Does Your Company Lack Real Customer Focus in Your Sales Process?

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1 Does Your Company Lack Real Customer Focus in Your Sales Process? Perhaps your management processes are standing in the way I n recent years, forward-thinking companies have put a lot of emphasis on being customer focused, keenly aware of the competitive advantage they can gain. Most of the sales executives and managers I meet truly care about their company s customers, and make sure they talk about the importance of understanding customer needs with their sales force. Talk about being customer focused all you want. But if all of your sales management tools and systems are focused on the steps of selling rather than your customer s steps of buying, your salesforce will be, too. Yet despite these gains, there s still a missing link between the perception of being customer focused and the actuality. When I ask a sales manager to show me their company s CRM tool, they pull up a computer screen or point to a chart on a wall. And guess what? It s all about tracking accounts based on what steps of the sales process are finished. I also ask them to describe for me what they use for their performance reviews and how they coach their salespeople. And I hear the same thing I saw in the CRM system: a lot of talk about measuring salespeople on how quickly they complete all the steps of the selling process. Notice the disconnect here. Talk about being customer focused all you want. But if all of your sales management tools and systems are built around steps of selling not the steps of buying, your sales force is going to be more focused on what they re doing to sell than on what their customers need to do to buy. This focus on selling rather than buying leads to what I think is the single biggest mistake salespeople make the mistake that causes 2011 TopLine Leadership. All Rights Reserved.

2 more lost sales and lost commissions than any other: Their salespeople sell too fast. They arrive at the end of their pitch just as the customer is beginning to recognize they have a need! They leave the scene just as the prospective customer begins shopping around for a solution by looking at the competition. Not good. Assuming you are serious about becoming more focused on your customers, your leadership has to incorporate a buying perspective into your sales process. 1. Teach your salespeople about how customers buy. You know the steps of selling But do you know the steps of buying? I ve delivered hundreds of sales seminars, and always start by asking salespeople two questions. First, What are the steps of your selling process? Here, I get clear, concise answers. Most salespeople can describe how they sell. While the answers vary from one salesperson to another, and from one company to another, the point is clear: most salespeople have a well-thought-out and well-defined sales process that they follow. The second question I ask is, What are the steps of your customer s buying process? Even today that question stumps many salespeople. Some have never thought about a purchase from the customer s viewpoint. And even those who have at least considered the idea haven t formalized their thinking to the point where they can outline the steps of buying. Understanding buying is where selling should start. People and organizations buy in two ways: Buy-knowing: When buyers already know as much as they need to know in order to buy, they quickly make a decision. Buy-learning: When buyers do not have all the information they need to make an educated purchasing decision, they need to do some research and learn more first. Because the customers who are operating in a buy-knowing mode are likely to make up their minds without dealing with a salesperson, the customers who should concern you most are those in a buy-learning mode. They are the people who will go through a deliberate, predictable process in hopes of making an optimal buying decision. My own description of the buying process has eight steps change, discontent, research, comparison, fear, commitment, expectations, satisfaction (divided into four phases, as shown in the diagram) but there are other descriptions available, or you could create your own model TopLine Leadership. All Rights Reserved. 2 of 2

3 The 8 Steps of Buying 2. Define the steps of your sales process in customer terms. Once you have become clear and specific about the steps customers take as they move through their buying process, replace your sales process labels with customer actions (or something similar). Having the customer take those actions then becomes the objectives for the salesperson. For example, early in the sales process, the rep would have a step that typically would be stated as something like, have an initial meeting with a prospect. What you should be tracking, however, isn t whether the rep completes that first meeting, but whether the customer takes the desired action, such as: the contact referred me to a second decision maker or contact agreed to arrange meeting with their buying team. First ask your salespeople what actions the customer has taken. 3. Chart progress and conduct reviews with salespeople based on where customers are in their buying process. What should matter to you is not where your salesperson is in their sales process, but where the customer is in their buying process. If you want to be customer-focused, the key issue isn t how quickly the sales person goes from Qualify to Close, but how quickly and smoothly the customer goes from, say Research to Commitment in the buying process (or whatever labels you ve identified for the customer buying steps) TopLine Leadership. All Rights Reserved. 3 of 3

4 Don t ask a salesperson, Where are you with XYZ account? Instead, ask, What actions have been taken by the customer thus far? And, What action do you want them to take next, and by when? The answer to these questions provides you with a better understanding of the true status of the sales opportunity. 4. Provide coaching early in the sales process; avoid last minute interventions by sales managers or executives. I ve worked with thousands of salespeople over the last 30 years and a common complaint I hear is about a senior manager riding in on a white horse to save the day and close a deal. The end result of this white-horse ride is often three-fold: white knuckles for the salesperson, a bigger discount for the customer, and lower profit for the company! What kind of win is that? Monitor the sales process early on that s when you can have the biggest impact. There are other problems with such late-cycle interventions by managers: Most importantly, your best chance at influencing the opportunity occurs early in the customer s buying process, when they are defining their needs and shaping their vision of a solution. It diminishes the salesperson s credibility, and sets a precedent that the customer will always get a better deal (read: bigger discount) if they go over the salesperson s head. Interventions are often timed because management wants to close a sale by the end of a business quarter. But rarely is closing by the end of your quarter an objective of your customer s buying cycle (unless they know that you re willing to cave in on price at such times). Timing a close to coincide with your business cycle is another signal that you re more focused on yourself than your customer. To avoid these problems, create mechanisms that allow you to monitor a sale throughout the buying cycle, and especially early on. For example, require your salespeople to send a Memo of Understanding (MOU) to the customer and bcc you on it. An MOU is a short sent after the initial appointment meant to confirm your salesperson s understanding of critical information, such as the customer s current situation, key goals and obstacles, and complications. Reviewing MOUs gives you an early indicator of how well your salespeople are defining customer needs, which has the biggest impact 2011 TopLine Leadership. All Rights Reserved. 4 of 4

5 on their ultimate success. Plus you ll recognize the larger sales opportunities sooner. Becoming Customer Focused Creating a more customer-focused sales force is largely a matter of creating more customer-focused sales managers and sales management processes. It won t happen unless you reshape how to train, guide, and evaluate your salespeople. The change in perspective has two benefits: First, it gets your salespeople to focus on what they want the customer to do, not just the sales actions they want to take. Second, every time you can mark off a customer action as completed, you know that the customer has taken action that moves them further along in their buying process. And that will improve the accuracy of your sales forecasting! Kevin Davis, president of TopLine Leadership, is the author of Slow Down, Sell Faster! Understand Your Customer s Buying Process and Maximize Your Sales (Amacom Books; January, 2011). His company provides custom workshops based on the Slow Down, Sell Faster! sales model, as well as a Sales Management Leadership workshop for sales managers. Contact Kevin through his website at TopLine Leadership. All Rights Reserved. 5 of 5

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