What Is The Biggest Threat To Customer Voice Research? (It May Surprise You!)

What is The Biggest Threat to Customer Voice Research? (It may surprise you!)

 

 

In my previous posts I have been sharing the power of capturing and leveraging the voice of your customers. When we understand how our customers buy, what they need to make buying decisions and what they value we can equip our sales teams to win. I was recently asked: “ is there ever an instance when capturing customer voice does not help sales and profits? “ Yes. In this post I will share the biggest threat to leveraging customer voice research to drive sales and profits.

 

To review, I have studied why companies win and why up to 80% of sales teams fail to achieve their sales numbers. The most common reason is a dated value proposition and sales process. Their markets and buyers have experienced a change and sales failed to adapt their go to market plan because they failed to identify the shift.

 

The good news is companies who understand the power of leveraging the current voice of their customers thrive!

 

They experience …

 

  • Sales growth over 30% year over year
  • Higher than industry standard profits
  • Increased market share
  • Improved customer satisfaction
  • Improved customer retention
  • Discover and design more new products and services
  • Improved sales quote to close %
  • Reduced costs
  • Improved operational efficiencies

 

Based on the above why wouldn’t your team want to capture the voice of your customers?

 

After my last post I received a phone call. It went something like this…

 

I have been following your content for a few months and I want to ask you something about this customer voice topic.

 

Sure, how can I help?

 

Isn’t this what my sales guys are supposed to understand and adjust to?

 

No, I would argue really talented salespeople who serve teams that may lack a strong marketing competence might identify and adjust to buying changes. However in my experience we do not want sales out doing surveys and interviews, we want them out selling. I would recommend a senior manager on your team, like a VP of Sales and Marketing, or a marketing manager own capturing customer voice.

 

This kind of feels old school, too easy a strategy to add much value, thoughts?

 

Understanding your buyers, the buying journey they take and what they need to make buying decisions today is old school. It is how I was taught to sell back in 1983. The trouble we have today is the speed of change we are experiencing. Think about how the recent election is changing how some may view their business. Or another interesting statistic that today more Internet searches are done from a smart phone than a desktop. Just imagine the poor companies who have awesome web sites but they are invisible on a smart phone? If capturing the voice of your customer’s sounds too simple, it is because it is. The difficulty often occurs in getting buyers to open up and share beyond the surface. The good news is there are ways to: understand and capture why buyers buy, why they don’t and what they need to buy.

 

Is there ever an instance you have gathered the voice of the customer information and it did not increase sales and profits?

 

Yes, I have been doing this for over 30 years now and there was one instance where gathering the voice of the customer and voice of the market did not work.

 

Why didn’t it work?

 

Confirmation Bias!

 

What is confirmation bias and how can we avoid it?

  

The definition of confirmation bias is: the tendency to interpret new evidence as confirmation of one’s existing beliefs or theories.

 

Or put another way…

 

“While we like to imagine that our beliefs are rational, logical, and objective, the fact is that our ideas are often based on paying attention to the information that upholds our ideas and ignoring the information that challenges our existing beliefs.”

Verywell

 

Wikipedia describes it as …

 

The tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one’s preexisting beliefs or hypotheses, while giving disproportionately less consideration to alternative possibilities.[1] … The effect is stronger for emotionally charged issues and for deeply entrenched beliefs. People also tend to interpret ambiguous evidence as supporting their existing position. Biased search, interpretation and memory have been invoked to explain attitude polarization (when a disagreement becomes more extreme even though the different parties are exposed to the same evidence), belief perseverance (when beliefs persist after the evidence for them is shown to be false), the irrational primacy effect (a greater reliance on information encountered early in a series) and illusory correlation (when people falsely perceive an association between two events or situations).

 

Years ago I was asked to help a 40 year old company in the irrigation industry increase their sales and profits. I was introduced to them through their new Private Equity investor in Arizona. A key part of the no smoke and mirrors process (as I call it) is to meet with buyers and understand..

 

Why do they buy?

 

What process do they use, what is their buying journey?

