Just today I was talking with a Quotenamic client about pushy sales tactics and how people respond badly to them. As someone who has spent a lifetime in sales I understand that there are different levels of pressure that are appropriate to apply in certain sales environment.
Also that different people respond differently to certain sales approaches. However, in the context of a quote that has been provided for a job, something that a business owner has invested their time in preparing, I find it beyond discourteous on the part of the potential customer not to give a yay or nay.
My personal view of professional manners aside. Put yourself in the customer’s shoes. This example applies in many both B2C and B2B interactions. They have gone to the effort of requesting that you go to the effort of providing an estimate. This suggests that they have a need that they feel you can fill.
That means that they’re probably going to buy from someone. It also means that the something they are buying, or having someone else do for them is something that they don’t feel they can provide or do for themselves. This means that they may well have questions.
On average, your prospective customer will request at least 3 quotes. If they do have questions and you don’t call them back but someone else does, chances are you’ve wasted your time, resources and money quoting for a piece of business that you’ve left on the table.
What is pushy about giving someone a quick call a couple of days after you have sent the quote and saying: “Hi John, Barry here, just wondering if you had any questions about the quote I gave you on Tuesday?”
That’s not a pushy sales tactic. It’s a helpful, useful thing to do which also helps you as a business owner to plan out your time.
Another non-pushy tactic, well, perhaps a little more direct, is to say something like this: “John, I know you really wanted this done next week and my diary is filling up, just wanted to check if you’d made a decision yet so I can fit you in if you’re going ahead”.
You’re always going to come across time wasters. Without question there are going to be a certain percentage of people who will request an estimate with no intention of going ahead immediately. That percentage is, in our experience, pretty small.
However, by proactively following up on every single quote that you put out we have found that our customers are able to increase conversion rates by up to 20%. If you’ve got a small business that is doing half a million a year in turnover, you could be leaving an extra $100,000 on the table simply because you don’t want to appear pushy.
That just doesn’t seem sensible to me. In fact it seems totally illogical. As a business owner you put a lot of yourself into operating your business. You also most probably have a few very important people that rely on the income from it.
Quotenamic is a revolutionary new platform that is changing the lives of small business owners and sole traders around the world by taking the hassle out of following up on quotes and estimates.
On the surface, freelance marketplaces are fantastic. With the promise of getting any job done by a qualified professional at a reasonable rate, quickly. They do work reasonably well for the occasional odd job. Need some one-off marketing copy written? Jump in and do it. What if there’s a quick software project or you need a website built. Yes, they work extremely well for that sort of thing too.
Here’s where they don’t work. When you need someone consistently. Say you want someone to answer your phones, to engage with your customers by email or to work with you on a full time or permanent part time basis. Here’s why:
In all the same ways that freelancers work well for businesses. The transient nature of freelancing is often the reason that the freelancer is offering their services on a platform like this in the first place. Want to hear some horror stories from someone who has been in the trenches? Sure, let’s take me for instance.
I was looking to employ a full time assistant to help me out with data mining, social marketing and handling email. Just all that basic admin stuff that I really don’t get time to do while I’m on the road. With the number of social media platforms that I have to regularly publish to in order to support my marketing efforts and generate leads for my offline businesses.
I’d seen all the promotional stuff for the major freelancing platforms and, I figured that if they did what it said on the box that they’d be a perfect fit for my needs.
So I went ahead and signed up with one. Gave them my credit card details and started advertising for candidates. I got a response too. An overwhelming response, hundreds of applicants. The problem was, even though the response was overwhelming, most of the candidates were pretty underwhelming.
2 days after running the ad I logged into my dashboard to start shortlisting. It took me a full Saturday to work through all the CVs until, out of nearly 250 applicants, I had arrived at a shortlist of… 4.
Freelancers treat these platforms from the perspective that if they apply for 10 jobs and get 1 then it’s good. The problem is that because they’re in such a hurry to scatter-bomb their applications that they tend not to properly read the ads in the first place. That means that the vast majority of your applicants are not going to properly fit your requirements. The downside, you’ve got to weed through the rubbish to get to the gold.
