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Are Your Selling Actions Truly Customer Focused?

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Four Questions to Test Your Resolve & Improve Your Sales Success

Whenever I ask experienced sales professionals this question, they always affirm how customer-focused they already are and how they really do not need any additional help or training in this area. What about you? Are you really customer-focused in your day-to-day selling efforts? Answer the four questions below to evaluate how well you measure up. Mastering all four can help increase your customer’s perceptions of your professionalism and interest in their business.

Question No. 1

How much research do you complete before a sales call?

Our first question focuses on your pre-call research and preparation. How much research do you complete before a sales call? Have you “Googled” your upcoming customer or prospect on the Internet to learn more about what they do? Can you learn anything in advance of your call about their products, coverage area, senior management team or other company divisions? Even though Google and the Internet have made pre-call research so much easier and faster, most reps still do not complete any pre-call research before visiting a customer or prospect.

Imagine how much more customer-focused you would appear to an existing customer if you knew, and could reference on your call, their company’s latest stock price, any recent announcements, or their latest product introductions. We’re not talking about hours of research time before each call, it might only take five or 10 minutes to do some quick research before a call to ensure you have some current topics to discuss, or can validate your initial understanding of your customer’s company and market. What can you do to start conducting at least a few minutes of online research before your next sales calls?

Question No. 2

What percent of your sales calls do you spend talking?

Our second question to measure your true customer focus centers on how much talking versus listening you do on a sales call. What percentage of a sales call are you talking? As a sales consultant, I’ve had the honor of riding along on hundreds of sales calls and observing sales professionals in front of their customers. For years, I took a stopwatch with me for these ride-along days. I would never tell the sales rep what I was doing until the end of the day. Since I was only observing their call, I really did not have anything to say and could pay attention to the back and forth between them and their customer or prospect.

Noticing what time it was when we began a call, I would turn the stopwatch on every time the customer started talking and then turn it off whenever their customer stopped. Since I kept the watch in my pocket the entire time, nobody ever realized what I was doing. After the call, I would then ask the rep for the percentage of time they thought they had actually talked during the sales call. The average rep usually thought their call had been a 50-50 balance of them talking and listening.

Of the hundreds of sales calls I have timed, the average experienced sales pro spent 80 to 90 percent of their time talking on their call—80 to 90 percent! Their sales calls were interactive; it’s just that the sales reps did almost all the talking!

How long does it take a customer to ask this question, “Why are you so expensive?” What did that take, two or three seconds? But how long does it take you to respond with your answer? Four or five minutes?

Do you want to identify the percentage of time you spend talking to your customers? Consider asking your manager or a sales peer to ride with you for a day so they can time your sales calls. Be sure and bring a stopwatch that does not beep or click every time you turn it on or off.

Another simpler alternative is to just record some of your telephone sales calls. This does not have to be complicated; you can even use a dictation machine or tape recorder. You do not even need to record both sides of your conversation. Instead, just review your recorded call, timing yourself to determine the talking-versus-listening ratio.

What can you do to increase the percentage that your customer talks during a call? Ask more open-ended questions. What about asking more probing questions? Increasing the time your customer talks, can help you better understand their real challenges or needs. Getting your customers to talk more, also signals that you’re interested in their business. Do you think you can do less talking on your next sales call?

Question No. 3

How much note-taking do you do on your sales calls?

Taking notes on a sales call has two significant benefits to a sales professional. The first and most obvious benefit to taking notes on a sales call is that it provides you with a record of what you discussed and what your customer or prospect most wants to change or accomplish.

Moreover, taking notes in front of a customer also helps communicate non-verbally your interest in them and their business, and affirms the importance of what they’ve said to you. How important do you make your customer and their comments feel? What can you do to take more notes during your next sales call?

Question No. 4

Do you do any type of “customer focused” follow-up after a sales call?

Our fourth and final question to measure your true customer focus is to evaluate how you follow up after a sales call. Do you do any type of customer-focused follow-up after a sales call?

Most experienced sales pros follow up after a sales call, but usually by only sending out more product or materials that talk about how great their company and products or services are. How customer-focused is it to send out materials that only talk about you and your stuff?

What can you do after a sales call to follow-up with materials or literature that can help your customer or prospect and their challenges? Do you have any access to industry or technical application articles or “white papers” that can provide value and additional insights to your customer?

Do you think you might appear more customer-focused when compared to your competitors if you sent an article that centered on their needs or challenges instead of a full-color brochure on your latest products? Evaluate your available literature and online downloads. How many of these documents only talk about your company and products or services? How many discuss or provide technical, or application data or insights?

There are always times when a product or company-focused document will be of value to your customer. As with Question No. 2, evaluating what percentage of your calls you talk versus listen, do you think doing the same type of evaluation for your literature and electronic attachments might help you determine how customer’s perceive your value? I doubt a customer will consider you very customer-focused if all of your literature and attachments only talk about your company and your offerings. What can you do to increase the customer focus of any of the literature you distribute?

All experienced sales professionals brag about how customer-focused they are, but when evaluated against these four questions or tests, many often fall short in their actions. Rarely, do their talk or supporting documents validate or confirm a real interest in doing anything other than selling stuff to their customers.

We know you’re good. The question is, “Are you ready to be customer-focused enough to listen and help them solve their problems?”

 About the Author

Jim Pancero has been directly involved in business-to-business selling for more than 35 years, first as a top salesperson at IBM before starting his own training and consulting company. He works with experienced business salespeople, their frontline sales managers, and the owner/executive in charge of leading the sales force. To learn more (and see a variety of free sales and sales management videos), visit his website at pancero.com.