 

What criteria must they have today to make buying decisions?

 

Why don’t they buy from your company?

 

I met with this companies’ top accounts that represented 80% of their current sales. I met with three very large accounts they recently presented and lost. I also met with 5 accounts that were once very large accounts but sales have dropped 50% or more in the last 24 months. I ask the same open-ended questions to get the buyers talking. Two of my favorite questions for example are:

 

If you were the president of our company and wanted to grow sales with your company what would you do?

 

What do our competitors do very well for you?

 

I use between 12 and 20 questions depending on how much the buyer is opening up. If a buyer shares something that is an interruption I often ask for more information. I usually ask 2-3 industry specific questions that help the buyer feel comfortable and that I understand the market and some possible challenges they may be facing.

 

After meetings I write a customer voice market summary report and present it to the senior executives with strategic recommendations. If they agree that the report captures current customer perceptions, I propose new sales tools for common areas where sales stall, and a new sales process based on how buyers are buying.

 

I was asked to help a company on the west coast in the irrigation business. The good news in this client meeting was the senior executives and family members listened and took notes. The bad new was one senior leader’s reaction demonstrated he did not believe what his customers were saying…

 

I knew it; our salespeople have been doing a terrible job of selling value. (this was in response to identifying three competitors had invested in new technology that provided products faster and at a lower cost due. My client was the only one with this capability 10 years ago but the competitive landscape changed)

 

If a customer does not value all we do, we should not have them as a customer. (one common comment from their once top customers but are now down 50% or more was they needed to purchase products in much smaller order sizes because they switched to a just in time ordering process. Their competitors have adjusted and this company had not)

 

Our lagging indicators demonstrate that one point about on time shipment is simply not true. (my client did an excellent job of measuring things that matter and one were on time shipments. What I found was sales was still promising a delivery that was ½ the time their 3 plants could execute. The plants received the orders, shared a ship date with the buyers, and the buyers were aggravated the date was twice as long as what sales promised. This was not an operational issue but a sales training opportunity)

 

We are the only one in this industry who ————, and I do not believe our competitors now also has our capabilities. (a big part of why this client realized very strong gross margins was they were the exclusive supplier of a specific product type and the priced it based on this exclusive position( great strategy!). Before the Internet their customers used local regional suppliers. Their salespeople led with that exclusive supplier value proposition with current and targeted new clients. However two other competitors now have that capability  Buyers were now doing Google searches and finding these new suppliers)

 

One of your recommendations is we update our web site; I think our site is just fine; We are in a relationship business and not many of our accounts are actually using it. (a big part of customer voice work is understanding how buyers shop today. What consistently came out of my interviews was buyers searched the web first and the buyers even shared the key words they used when searching. This clients’ web site was not being found with the key words shared)

 

What was happening here?

 

Confirmation Bias!

 

This senior leader dismissed the new current data that was not in alignment with his thoughts that he has repeated over and over again to himself that became beliefs over his 22 years with this company.

 

Was he just feeling insecure or threatened? Honestly I thought I was dealing with an emotional intelligence issue.

 

The reality is what he was experiencing we all do to some degree with every judgment we make. Heck, I do it all the time so I needed to give him some grace. In his case there was, like many business leaders, a very strong emotional connection to the strategy of this business that he helped write 15 years ago. That strategy was strong, it worked for years and that is why he was promoted to senior management.

 

Psychology today does a much better job of explaining what is happening…

When people would like a certain idea/concept to be true, they end up believing it to be true. They are motivated by wishful thinking. This error leads the individual to stop gathering information when the evidence gathered so far confirms the views (prejudices) one would like to be true.

 

I read a number of reports about confirmation bias. I read articles about leading scientist even unconsciously design experiments to have a result that confirms their hypothesis.

 

How do we prevent this problem from occurring?

 

How do we avoid confirmation bias from hurting our ability to be agile, to pivot and adjust to changes in our markets?