In any case, I finally found the right candidate, or shall I say who I thought was the right candidate, for the role. I hired him. Off we went. Me spending Sunday at a BBQ with friends secure in the knowledge that he was starting on Monday, I’d give him a quick run through then we’d be away laughing.
Regrettably I was mistaken. Monday morning came, I’m in Perth and he was in the Philippines – both in the same timezone – we’d agreed on an 8am kick-off for the training and I figured I’d be done by 12 and back out on the road.
He finally logged in at 11.
Being as I’m a pretty optimistic bloke, I gave him the benefit of the doubt and (unwisely in hindsight) accepted his excuse. Of course I was only paying him while he was signed in so that wasn’t an issue. The point is that I’d hired him to fill a specific need in my business and was fully prepared to pay him full time.
To cut a long story short, it came to pass that, in spite of the fact he’d sworn he didn’t during the interview process, he had other clients and was planning on managing his time investment in both my and their businesses in the hopes that no one would notice.
I certainly noticed, and I’m sure they did. Over the course of the next three weeks, after investing 5 straight hours that Monday training him and many more hours while he got rolling, I terminated the contract.
I then decided to try again. The same pattern repeated itself through three more assistants. When it got to the end of it all I was tired, out of pocket several hundred dollars and was wondering if those freelancing platforms did indeed do what they said on the box.
A few months passed and, in the interim, I took on a fellow Aussie based in the Philippines as my marketing manager. He offered to give it another go.
So here we went again, at least this time it wasn’t me weeding through all the rubbish, it was him. The first person he brought on board was great for about 2 weeks. Then he went off the radar for three days. When questioned he said he was dropping his kids off at school. For three days? I would’ve appreciated it if he could have been just a little more inventive than that. I know the traffic in Manila is nuts but… well, you get the picture.
My man in Manila sacked the guy on the spot, then the process began again. Our next contender was awesome on paper. Had all the required qualifications and was available during the prescribed hours.
Went great for a week until she sent both myself and my marketing manager an email threatening to screw with all our data and social sites unless we gave her a pay rise. We got the passwords changed very quickly (yes I now use a password manager that doesn’t give anyone access to the passwords, lesson learned) and ended her contract.
In this case it really was third time lucky. We found a fantastic girl in Manila who has now been working with us for nearly two years. How much did I spend going through those first few candidates that didn’t work out? Including my own time and the time of my marketing manager? Close to $10,000.
These days we manage our staff directly in the Philippines. Of course we’re in the lucky position to have someone based there that can take care of it. The majority of Australian small businesses don’t have that footprint which can make it tough.
In the end I teamed up with my marketing manager and we launched Quotenamic. To save other Aussie businesses going through the same pain.
In what was an extremely eye-opening experience I headed off to the Philippines to identify potential outsourcing partners. I was expecting it to be a pretty standard sort of experience. Book a few appointments, assess my options and make a decision. I booked appointments in Manila, Baguio City and Cebu. My reason for these choices is that they have large call centre operations, world class internet connectivity and reliable electricity.
Here’s the problem though. I was only looking for one or two seats. To even book meetings with the larger operators was virtually impossible. The meetings I did get with the larger companies were just sales pitches, no flexibility offered and they made it very clear to me that growing companies were not their target market. At first I became disheartened as first my meetings in Baguio City and then my appointments in Manila bore no fruit.
I did get to tour a few larger facilities though. I was actually pretty unimpressed. The floors look like holding pens full of humanoid robots with headsets on. Everything is scripted and it’s all a numbers game. Having happy, productive staff is important to me, especially so when they are in a customer service role. If they’re not happy and comfortable in their role (no matter if that role is in Australia, The Philippines or anywhere else in the world) then they’re not going to take good care of my customers. If my customers aren’t happy then my business is at risk.
By the time I was preparing to board my flight to Cebu I was disheartened, disappointed and not exactly full of hope that I was going to find what I was looking for. That said the trip was all booked, the appointments were set and I figured at the very least I would gain more insights into how not to do outsourcing effectively.
