Managing Your Role In The Selling Process Is Key To Marketing Success
You have all seen this before – the classic “Selling Process” (aka “the Sales Funnel”. Any marketer you come across should be able to explain to you how this works – in theory. The challenges happen when the marketing team’s idea of how this works does not align with upper management. Unfortunately, this is a very common occurrence.
What happens when the board or C-Suite have a different view of Marketing’s role in this process than you have? At a minimum, you end up wasting precious resources. At a more serious level, this can lead to some pretty tough discussions. This can all be amped up if sales results are not meeting expectations. So . . . getting alignment is key. But how do you get there?
Aligning Expectations on The Selling Process – Three Simple Steps
Achieving alignment may not be easy, but you can get on the right track by following these three simple steps.
Get to know how your sales team interacts with customers. There is no substitute to seeing this live in the field, preferably right in front of the customer. Are there things you could provide them with to accelerate this process? Are they calling on true qualified leads, or are the “customers” glorified cold calls? Ask your rep: How do you define a qualified lead? It is crucial you perform this first before jumping to step 2.
Ask Executive Management what they expect from Marketing. Yes – you need to ask them. Ask them to describe (in detail) how they see marketing’s role in this Selling Process. This is not a 15 minute discussion. It might not be completed in a single meeting. Be sure you are asking many questions, and taking good notes. Let them know you will be doing a lot of “capturing” and will need this great input from them as you develop your marketing strategy.
Re-Define Your Marketing Strategy. You are now armed with very valuable information from the market as well as the company principals. Your marketing strategy will be centered on alignment. First you include recommendations for changes in how you equip the sales team to drive new business. Then the tougher one. You have to point out areas in which executive management has to “modify” their expectations. They will be far more accepting of this when you wow them with your field research. Along with your updated marketing strategy and planned activities.
Having these valuable conversations with the field and executive management will begin the alignment process. You will likely discover other nuggets/ideas in the process that should also help drive results. Time to start having those conversations – and asking questions!
Resist the temptation to “impress the customer” with what you can do. Don’t force solutions, the key to effective selling is understanding real customer challenges.
Part of effective selling is being enthusiastic. To grow your sales, you need to be genuinely excited to share what you have to offer. Your enthusiasm needs to be kept in check, however. Don’t let your excitement (look what we can do) dominate your customer meetings. Get back to the basics. Asking questions, being a good listener, and discovering true customer needs.
I just heard a story in which a rep was in a customer meeting, along with her manager and a corporate representative. The rep told the story of how the executives just could not wait to “impress” the customer with all of the things they could do for him. Basically “look what we can do!” Ignoring the customer’s true needs, these executives laid out a plan of how they would deploy various tactics to make things better for him. The only problem: The customer did not perceive these as challenges! The sales team skipped the key element of listening (i.e. empathizing) and jumped right to a conclusion. These sales executives were effectively designing a solution for a problem that did not exist. This can be a terrible mistake. Sometimes these things in your customer’s world are in fact developed and implemented by the customer themselves. They may in fact be proud of their own solution. Framing that same situation as a “problem” is along the lines of calling their kids ugly! The customer ultimately described this situation as “The Circus Coming to Town”.
It is absolutely true that your role in sales sometimes requires you to “peel the onion”. You may need to reveal challenges that are not readily apparent. There will be times when the customer needs some help uncovering their challenges (and perhaps admitting them!). But keep a lookout for signals to identify where you are treading on thin ice. You will get cues as to whether you are entering a “protected” realm. In these cases, trying to “solve” this “problem” will only lead to resistance, and push the customer further away.
Keep asking questions, try to reveal the pain points but don’t get hung up with too much “look what we can do“. You are working to gain your customer’s trust as a solutions provider, not becoming their “knight in shining armor”.
Guide the customer, do not “push” them. It is a subtle but important distinction that will impact your results (and income!).
When you read articles or hear discussions on communication skills, the focus is on the content (the words). Be concise, maintain interest, avoid cliché’s, etc. In my view the most important element to good communication is often left out: good listening skills.
I got a call today from a gentlemen who represented a consulting firm. He of course is trying to sell his firm’s services. Generally I am not very fond of cold calls, but I had a few minutes and I gave him a shot. WHAT A MISTAKE! This guy’s listening skills were non-existent. He asked me a question about our future plans, and I started discussing (very briefly) our plans for the remainder of the year and to start 2014. He interrupted me mid-sentence and started talking about his firm. I did not get to finish my thought, and It was rude that he did not allow me to finish my answer.
I am sure most intelligent business people out there would state that they believe proper listening skills are important. But do you actually practice good listening skills? Here are a few things you can do to make sure you are doing a good job of listening:
Keep in mind – you are trying to gain information about the prospect. You gain information by asking questions and getting answers, not by making statements. Avoid chest-thumping!
Ask open-ended questions. This will engage the prospect, and hopefully they will reveal some information that you can use to take the conversation deeper.
Employ follow-up questions based on the answers you obtain. It is often when you get the most valuable information, and it signals to the other party that you are actively engaged in the conversation. They will know their answers are important and registering with you.
Good listening skills start with asking good questions!
If you study the classic sell cycle you often see the process end with “the close”. In other words, once the sale is made, companies typically move on to the next prospect. They fail to capitalize on a most valuable resource – current customers. When it gets right down to it, few things impress a prospect more than an existing, satisfied customer. The key is to transform existing satisfied customers into customer advocates. Customer advocates can be your absolute best salespeople.
Customer Advocates Arise When You Move From Transactions to Relationships
It is human nature for prospects to often assume that a salesperson detailing product/service information is “selling” them. On the contrary, a current customer providing the exact same information is “helping them out”. “Sharing a good thing”. When advocates speak to prospects, the prospects guards are down. Prospects generally listen more intently to a peer. They are on the same team! Customer advocates carry a lot of credibility.
So how do you make your happy customers turn into advocates? You plan it of course! Planning is always key to good marketing. Here are a few things you can plan do to generate customer advocates.
Communicate – as much as possible. Develop reasons to reach out to existing customers. Conduct customer satisfaction surveys. Encourage owner’s clubs (that you sponsor). Sponsor customer appreciation events, etc. Frequent positive contact develops relationships. Relationships mean growth!
Create incentives for relationship building. This applies to whoever has customer contact. Customer service team, sales reps, etc. The goal is to develop high-involvement relationships with customers. I am familiar with a direct to consumer business who has bonus incentives to keep customers on the phone as long as possible. Your business will really start humming when you graduate from transactions to relationships.
Capitalize on tough situations. If you ever have customers who have a challenging experience such as quality or delivery problems, think of it as a great opportunity to build a relationship. In this situation, a customer is vulnerable. Vulnerable means volatile. You have a chance to forge a strong relationship. Make it a strong positive one!
Developing customer advocates is not difficult, you just have to be dedicated to achieving it. Just continually come up with ways to delight your customers. Your business will flourish!
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