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How To Handle A Customer Dispute Like a Pro: Part 2

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In Part 1 , you will recall that we had the goals of discovering the truth, building trust, and de-escalating the customer's anger (a.k.a. extracting the venom). We learned how to set expectations, communicate during the first meeting, and how not to irritate the customer. Here's how to build on your initial success and capitalize on the customer trust you have earned.   The Second Meeting: Gather Final Information and Achieve Mutual Understanding If mistakes happened, acknowledge them. It builds trust and continues to make you human and trustworthy in the eyes of the customer. If the dealership made a mistake during the sales process, it's okay to say, "I'm sorry." Disarm by telling the truth. Continue to acknowledge the customer's emotions (i.e. angry, upset, anxious, etc.) Try to extract the remaining venom here. Let the customer vent as necessary. When you find that the customer is repeating the same thing over and over it's time to say, "Let's focus on how to make you happy." You do not want to have the customer repeat their bad feelings over and over as it begins to wear a groove that is hard to overcome. If you don't take care of the problem now, it is going to get worse, and it's going to cost more money and you are going to create a problem for someone else at the dealership. Be creative and ask lots of questions.  Ask multiple questions, "If I could do this (xx), would that make you happy?" During these conversations ask things like: If I could buy the unit back at $xxx (including a profit for you as the dealer) would that interest you? What if I provided you with a service credit for $xx? (This option will only cost you fifty cents for every dollar that you offer to the customer.) What if I could sell you a different unit and take yours as a trade-in? How would you feel if I were your personal concierge during your ownership experience so you could call me with any issues that you had and I would take care of them? Some solutions are non-monetary. Explore these options. Customers want to be pampered and feel important. How can you accomplish those things? Offer to put the solution in writing "to make you more comfortable so that you are assured of getting exactly what we are discussing." The Third Meeting: Buy-in Present at least two (2) potential solutions for the customer. When you present a singular solution, a customer feels like you are shoving an answer down their throat. If you proceed that way, then a lot of the trust building efforts you've earned will evaporate. Be creative and don't be afraid to try something different.   It's okay to offer options where the economies are different. For example, maybe you offer to make three (3) payments of $xx or a service and parts credit of $yy and those numbers have $500 difference between them. You may be surprised which option the customer chooses. In any event, offering options shows you care and that you are trying really hard to help the customer. Words can be perceived as "cheap," and here you are showing the customer that you care by not just serving up one option.  Wrapping Up With The Customer Put your agreement in writing. Consider having the customer sign a release of any further dealership obligations. Follow Up! Follow through! Follow Up! Execute on your promises. Make sure you personally see that things are done. There is no shame in asking for help or advice or a "TO." Sometimes, other personalities may help you re-close the customer on a solution. This is just like selling in many ways. Consider documentation changes to your customer facing paperwork to guide how this process may look (i.e. an alternative dispute resolution structure.) Be creative here, too. Arbitration is not the only way to handle this. I think arbitration is overrated and ineffective and does not solve problems. It prolongs problems but does not help you, in my opinion. That is a future topic that I will cover. In short, there are all kinds of creative structuring which may work for your dealership. So, you did it! Be proud of yourself and allow yourself to have a quiet moment of success. Success comes in many forms and a job well-done is the result of your good attitude. Well done. Please contact me if you have any further questions. I've handled well over 1000 customer complaints of all shapes and sizes in my 30+ years in the business. Check out these 3 videos with quick steps for resolving a dealership customer dispute, complaint, & problem.