My first meeting was with a smaller, generalist outsourcing company at the Cebu City IT Park. The facilities at the IT Park itself are world-class. I was instantly impressed.
As we toured the office space I walked passed the other companies sharing the floor. More rooms full of robots. Out the window of the lunchroom: the logo of a huge Australian telco. I was, once again, losing hope.
What was different about this particular meeting though was that it was to last a couple of days, not 90 minutes. The plan was for me to actually get in and interview some staff, experience the operation to the fullest and gain a real understanding of how the business process outsourcing (BPO) industry works in the Philippines. Something that the other companies I had connected with did not give me the chance to do.
Over the course of the next few days I interviewed about 30 candidates with the owner. Spent time with other members of his team and was extremely impressed to have several candid conversations about what fish hooks to expect in the process.
I learned a lot. Here are a few of the major takeaways:
Almost without fail when I was interviewing someone who was currently working for, or had recently left one of the big companies was that their reason for leaving, or wanting to leave, is that they did not enjoy the experience of working in that environment. Yes, there are a lot of operators that do actually care about their teams but there are also a lot that don’t.
Here’s a story that was recounted to me by one candidate that we interviewed: He was on a customer support contract for a large American telephone company. His target was to finish every single call within 3 minutes. The content of these calls was often quite technical help with smart phones. He had a real heart for customer service and, while he did his best to hit the target, he also did everything he could to actually help the customer on the phone.
In spite of his best efforts, 3 months in he was hauled into the office by his manager. His target per call was out by 30 seconds. That extra half minute he’d spent trying to actually deliver on his promises cost him his job. As he was still within his first 5 months of employment he was summarily dismissed.
Another thing that came up very regularly in those conversations with candidates was the term ‘endo’. It is short for end of contract and it goes back to that 5 month thing I mentioned in the last paragraph.
Under Philippine labour law an employee is regularised until they have been in the job for six months. What regularisation means in this context is access to employee benefits like healthcare, annual bonuses and various other things that employers in the Philippines are legally obligated to provide.
I would estimate that 70% of the candidates we interviewed over that two day period were there because they had been ‘endod’. Regularised employees cost businesses more to employ and, with so many people looking for work the call centre industry has a reputation for abusing this loophole in order to save money.
To me this is counter-intuitive as a business owner. Surely if you’re going to invest time and effort into training someone, develop a relationship with them and entrust them with a role in your business it makes sense to retain that knowledge in the business. Additionally if you’ve got a room full of 1000 people, all of whom know they’ve got 5 months to live (so-to-speak) then there’s going to be no loyalty. Nor are they going to care about the work they do. By 3 months in they’ll be taking sickies to go to interviews.
In my 20 years of, first business management and then business ownership experience, I’ve always held staff retention as one of the most important metrics. Especially in customer focused environments. They are not an expense but an investment.
The other problem, and this is obviously related in no small way to the endo situation. Is that when staff members join these larger operations they get assigned a number, assigned a desk and given a procedures manual plus, perhaps a few hours of seminars. The lack of individual attention once again results in staff members feeling disconnected from the business.
Then there are the targets. Everything is a metric in those larger operations. One big numbers game. I am a fan of setting targets that challenge team members to push themselves but if they don’t hit those numbers, instead of just sacking them, I look at three things:
How do I get the answers to these questions. Performance review and management. That is to say I engage with the staff member in question and ask why instead of just shuffling them loose and calling HR to send me another robot.
This results in team members that engage, strive to improve and, most importantly of all, are comfortable communicating with me when things arise. The end result of that is better customer service, a more highly skilled workforce and staff retention.
I hired that small, generalist BPO. With the intention for both companies to grow together and work together to achieve an effective, well-rounded work force that looks after the company, the management team and, most importantly of all, the customers.
There is a huge gap in the market when it comes to outsourcing. That is smaller companies in Australia and further afield that don’t have the skills, resources or time to manage a remote team. That’s where Quotenamic comes in and why we founded it. Get in touch today if you’d like to find out more.
