What does your customer want from your Salespeople?

In this two-part blog series, John Heaford, Head of Methodologies, at SalesMethods explores the complex question of: What the customer really wants from your salespeople?

In examining this question, I was tempted to look at it from the viewpoint of the Sales profession and Sales leadership in general, in order to determine if (and which) certain aspects of sales skills and performance enhancement tools were being deployed in popular training programmes.

Whilst researching this issue, I came across a superb piece of research, heavily disguised by an innocuous, unprepossessing title, “The Ten Principles Behind Great Customer Experiences” by Matt Watkinson. The depth and breadth of Matt’s research is outstanding. Amongst the early accolades is a gem, from Rory Sutherland, Vice Chairman of Ogilvy UK. Whilst making the point that metrics can always be gamed and often translate poorly into subjective experience, Sutherland notes that this book “….. is part of a whole movement in social science and marketing………….”. He completes the commentary with his belief and hope that “….the next revolution will be not technological but psychological”. This led me to examine this issue from a different perspective – that of the customer and their expectations and requirements with respect to the behaviours of sales professionals.

That said, any sales performance enhancement programme must go beyond strict formal methodologies along with probable benefits related to products and services. There are clear indications from current research that the development of the sales professional at any level must also explain the psychological reasons customers buy and provide practical real-world examples on how to incorporate the elements of customer behaviour into a winning sales strategy.

This blog series is based on the principles detailed in the book by Matt Watkinson Principles-Behind-Customer-Experiences, which translate readily into guidelines for behaviours expected and demanded, by the buying community, of sales professionals. However, it also reprises similar messages, delivered by research in the USA from 15 years ago, when the messages were very similar, as were the proposed solutions; as were those of a mere 5 years ago from respected UK researchers.

Customer Experience & Expectation

This is not just about the use of service or product. ‘Experience’ should include ALL interaction a customer has with their suppliers. Customers in the business-to-business community look for the wider experience they enjoy, not just the promised product and service performance, in order to make decisions. Moreover, prominent specialists continue to propagate this richer experience has a great impact on future loyalty and potential growth for the supplier relationship status. (‘Key Account Management’ by Malcolm McDonald & Diana Woodburn. Second edition 2009)

In his book, “Fixing the Game”, Roger Martin makes a controversial and challenging statement, “Customer delight is a more powerful objective than shareholder value”. The point being made is apt, considering the fact that the general public can now contribute ‘content’ to an unprecedented degree of currency and breadth. Social media merging with commercial enterprise media channels, now ensures that news travels faster than it ever did, meaning that poor customer experience is broadcast far wider. Which? Magazine extends its reach year by year as more consumers have made their decision despite billions spent by suppliers on advertising. My own Which? subscription costs me £10.75 per month. This single example has already saved me a considerable amount of precious time and energy, not to mention unnecessary expenditure. Is the financial issue the main benefit? Not from my perspective, nor that of the majority of my colleagues and friends. Which? Magazine provides real in depth research and many of its personal support services are included in the subscription. Would that the business-to-business community followed suit.

Lagging indicators and statistical analysis cannot determine the impact of individual customer facing behaviours unless the two aspects are linked through observation.

Harvesting responses from customers, by observing their reactions and gleaning intelligence through their shared opinions, will be far greater contributions to guide future behaviour than a mere record of the ultimate decision-making actions taken.

This is not a new message; just new voices. In earlier research, I uncovered a book by Harry Beckwith, (“Selling the Invisible” Warner Books 1997) in which the author illustrated the gap between position and positioning. In other words, where does your sales force engage with their virtual team, internally, in examining the reality of the current position with respect to your published market positioning? This is especially valid when viewed through our own awareness of the today’s growing focus on strategic account development disciplines, witnessed by the increasing demand on our own company’s resources. In the same era, Fred Wiersema in his book “Customer Intimacy” (Knowledge Exchange 1996) highlights what he calls the “experience cycle of Get-it; Use-it; Fix-it”, intimating that customers expect sales people to live the whole journey with them, rather than become invisible after the deal is done.

In the second and final part of this blog series, due out shortly, John Heaford, will conclude his post around what does your Customer want from your salespeople?

John Heaford

John Heaford

John is a sales skills training consultant, company director, conference speaker and training systems designer. His ultimate goal is to build world class training support tools, for distribution over the mobile internet to hand-held personal devices, to field sales professionals and business executives. He is Head of Methodologies at SalesMethods.