How To Handle A Customer Dispute Like a Pro: Part 1

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"The only difference between an ordeal and an adventure is your attitude," states the recent, popular internet meme I encountered, and I agree. Customer disputes often begin when you hear from a third party. The customer may not complain because of their feelings: shame, embarrassment, or self-doubt, to name a few. You may instead hear it from a lawyer or regulator (i.e. a Motor Vehicle Dealer Board, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), State Attorney General, State Consumer Affairs Division, Better Business Bureau etc.) There are some customers who will find something wrong with the vehicle and use that as a wedge to try and leverage you into some bigger action. This type of customer will not usually come right out and tell you they want out of the unit, but rather will go "on campaign" and send you emails and letters and phone calls demanding you fix the problem. This campaign may start with an internet posting complaining about the vehicle and the dealership. Ultimately, the customer will get frustrated and finally ask you to buy back the unit. Customer problems often begin with internet complaints and how you address those early on may determine your ability to successfully conclude the problem. So, this is where opportunity begins. Treat the customer using the Golden Rule. "Do unto others as you would have done onto you." Always proceed as you would want to be treated in the same situation. Being nice and being kind is always appropriate.  Over my 30 years, I have crafted a three (3) step model to manage these situations. I will detail the first step here as well as what not to do. My next article will address steps 2 and 3. Schedule a meeting. Make it formal. Do not have these conversations on the telephone. The customer should have to "invest" in this mutually shared experience, which will require effort on the part of the customer. Invite the customer to come see you in the store.   The First Meeting Listen to the customers' story first. Take notes, writing down everything the customer tells you. (I do mean everything.) Sometimes this can take more than an hour. Invest the time. At the end, show the customer your pages and pages of notes. Then tell the buyer you are going to read them back and you want them to let you know if you missed anything. Then read the notes and paraphrase what you have been told. This should take as long as it takes. (I've had these meetings last all day.) The net result is the customer will feel heard, which is part of the "disarming process." These steps are meant to show you were listening and the customer was heard. Do not skip any of this or try to do it quickly. While you are taking notes, nod and say things like "I understand." Label the customer's feelings. If they have a terrible tale of woe, use phrases like: "That must have been frustrating." "That must have been hard." "That sounds really aggravating." "I wouldn't want to go through that either." Do not feel the need to create a solution during the first meeting. In fact, even though you can often solve the problem by snapping your fingers, if you choose this shortcut, the customer will often decline the solution as he is not yet emotionally invested in the process. It's frustrating, but it's true.  At the first meeting, set a time for the second meeting and let the customer know that you are going to do some homework in between meetings. Setting multiple meetings and being "gameday" shows you care and you want to help.   Set expectations before the end of the first meeting and let the customer know that you may not have any solutions by the end of the second meeting and you are going to work on their issues. Reassure the customer that he is valuable and important to you. Do not be defensive as it will turn out negatively and the customer will feel you are trying to defend the dealership. Be truthful. Half-truths will get you nowhere. When you add half-truths and caginess to this situation, you are going to get yourself and the dealership into trouble. Quickly correct any errors (or omissions) that another employee may have said, or a false perception that a customer has. If you set the customer straight and tell them the real deal, they (almost always) can deal with the circumstances. Be realistic. Assure the customer that you are going to work toward a satisfactory resolution. Be true to your word. Do not over-promise. Emphasize that you want the customer comfortable and happy. Follow-up properly and call back when you said you would. It builds trust.  How To Listen Be quiet and let them talk. Try to find common interests. Use the same bonding methods you use when selling. Be relaxed. Nod, as appropriate.  Body language–do not cross your arms or your legs. "Be open" with your body language. The customer is going to tell you how to run your business. Do not take the bait here. Be patient and stay calm as "everyone else is an expert."   Tell the customer that their problem is "Important." Repeat: "I want to help you," multiple times. Try practicing these items with team members. It may be hard to eliminate bad habits.  Here's How To Irritate A Customer–Guaranteed Not listening Failure to set expectations Bragging about your lifestyle, how much money you have, your personal experiences Be inefficient Be insensitive Break promises Pretend it's not your fault Ignore the customer's issues Use the words, "I'm sorry you feel that way." Check out these 3 videos with quick steps for resolving a dealership customer dispute, complaint, & problem . In Part 2, I will show you how to conclude the complaint.
