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How Client Focused Are Your People?

Tuesday, February 16th, 2016

How Client Focused Are Your People?

This may seem like a ridiculous question. Sales people are out there talking to clients all the time, so of course they are client focused, aren’t they? Well maybe, maybe not....

Clearly there are many professional and ethical sales people who work hard to provide value for their clients. I’m lucky to work with many I would put in this category. However….

In our society ‘Sales’ can be a bit of a dirty word - there is a cynicism about sales and sales people. If someone said ‘He’s acting like a salesman’, ask yourself what would you think? I would guess many would think of words like pushy, manipulative, economical with the truth, unethical and basically selfish.

Try going to Google images and searching for ‘salesman’ and see what comes up!!

I talk to a lot of sales managers in my role and meet symptoms of this negative view of sales…

  • One CEO I met was concerned that sales people would get the order and then ‘throw it over their shoulder’ to delivery teams, and be quick to blame when things went wrong
  • One sales manager in IT I spoke to asked her team what their clients did with the infrastructure they bought. They had no idea. The thought of following through to make sure that the client was satisfied and the equipment had served its purpose hadn’t entered their heads.
  • One sales manager described his team as ‘coin operated’. They wouldn’t do anything unless there was a monetary incentive. So ideas like sharing knowhow, or supporting colleagues were out of the question.
  • The most extreme example was an ‘old school’ sales manager who said his ideal sales recruit was a young man, newly married, who was a bit over-stretched on his mortgage. He would pay him a very low basic and high commission. He thought it would make them ‘meat-eaters’.

Would we talk so cynically about and have such low expectations of people in other functions?

In contrast, one managing director said that he wanted his people to celebrate when their clients had a success using their systems… more than when they got a big order. His ethical and client-orientated approach was refreshing.

This culture has led to some major scandals especially in financial services (I’m thinking endowments and PPI scandals), where this attitude has led to a sales industry that has to accommodate extremely heavy and expensive regulation in order to stay within basic ethical guidelines. It is the same attitude which has destroyed the reputation of some estate agents and car salesmen, and is rapidly affecting the solar panel industry!

Now I don’t believe people are born to be selfish and unethical. To what extent have sales leaders educated people into this way of thinking? Sales management can be heavily focused on financial incentives, competition between people rather than cooperation, and sales numbers rather than customer satisfaction. Not much generosity of spirit.

So is this an issue? If they produce the results what is the problem? You may say that sometimes we have to employ mercenaries to win the war! The problem comes in the current commercial environment where our relationships with our clients are changing.

Solution selling is essentially a service led approach, and trust is a key factor. The best solution salespeople work hard to find out what the client really needs and provide a solution to achieve the client’s objectives. They build long term relationships of trust. They put effort into getting to know the vertical they work in, the companies they look after and the individuals they serve. They will even be courageous and ethical enough to stand up to the client where required to save them from their own short-sighted decisions.

Most companies want to have their sales people able to talk at C level. But once the person is in front of that director, do they have something interesting to say? Do they understand that person’s world enough to serve him well? Have they done their homework enough to put themselves in the client’s shoes? Do they see them as a person or a walking cheque-book? To adapt a common saying ‘You can’t sell to a man until you’ve walked a mile in his moccasins’

Successful solution selling is essentially about having a focus on the other person’s interests.

Of course there is a balance. The sales person also needs to look after the interests of the company they work for, both in terms of margin and reputation. You don’t want people ’going native’ and giving things away.

And of course the sales person wants to earn a good living too. Sales is a demanding job and people deserve to have good remuneration.

So what do we need to do to have our sales people be more client-focused? Here are some questions to think about:

  • How can you encourage salespeople to develop their know-how about and empathy for their clients and the markets they operate in? How can we generate genuine curiosity?
  • How much of your team’s territory and account planning is based on the real added value they can give to the client rather than what they can get from them?
  • Do your incentives and accountabilities reflect a balance – including quality of sales and customer satisfaction as well as financial results?
  • At your sales meetings and events how much of the time do you spend talking about clients? Do you publicly recognise client service as well as numerical performance?
  • Are your sales managers role models? Do they encourage client-orientated behaviour in their day to day interaction with their teams?
  • What is your prevailing sales culture? What gets recognised most? Who are you holding up as role-models?
  • If push came to shove, if you had a sales-person who brought in a good level of business but was not exhibiting the right client orientated behaviour, what would you do?

Solution selling is not just about technique and process it is also about mind-set. We as leaders have a responsibility to recognise this and lead the way.

And as is often said, this ‘soft stuff’ is actually the hardest stuff of all!

Talk to Orbit Business Development about developing the right culture and behaviour for successful solution selling.

Tags in this article: The Challenger Sale by Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson, solutions selling, solution selling - client focused selling, account planning

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