Customer focused selling and marketing skills
This section focuses of the important elements of achieving a higher level of customer spend, loyalty and quality experience. There are some similarities to conventional selling and some important differences.
|Focus on the product feature and benefits||Focus on the customer|
|Assume trust and credibility through style not substance||Earn the right and use capability statements to differentiate effectively|
|Focus on winning sales||Focus on helping customers make buying decisions|
|Tell the customer about product features or benefits||Persuade through involvement|
|Use open and perhaps need probing questions||Use high gain questions|
|Identify service level needs and opportunities||Probe to develop consequences and pay-offs|
|Identify simple immediate needs and opportunities||Target and prioritize potential customers early and maintain contact on a planned basis|
|Present a single most favoured solution||Involve the customer in reviewing options|
|Present general features and benefits||Target personal benefits precisely|
|Guess or assume buying criteria and processes||Accurately establish buying motivation, criteria and decision making processes|
|Avoid objections and outweigh and answer with simple benefits or discounts when they arise.||Anticipate and discuss objections and concerns early and constantly during the process.|
|Develop a single ‘key’ coach or contact||Manage multiple contacts|
|Attempt to force fit extras at the end of the sales presentation or proposal||Use the ‘options’ approach to build additional sources of value into the main decision or order. This helps to increase sales value and ‘cross’ or ‘up’ sell|
One of the most important differences is that today’s new customers must be seen as golden chains of future revenue not just a one off hit and run sale. Customers are just too expensive to attract and then too valuable to lose after one or two transactions.
Even if your customer buying cycle is infrequent for example a major car purchase the customer can still benefit from support and opportunities for extra sales can be identified.
Three principles of customer focused selling
The following are the key principles drawn by customer focused organizations. The customer-focused sales person applies three principles at every step of the sales process.
1. Focus on the customer
2. Establish credibility
3. Persuade through involvement
|Focus on the customer||– View the customer as the center of the sales process. Concentrate on the customers buying process or agenda.- Make everything that you say or do vital to the sales interaction and of value to the customer.|
|Establish credibility||– Ask questions after the customer understands why sharing information is important- Propose a situation after the customer perceives his or her need as urgent.|
– Close after the customer has sufficient information to make a decision.
|Persuade through involvement||– Allow for the customer to give information- Talk less and listen more|
– View opposition as a sign of involvement
– Help the customer to solve a problem or meet a need
Customer focused selling skills – There are six customer focused selling skills each with a different function. These skills are basic requirement for effective customer-focused selling:
The customer’s buying process
During the sales process, the customer goes through a series of buying steps. Each step reflects how the customer feels at various stages of the relationship during the sales process.
No interest – In many circumstances your prospect may have little or no interest in your product or service initially. At this point you are in the prospecting phase of the sales process. It is important to contact the customer proactively to generate interest. The call should be personalized as much as possible based on what is known about the customer group.
Low interest – At the second stage your customer may have low interest in your product. So to move the customer to the next stage of the buying process you must get significant information about:
- The customer
- His or her situation
- The needs and problems that the customer is trying to address
|Exploring needs||– View a need as a gap between where the customer perceives where he or she is now and where he or she wants to be- Explore and discuss consequences or negative implications of not closing the gap|
– Explore and discuss value or benefit of closing the gap
|Exploring options||– View options as choices that the customer should consider to close the gap- Explore and develop options that meet the clients needs|
By using data gathered about the customers transaction and buying interests.
Strong interest – At the third stage the customer has strong interest about your product. Now is the correct time to make customer presentation. Link your offer to the needs and requirements of the customer to ensure commitment. As most markets are ferociously competitive, often price or ‘special offer’ concessions or incentives are used to encourage a customer to try out a product.
Convinced – At the fourth stage the customer is convinced that your product or service will meet his or her needs. To move to the next stage you have to close the sale. It is the logical outcome of the presentation. The close has to be:
Committed – An effective close takes the customer to the final stage where the customer decides to use your product or service to satisfy the requirement in question. By focusing on the customer’s buying process you are looking at the situation from the customer’s point of view. The biggest impediment to successful sales calls in the inclination to close at the wrong time. It may not be necessary to take the client through the full buying process – since each customer may be at a different stage of the buying process.