Auto Retailers: Customer Experience Needs to Be Your Differentiator

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Tom Knighton said it best, Customer experience is the next competitive battleground Customer Experience - the term is everywhere in business and even in society now. As with many business practice movements, the term has been misused and misrepresented. Over the past few decades, business has used and practiced the art of Customer Satisfaction, Customer Relationship Management (CRM), Customers for Life, Customer is King and even more mantras. They have all been attempts to put focus on the customer. But they often based those concepts on technology or a belief that there were tools that make this happen for a business. Customer Experience (CX) is not the same as Customer Satisfaction. Customer Experience is an emotional attachment and value that the customer owns. I would explain it using something we all understand. Ever have a meal and say "that was satisfying"? Simply asking this to yourself meets basic criteria but does not create a lasting memory. Now if you have ever gone out to eat, no matter how typical or fancy the restaurant and had a great table, fun company, excellent service, fantastic food, tasty beverages and overall enjoyed the event, that becomes an EXPERIENCE. You will likely continue to talk about it and treasure the experience, not just the food. What is CX Really? I would also push the concept further that Customer Experience is not the new business practice, technology, department or business function we simply build. In fact, Customer Experience is not something we as a business own at all - it is also personalized and individualistic. The customer owns it. The customer experience is what they think, feel, and believe they experience as a holistic interaction. We as a business can merely build and align the business processes, technology platforms, channels, training and metrics against a good customer experience. We must do it one customer and one experience at a time. We need to stop measuring and driving the industry on a transaction focused Customer Satisfaction score. We must begin to really understand, align and deliver against personalized customer expectations and needs to deliver a holistic experience. The Industry Issue In auto retailing, it is true that all the horror stories of the past and the bad image perception have scarred the current thinking about buying and servicing a car. Perception is reality. You will often hear people get excited about the prospect of the new car, followed by a sigh that they have to make a trip to "the dealer." In recent research, it has been conveyed that the Millennial generation would in fact rather go to the dentist than visit a dealer. According to several Consumer Reports articles, the main dissatisfiers with the retail process (despite vast improvements) continue to be: The sales representative made the experience a challenging and unhappy one The F&I process was too time-consuming, wasteful and confusing Getting the run around on the phone Not being able to match an offer or vehicle to a real deal All the haggling Lack of visibility, transparency and trust All the "back-and-forth" and time wasted Not concerned about the customer needs Now, compare that with experiences we have all had in other industries. The pandemic itself has highlighted and accelerated the ability of many businesses and industries to become more customer experience driven. Many are offering curbside pick-up and drop off, mobile delivery, omni-channel access, more virtual agents and self-help options and more personalization to suit the customer needs. I always like to share one simple CX example from an industry we can all relate to in our lives - pizza delivery. For a $5 pizza order from Domino's, or almost any pizza chain for that matter, you begin a customer experience journey. The full experience can include: Order through multiple channels Recognized by your name, an account ID, or your phone number as a previous or new customer Able to repeat a previous order with one swipe Given the ability to track your order through multiple devices Receive order updates Ability to change or add to your order up to departure of the delivery Notified when your driver is on your street or in your driveway Delivered within 30 minutes, as promised in the majority of cases  Given a discount or earn loyalty points for your order in many cases Asked (surveyed) after delivery about your experience. Not the pizza, the experience.  