 

  1. Consciously look for information that feels like and interruption.
  2. Remove your ego.
  3. Discuss findings with a diverse group of people
  4. Allow contrary thought.
  5. Avoid anchoring; feeling like you have to make a quick decision hurts your brains ability to hear new contrary information. (Great article on this called ladder of influence)

 

How about your company?

 

Would your culture and leaders value new current market data based on the voice of your buyers perceptions today?

 

Has someone recently shared market information and that person was viewed as not being loyal or a heretic?

 

Could confirmation bias be negatively impacting your team’s sales and profits today?

 

The best and quickest method to increase a companies’ sales and profits is to understand how their buyers are buying today, and what they must have to make buying decisions today. Once you capture the voice of your customers today you can leverage that information by adapting your sales process, adding new sales tools and adjusting how you serve your customers.

 

The biggest threat to customer voice research is confirmation bias, what out gut tells us based on the past. It is based on data that was probably true at some time, but is not relevant in your market today. It could be based on a leaders desire for the way they want things to work based on their known constraints. Or how things used to be when times were good.

 

To be a market leading organization we must listen to the perceptions of our customers and adapt.

 

By the way…

 

Not everything customers share in customer voice research is negative. Sometimes they share they no longer value services that cause your team operational inefficiency problems and once eliminated, improve your operational efficiency and reduce your cost to manufacture. Customer voice is a key part of lean six sigma. And if your team is implementing LEAN you will need to understand your customers.

 

As the leader of your team be intentional in capturing the voice of your customers and look for interruptions in the data and adapt.

 

 

 

Improve Sales Productivity With Voice Of The Customer Research

Improve Sales Productivity With Voice of the Customer Research

 

 

Each year sales reps hit the streets armed with their new goals and striving to hit their numbers. The sad reality is close to 80% will not hit plan. Why? There are many reasons but the leading cause is they are using dated value propositions. Your sales team is saying what they have said for years and it does not resonate with buyers today. In this post I will share how to leverage the voice of the customer to improve sales productivity by understanding your customers today.

 

I read an excellent report: The State of Sales Productivity report. This repost is the result of the authors surveying a number of sales leaders to understand how they plan to achieve their new sales goals. 56% of sales representatives are expected to hit a sales growth goal of 20% higher than last year. What gives me pause is close to 80% of those same teams failed to hit their number in the last sales calendar year. How can VP’s of Sales and Marketing change this trend?

 

In my last few posts I have been sharing the dramatic sales increases companies can realize once they capture the voice of their customers and markets today. As I have shared the key part of that thought is the word “today”.

 

With voice of the customer / market work you will understand:

 

Why your buyers buy from you and why they don’t?

 

What is your buyers buying process today?

 

What criteria do your buyers need today to make buying decisions?

 

With this information you will create a repeatable sales process that mirrors how your buyers are buying today, and create new sales tools that proactively provide the key buying criteria.

 

Once you create this for your sales team we must conduct sales training to insure your salespeople understand the sales process and are aware of the new sales tools, where to find them, and how and when to use them.

 

Voice of the customer work improves your sales teams’ overall productivity!

 

What percent of the time are your salespeople actually presenting and selling customers?

 

I have seen some teams where sales spend less than 20% of their time actually selling. In the report mentioned above they found salespeople spend 32% of their time selling. Having been the president for two companies and CEO for one, this is the kind of data that drives me nuts!

 

What are my salespeople doing most of the time?

 

  • Searching for data and content to help them sell, 30% of the time
  • If they can’t find it they are creating their own content (that should really scare you)
  • Updating CRM and reports
  • Administrative duties
  • Customer service functions

 

Sales spends as much time selling as they do searching for meaningful content and or creating their own sales tools.

 

That’s a broken unproductive sales model.

 

In this report 79% of sales leaders plan to hit their numbers by improving sales productivity.

 

62% said they plan to increase head count.

 

What if sales were spending 60% of their time selling this year?