Customer focused prospecting
How to define your ideal customer – One of the best place to look for the ideal
customer is to look at your existing customers. List down 10 to 30 of existing successful customers. Think about what kind of company or individuals they are.
If you sell to a company think about the size, nature and location of the company. Whereabouts are they based geographically? What kind of business are they in? What are their size, turnover and other factors that may influence their suitability?
What sort of attitude must they have toward your product or service? What sort of information do you need to turn them into a suitable prospect? Who is the best person to contact within that organization?
If you sell to individual consumers you may want to consider what time of day is best to catch your prospect, what are their hobbies, background, social status, income etc.
The importance of carefully targeting potential customers is twofold. The first is that we make better use of our time. By not wasting time with people who can’t or won’t buy, time can be spent with customers where a better chance of sale exists.
Referrals – One of the most important methods gaining new business is through referrals – if you have not already done so contact all successful existing customers and get at least one or two referrals from each. Put these at the top of your list for scheduling appointments. You must obtain the permission of the referrer if their name or company name can be used as an introduction.
Organized persistence – This is the name given to a call back system with accurate record keeping. It will enable you to select the very best prospects and customers and retain them and move with them as they develop their sales requirements.
Staying in touch – one of the important discoveries made by successful salespersons is that it is important to stay in touch with existing customers. This is since most of the time the product need will recur or the first purchase has been made on trial basis and there is a good opportunity to make repeat sales.
Don’t forget existing customers – Make sure that you stay in touch with customers at least once every three months even is the customer doesn’t buy anything. It a tragedy to see that many companies lose 10 – 50% of customers simply because they do not stay in touch.
Take time to collect information every month and to act on it:
- List all your top customers – the top 20 per cent by number and calculate the percentage sales contribution they make individually and as a group.
- List all customers who have not purchased in the last X months – that is whatever is appropriate for your business.
- List all customers who have spent more this month/year than the last – contact them and find out why and say ‘thank you’
- List all customers who have spent less than last year/ month – contact them and find out why and tell them about something new, interesting and different.
- Plan renewal, replacement, upgrade or diversification. Make sure that product development and marketing work together to give customers a compelling reason to
- Drive the relationship down to every level within a customer’s organization.
- Remember that you have more to fear from complacency than competitors.
How to build a business pipeline
1. Every week select ten companies that meet your target market profile. List these names, addresses and phone numbers. Also include referrals.
2. Make a research call to each company and identify the most appropriate contact. You need not speak to this person at this stage but speak to the receptionist or assistant.
3. Send a one page success letter and a very brief overview of benefits that your company can offer.
4. Telephone each prospect that you mailed within 3-5 days. As 50 per cent will be unavailable, log callbacks in your diary. They might not remember your letter so review it on the phone.
5. Have a prepared call sheet, questions and reasons for an appointment.
6. Set aside time each week for research, mailing and planning – consistency is vital for this to work
7. After approximately 10-12 weeks of contacting new prospects reduce the new contacts by between 50per cent to 80 per cent and instead go back through all the people you contacted previously and re-contact them.
8. Make sure that the next 90 days contact contains something new, interesting or different, even if only very slightly.
9. No matter how busy you get always make time to keep in touch with new prospects in this way and on a planned consistent basis.
1. Do not allow any one customer to contribute more than 30 per cent of your sale in any one period
2. Make sure that at least 30 per cent of sales is from the new pipeline, the rest should be from existing customers or referrals.
3. Always have a third more sales in the pipeline than you need.
Capability statement – A capability statement describes the benefits of working with a sales person and relates them to probable needs of that particular customer or group of customers.
Making an impression on the first sales call
Any sales interaction with a customer has three basic components
1. Opening – to agree a mutual agreeable purpose
2. Progressing – to move toward achieving the purpose
3. Concluding – to clarify the progress of the discussion and to set up the next action step
Opening the call – It is important to see any prospect as a long term customer. The opening consists of three steps:
1. Purpose – state why you are contacting the customer
2. Benefit – explain the benefit of spending time with you to the customer
3. Check ask if the customer agrees with your agenda
Benefits of preparing – prepare before you make your call, whether it’s a telephone call or face-to-face. A good opening will:
- Align expectations between you and the customer
- Show that you are organized
- Show concern for making the best use of the customer time
- Open up communication with the customer
Establish a common purpose with the customer early in the conversation is a key differentiator between successful and unsuccessful discussions.