In some cities, the delivery is being tested with an autonomous delivery vehicle, or to a hot spot or mobile delivery spot of your choice All of this for a $5 pizza. At IBM we have a saying, "The last best experience you have, in any industry, becomes your standard going forward across all industries." So we all carry these experiences and increased expectations from recent events and business service levels into the auto retail environment. The stakes have now been raised even further for auto retailing. So Why is CX So Important? In my last article , I wrote about the possible future outlook of 2030 in the industry and auto retailing. The fact is that it is quite unknown. Will retailers become less relevant? How will service and parts business be sustainable in the current footprint with more electric and autonomous vehicles in the sales mix? What will be the new car sales levels in the next few years with the pandemic effect and more at-home workers (less commuting)? These are unknowns but the constant for the industry, or at least the shifting of the industry from new car vehicle transactions to a mobility enabler will be the customer. Traditional new car sales will not sustain the industry forever. The customers will. Customer expectations and customer needs will continue to shift, but we must adapt and be the provider of the experience. If you follow the customers, you will follow the revenue and profits. Their needs and their journey are what the industry will transform around. Auto retailers must build and become a "Customer Network Platform" for mobility, providing access, services and experiences... whatever they may be. An engagement, a bond and connection must be fortified between retailers and customers to transform together and not focus on the product, or the transaction, but on delivery of a mobility experience. That will secure the sustainability of a retailer in the future. As mentioned in the opening quote by Tom Knighton, "Customer Experience is the next competitive battleground." Businesses who deliver upon an experience, will find the right products, services and value bundles to offer and deliver to customers. The customers value the experience and they will drive their needs into the industry, or others will come in and deliver upon it. Five Action Steps to Take Now I don't want to paint a total doom and gloom picture here. Many retailers have taken great strides to improve customer processes, customer engagement and the overall experience. Much work has been done by many to improve system integration and data availability to help support a holistic customer experience. More focus has been placed on this issue and that is a good thing. Here are 5 areas I suggest be constantly focused on to continuously improve and keep customer experience the driving mission in your business. The recommended actions are: One view of the customer - Continue to integrate systems and data to have one single view of the customer. A service experience should not be a separate incident from a sales transaction or part purchase. It should be one single journey of that customer with personalized engagements along the way. Work to get one single source of truth of customer information across all channels, all departments and all engagements. Focus on need not the sale - One of the major reasons customers are so dissatisfied with the sales and service process is the lack of understanding, empathy and fulfillment of their actual need. Customers are often not asked about their needs for a new car, or their needs around timing or availability of a service experience but are rather mandated their options. Don't reward and measure metrics that only focus on transaction volume or transaction satisfaction. Make the customer experience the focus, the priority and the mission. Channel Consistency and Information Access - The customer process across any channel at any time should be one of consistency. Starting this process over and over each time they access a new channel or talk to a new person should not be part of the journey. The ability to quickly access information and find value is of utmost importance. Leverage virtual agents, chat functions and self-help functions to assist customers to access what they need quickly and easily. Examples include service updates, price information and inventory availability. Personalization - Don't lose sight as you begin building tools and capabilities to deliver customer experiences - they need to be adaptable to individuals. Each customer is unique and the focus should be on building and delivering capabilities that can adapt and personalize each and every experience. Customer recognition, customer specific need fulfillment and unique treatment will make each customer experience special. It keeps customers coming back, no matter the actual product or service of the future. Create "Wow" Factors - Find, develop and deliver experiences that set your dealership apart. What will make your dealership relevant and differentiated from the rest? Become known for something special that you can "own" and deliver. A "wow" builds the overall experience. Summary The Customer Experience will be what defines the future of our industry. The product, the transaction, the specific service will matter less. Why will they come and do business at your dealership? It cannot just be because of price or product availability, it must be more holistic and meet the customer's needs. Build and deliver a customer experience on each engagement, with each specific customer, over and over each time. This experience will define your dealership as being relevant and differentiating to a customer's mobility needs. This experience will sustain your business through unknowns of the future of the industry. If you enjoyed this article, take some time to listen to the latest podcast episode on Experimarketing  with  Colin Carrasquillo
