This means salespeople must be at their very best, bringing value to the table and to their customers. If, instead, they just push products, they sacrifice goodwill and trust. Their sales success is likely to be short-lived, not the basis of a long and mutually productive relationship.
Many articles have been written about the parade of scandals in the financial industry: overly aggressive sales goals leading to the unauthorized opening of accounts; funneling billions of wealthy customer accounts offshore; manipulating global interest rates; the whole subprime mortgage crisis. And such bad behavior extends beyond banking into other industries and the political environment, where instability and uncertainty are causing greater distrust among customers, who are increasingly wary of salespeople and selling tactics.
I recently read an article that called for a new business model, and while the writer was referring to the financial industry specifically, the advice applies more broadly. Companies need to focus more on advocating for their customers rather than exploiting customers to move more product. They need to make sure whoever is touching their customer — whether it’s someone in sales, service, or support — provides a uniform and positive customer experience. And while this should be needless to say, I’m going to say it anyway: The customer experience should be one that builds credibility and trust while reinforcing the strength of the relationship.
I’d like to share a few personal examples that illustrate the value of a customer-centric approach. Last summer, I was meeting with a customer’s Learning and Development people to talk about phase two of a training program for their salespeople. I asked one question that resulted in a 150 percent increase in the training budget for the program. That question was this: “After you’ve made the sale, who is interacting most closely with your customer?”
The answer: the service people, to the tune of 10 to one. So, I asked a follow-up question: “How can you risk having service people, who touch the customer 10 times as often as salespeople, not be as upskilled as the salespeople?” It was an aha moment in which the C-level executive realized the necessity of putting all its customer-facing people through the training to create a uniform customer experience.
Another story reveals just how important this kind of approach is to companies that want to keep the development of their people as their own competitive advantage. I am occasionally asked by my colleagues at Richardson whether a current customer would be willing to be a reference for us with a prospective customer. What I have been hearing back from current customers is they don’t want to give away the “secret sauce” to their competitors — or even to companies in other industries. They view their partnership with Richardson as a differentiator, raising the game of their sales and support organizations, and they don’t want everyone else to know the reasons for their success.
I consider this a powerful objective measure of the value they place on training and their investment in people — and Richardson. Not only do they see the benefit in sales performance, but also in talent retention. For customers, dealing with the same person over time helps in building trust. If there’s constant turnover in the sales force, trust and confidence suffer.
Salespeople deal with barriers and challenges every day. They can’t get prospects to pick up the phone or agree to a meeting. They have to find new ways to engage with customers. They are brought into the buying cycle late in the process. There are many more decision makers brought into the sales process than ever before. And within their companies, salespeople continually face rising quotas, adding pressure to make more sales in any way possible.
While the challenges are daunting, there are solutions. Progressive companies understand that now is the time to invest in their people, giving them the skills and resources to operate more effectively and gain customer trust. There’s one last story I want to share. A customer recently came back to me to say, “Three years ago, you told us we should be doing this, but we didn’t do anything. Now, we’re three years behind in our growth curve. We need to start moving. Our competitors aren’t doing anything like this, so even though we’re three years behind, we may be years ahead of them.”
The point is it’s always a good time to invest in the people who touch customers. Help them get ahead of the curve when it comes to the next selling opportunity. It takes time to build the trust needed to convince skeptical customers, but starting the process today will put you further down the road than those who don’t do anything. Theirs will be an uphill battle, no matter if they’re in financial services or other industries. Customer expectations have never been higher or trust levels lower, but there’s no time like the present to begin making changes that will lead to different, and better, results.