Capability statement – initial customer contact – this describes the overall benefit of working with the customer and relating to their needs. Preparation – the capability statement should be prepared before the initial discussion – it should answer the following two questions: why? And why the salesperson?
The statement should:
- Emphasize the need for common understanding with the customer
- Link capabilities to common needs
- Be based on much knowledge as you can obtain about both the prospects industry and particular situation.
- Be brief (not a product or service presentation)
- Not overload the customer with benefits, since you do not know much about the customers needs.
- Be specific enough to be interesting
- Be broad enough not to close off options
Note: avoid mentioning specific benefits of the product at this time.
Progressing the call – at this point show the customer that you can solve important problems facing the customer. The capability statement should tailored to the specific industry and include pertinent benefits that your company can offer that industry.
Keep it simple – keep you conversation on a general and more conceptual level. Do not get drawn down into the details. Remember that your first call is to make an appointment not to make a sales presentation.
Customer focused selling skills
Customer focused selling skills can be used to progress the discussion, but the sequence in which you use those discussions vary.
|Connecting||To establish a personal bond with the customer|
|Encouraging||To keep the customer participating in the sales call|
|Questioning||To get in-depth information on the situation problems and needs|
|Listening||To hear and remember the facts and feelings shared by the customer|
|Confirming||To make progress of the sales call explicit|
|Providing||To give information to create a clear, positive image of the sales person, company, products and service.|
Connecting – this skill is used to create a bond between you and the customer and a better rapport.
|Using eye contact||Look into the other person’s eyes when possible|
|Adapting||Use body language that mirrors the others behaviour:- Speech|
– Body posture
|Building rapport||As appropriate- smile|
– use small talk
– find areas of mutual interest
Encouraging – this is used to keep the customer participating in the discussion.
|Reinforcing||Give short verbal non verbal signalsUse supportive questions and phrases to show that you want to show you want to hear more.|
|Empathizing||Show that you understand how the other person feels. |
‘That must have been very important’
‘I can appreciate your position’
|Accepting||Show that you have received the information being communicated.|
Questioning – skills are used to obtain in-depth information about the situation, problems, needs of the other person.
|Close questioning||Direct questions that can be answered with one or two words.|
|Open questioning||These are questions that require more that just a simple yes or no. Usually begin with who, what where, when and how|
|High-gain questioning||Open ended questions that ask customers to search for new meanings in existing information.|
Listening – this is an important skill which very few people have mastered – listening is an important umbrella skill that ensures that you understand the actual customer requirement.
|Concentrating||Resist distractions. |
Focus on the customer and what is being said.
|Remembering||Retain relevant information that the customer gives you.|
Types of listening – questioning and listening are vital and must at a much higher level than a conventional telephone conversation.
Listening ranges from being active to being attentive:
– Attentive listening is comprehending and remembering
– Reflective listening retains information, evaluates and draws inferences
– Active listening gives verbal and non-verbal feedback to the speaker
Confirming – make progress of the discussion explicit, resulting in agreement.
|Summarizing||Restate or paraphrase what the other person has said by:- listing important points|
– Reviewing what the other person has said to check your understanding
– Pulling together related issues
|Checking||Check for the customers agreement by:- Watching for body language|
– Asking directly
Providing – this is the skill of how to provide the relevant information to the customer.
Providing should be based on the following:
– Are responsive to the needs of the situation
– Create a positive image of you are your ability to address those needs
– Result in customer satisfaction
|Stating benefits||Present benefits that are keyed to the needs of the customer. Check to allow the other person to make clarifications or ask questions.|
|Speaking concisely||Speak briefly and to the pointProvide broad outlines and go into details only if asked|
|Using enthusiasm||Show excitement and conviction in your plans or proposals by using:- A faster pace|
– More modulation
– Increased volume
– More gesture
Handling objections and queries
Objections can arise at any stage of the selling process. At the initial contact stage you may encounter problems with the ‘gatekeepers’ to the organization or with the contact persons themselves.