5 Ways Your Dealership Benefits From Driving Difference in Your Community

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In today’s age of the customer, dealers must compete on more than just price in order to win the sale. Yes, part of that is providing an exceptional consumer experience, but there’s also a huge opportunity to earn a customer’s business by getting involved in the community.  According to a CarGurus survey, 45% of CarGurus shoppers said they were somewhat or very likely to switch to a brand that supports a good cause, given similar price and quality. It’s simple: when your dealership supports your community, your community tends to want to support your dealership in return. But the perks of community involvement extend far beyond the sale. Here are five additional ways your dealership benefits from giving back, plus some ideas for how to get involved.   1. You differentiate your brand and generate positive PR Getting involved in and driving difference in your community can have a very positive impact on your dealership’s reputation. That’s because people tend to take notice when someone is doing something good to support the community. Not only will your dealership stand out from others, but it might also benefit from some free publicity. A positive media mention or short feature on your local news channel about your dealership’s charitable efforts can reach thousands of people in one fell swoop — you might even influence some car shoppers along the way. Making a big purchase like a car tends to be an emotional process, not just a logical one, and building up feelings of goodwill could pay dividends for your dealership.  2. Employees respect business leaders who give back Giving back can help generate positive PR externally, but it can also help you garner favor within your own business. Typically, when employees respect their leadership, they’re more likely to stay with a business long term. Plus, when morale is high, they’re more likely to feel engaged and, ultimately, be more productive at work.  In addition to retaining your top talent though, getting involved can also be an excellent tool for recruiting new staff. Showcase how your dealership supports local causes, and you’ll likely appeal more to prospective employees too. 3. Giving back helps improve your local community When you pitch in around your local area, you help make your community a better place to live. For example, cleaning up a local park provides a more enjoyable place for everyone to relax and play. Similarly, making a donation to a nearby school gives your employees children a safer and better place to learn and play. Whatever way you choose to give back, a stronger community frequently leads to a stronger local economy, which can only benefit your dealership.  4. Your business may be able to take advantage of tax deductions Giving back is good for your community, but it’s also good for your dealership’s bottom line — the ultimate win-win. How? In some instances, businesses can deduct charitable contributions to qualifying organizations on their tax returns.  Tax-deductible contributions aren’t limited to money either. Your dealership can donate equipment — like a used minivan to a local community center — and may be able to write it off. Mileage accrued when doing charitable work also generally qualifies as tax-deductible. Make sure you choose an organization that the IRS has approved as a recognized charity to take advantage of the tax benefits that come with philanthropy. Also, make sure to consult with a tax advisor to understand the applicability to your organization better. 5. You connect with others and build your network It’s easy to go about your day-to-day business interacting with the same type of people on a regular basis. But how will that ever broaden your reach? Getting involved exposes you to a variety of different people and is a great way to diversify your network. You might just meet your next biggest customer or a dealer peer you can learn from while serving others.  How to get started Money is helpful and often necessary, but giving back doesn’t have to mean writing a huge check to an organization. There are plenty of ways for you to make an impact with your time, expertise or another type of contribution. Here are some ideas: Organize a food drive.  Whether you collect canned goods from employees, or you open it up to include your shoppers, this is a relatively easy way to help others. Set up a bin at the front of your store, put up a sign advertising the food drive, and watch the donations roll in.  Deliver meals to those in need.  This has recently been a popular way for dealers to give back to frontline hospital workers, but meal delivery is also a great way to help senior citizens in your area.  Donate a car to an organization in need.  As a car dealer, you have access to a variety of vehicles. Pick one — it doesn’t have to be your flashiest, just one that’s reliable and safe — and donate it to a cause you believe in.   Whether you choose to invest time, money, property, or all three, pick a cause that you believe in and get started helping others. As you can see, it can have a powerful impact on both your community and your business.
