths. Anyway back to today…

WH Smiths is no longer the jewel in the crown of the high street it once was, and the store I was in has in recent years reduced its floor-space to about a third of what it was – cost saving no doubt. Unfortunately, those saving don’t appear to have been passed onto staff training!

With newspaper in hand, I stood in a queue the size of which made me think someone must have been giving away a free bar of gold bullion with every Daily Telegraph, or had Smiths just had a resurgence in popularity that was going to result in a hundred new shops opening before the end of the year?

No – they only had one person serving, and she had all the enthusiasm of a turkey writing Christmas cards. Not once did she make eye contact with any customer, not once did she ask if there was anything else we needed, and not once did she say sorry for our wait.

I looked around me for reinforcements – someone to help this girl from her slow, lingering retail sales death. Yes there was one – a young guy with his WH Smith embossed shirt unbuttoned low enough to reveal a heavily tattooed chest and a crucifix around his neck so big even Van Helsing the vampire-slayer might need a fork-lift to borrow it.

Would he be her knight in shining armour and “jump on” the till beside her?

 No – instead he adopted a well-developed hundred-yard stare focussed on nothing particular, and especially not the snaking queue or his fast-withering sales colleague.   

In front of me, a lady was trying to exchange a cut-out newspaper voucher showing a picture of a pack of pens for an actual pack of pens.

“They’re not the same,” said the sales girl.

“Yes they are. They’re the same make and colour,” said the customer.

“No, you’re wrong. They’re not the same. We sold out of those this morning,” said the sales girl.

“Can you check?” asked the customer.

The sales girl gave a tut (yes, a TUT!) and waved to someone who looked vaguely like the manager, who had been hitherto hiding behind a pile of hard-back books, no doubt wondering why God had put her on this planet to work in WH Smiths.

The manageress came across, snatched the voucher from the customer’s fingers, snatched the pack of pens from the sales girl’s fingers and flounced off over to the stationary display, only to return with another pack of pens which she gave to the customer and said, “You can have these.”

I couldn’t keep the wide grin of surprise and incredulousness off my face. This shocking display of bad customer service was then topped off like a cherry on a cake, when the manageress did in fact “jump on” the next till. I was next in line.

Did she register my smile? Did she say sorry for my wait? Did she even ask if I wanted a bag? No, no and – no. I was summarily dismissed with a curt “Next!”

I was still shaking my head when I walked into Starbucks – the difference in service hit me in the face like a bucket of cold water.

Smiles, eye-contact, engagement and almost genuine interest in how your day was going – crowned by the master-stroke of asking your name when you ordered so when your drink was ready it wasn’t simply a tall skinny latte extra hot wet, but Damian, your latte is ready – brilliant!

Is it a surprise that Starbucks is a 21st century sensation that has become a mainstay of our new coffee culture? No.

Also, is it a surprise that WH Smiths is disappearing down the dumper faster than I can say CUSTOMER SERVICE? Definitely NO!

Why? Because the Starbucks staff are well trained, supported and their interaction with the customers is monitored. Not in a Big Brother way, but to just ensure that we, the customers, get the service we expect.

As for WH Smiths, I would imagine their staff training stops at how to make sure the newspapers are the right way up!

Don’t make the same WH Smiths mistakes with your business, or you could end the same way as Woolies!


Don’t let your sales messages get lost in translation…


Although I’ll be resuming my A to Z of Simple Sales Tips after the summer break, I just wanted to share with you how I made a big mistake the other day.

I am currently looking after a project team, and each day I have to brief out changes to procedure and other pieces of information that are important for them to complete their work.

Sometimes I’ll do this verbally, though most of the time I’ll deliver the information via e-mail.

It was with one of these emails that I committed the cardinal sin of communication – I didn’t spell out exactly what I wanted my team to do.  Instead, I made the mistake of presuming that they would know where to find the information spread-sheets I was referring to in the email.

The end-result of this mistake was me having to burn much midnight oil whilst I rectified the errors.

Now let me stress, this was not, in any part, my team’s fault – it was all mine for not being clear, concise and bullet-proof with my instructions.

This blunder on my part reminded me of a recent conversation I had with a client of mine about their website. They were having problems converting the traffic they were getting to their site into sign-ups for their newsletters.

I said I would check out their website and find out what the problem was.

The reason for their lack of newsletter take-up was two-fold: The link for the newsletter wasn’t on their homepage, and there was no information about the newsletter even when you did find the link.

In short – they were making it too difficult for their audience to do what they wanted them to do (sign up for the newsletter) and there was no obvious benefit in doing so anyway!

It was the same mistake I had made with my team – I hadn’t made it easy for them to carry out the task I wanted them to do, and I hadn’t explained why it was important that they did it.