The objection handling process
1. Encouraging – this will happen throughout the process
Encouraging is the most difficult thing to do especially when you feel that your position is under-attack.
Key methods to encourage the customer are as follows:
- Do not try to answer the objection at this point
- Acknowledge the customer’s right to object and express your willingness to listen to the customers grievance completely
- Listen carefully to what he or she has to say
- Show empathy. Understand how the customer feels by putting reversing situations
- Use this situation as the first step toward resolving the situation
- Encourage the customer is not the same as agreeing with the customer. You do not need to agree with the customer’s opinion – only his right to express an opinion.
- When in doubt ask the customer to elaborate.
Frequently the real objective is different to what has been expressed. So clarify the objection and discover what the specific concern of the customer is.
Key methods to question the customer are as follows:
- Don’t assume that you understand the objection
- Do not belittle the questioning phase or appear to cross examine the customer.
- Encourage the customer – to ensure involvement
When the customer talks listen attentively for feelings that the persons seems to be conveying and factual information that he or she may be sharing with you.
Take notes to remind you of key points to return to at a later date. Do not interrupt. Actively listen so you really understand the objection.
Check you understanding of the problem before responding, you should know what the customer is thinking and demonstrate that you understand the question.
Summarize what you have heard and check your understanding with the customer.
You should answer the objection as specifically as possible. Objections and their responses fall into four categories.
|Misconception||Clarify and explain|
|Scepticism||Provide examples, references, demonstrations or evidence|
|Real drawback||Show how advantages outweigh disadvantage|
|Real complaint||Respond with a plan to address the complaint|
Check to confirm that the customer’s objection has been resolved. You can ask outright if the problem has been solved or start the process again by encouraging the customer to ask questions to draw out real objections.
Exploring needs – a need is a gap – exploring needs is a process of uncovering gaps between a customers perception of his or her present state and what the position should really be.
Understanding the buying criteria and the buying process.
Needs are not adequate – In developing long term customer opportunities, needs, consequences and pay-offs are essential but not adequate in themselves. It is also necessary to understand something of the customers buying criteria and process. Whilst you might choose to develop your own template to cover this process we recommend the following:
- Money, budget, cost expectation
- Authority levels and buying influences
- Timescales – both to implement and to place an order
- Competition and alternatives
- Hot buttons – how the decision will be made
Each of these will combine to create a unique buying or customer profile for each sales opportunity or transaction.
Exploring and developing options is linked to the developing principles
|Focus on the customer||Understand that the customer always has options – to buy from you or your competition – help the customer to understand fully his or her options.|
|Earn the right to advance||Find out what the customer is thinking about each option before committing yourself to one solution. Be prepared to address potential objections to each solution.|
|Persuade through involvement||Analyze available options. Involve the customer in analysis and discussion of the options.|
Persuade through involvement – customers would rather buy a product than be sold a product. Therefore the salesperson should work with the customer to arrive at an option which is the ideal solution to the customer’s need.
Once you have provided different options to the customer and the customer chooses a particular option – then its time to prepare a presentation to the customer on that particular solution.
|Examples – how the solution has worked||Illustrate a customer situation similar to your current customer’s to make a stronger case for your solution|
|Enthusiasm – add sum punch to the presentation||Ideas that are conveyed with feeling are more convincing that statement of dry facts.Often a decision is made based on a feeling the customer has after listening to you|
|Evidence – show||Provide data to prove an ideas effectiveness. Data should be verified and valid or the audience may notice its inapplicability or inaccuracies and challenge your sources.|
|Experts – other opinions that count||Use references to show that you are talking with objectivity and not from personal bias.Let the audience know who the person is not known universally – preface the name with a title or description.|
|Make it visual||Use visual aids to help your audience remember information. Use visuals to increase the impact of visuals you think are most important. Be sure that the visuals are appropriate for the type and size of the meeting that you are having.|
Concluding the discussion – this phase too is very important since it enables you to get customer’s commitment to future action. Suggestions for concluding could be as follows:
|Summarize and check||Show the customer how much was accomplished by highlighting the important understanding of the accomplishments|
|Suggest an action plan||Suggest the agenda date for the next meeting. Offer to introduce your customer to other in your company. Offer to provide more information.|