 

*30% of the time selling as they have been

+

* And 30% more time selling because they are trained in the right sales process and where the right content tools can be found

 

In a recent post I share one company I helped that sold training. We conducted customer win loss interviews; mapped how the buyers were buying today and identified the HR managers had experienced a shift, a roundabout in the sales funnel where sales stalled and spun out of the funnel. HR managers now needed to get budget approval from the CFO and or CEO. (Something that was not the case prior). We listened for places in the sales funnel where sales experienced roundabouts and created tools to keep the sales on track to a close. We created content. We developed a very short slide deck to help the HR manager win budget for our training. We adjusted the sales process and introduced the instructor earlier in the process. We conducted sales training and shared the new sales process with our team, the slide deck for HR managers and other key content to be used in the trust building early funnel activities as well as case studies to be used after our quote. Within months we experienced a 200% sales increase.

 

Was our process perfect out of the gate? No, but we were experienced significantly improved sales close rates. I coached sales to adopt the new sales process and challenged them when I saw they shifted back to old sales tools or created their own.

 

We kept listing to our buyers, adjusting and experimenting with content until we consistently realized our sales objectives. This took a focused effort for over 12 months and after 12 months are team was breaking monthly sales records.

 

What percent of the time are your salespeople selling today?

 

How does your team measure sales productivity?

 

Do you track team and individual close rates for example?

 

To close this report also shared that 80% organizational leaders felt creating meaningful content and helping sales find it was a top priority.

 

However only 35% of those surveyed had a plan to do so.

 

Let me help your team improve sales productivity and not have to keep hiring more people.

 

Spend the time capturing the voice of your customer. Once you understand how your buyers buy, the journey they take, and the criteria they must have you will be able to create a repeatable sales process and sales tools that help your buyers buy. Your process will be a GPS system that takes your team, step by step to closing more sales.

 

I would appreciate your feedback…

 

What would be a good reason not to do this and set your sales team up to hit their numbers this year?

 

Understanding your customers and markets creates a foundation for a sales business development plan that creates sales velocity for your organization.

 

 

 

 

 

Speed Of Trust And Sales

Speed of Trust and Sales

 

 

In my last post I shared why most sales are lost is: Trust. Although salespeople and even buyers may say price, the real reason you did not win the sale in most cases is the buyer did not trust that your proposal would solve their problem. In this post I will share an excellent book: The Speed of Trust, the one thing that changes everything, by Steven Covey and how to apply its wisdom to increasing your sales.

 

How much time and effort does your team dedicate to establishing trust with your customers and markets?

 

Companies that understand the importance of building trust with their internal and external customers thrive.

 

Could growing sales and leading people really be that simple?

 

From what I have experienced over the last 30+ years I believe it is.

 

I have been read the book: The Speed of Trust, by Steven Covey over the holidays. I highly recommend this book to anyone who leads a team, and anyone who sells products or services.

 

The Harvard Business Review just published an article referencing this book focused on how if your employees don’t trust you its up to you to fix it.

 

If that is a problem you have in your team I recommend you read this article.

 

In this post I want to discuss how to build and leverage trust to help your team win sales quicker and more profitably.

 

Steven Covey shares:

 

“When trust goes down (in a relationship, on a team, in an organization, or with a partner or customer), speed goes down and cost goes up.… The inverse is equally true: When trust goes up, cost goes down, and speed goes up.”

 

I can confirm this is true based on my experiences. When I have served leaders who trusted their teams, and teams who trusted our leaders we accomplished record setting accomplishments in sales, market share gains, increased profitability, quality, buying experience and overall team morale. If things went wrong or not as expected, (and they often did) we had a culture that focused on the problem not the person. One outcome of this culture was employees freely sharing mistakes they made and we all learned from them and made corrective action. In our meetings we discussed things that mattered and were not weighted down by hiding political secrets that were an issue but no one wanted to touch them. The same is true with customers. I have served some large accounts and once trust is built we talk about things that matter. Customers who have trust buy more and openly share new problems that often turn into new products an services. As i shared in one post, a new market problem turned into a $38 million sales increase in 18 months.

 

Covey does an excellent job of discussing how a lack of trust adds friction. Friction can be caused by unethical behavior or ethical behavior that that was not executed properly.