This was a communication break-down on my part. As communication is the core element of any successful sale, don’t let yours get lost in translation!


95% of our customers say they would recommend us to their friends and family… so why don’t they?


Although this isn’t one of my A to Z of Simple Sales Tips, I thought it was worth sharing with you…

A while ago I was walking past the window of my local solicitors. In the window was a poster that proudly declared that, following a survey, 95% of their customers said that they would recommend them to their friends and family.

Quite impressive you might think – I certainly thought so. I mean, for any business to be able to say that more than 9 out of 10 of their customers would recommend their services to their nearest and dearest is pretty damn impressive.

So, after such a bold declaration, I was looking forward to meeting the proprietors of said solicitors at the next local networking meeting.

On the day of the event, I made a bee-line for them and introduced myself.

I was about to congratulate them on their customer survey when they stopped me and said: “We’ve always had trouble getting customers to recommend us.”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. The firm of solicitors that had gone to the trouble of conducting a customer survey, in order to find out that 95% of their customers would happily recommend their services, were saying they have trouble getting recommendations!

This was one of the biggest contradictory statements I had ever heard. Logically, there should be no reason why a business who is loved enough by their customers to say they would recommend them to practically anyone, would struggle to actually get recommendations.

However, the reason is massively simple.

I asked the solicitors who were having trouble getting their customers to recommend them a question.

“How often do you ask your customers for a recommendation?”

The blank faces answered the question. They had never asked for a recommendation.

Why? Because they assumed that by giving a great service (good enough to get a winning survey) their customers would automatically recommend them – without asking!

Here’s a revelation – people don’t just recommend you. It’s not in our psyche to do so automatically, certainly not in the UK.

We need a gentle prod, a helping hand, a steer in the right direction. Put another way, we need to be asked to do it.

Ask for recommendations and the chances are you will get some.

But one thing is for certain – if you don’t ask you will almost certainly get none, even if you do have customers who have told you that they would recommend you to 95% of their friends and family.

Get asking!

How to avoid a holiday hangover for your business…


I thought I’d take a break from the A to Z of Simple Sales Tips to give you a topical tip for the summer holiday season.

Many of us at this time of year take our annual holidays – typically a week or two in the sun. However, research has shown that for people who run their own business, a two-week break can often lead to as much as a month’s worth of lost income!

Let me explain why this is…

In the week leading up to the holiday, we often end up getting lost in a mad whirl of tickets, passports, currency and packing – with business meetings being relegated to the back seat. But the week (or weeks!) following our holiday can often be far worse!

How many times have you come off holiday to an empty diary? No business appointments lined up and no-one to talk business to.

This scenario slows down your ability to deal with the PHBBs (Post Holiday Business Blues) and before you know it you’ve already written off your first week back and are convincing yourself that the following week will be better!

Just like that, the cost of a two-week holiday has rocketed to include the price of the holiday itself, the spending money – and now a month’s worth of lost business! How many of us can truly afford to do that?

So, in order to avoid a holiday hangover for your business, in the week before your pre-holiday week (or even more in advance if you’re organised) ensure you nail down some business meetings in your diary for the days before you go on your break.

In addition – and this is even more important – make sure you definitely nail some for the week you get back – in fact, the best way to get your “work” cogs turning again after a glut of sun, sea and sangria is to have a business meeting scheduled for your first day back.

This will, without doubt, get you back in the business grove and on your game in record time – crucially, it will reduce the chance of suffering a holiday hangover that costs you a month’s worth of wages!

Happy holidays!


A to Z of Simple Sales Tips: K – Kicking your opposition is like kicking yourself!


I used to know a pub landlord who would regularly criticise the merits of certain rival establishments. At first I would take his caustic comments as worthy advice, and steer clear of said drinking-holes as if they were riddled with the plague. However, after a while I came to realise, he only criticised a rival pub when he considered them to be a genuine threat to his business.

So if I heard him commenting on the poor nature of another bar, I would purposely visit that pub, and you know what? More often than not, the pubs had great merit and were well worth the visit!

More importantly, my respect for my local pub landlord plummeted and I never listened to his advice again. In other words, in trying to kick his rivals he ended up kicking himself!

This is a trap that is easy to fall into with your own business, especially if you have close rivals vying for the same orders.

Never allow yourself to get involved in a war-of-words about your competitors – the only worth-while way to build good, sustainable business relationships is to focus on the benefits of your service, not the weaknesses of your competitors.

It’s not about trying to take the moral high-ground, but it is about making sure your own glass is double-glazed first rather than throwing stones at other people’s windows!

Next time, look out for…

L – Living the brand you are (whether you like it or not!)