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7 Tips for Building a Truly Customer First Sales Strategy

Customer conversations

A professional meeting between man and woman demonstrates the focus required to execute a customer-first sales strategy.

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All sales teams want to develop a customer-first sales strategy. Few succeed. The reason: It is difficult to convert intent into action when the customer-first strategy must be present in everything the seller does.

A truly customer-first strategy is present in the seller’s prospecting, written communication, conversations, follow-up, and even their negotiations.

Too often customer-centric initiatives fall short because they only exist within the conversation with the customer. Being customer-first means being mindful of the customer’s needs and goals throughout every aspect of the sale even those that are not customer-facing.

This often-overlooked truth is why it’s helpful to revisit the definition of a customer-first sales strategy.

What is a Customer-First Sales Strategy?

A customer-first sales strategy is the combination of a mindset and skill set that together aim to serve the customer’s best interest throughout every stage of the sale.

To work, this approach must be more than a statement or principle. It must be a set of actions that are visible to the customer.

Why a Customer-First Sales Strategy?

Sales organisations win when they commit to a customer-first sales strategy for three reasons:

  1. A genuine customer-first approach is rare. Therefore, customers immediately see the value of a seller who puts the stakeholder’s interests at the center of everything they do.
  2. A continual focus on the customer is what leads to solutions that work. Without considering the customer at every step it is difficult for the seller to understand the core needs they must address.
  3. A customer-first sales strategy leads the sales organisation to the development of new and successful products and services. The closeness to the customer is what reveals unmet needs that the sales organisation can address with new offerings.

How to Build a Customer-First Sales Strategy

1. Conduct research at the persona level

The decision to buy ultimately comes from a person or people. While it is important to understand the organisation in which those people work the seller must also remember that the buyers are the ones who decide.

Understanding what compels the buyers is what will enable the seller to position the solution in a way that feels relevant and personalised to the stakeholders.

The seller must research the buyer’s needs by asking them questions, determining their goals, and understanding the metrics they are responsible for within the company. The most effective sellers keep a narrow focus on the buyers and avoid getting lost in the layers of the company.

2. Identify and address challenges that lay ahead

Being customer-first means doing more than providing a solution to problems that exist. Sellers who are truly customer-first also serve as trusted advisors.

They develop detailed knowledge of the customer’s setting and have the insight needed to anticipate future needs. This is how sellers deliver value that exceeds the product or service. Moreover, the ability to anticipate the customer’s future needs lends validity to the solutions they position later. Importantly, the seller’s identification of future needs does not always need to lead to one of their solutions. The idea is to build a long-term relationship.

3. End each conversation with a promise that you fulfill

Trust comes from delivering on promises made. It is critical that the seller always fulfill their commitments to the seller no matter how small. Doing so builds what is called knowledge-based trust which is the trust that develops when one person sees that another person’s words and actions are consistent with one another.

The more a seller demonstrates follow through the more trust they build. For this reason, the seller should always end a conversation, verbal or written, with a commitment to follow up in some way.

Even if the customer does not request any follow-up action the seller should make it clear that they will provide some piece of follow-up information.

4. Deliver insights even when they don’t connect to the solution

The customer cannot trust the solution until they trust the seller. Building that trust means that the seller must demonstrate that their interests are not limited to selling. The seller must show that they are driven to help the customer succeed.

If every insight and conversation leads to the product or service then the buyer quickly learns that the seller is unable to see beyond a revenue goal. In the early stages of the sale, the seller should provide insights that help the customer clarify their goals and challenges. This approach demonstrates customer-centricity while also helping the customer define their needs.

5. Apply an 80/20 principle: 80% investigating need, 20% prescribing a solution

The more the seller knows about the customer the more they can pinpoint their positioning. Gaining this level of knowledge means allocating most of the time with the customer to exploration. This approach not only reveals the customer’s true need but also helps the seller understand how the customer’s independent research is influencing their buying decision.

The more time spent exploring the customer’s needs the more likely it is that the customer will begin to volunteer details about other information they have found. Knowing this is critical for the seller because these external sources influence the buyer’s decision.

6. Consider the customer’s time when designing written and visual content

Focusing the customer’s attention requires the use of simple visuals and concise phrasing. Often, it can be tempting to show a customer the impressive list of features within the solution. A better approach, however, is to cull that list to only those features that are highly relevant to the customer. This demonstrates that the seller understands the customer’s needs and respects their time. Information is always easier to absorb and retain when it is concise.

7. Remember that follow-through is as important as follow-up.

Follow-up is the act of delivering on a commitment. Follow through is the act of exploring the customer’s response to the follow-up material. Customer-first sellers do both.

Follow-up develops trust, but follow-through helps the seller get a clearer picture of the customer’s needs and how those needs change even within the course of the sales pursuit. Follow through always yields useful information even when the customer explains that the follow-up material was irrelevant. Comments like this tell the seller that they need to change direction.

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