I believe that the traditional customer call once seemed indispensable to the selling process – the time and expense involved were just a basic cost of doing business. In recent years, however, the business community has come to regard the sales call as an expenditure for which there are substitutes. For many companies telemarketing, video conferencing, and direct email have made the sales call a choice, not an inevitability. This is not surprising when various studies suggest that getting one sales person in front of one customer now costs $1500 – this cost has trebled in recent years. As a consequence, professional salespeople have to be more effective than ever to justify the investment in a face to face effort.
In essence, we can draw several conclusions. Taken together, these findings paint a picture of the current state of the sales environment.
The one term that really sets top performers apart – customer focus.
Outstanding sales results depend on:
- The ability to think from the customer’s point of view
- Understanding the customer’s agenda, buying cycle and best interests
- Beyond a superficial reading of immediate customer needs, salespeople must gain a deeper understanding of both the buyer’s long-term goals and the overall business climate
- At the heart of customer focus is the art of listening constructively – the best salespeople are masters at capturing information
- Customer focus means taking the customer seriously – today, the salesperson who clings to the product orientation of a decade ago is losing ground
- As client companies branch into new markets and unfamiliar territories, they are demanding unique, flexible solutions from their vendors – customised to support specific goals
- Another myth which can be exploded is that whilst customers value flexibility, being too flexible can undermine the sales relationship. On the whole, salespeople imagine that customers value a vendor’s responsiveness above all. However, recent research shows that their primary concern is reliability.
In summary, in order to maintain customer focus, the best salespeople become facilitators – creating a partnership that extends the selling relationship within the customer’s company. The motivation to achieve this should be strong – it costs fifteen times as much to attract and sell to a new customer as it does to an existing one!
Rather than doggedly asking for the business, the very best sales people work to keep the relationship moving towards a sale. They realise the need to identify how to turn their company’s products into real solutions, which must meet specific needs.
Unfortunately, our surveys confirm that the average salesperson drags the customer over old ground as much as 52% of the time – they are unable to provide continuous stimulation and never know when to treat an existing customer like a new one.
Conversely, exceptional salespeople only make such ‘return calls’ for 10% of the time. Above all, earning the right to proceed requires gaining the customer’s trust – top salespeople work diligently to establish a climate in which the customer is willing to share information and feels comfortable doing so. The key here is integrity.
Customers are persuaded when they are part of the process – and not part of the audience.
Sales success today demands a radical shift from the ‘peddler’ mentality of merely demonstrating products and expanding on their features. It requires treating the customer as a participant. More often than not, a ‘flashy’ sales presentation alone alienates, rather than persuades.
The best salespeople regard the sales call as a two-way conversation – not a one-sided pitch. They have developed active listening skills. Average salespeople score fairly well in their ability to provide customers with facts and figures, but top performers dramatically outscore the rest when it comes to gathering information. In addition, how a salesperson collects information still distinguishes exceptional achievers from the rest of the pack – i.e. Top performers ask better questions and, as a result, gain much better information. Essentially, they aim to engage customers in the buying process with questions that require thoughtful answers, that stimulate curiosity and that reveal the customers underlying needs.
We should never forget that the right to do business has to be continually earned and never assumed!