 

In companies with low trust they see friction that slows down or even halts their progress.

 

The author shares;

 

Low trust creates hidden agendas, politics, interpersonal conflict, interdepartmental rivalries, win-lose thinking, defensive and protective communication – all of which reduce the speed of trust.”

 

On the other hand, when trust is high you loose friction and realize speed.

 

the greatest trust-building key is “results”. Results build brand loyalty. Results fire up a winning culture. Consistent results also put suppliers under the main tent as strategic partners, which is so vital in this new world class, knowledge-worker-based, global economy

Steven Covey

 

What can we do to build trust with our customers to drive results?

 

                                                                                                              Work on a trust culture in your business

I have seen companies identify in their value statements the importance of integrity and ethics in everything they do. Where the rubber meets the road is when something goes wrong. How does your company behave internally? How you behave sets the tone, and your salespeople carry that behavior into the market place.

 

Some sobering statistics on trust:

 

  • Only 51% of employees have trust and confidence in senior management
  • Only 36% of employees believe their leaders act with honesty and integrity
  • Over the past 12 months 76% of employees have observed illegal or unethical conduct on the job
  • So chances are you have some degree of trust issues too both inside and outside your organization
  • Less than 20% of sales teams hit their number in 2016 ( buyer trust issues?)

 

                                                                                                                                  Hire the right people

Make trust, ethics and integrity a key part of your hiring process. One bad hire can contaminate an entire department and if left unchecked your whole company over time.

 

                                                                                                                                              Training

Train your teams to act in a manner that builds trust. For example I am amazed how many salespeople feel they must have all the answers. So when asked a question they wing it and it often breaks trust. If you train your teams it is OK (safe) to admit they do not know the answer but they will follow up with the answer. I have seen sales people commit to a delivery date there is no way their team can execute so they don’t lose a sale. Be honest, if you can’t make this orders arrival date tell them what you can do. Even if you lose this order, you will be able to quote future business. Lie, and you have broken trust with that buyer and you may not ever have another sales opportunity. Train your teams to understand how your buyers buy and the criteria they need to buy today.

 

                                                                                                                                              Coaching

When trust is seen as important it is very easy to recognize situations that violate trust. Should one occur it should be handled immediately. Discuss what just happened, why it was wrong, reinforce your companies focus on trust and integrity and share a better way this situation could have been handled. Using a coaching tone also builds internal trust and reinforces that trust and integrity is not just today’s buzz words and will fade away. They are seen as a critical component in our team’s success.

 

                                                                                                                                              Content

One of the quickest ways I have seen teams build trust with new customers is understanding their buying process and criteria and providing content that supports what the buyers need. Most web sites for example spend way too much time talking about …best in class, best quality, we have been in business for 80 years and so on. Buyers want solutions to their problems and companies who have experience solving their problems. That is why I advise the teams to update their web sites and all sales tools designed to share the problems they solve. I recommend this be done with data sheets, third party studies, case studies, customer testimonials and past customer success stories. This content will also be used as sales tools for your salespeople when prospecting new customers.

 

                                                                                                                              Do what you say you will do

Trust is built over time. In a sales environment it’s about doing what we say we will do. If you say you will follow up on next Tuesday, do it. If you promise your order will arrive on the 15th make sure it does. A big part of this is your sales teams clearly understanding your company’s capabilities. If a salesperson does not understand your company’s capabilities today they run the risk of promising something your team cannot execute and this breaks trust. Salespeople run the risk of promising something that was once true and may not be true today. If you ask for a 20-minute meeting to present your company end the meeting at 20 minutes. If the buyer wants it to go longer that’s fine, but you are doing what you said you would do.

 

                                                                                                                                                  Truth

Take a hard look at all your company’s communication and make sure it is true…today. Nothing breaks trust quicker than stating something that is no longer true. I was in a meeting once and the salesperson said, what he was trained to say 15 years ago…”our company is the only company in North America with these capabilities”. That statement was true 15 years ago, but the buyer had completed her research and shared 3 other companies now offering it in North America. Make sure all your communications are true today.