5 Ways to Put Reliability at the Center of Your Store’s Success

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On the old classic TV show "Lassie," Timmy never fell down a well, contrary to popular belief. But viewers knew if Timmy did, he could rely on Lassie to get help. According to a J.D. Power conclusion based on a survey of 85,000 respondents, the #1 attribute car buyers look for in their next vehicle purchase is reliability. But what exactly do they mean? The dictionary defines reliability as "the quality of being trustworthy or of performing consistently well."  Reliability is one of those simple words with many applications. Mail delivery is reliable when it's delivered on time. Reliable vendors show up on time and do the work as requested. A restaurant is reliable when it serves the same high-quality food and provides the same great level of service. Reliable friends do what they say and can be counted on in a pinch. And reliable major league pinch hitters will deliver a hit when most needed.  Reliability to a car buyer, however, can mean more than saving time and money on a car's total cost of ownership or more than a vehicle's dependable road performance. Reliability can refer to the sales process, how consumers felt they were treated, how their car is serviced post-purchase and, above all, their on-going relationship with a dealership.  Here are five areas where you can make your dealership brand synonymous with reliability. Products – Consumer Reports publishes an annual list of the most reliable cars of the year. If any of the vehicles you carry are on the list, remember to spread the word. Don't be shy. Post the news on your website and third-party sites, as well as on social media. The same is true for any other vehicle rating services, such as U.S. News & World Report, AutoGuide.com, Edmunds, and so on. Banners inside your showroom should promote any reliability or safety awards. Warranties – A manufacturer's warranty, either bumper-to-bumper or powertrain, typically covers the first three years or 36,000 miles of ownership. However, such a manufacturer's warranty may not be enough, especially since the average new-car buyer keeps the car for six years or longer. To ensure their customers are covered, some dealerships offer a lifetime power train warranty, along with other guarantees, such as free lifetime oil changes. Lifetime warranties help reinforce the concept of reliability and can give consumers great peace of mind knowing they're covered. Make lifetime warranties part of your USP. Sales Transactions – A car sales transaction between dealer and consumer historically gets a bad rap. But these days, thanks to the Internet, there should be no surprises. Consumers are as informed about their preferred vehicle as are your salespeople. Let's face it, no dealership has an edge in product, pricing or financing. If your dealership doesn't currently offer transparent pricing, you might consider doing so. Honesty is a key attribute of reliability. Keep your word. Promise, but don't overpromise.  Service Appointments – Respect everyone's time. For example, if a car in your service bay will not be ready for pick up at the time promised, contact the customer and explain the delay. Keep them current about the repair or service work being performed; text them photos. Above all, don't leave your customers hanging.  Your Store's Culture – If your store has been selected as one of the top places to work in your community or state, let people know. Share the good news on social media and in your advertising. How employees – and customers – rate a dealership is a good indicator of whether consumers will feel comfortable shopping there. When car shoppers seek reliability, who they gonna call ? Make sure it's your store.
The Sales Funnel & The Shape of Water

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Between a busy career and a larger than average family, I don’t get much time to indulge in a good movie. As it so happens, one of my best friends is a self-confessed cinephile. So when he demanded me seeing Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water when it came out, I thought I had to make the time sacrifice. In a word, the movie was weird. But, do you know what’s even weirder? Our convenient use of the phrase “sales funnel,” and the complete ignorance of the shape water. The chances are that if you’ve read any of my work (thank you!), you know I tend to stray into the neat and organized land of science. If you visit this sacred space very often, you’ve learned that water cannot be compressed under normal circumstances. It’s one of the reasons why it carves canyons over time or can be used as a jet to cut the hardest steel. If you don’t believe me, take a kitchen funnel and put it under your faucet running wide-open, the bottom of the funnel with constricting the water to controlled flow. If the top of the funnel is filling faster than the bottom of the funnel can flow, water will overflow over the top of the funnel. Cue Bill Nye’s outro music.  Now imagine your inbound sales opportunities (leads, chats, calls, and even walk-in traffic) are that water and your sales personnel (sales/BDC/hybrid/janitor/whatever) is the funnel. The only way to increase the pressure is to increase the volume of investment at Tier 1, 2, and 3 levels. Without increasing the throughput of the bottom of the funnel, spending on more opportunities at the top just creates spillage that’s mopped up by the competition. That’s right: the fire hydrant flow of advertising money you’re pumping into increasing traffic can end up in a competitor’s pocket.  