You may have great products, a brand that practically sells itself and all the latest sales enablement tools. So why are buyers commoditizing your products and barely giving you the time of day?
You need a competitive edge. And there’s one you could have… should have… but may be overlooking.
We spoke with four sales experts on CONNECT! Online Radio for Professional Sellers about a competitive edge that works every time. They all agreed. If you want to stand out above the pack and keep customers coming back, the competitive edge you need is a genuine customer focus.
Easier said than done. Especially at a time when building customer loyalty is harder than ever. Cindy Solomon, author of “The Rules of Woo,” says “80% of customers who leave were actually satisfied… they were satisfied and they left any way!”
Deb: 80%! Yikes! Why are they leaving, and what should sellers do about that?
Cindy Solomon: Satisfaction is no longer enough to keep people coming back time and time again… It really is about more than simple satisfaction. It’s creating that true relationship, that deeper bound relationship to you. That’s what keeps people in the fold. So going from a world where we sellers have looked at it as “Oh, they’re satisfied, I can move on to somebody else that I need to pay attention to,” satisfaction is no longer enough to create true loyalty. And loyalty is where the profitable sales reside, because they’re the easy ones.
Just like in any personal relationship, you have people who are acquaintances of yours, and then you have people who are friends. And then you have people who are your best friends, your 3 a.m. friends. I think consumers look at companies and sellers on that same spectrum… Where real loyalty helps us, as sellers, is when we move from that friendship stage into being best friends… Where you really create that advocacy is in that best friend relationship.
Deb: This is sometimes a hard concept for sellers to grasp, because they might get price-focused if their customers are price-focused. But what loyalty gets you is taking the focus off price. To differentiate it from price alone, how do you define true value?
Cindy: True value is enabling the buyer to have a sense of trust and peace in the relationship, so that no matter what happens you’ll be able to rectify it… In many cases, the value is in helping that seller look good beyond just the price piece of the puzzle. On average, 80% of people will say “it’s been great working with you, I know we’ve been working together for a year or two now, they just came in at a better price, I’m sorry we’re going to have to do something different.” The reality of this research is that when those 80% of people go back, only 8% have actually left because of price. When really questioned, people leave because “well, they really weren’t an active communicator, and I didn’t know when things were late, that started to chip away at our relationship.” Or whatever else could go wrong in the relationship. But people say it’s price because that’s the easy thing to say.
But the numbers and customer loyalty aren’t the only reason sellers should focus on their relationships with buyers. Margie Albert, broadcast industry sales trainer, shares five compelling business reasons to keep your focus on your customer:
Deb: Why should an organization and an individual seller focus on customer success? How will they benefit?
Margie Albert: There are many benefits, but probably the top five would be that your success rates will be much higher. That’s number one. You get to the close quicker as well. Your contract will be longer. They’re deeper and they’re renewed. That trust and loyalty will be built up. I had a fellow manager one time say to me “look a happy customer is almost impossible to steal.” Lastly, I think anyway, it’s a lot more fun. You really get to know your customers’ businesses; you get to know their challenges. If you’re one of those types of people that likes to learn and you’re curious, this is the way to go. That’s sort of what it looks like – longer contracts with happier customers.
One of the most powerful ways to focus on customers is by creating value that is unique for them. Andre Harrell, sales and marketing consultant, provides a 4-step formula for doing that:
Deb: To genuinely deliver, add on and create that customer value you’re describing… to make the customer feel that way and show them I care on that level, what are the concrete actions I need to be taking?
Andre Harrell: The first part is the tactical plan. Prior to picking up the phone and calling, you should already have some background on that customer. Anything with regards to their company, their competitors, the industry, anything that you can grab. I call that tactical planning or “Unawareness”. The customer knows about you, knows about your business, but they don’t really know your or your business. Its superficial information that they have. At that unawareness phase, how can you tap in and go in with your tactical planning to get them to the “awareness” piece?
That goes to the second part of the pie, and that’s opening purposely and finding customer needs. This is the part of the process where your customer has simply started speaking with you on what you’re about, you as a company and you as a product. They have a sense of awareness, and it’s up to you to tap into what’s important to this customer. What are they passionate about, what are they not passionate about, what do they not like about the competitor, and what are they missing with the product they’re currently using that you can replace? This is when the “Columbo” phase starts to step in, where you’re asking questions to really help engage dialogue.
Once you’ve fulfilled that portion, the awareness phase, you move into the evaluation, when you understand what the needs are and can provide solutions. You’re bringing your product, and meeting their product with that solution. And at that point you’re digging into the value phase. You’re saying “I’ve got enough information on you, you know about me and my product, I know what your concerns and issues are – let’s come together and capitalize on that solution that’s my product.”
Then you go into driving behavior – both parties agree that this is the direction that you’re going to go into, the customers moved down into the buying cycle towards the usage phase, and now you’re in driving behavior. You’re asking when can we wrap this up and get you starting to use my product.
And those are all the steps in getting that customer down the road where now they’re considered a loyal customer for your business. But it’s a process, and I think that’s one of the things that people get scared of. “I gotta go through all those steps?!” Yeah, you do.
Brian Burns, author of The Maverick Selling Method, adds that one of the most important things to remember about value is that it’s unique for every buyer.
Deb: You say that one of the things that makes Mavericks successful is they build long-term relationships with buyers. This, to me, is the essence of connecting. So you’re saying they continuously anticipate customer needs, they’re communicating value, they’re tenaciously focused on the win… what does it look like in practice to do those things?
Brian Burns: Say you’re calling on Company A. If you only had one sales call with them, the correlation of winning that deal was very low. If you got up to over 10, the correlation was almost 100% that you won the deal, which meant there had to be a reason why the customer would meet with you. It didn’t have to be the same person within account A, it just had to be something of value was being provided. And we didn’t really get into what it was, because it was different for everybody. But it was this constant contact, typically about something new, and it correlated very well because they weren’t just focused on getting the technical win, of getting the sale, but actually on the business side. They were meeting with the people in finance, the people who would have to approve it without understanding what the product really does. It wasn’t taking them golfing, or out to dinner. It wasn’t them just liking the person. It was that sales person adding value. Managers now get that. Before they only thought that it was taking them out to dinner, golfing or fishing… But if you have something to bring in to that account multiple times, your likelihood of closing it is almost one for one.
It’s your competitive edge, so focus on your customers. Key into what they value and consistently communicate with them to deliver unique and ongoing value. You’ll build loyalty, and your job will become easier.Take it from the experts – when you build a “3 a.m. relationship” with your buyer and focus on that relationship, they’ll keep coming back for more.