Customers are better informed, better educated and expect much more from their suppliers than they did twenty years ago. Customers today have a narrower focus. They adhere to the philosophy of – “Do what you do best & hire the rest.” This means they expect sales people to know their business well enough to provide real value; real solutions. I know you have all heard the term “Total Solution Provider”. That’s not just some buzz phrase a consultant made up. Customers live by it. They expect it today. These are comments from one of the better customer service/inside sales people I had the privilege of interviewing recently. Key comments/characteristics this person articulated or demonstrated included: • The customer always comes first in their opinion. • Sales people must understand and explain the difference between price and cost. • They must understand value propositions and can sell based on value overcoming price objections. • They should listen carefully and ask questions to really understand customer needs. • They
must confidently embraced suggestive selling by offering additional products to complement or enhance the customer experience. • Service excellence is a top priority. • Taking calculated risk is sometimes necessary in the interest of relationship equity. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box when servicing customers. • Proactively seek sales growth and margin improvements through new customer development and penetration, increasing existing customer share of spend. • Sales people must understand how their customers make money. • They should know the top five customers of their top five customers. Nowadays, salespeople must be problem solvers able to generate solutions for customers in their time of need. Therefore, they must possess a great deal of knowledge about the customers’ business. They must actually define what those needs are because the customer may not know, nor take the time to explain if they do know. Customers want you to have the knowledge and intelligence to comprehend and analyze their problems before showing up at the door. Customers will listen and buy from the salesperson that finds the “pain” and takes it away. Solution selling situations usually require interpersonal contact and aggressive but not obnoxious approaches to the customer’s problems. Forget the personal touch of the relationship or fail to persist for a close, and the sale is lost. Solution salespeople are usually career oriented. Also, they are much more academically inclined toward personal growth. Solution sales professionals are not daring risk-takers. But they do take calculated risks. At a recent sales conference I had one attendee put it very articulately as follows: “The problem with customers is: they’re just like us! They like dealing with people who are pleasant and smiling. Sales people who appear to enjoy their jobs, show a real concern toward solving the customer’s problems and who make customers want to deal with them achieve greater success. The perfectly processed and delivered order experience can be marred by a less than enthusiastic attitude”. It’s not about Features and Benefits Today it’s not about the features and benefits of your product. It’s about value and how your customers are going to make a profit. You no longer just sell yourself and everything falls into place. Today, relationships are still very important but they are the ante to play. Customers are smarter and more educated. You must bring every resource your company has into play and leverage those resources to create competitive advantage. Learn to really listen to your customers. Let them talk and when there seems to be a pause in the conversation resist the temptation to start talking again. Chances are good that the customer has more to say. The quieter you are the more they will tell you. Listen long enough with a few strategically placed questions and the customer might just tell you exactly how to gain his business. (And it won’t just be about price) Learn the “Power of the Pause.” You can change yourself but you can’t change your customer selling is all about understanding your customers. Customers ARE different today. Accepting your customers as they are while understanding their specific wants, needs and desires for what they are and not what you would like them to be. This puts you in a position of strength in building a personal relationship with the customer. Don’t succumb to the common trait called impatience if your customer has trouble identifying his real pain. Often times it is up to you to help him discover that pain and in turn recognize the value you and your company provide by eliminating that pain and providing solutions.
Dr. Rick Johnson is the founder of CEO Strategist and a veteran of the wholesale distribution industry with more than 30 years of executive management experience. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more or to arrange to have him speak at your next event.