Customer Service Blog

What can a Cemetery teach us about the importance of Market Research?

Market Research

One Sunday which was one of those rare days when the hazy yellow ball was out and about – we went to the Sheffield General Cemetery to tag  on to the monthly guided tour.

What a place! Established in 1836, it contains the graves of 87,000 people including great industrialists, shopkeepers and confectioners. People like Mark Firth, The Cole Brothers, John, Thomas and Skelton and George Bassett and Allsorts of others! (sic)

Neglected, but not derelict, buildings, grave stones resting at peculiar angles, elaborate monuments all on a carpet of nature’s tangled undergrowth of trees, plants,  weeds and brambles kept at bay by a gallant team of volunteers .

The perfect setting for a hazy night, a partly clouded sky and a full moon – but stick to the path!

Our guide had the brain the size of a planet, the knowledge of an encyclopaedia, he made the tour – well... live.   

So what has all this got to do with you and Market Research?  Well, the story of the Sheffield General Cemetery is living proof that there is nothing new under the sun and that the lessons of the past can help us today but only if we learn from them.

In brief, a group of prominent business men in the city, aware of the growing problem of a lack of burial plots in the crowded central churchyards of Sheffield, decided to collectively invest in an “out of town” cemetery that would provide a place of burial. One that the great and the good would be happy to pay good money to rest in.

However, the company that was formed to run the cemetery as a business got into difficulties and had to seek help and financial support to survive. Our guide held back the reason for this until toward the end of the tour when all was revealed.

The cemetery was located on a great site with views to die for and relatives wanted to erect elaborate and expensive memorials to their loved ones – which they did – for others to envy and admire.

However, the prominent business men had planned on selling a more discreet and exclusive product for their customers – catacombs. With origins in the Roman Empire and more recently in 18th century Paris, catacombs were to be sold at premium prices to secure the future of the cemetery company.

It was the assumption that the catacombs would appeal to the families of the wealthy deceased that led to the downfall of the cemetery company.

History does not tell us if market research was carried out or not, but either way,  the company produced a product that nobody (sic) wanted and to this day all but three of the catacombs remain empty.

The key lesson here is never to assume you know anything until you have asked a question or two and depending on the ratio of investment to risk, you may need to ask a lot more questions.

Market research is not only good for “GO” and “NO GO” decisions. There are so many elements that form part of the selling mix and all of them can make a huge difference to the profitability of your business.

So what do you need to know in order to sell more?

Draw up your list of question and find out the answers.

If you would like more help about market research please get in touch or better still book a free review session simply:

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Goals get results. Get your bigger better business right here!

...however defining goals is much harder than it looks but I know that YOU can be a lot more successful when YOU have clearly defined goals.

So what is a goal? (My wife and her sister are season ticket holders at Sheffield United and whilst she meets the supporters criteria of eternal optimism, she frequently returns home from a match and reports a deficit in the goal department for SUFC!)

I imagine that most football teams follow a series of similar ambitions...

  • Short term goal – get the ball in the net (opposing team’s net that is)
  • Slightly longer term – win the match with more goals
  • Bit longer still  – win the league or whatever they do
  • “Goals in writing are dreams with deadlines” according to Brian Tracy a highly successful business coach.
  • That helps me to define goals. Dream a bit about what you want and what you want to be.
  • Here are some things to dream about…..
  • What do I value most?
  • What kind of life do I want?
  • What do I want my life to look like?
  • What do I want my life to feel  like?
  • Who do I wish to be?

Write it down and then apply the SMART criteria. I am sure you know what that is but just in case...

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Realistic
  • Time based

So a SMART, written down dream really does become a goal.

I always ask people when I start work with them to define their goals and most people either don’t have any or just have what they think is a goal but it just a wish. For example some of the answers I get are:-

To make a shed load of money”

And those who have thought it through a bit more might say

To make a shed load of money as soon as possible”

So a SMART version of that goal might be “During 2016, I plan to steadily increase my earnings each month and by the end of the year will have earned £120,000″

It is specific, measurable and time based, but is it realistic? Again I think most people limit their expectations artificially, lower their sights, lower their goals and accept the easy way out – to do much the same as before.

If any person can achieve that goal, theoretically so can you. But maybe you are better working up to the income figure you want to achieve in a series of steps – that way you will accept your own goals and believe in them more.

