First impressions matter. Whether it’s a first date or a job interview, a person’s initial experience shapes their long-term impressions. In terms of customer relationships, that first impression comes in the form of sales, and how salespeople handle themselves has lasting implications for the company.
The stereotypical salesperson of popular media is typically oily, dishonest and self-interested, but in reality successful salespeople are exactly the opposite. In order to exceed--or even meet--buyer expectations in the modern age of sales, reps have had to learn address their needs directly.
People don't like being sold to in the traditional sense, and they don't respond well to overt sales pitches. Generic, overblown messages simply don’t hit home anymore, so sellers have had to adapt. Instead, the salespeople who thrive today are the ones who focus on serving each customer’s specific needs, developing relationships and adding value right from the start.
A customer-first approach is essential for company growth, and sales reps that put the customer's needs first are rewarded with loyal customers, industry credibility, respect and referral business. Those who don’t tend to fall by the wayside.
The Sales Incentive for Prioritizing Customer Needs
It used to be that the end-goal in sales was to convert new customers, but now that’s no longer enough. Beyond simply winning the customer’s initial purchase, sellers are also working to win customer loyalty, open the opportunity for future sales, and turn customers into advocates for their company. Customer advocates drive repeat business and referral business, and are an invaluable trusted resource for undecided buyers.
To better understand the likelihood of a customer base is to promote a given product, many companies have implemented the Net Promoter Score (NPS) measure. NPS is measured by asking a customer a single question: how likely they are to recommend the company to a friend or colleague. Customers are then assigned statuses promoters, passives or detractors according to their response. NPS is a good, simple metric for exposing how much organic marketing a business can likely depend upon and how many resources it has for future referrals.
Maintaining a Customer-First Approach Under Pressure
In many high-growth companies that are focused on driving an ambitious sales pipeline, customer experience takes a hit in the sales stage. Reps under pressure to bring in new business fast prioritize quantity of deals over quality.
It's easy for these types of sales organizations to fall into the trap of bringing on bad revenue (such as customers that aren't a good fit for the product or service) or to put customers in long-term contracts that don't match their needs. This strategy may give an illusion of success in the short-term but it's likely to come back to bite them later as contracts expire and churn rates go up. Worse, this strategy can hurt a brand's reputation, as customer detractors spread word of their negative experiences.
Sales sets the tone for the entire customer experience. By taking the time to understand what customers need and set them on the right path early on, salespeople can lay the foundation for an incredibly fruitful relationship.
How to Build Trust as a Salesperson
The first and most important step toward customer satisfaction is for salespeople to act ethically. The most valuable asset sales reps have is their professional integrity and the reputation of their company. Exaggerations early on might help close the deal, but they will alienate customers and hurt the relationship long-term.
Instead, like customer service reps, salespeople’s first job is to listen. Only by truly understanding customer needs can reps find a solution that satisfies them sustainably. But active listening isn't the only consideration when it comes to delighting future customers. The most difficult step is initially getting the prospect to a comfort level in which they feel they can be honest about their concerns. Establishing that trust takes both time and careful nourishment.
In the old world of sales, deals were made on golf courses so that prospects could relax. Today's buyers rarely have time for golfing expeditions with potential partners--they want answers fast.
Instead, salespeople must rely on alternative techniques. For example, giving away something meaningful early in the sales relationship to establish trust. This might mean offering customers a piece of insight that’s disadvantageous to the seller so that they know that he or she has their interests at heart. That might mean letting them know they don't need an extra product or service or pointing out something about a competitor's solution that’s better. Doing this once or twice early in the sales process establishes the salesperson’s commitment to finding a true fit, and building value for the course of the relationship.
By working with prospective customers to understand and address their needs, salespeople set customers on-track for a long, productive relationship, both for the business and for the customers themselves.
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