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What Would Your Customer Say?

by David Brock on July 21st, 2011

A major part of what I do for a living is to help individuals and organizations improve their performance and sales effectiveness.  I participate in a lot of meetings where I’m asked to review the sales effectiveness initiatives of organizations.  These people are very bright, extremely capable and have tremendous backgrounds in selling.  The initiatives they talk about are always very interesting.  There’s a huge amount of logic behind what they are trying to do.  They support their initiatives with great data, and sometimes the expert views of other consultants.

I sit in these reviews, I’m buying into what they are saying, I’m about to give them the “Dave Brock Seal of Approval,” (That and a few dollars gets you coffee from your favorite barista).  Then I get to the part where I ask questions.  My first question is usually:  “What do your customers say?”  or I might ask, “How many customers did you talk to about how you could be more effective in selling to them?”

This is where things start going south.  80% of the time, the response is, “We couldn’t possibly ask our customers this!”  Or the response is, “We’d upset our selling relationship by asking the customers how we could be more effective.”  They immediately try to proceed by presenting all the data.  They have customer performance data, they’ve segemented cusotmers by performance, loyalty, maybe even profitability.  They may present customer satisfaction data.  All of this is good, all support what they are trying to achieve.

But I come back to the question, “What would your customer say?”  By this time, I’m either getting blank or hostile stares.

What’s interesting, is the 20% of the companies that do ask their customers the question, that do engage the customer in helping to define how they want to be sold to and what complements how they want to buy.  The insights are really interesting, the answers are sometimes so simple.  My friend, Mike Kunkle, shared a story.  In a past job, he went and asked the customers, “How can our sales organization be more effective in working with you?”  The response was different than anyone thought, “Answer the phone.”  They worked on “answering the phone.”  Relationships improved tremendously, sales effectiveness improved, results improved.

Several years ago, we did the same with a large technology company.  We went to their major accounts and asked, “How can we be more effective in selling and supporting you?”  The feedback was remarkable—we found major problems in coverage, we learned new ways of engaging.  We found a problem that too many people were involved in selling too them, making if very difficult to know how to buy.  We learned that we could support these major accounts in a very different way, with far fewer resources, but produce even better sales results.  We learned that we didn’t have to have field sales people in every location, but could have field sales people in a few key locations, complemented by telesales, and partners.  We were able to reduce cost of selling to this group of major accounts by 27% and increase revenue by 33%—a phenomenal increase in sales effectiveness/productivity.

In each example, usually the cusotmer gives us insight that we may have never thought of.  Sometimes, there are things that can’t be put in place, sometimes, the solutions (such as answering the phone) are very simple.

For decades, product developers have known that we need customer input to design and develop products that meet their needs.  Early customer involvement is de rigueur in every high performing product development team.

Maybe it’s time to adopt the same principles in looking at improving our sales effectiveness and productivity.  Maybe it’s time to ask the customer.  You may be surprised at how simple the solution might be!

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  1. Dave, I love the point about having customer data and satisfaction surveys. As a market research consultant, I see countless organizations invest in research studies that either sit on the shelf or are used only to create a metric (check a box). Too often, companies fail to actually listen to what their customers are saying through the research and even more often, they fail to ACT.

    If the rise in social media has taught us anything, its that folks love to share their opinion. It seems so simple, just ask.

    • I couldn’t agree with you moer Keith! I’m constantly amazed about the data, information, and insight we have about our customers–whether through research studies or analytics or some other things–that we don’t leverage to act! All the data and insight in the world is meaningless unless it is used to take action. Thanks for commenting, it’s always great to see you here! Regards, Dave

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