Are you thinking of outsourcing essential parts of your business to The Philippines, India or one of the other global hotspots? Don’t do it. Especially not if you’re planning to try and self-manage them on something like UpWork. Don’t even think about engaging with one of the big call centres if you’re taking less than 20 seats, either. Want to try and self manage a single seat lease in a serviced office from Australia? Dream on!
Yes outsourcing works. Yes freelance Virtual Assistants are incredibly useful and effective if managed properly. Yes, if you follow the lead of some of Australia’s biggest companies and partner up with one of the major Business Process Outsourcing operators, take hundreds (or even thousands) of staff on board you’ll get looked after very, very well.
If you don’t have any experience directly managing multi cultural teams. If you aren’t willing to physically go there at least a few times a year. If you haven’t got extremely solid SOPs which are easy to understand then, unfortunately, it just won’t work. Sure, if you’ve got a one-off job then go to UpWork or Freelancer, hire someone to design a logo or to write a blog post. That’s what freelancers are for. Too many people use those platforms to manage full time, or nearly full time staff. Here’s why that doesn’t work.
Australian small businesses can save big by using freelancing platforms. Absolutely. No employment on costs, no hassles with contracts. You’re not going to end up in a tribunal and, yep, if a staff member doesn’t perform properly, lets you down or your needs change – guess what, you summarily dismiss and move on.
Basically, in my experience, most people who use freelance platforms to employ full time people are doing it for these reasons. Not only does that make them bad employers, but you’d have to question their general ethics. Where the freelance sites really come into their own is when you’ve got a whole lot of small projects that require different skill sets. That’s what they’re designed for and they work extremely well.
Here’s the thing about a freelance platform, not only can the employer summarily dismiss someone, the employee can just walk out with no notice. When you’ve engaged with someone, trained them, spent all that effort working extremely hard to get them engaging with your customers (not to mention in many cases encouraged them to build a relationship with your customers) and this happens. It can be extremely expensive to resolve.
One Quotenamic customer that engaged us to consult with them on how to resolve exactly this problem had been through six VAs in as many months. Each and every one he had put through training, and within 2 weeks they were either gone of their own volition or he had to let them go (mainly for not being available when they said they would be). So let’s say it takes 20 hours to get someone up to speed on a basic VA position. That’s about average unless the requirements are extremely simple. Here’s how that math works out:
Employer’s hourly rate: $100
VA’s hourly rate: $5
20 hours of training = $105 * 20 = $2100 in lost income and direct employment cost.
2 hours of screening, interviewing and advertising to find the replacement candidates: $200
Total cost of employment: $2300
6 VAs lost in a year: $13,800
This was the case for this particular business, a tradesman who hired a VA to make his life easier with things like updating his website, writing blog content and doing his SEO as well as direct e-mail follow up with his clients after he’d submitted a quote for their perusal. What was he doing wrong?
It’s a lot easier to pay an SEO freelancer, a blog writer and a web designer for a few hours a week (as in three individual people) than it is to find that skillset all in one place. As to providing long-term customer service to his customers though, many of whom were repeat, UpWork is not the place to find that. Nor is it somewhere to find someone with the skillset to convert a prospect once the quote has been submitted.
How did we do things differently for this particular client?
First off we recommended that the non-customer facing stuff (blogging, SEO and web management) remain on UpWork. None of these things take a lot of time and nor do they cost a lot of money. They are also not consistently required, here the flexibility of a freelance platform really makes sense. Especially when they don’t involve a lot of training and really don’t have any impact on your business if you have to replace them.
Then we fully automated all of his outgoing quotes. In this case his pricing was easily quantifiable. It’s not always the case but by-and-large our team can make it happen. We’ve automated quoting systems for everyone from Bobcat operators to Insurance salespeople to Graphic artists and Printers. Anything that is quantity based and anything that has fixed pricing based on specific variables.
We then embedded this form on his various web pages.
He didn’t have to drive around and see clients all over town. They put the information into his website and a few minutes later they automatically receive a professionally designed PDF quote attached to an email with all his branding on it.
That still left us with a problem…
What about the customer service aspect? Here’s where the Quotenamic team really come into our own.
After working through to understand his business comprehensively we suggested that he stop answering his phone and his email entirely.