 

The above are ways I have helped teams improve their trust with their customers and markets and increase sales and profits. The author shares 13 behaviors of high trust in his book.

 

Steven Covey does an excellent job of bringing home the financial implications of trust with the concept of a trust tax. Many of the teams I have served were led by someone who grew up through the organization in the accounting and finance side. I think this chapter will really get their attention.

 

in many interactions, we are paying a hidden low-trust tax right off the top-and we don’t even know it!”

 

Covey shares that the trouble is low-trust taxes are not a line item on your financial statements, if they were many more companies would focus on reducing their trust tax.

 

“- in a low trust culture, it’s possible that your being taxed 30,40,50 percent or more for something you didn’t even do

 

…and that impacts both sales and profitability!

 

The author also shares the upside of high trust…

 

“ When trust is high, the dividend you receive is like a performance multiplier, elevating and improving every dimension of your organization and your life

 

I hope you buy The Speed of Trust and apply it to your company and how you serve your customers and markets.

 

As we begin a new year why wouldn’t you make building trust in all you do a key priority?

 

Personal and professional credibility are key in winning in our markets today.

 

Make it a key objective of yours to build trust and watch your team thrive.

 

 

Avoid “Mariah New Years Eve Moments” On Sales Calls With Market Research

Avoid “Mariah New Years Eve Moments” on Sales Calls with Market Research

Why are some sales won and others lost? If you ask salespeople they tell you “price” is why sales are lost. However if you ask buyers “trust” is why sales are lost. The buyer did not feel your salesperson understood the entire buying iceberg, so they did not trust their proposed solution. In my last few posts I shared how understanding customer voice drives profitable sales. In this post I will share how it feels when sales does not understand their market and buyers and the impact it has on hitting their (your) numbers.

 

It was New Years Eve 2016 and my wife and I decided to make a fire in the fireplace, have a nice dinner at home for a change and watch the ball drop in New York City. We flipped between channels and watched various entertainers. For the past week the TV stations have been building up for Mariah Carey ‘s performance New Years Eve. Mariah took the stage and if you watched the show it was by far the most uncomfortable performance have ever seen.

 

We had such high expectations based on her singing abilities and the build up to this presentation. It was terrible! In her defense there were a number of technical difficulties like not being able to hear her music, the songs were in the wrong order and so on. She has an amazing vocal gift as an artist and this performance was not representative of her gifts. She looked beautiful but from the beginning of the performance to the end it was awkward at best. She tried to find her place in the song and regroup but failed. She tried to move around the stage and even tried a few dance moves and one of the other dancers almost dropped her. She eventually asked the audience to sing her song and at the end walked of the stage.

 

My wife and I were both so disturbed by how awkward that experience felt for us. My wife is a Mariah fan and felt bad about her technical difficulties. I shared the reason you practice and have training is not for when things go right, but its for when things like this go wrong.

 

Did you watch the attempted performance? If not you can view it here since social media was lighting up during and many hours after.

 

How did it make you feel,.. I mean feel inside?

 

It felt uncomfortable, awkward, and if you are like my wife you may even feel a bit sorry for her because we know she is much better than what we just experienced.

 

How you feel watching this is the feeling I get when I help sales teams who attempt to sell buyers but have dated value propositions, no formal sales process, and little if any sales tools or training for how buyers buy today.

 

One of roles when I help teams increase sales and fix sales a problem is assess and coach salespeople. I do this with a review of their KPI’s, past account feedback, CRM activity, but my favorite way is on four legged sales calls with them and their customers and prospects.

I use these joint calls to capture the current voice of the customers and markets, and I want to see (feel) if the salespeople are presenting their buyers in a trust building authentic way or does it feel canned, awkward, dated and not what the buyers need today.