That said, this analogy doesn’t fully tell the tale. When we’re introduced to the sales funnel, it’s often courtesy of a CRM vendor, sales trainer, or agency. They present a hypothetical situation that conveniently assumes there is empty space around the sales funnel. From the same void that opportunities pour in, the flow of sales miraculously flows out into infinity. Except it doesn’t.  An accurate way to look at a sales funnel is to take your kitchen funnel and submerge it underwater. The water and hamburger particles surrounding the funnel is not comprised of a magical infinite space, but nearly all of the people outside of your target audience. Those people who have recently purchased a vehicle, aren’t interested in buying a vehicle, cannot afford a vehicle, along with those who aren’t tuned into your advertisements, are all interspersed with actual buyers. Don’t forget the Amish. If the faucet is placed properly, water will still flow through the funnel. It just takes much more pressure to make it do so.   Now, it might feel like the sales funnel parallel should just be washed down the drain. We have opportunities spraying over the top, and the flipping funnel is underwater anyway. Maybe it should. But, there are three different ways we can modify the sales funnel to make it work more efficiently.  Balance the Upper Flow The first, and arguably the easiest way, is to balance the flow at the top of the funnel to minimize overflow. There are a multitude of ways to accomplish the objective, making this a sensible solution. Any combination of trimming back on SEM and retargeting, right-sizing the inventory, moving to zip codes and away from distance radii, reducing third-party lead duplication, optimizing advertising channels, streamlining calls to action, and much more, can all minimize overflow. Equally as important, it’s a far more efficient use of an increasingly scarce profit margin. Which leads to the second solution. Increase the Flow at the Bottom If the flow is to remain strong at the top, the next solution is to increase the flow at the bottom. This is tricky because the bottom of the funnel is largely comprised of people. That’s right. Those guys and gals who have been around for 20 years, or just five minutes. The ones who can’t turn on a computer or stop texting their significant other. The biological entities that get sick and need time to sleep. If you’re relying on a sales funnel, you’re also relying on a bucket brigade of people to make it flow. So how do we address that? Investing in human capital.  Relying on human capital to increase flow requires many things. Before anything, it means having AND  retaining staff that is trainable. I’m sure you guessed that the next element is training. But, it’s not just training, it’s the right training. Training that’s congruent with the needs of the staff and management, as well as that which can also resonate with the markets those people serve. Finally, it means a commitment to ongoing training to follow the ebbs & flows of the market, available inventory, technology, and consumer behavior. When a business can consistently control the bottom of a funnel, it can effectively control the top.  The Semi-Closed Loop (or the Sales French Horn) Controlling the top of the funnel isn’t just about reducing empty opportunities or increasing throughput. The third solution is to quit relying on the funnel altogether. By understanding the sales funnel doesn’t exist in a vacuum, but is submerged under a largely ambivalent audience, creating a semi-closed loop is the most effective way of reducing waste. By capturing the customers leaving the bottom of the funnel, and gradually redirecting them to the top, the need to overspend on acquiring opportunities isn’t as necessary. Moreover, the cost incurred acquiring customers is reduced to a bare minimum.  It’s a semi-closed loop because there’s always ways to increase incremental sales. If we follow the steps above, we can control the flow of highly targeted opportunities to mix into the top of our funnel. We can increase the throughput of those opportunities with dedicated processes or skilled personnel to properly convert those incremental opportunities into retained customers that are nurtured back into the loop. A sales french horn doesn’t have the same ring to it, but it might help you get the picture.  While the sales funnel may be an overly simplified path to purchase, understanding the flow of opportunities is crucial to understanding both sales and marketing efficiency. If too many opportunities are spilling over the sides, and into the competitions funnel, consider cutting the flow. If the personnel responsible for converting the top of the funnel into revenue, maybe it’s time to reinvest some of that wasted spend into increasing the abilities of that staff. In order to make the most of captured opportunities, examine ways to retain and redirect the flow of sold customers into the top of the sales pipeline. The shape of water doesn’t have to be weird. With controlling the flow, and a little bit of plumbing, you can shape it to your advantage.