Here is what sets Quotenamic apart from services like UpWork and those big call centres that the likes of certain Australian Telcos like to work with. We are a completely Australian managed company. More than that, only one of the three Australians involved is actually based in Australia (yes, there’s someone on the ground you can call too).
The other two individually interview each and every candidate, on the ground. They are also available to them on a day-to-day basis to train them and get them up to speed with the needs of the people they are working on behalf of. They work directly with the clients but there is always an Australian on site that the client can call if there are any problems. If there are problems, we take them extremely seriously and deal with them swiftly.
His phone seldom rings unless it is one of our team telling him that they’ve booked a job, on total autopilot. 9 times out of ten the first thing he knows is when he gets notified that it’s booked in his calendar. The other person who regularly calls him is his mother. Oh, and his mates. He’s always got time to talk to them and because he’s not racing around town individually assessing each and every quote he’s not usually on the road, either.
Of course… it must be costing him a bomb!
Actually no, it’s not. It is costing him a lot less per month than those full time VAs on UpWork did (especially when you consider the cost of them resigning, getting fired and training replacements). It varies a little on a case-by-case basis but, generally his monthly bills are around $400 Australian dollars all told with his phone calls included.
It does not have to be expensive to put something like this in place, but if you approach it without the knowledge on the ground and the experience of a company like Quotenamic. It can be an extremely costly mistake.
P.S. – just in case you were wondering. If you could find a call centre outsourcing operation that would allow you to have a single seat and manage the staff member for you, they start at north of $1500. Of course, a certain Telco pays a lot less but most of us just do not have the need for thousands of staff.
The Quotenamic team are really active on Linkedin where we share loads of great tips and tricks for growing your business. Here’s a recent post from Damon which takes a look at price vs value and a service-based approach to quotes and estimates.
Every small business owner has had moments where they wish that the hardest part of their lives could be made more straightforward. It’s easy enough
Let’s face it, one of the hardest parts of building relationships with customers is getting in touch with them. No matter what the business is that you’re in, the money is always in the list. One thing that so many small businesspeople forget to do (or just put in the too hard basket) is following up on old data. Here’s an example from within my own business that won me over $20,000 in swimming pool removal work with no additional advertising spend and only took a few hours of my time.
Things got slow (as they often do around the end of the year) and I was sick and tired of watching the Bobcat sit there doing nothing when I knew it could be on a site making me money. I took a look back through our old data. We had a total of 210 leads that had made enquiries about swimming pool removal over the course of the last 12 months, none of these had converted into jobs.
Over the course of 2 or 3 days, I resolved to call them all, find out if they still needed the work done and take the chance to do some quality competitor and market research while I was at it. Here’s what came out of it:
When things are quiet then you need to get creative, if you’ve got leads that aren’t being followed up then you’re giving money away to your competition. Following up doesn’t mean just doing it once, either.
[bctt tweet="When things are quiet then you need to get creative."]
If someone says they’re not quite ready and give them a call back in 3 months, do you do it? If not then why not? How difficult is it to make a calendar note on your phone (or an old-fashioned diary if you prefer) and put yourself into that discipline of picking up the phone and making a call.
I made enough money that week to buy a small car. All during a week when I would normally have my guys sitting at home hoping for work, my equipment sitting in the yard and me at home twiddling my thumbs stressing about the mortgage.
This example is one where you’re dealing direct with customers. Picking up the phone and calling other contractors who you used to do work for but haven’t heard from for a period of time is also hugely powerful.
Business to business sales is all about maintaining relationships, if you give someone a call, ask how business is going and generally chew the fat once every couple of weeks then when the work does come up, you’re going to be at the top of their mind.
This initiative and others like it have been so hugely successful for me that I’ve actually hired people full time to do my follow ups now. What have my results been? Tremendous. It has transformed my business completely. I know that not all tradies are in a position to bring on a full time team, that’s why I’ve built a system that enables any tradie in Australia to access a team to do it for them for a fraction of the cost of doing it in house. Click here to get in touch if you’d like to know more.
