How many salespeople would consciously put their sale at risk in order to protect a long term customer relationship?
How many would continue to put time in with the customer even though they realize the probability of making the immediate sale is low?
How many would put their yearly quota in jeopardy in favour of securing an account for the benefits they will realize over the long term?
I suspect there would be an extremely small number of salespeople who would put up their hand and fess up to sacrificing the short term for the long term; and that is sad, unfortunate and just plain bad business.
The flogger is bad business
The fact is, an unrelenting focus on the immediate sale increases the chance that the salesperson will be a ‘one-sale wonder’, a ‘flogger extraordinaire’ who will be unable to offer any long term value to their organization.
Long term value creation in sales is all about building strong intimate customer relationships that will yield a relatively stable and healthy cash flow over future periods; it’s not about making the sale today.
The role of sales must change from the flogger of products and services to the ‘gatherer of friends’ — Roy, friendship broker
Relationships are all there are in sales and it is absolutely critical that they be protected, nurtured and strengthened in every moment a salesperson has with their customer.
The absolute worst thing that can be done is to erode the friendship by maintaining a short term product sale focus.
It’s all very well that sales leaders espouse the building relationships vision; it’s quite another when sales is confronted in the field with a situation where the organization’s products and services don’t meet the customer’s requirement.
Square peg in a round hole
This is the moment of truth. It’s that moment when the intent and action collide to discover if the organization is really serious about building long term relationships or whether it’s merely an aspiration with no substance.
Let’s face it, there are times when there isn’t the right fit between what the customer wants and what the organization supplies. It’s not a catastrophic situation; it’s impossible for an organization to expect to have a solution portfolio to match every problem their customers experience.
Your solution perhaps doesn’t have the right functionality to do what the customer specifically wants, or it might not be available when the customer wants it, or it might not meet their price expectations and there’s little to be done to satisfy them by adding value to the solution and selling at a premium price.
When this happens, the wrong thing to do is to try and force-fit the organization’s solution into the customer’s problem in order to try and make a sale — again, it’s product flogging behavior that will punish friendship building and long term performance.
Not only that, it’s more than likely to fail. Customers generally don’t like to get bullied into a sale and if a salesperson is into the force-fitting mode, the customer will know it and will not buy.
And two negative results occur. Not only is a sale not made, the friendship is diluted by the flogging behavior.
The right thing to do is to walk away from trying to satisfy the customer with the organization’s solutions and refocus the energy on determining what can be done to ensure the relationship is deepened.
The right thing to do
These Principles should govern what a salesperson should do in this situation.
Sales Principle #1 — Own the customer forever.
What does ‘owning the customer forever’ mean when the right solution for your client is not available from your company? If it’s not spelled out in detail, the salesperson won’t know what to do and how to behave and could risk the relationship ‘going south’.
Every action taken by the salesperson must be through a long-term lens and leadership must draw a line of sight from this lofty goal down to the specific actions a salesperson must take when confronted with the challenge of a product or service misfit.
‘Owning the customer’ is a long term investment, not a quick buy-and-sell transaction — Roy, buy-and-nurture
You cannot leave it to the salesperson to decide how to respond; they will behave the way they traditionally have: bail on the friendship because there’s no quota payback from hanging around.
Sales Principle #2 — Do whatever it takes to protect Sales Principle #1
Every action sales takes must serve the purpose of solving the customer’s problem with whatever solution is available and from whatever organization supplies it.
Owning the relationship is a caveat-free goal without the constraint of solving the customer’s problem only with the organization’s solution set. Rather, it’s an empowering notion that says to the salesperson “Go wherever you have to, and do whatever is necessary to solve the customer’s problem. Period.”
It’s a narrative that needs to be an automatic response to a product or service deficiency — if this, then that.
It’s about you!
If you’re looking for a silver bullet to blow your customer away, this strategy is it. It basically subordinates the short term needs of the organization to the immediate needs of the customer; it says emphatically to them “It’s all about you.”
As a loyalty-building behavior, it’s probably the most powerful thing a salesperson could do.
Sales Principle #3 — Pay for the behavior you want.
If you want sales to behave a certain way, you must pay them for it. That’s the way salespeople are.
If it ain’t in the sales compensation plan it doesn’t get done — Roy, sales leader (pragmatist)
Declaring the customer ownership goal and defining the specific behavior sales must exhibit in order to achieve the goal is not sufficient; a measurement and reward system must be in place to ensure the right behavior is constantly being practiced.
The measurement tool is simple: ask the customer if their salesperson offered other company’s solutions. If you don’t have a customer perception survey — the sales Report Card in place, you should, because it’s the only way to get a handle on sales behavior.
Owning the customer is more than sales revenue performance, it’s doing the right things today that will enhance the chances of maintaining a healthy revenue stream from the customer over the long term.
The rewards system is equally straightforward: include a compensation component in each salesperson’s annual performance plan for this practice. If 20% of their annual bonus is related to ‘selling someone else’s solution’, it will get done.
Building a long term friendship requires a great deal of emotional energy relentlessly applied day in and day out. And it involves sometimes taking a step back from our needs to put the other person first.
This is such a time in the world of sales, and those organizations who make the practice matter are the long-term winners.