A few years ago I wrote down my income goal simply “I will make £120,000 this year”  Between March and June that year I bought a house and sold it again at a profit which made up a lot of this income but when I wrote the goal I assumed it would come from my core business. I was happy to hit the planned number but what I really thought I wanted was a business that generated that amount each and every year!

So be specific. For example if your goals extend to owning a particular car, write your goal as though you were telling the salesman at the garage what you are looking for or writing your checklist for your own directory searches or filling in the form on Autotrader. Write your goals in the present tense – although you have already achieved them.

I will be writing more about goal setting very soon and have over the years used the techniques that I will tell you about very successfully to acquire a six bedroomed house in the country and a Rolls Royce!

For now just focus on those goals for you and your business and write them down.  Send them to me if you wish and I’ll help you work out how to achieve them.

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The Clang of Silence (Understanding features and benefits)

Over a hundred years ago I was trained to sell central heating systems by the firm I worked for in West London. The two week course involved learning a script off by heart so that we would be word perfect in a sales pitch!

The opening line of “Ooh! What a nice garden you have!”,  was less of a hit at the doorstep of a second floor flat in Poplar than it was at a semi in Ealing and the lesson on Features and Benefits in the context of a scripted presentation  was a complete waste of time. It was a waste of time because we were taught to sell by talking and not listening.

Consequently it took me nearly six years to get Features and Benefits or FAB as I was subsequently taught – Features, Advantages and Benefits.

Because it took me so long to “get” and because it is so important, I spent a long time working out how to teach this vital fulcrum of selling to others.

Years later I became  National Sales Manager of a communications company in London  running 34 reps and now I have my own business providing a range of marketing, sales, coaching, training and mentoring services for family businesses here in Yorkshire.

I have hundreds of examples but the one thing that I think will help people to “get” this is to draw up a list of reasons why people should buy from them. That is, buy their products and their services from their company – so the list will include product features – it will last longer – service features – we give you a 12 month warranty – and company features – we have good parking at our premises.

To find the benefits they use the phrase “This means that...

So for example:- This car has great air conditioning.

Which means that   You can cool the air in your car  Which means that   You will feel cooler in your car Which means that   You will feel less hot and bothered whilst you are driving Which means that   you will be safer and have less chance of an accident Which means that  you will arrive safely at your destination on time and feeling fine Which means that   you will be more likely to get that sale!


All of this is a complete waste of time if the person you are addressing has a sneezing fit every time she gets into a car with air conditioning, so we need to put our F&B stuff into the right context.

If we are writing sales copy and unable to ask direct questions we have to ASSUME that most people will find particular features to be a benefit – hence I suppose we label these advantages.

If , however we are able to talk to our prospective customer, they will die of boredom long before we get to the end of our Which means that list  .

So my golden rule is to ask questions and listen to answers.

Do you like air conditioning?

No – it makes me sneeze.

OK – so what is important to you in a car...?

Do you like air conditioning?


Will you use the car for work or leisure?


We can then go down the work line of questioning and then the family line of questioning until the prospective customer has told us all the reasons why they want that feature. – all those reasons are of course benefits

Summary . A benefit is a feature that meets a need.

My sales training works like this….

People buy benefits

People buy from people they like

People like them if you ask them questions

They like you even more if you listen to their answers

If you listen to the answers you will find out their needs

If you find out their needs you can offer them a feature that will meet that need

This will not be complete without mentioning the SO What? Test which I am sure you will have heard of but is worth a reminder.

I find that most people, when writing sales copy for e mails, web sites letter etc  fall into the feature trap and we can identify this by applying the So what? test to everything they write.

For example:

We have been in this business for the last 23 years.

So What? Are you any good?

Becomes: We have been in this business for the last 23 years and in that time have learned to understand exactly what you are looking for. For that reason we carry a stock of 4000 of the most demanded products so that you never have to wait for a delivery.

And finally, this is an example that  crops up as a recurring nightmare!

It is not just a good example of asking questions before stating benefits but more about observation, common sense and sheer foot in mouth stupidity!

I was selling a house a few years back. It was on a modern housing estate .

I was in the back garden, on the patio with a prospective buyer.

The prospective buyer, who was deaf, had brought his daughter along as a sign language interpreter.

I was in feature mode – great area to live in, great garden, lots of room but above all for a modern housing estate it was very quiet.

At least I heard the clang!