Every single time I do a site visit to quote on a job I lose an average of three hours of my day. By the time I drive across town, find the place, assess the job and then drive all the way back to my office to put the quote together and send it out it’s often more than that.
The number of times that I used to go through all that on an average week I estimated that it was costing me, in lost business, gas and other resources, north of $1000 a week. Considering that most of these quotes are the same or very similar I figured there had to be a better way.
Let’s take a lawn removal job as an example. There’s not much to pulling out a someone’s lawn. I need to know where on the property it is so I know what machinery might be required when it comes to tight access and I need the dimensions. 95% of lawn removal jobs want to go 100 mils or so down. One thing I don’t need is a site visit, I don’t even need to give the clients a call, I realized that all of this could be fully automated with a simple online form.
When I actually put my thinking cap on, I realized that this applies to almost everything I do. I put together a crack team and they started the development process. My prospects are now automatically quoted, 24 hours a day, with a professional, personalised quote – I get a copy, as does the team at Quotenamic.
24 hours later Quotenamic follows up with the client. They ask how they felt about the quote and 9 times out of ten put the job in my calendar then and there! The first I know about it is when I get notified that the job is booked in. If the prospect says that they don’t want to go ahead, the team drill down to find out why. If it is a matter of going with someone else they ask why, this enables me to win more business in the future by keeping an eye on what my competitors are up to.
When I complete the job I just let the Quotenamic guys know and they go ahead and issue the invoice. Then they call the client to check if they were happy with the work, encourage them to leave us an online review and ask about referrals. Often 100% of my interactions with my clients relate to doing the work – no more wasted time.
This is how this restructuring of the back end of my business has changed my business:
When I think back to the days of driving around town, handsfree on the phone, wasting my time on quotes and answering calls I don’t recognize myself. My phone doesn’t ring that much anymore, all my business calls are taken care of by Quotenamic. If my phone goes it’s usually a mate or a family member. My business is basically on auto pilot, I’m saving money and generating more work than ever before.
Using Google Apps to streamline small business operations
It’s tough to go online these days without using a Google product. Most people regularly use Google for search and many for personal email. A good number of small businesspeople will also use Google to manage their professional email accounts and some, like me, have gone the whole hog and put 100% of my business related storage with them and use their office products as well.
While most people are well aware of their core offering, which is a full office suite and cloud storage service as well as a calendar and email. My team is distributed. Some of them are based here in Perth, some in other parts of the country and we have a few people operating overseas as well. Without Google Apps, none of this would be possible. Let’s talk through an example of a job booking for a swimming pool removal.
When a customer requests an automated quote from my website, Google Apps is involved from the very beginning. Once they’ve put in their details, my system immediately forwards them to Google Apps. Then the magic starts.
A custom script which my development team put together, which is hosted on our corporate Google Drive, receives the details then automatically calculates the quote based on a series of variables. It then automatically generates the quote in Google Docs, converts it to a PDF and sends an email to the customer which is cc’d to me and my admin team.
Everything apart from the initial input of the information by the customer takes place in Google Apps. When my team follow up on the quote and book the site visit. My office manager puts the job straight into my Google Calendar. That means that I get notified on all of my devices and it all has so far happened without me interacting with a customer.
Every staff member has a Google account, they need them, we use Google Mail to run our office email accounts (across over 15 separate domains). Each staff member has at least 5 different email addresses associated with different business units and their Google accounts play a huge role in their first few days when they’re starting out and learning the ropes.
We have a centralised master folder where we store all our major company documents. Different staff members have different levels of access to different parts of it. The first place that a new employee heads is the folder entitled Cross Business Unit.
They then go into the SOP folder. Here they find full instructions on how to do their job, a clearly laid out plan for their first five days and information on who to contact if they have any problems. Considering that I’ve got people working for me that I have never met in person, this makes a huge difference.
This setup doesn’t just make it easy if someone starts working with us, but if someone leaves too. The old staff member’s account simply becomes an alias of the new one and the password gets changed. All done.
Choosing to go with Google Apps has made a huge difference to my business and for $5 per staff member per month it saves me a lot more money than it costs me. I’d recommend it to any small business person.