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What is the huge difference between sales and marketing

Anyone who has ever been on one of my training courses or worked with me on a marketing project, will know just how much emphasis I place on the answer to this question, what is the huge difference between sales and marketing.

For the sake of brevity, Marketing is a planning process and sales is an action process. Marketing is all about deciding what you are selling, who you are going to sell it to, what sales channels you are going to use and how much you are going to charge – it is also about a lot of other things but these are the essentials.

Effective selling  – that is, cost effective selling – can only take place when you have answered all of the planning questions. It is exactly the same as the (rather overworked)  example of booking a flight to your holiday destination which can’t be done until you have decided where you are going, where you are going from, what class of ticket you want and how long you will be there.

Selling without planning becomes very , very expensive. When you have developed your marketing plan you will have a clear idea of who and where your customers are  and how to reach them. This means that you may not have to use National TV to reach them. If you know who they are and where they are, you are in control of the least cost route to reaching them.

Far too many years ago, I took over the running of a National sales force of 34 field sales representatives in a company that did not have a marketing department and no marketing direction.

That is 34 well paid people. 34 fully financed company cars and 34 expense accounts.

All of them were cold calling anywhere they though best within their territories and most were slightly successful at selling the lowest priced products.

It took a while but after defining the target market groups for each product and re-defining the channels for each product, a telemarketing team was created and the number of field based reps reduced. The net effect was 35% increase in sales value and a 20% reduction in the cost of the sales team. Along the way management controls were put in and monitored to help each salesperson to make the most of each opportunity.

Why then, would a company go out and recruit a field based sales person without a marketing plan?

Why would they recruit a sales person without having any sales management experience or sales management controls?

The same question applies to those who place advertisements or spend money on any kind of marketing communication without placing that activity in the context of a well worked out marketing plan.

Somehow though, recruiting people without a framework for them to work within, seems  a lot more expensive  – and can mess up their lives for a bit.

What a difference a business model makes…..

This week a good friend of mine has sadly had to put his business into receivership. He worked hard over many years to create a business in which his employees felt valued and secure and his suppliers were paid on time.

This strategy held good for a number of years. He had a marketing plan but it was rarely implemented as work kept coming in until one day it didn’t.

He reacted a bit by reducing staff a bit and holding off payments to suppliers a bit. The office, the office staff, the vans, the technicians all added up to a burden each month that just could not be covered by the reduced income.

He has learnt a lesson. It is never too late and I am sure he will pick himself up and start again with a different business model this time.

Talking about different business models. This week I visited a company in North Yorkshire in the same line of business as my friend but operating on a completely different business model. He hardly had any overheads at all. In his last full financial year he made a profit of £200k on a turnover of £800k. He employed two part time administrators – more or less according to the needs of the business. All his technicians are sub contractors. They all have their own vans. He is as loyal to them as he can be and many of them have been with him for over fifteen years. His customers buy the supplies and parts directly from the wholesalers so he has no materials bills.

He concentrates on marketing – that is keeping the business they have and developing more,  whilst his business partner concentrates on field supervision and quality control.

What a difference.

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Money for Value - or not

One of my clients is an IT company with a superb reputation for customer service and quality of their work.

They were somewhat surprised a few months ago when a major customer of theirs in Derby decided to terminate their service contract.

They did all that they could to find out why and to rectify any problems but to no avail.

I have been to see my client today and am delighted to report that they have got their client back but there are a few lessons we can either learn or re-learn from their experience.

The reason that they got the job back was that the company in Derby did not realise what a great level of service that they were getting from my client until they made the change to another IT service provider.


It is all very well being quietly great at what you do but if nobody knows it – if your customer doesn’t know it and you lose the contract – you have less income to your business than you did before.

My IT client operated a great system of remotely identifying potential  problems in their customer’s computer system before they occurred and fixing them – but nobody knew.

Also, if they were ever called to fix a problem on site they looked for other problems and fixed those too and if they saw something that might be a problem later they fixed that too – but didn’t tell anybody.

The company in Derby soon realised that they were missing something and the contract is now re-instated at a much higher value and regular meetings and bulletins are used to make sure that they know what great value they are getting.

We all know a builder or a plumber or a car mechanic who will spend all day telling you what they have done before they present their bill which is why we think they are great value – that they have done a great job – that we will use them again – that we will introduce them to our friends and so on what do you do to make money from the value you deliver?

If you would like some help to answer this please get in touch 0114 360 3060.

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