 

When traveling with salespeople look for:

 

  • Conversation tone, comfortable and authentic?
  • Market and customer knowledge?
  • What sales tools were used(if any)?
  • Trust building conversation, use of stories and case studies?
  • Product knowledge / service knowledge?
  • Customer knowledge by salesperson?
  • Sales tools used at the right time?
  • Was the day planned well? 
  • Active listening to understand not to just reply?
  • Buyer non verbal communication?
  • What sales tools were used?
  • Did the salesperson know how to get to the account (don’t laugh I have seen this too)?
  • Did sales ask questions and take notes?
  • Did buyer(s) ask any questions about product or service we could not answer?
  • Did buyer require some criteria we were not prepared to deliver?
  • Understand key buying criteria and rank them?
  • Did we find all players involved in buying decision?
  • What are the competitors doing well?
  • Did the person we met with have the power to buy?
  • Does sales understand any shifts in buying at their accounts?
  • Would I buy from this salesperson?

 

I prefer to be in the market with my sales teams constantly learning how buyers are buying and what they need to buy today. I prefer to experience what our buyers hear and feel and coach sales quickly after each sales call.

 

After each buyer call I make it a practice to have a coaching opportunity with the salesperson:

 

  • How do you think the call went? ( do they know a good call from a poor one?)
  • What do you think the buyers biggest pain is today?
  • What did you hear the competitors are doing well?
  • How do you think your presentation went?
  • If you had to do it over again is there anything you would change?
  • What are our follow up items?
  • What new pain did we discover?
  • When do they need our follow up?
  • Are we dealing with power?
  • On a scale of 1% to 100% what % to you believe we will win this opportunity and why?

 

If your team has recently conducted market research in the form of customer voice workwin loss analysis, and or a value proposition audit your salespeople know their markets, common problems you solve for your buyers and have strong value propositions they often share in the form of stories. Because your team understands the buying journey and criteria today, you have the right sales tools that are used at the right time and you win sales.

 

What kind of sales calls are your team members having with buyers in your markets today?

 

A quick example…

 

I was asked to help a company whose sales were climbing consistently for years but then stalled for the last three years. I was asked to help get sales growing profitably again in the quickest way possible. As I have shared, the first step of my process understand market truth by meeting with customers and prospects. I asked the CEO who was his top performing regional manager because I wanted to experience what was working so we could scale it. I made arrangements to travel with Jason who has been a regional manager with this company for 20 years and has two of the company’s top customers.

 

Jason picked me up at the airport and we were off to the first meeting. On the way Jason was a very likable guy and was really curious about why I asked to travel with him first since he was one of the first regional managers. I shared that the CEO really valued him and I thought I could learn a great deal quickly working with him. We made small talk on the 90-minute drive and I heard about his career with the company, all the changes he has seen and how strong his relationships were with all his customers.

 

Our first call was with the company’s second largest account in North America. As soon as Jason turned the engine off his car door was opening and he was ready to charge in. I asked he slow down and help me understand what we hope to achieve in this call today. So Jason got back in the car and seemed somewhat aggravated.

 

The conversation went like this:

 

What’s our plan?

 

We are calling on our second largest account.

 

What do we hope to achieve?

 

Introduce you to account and follow up from my last meeting a month ago.

 

What did you present a month ago?

 

Our new product launching this month, the buyer promised to support it.

 

Great, so your goal today is to walk out with orders or a commitment to buy?

 

(Another awkward look) well let’s see how it goes this guy loves working with me and I am sure we will win some orders.

 

We signed in and were escorted to a very impressive conference room. I opened my note pad and got prepared to meet with the buyer. Lou the buyer came in and had a number of people with him: the engineering director, their sales manager, and the director of customer service and training.

 

Jason started out introducing me and letting me ask a few questions as the “new guy”.

 

Jason asked the buyer the status with the pre-order for the new product launch. He said everyone at our company is looking forward to his continued support and we want to make sure we ship you on time.

 

The room was like someone sucked all the air out of it. Everyone, from a non-verbal communications, was uneasy. The director of engineering was looking at our buyer; the buyer looking at customer service manager and the sales manger was visibly frustrated. Even Jason looked uncomfortable, as his face grew very red.

 

The buyer looked at Jason and said:

  • When we met a month ago I said I was very interested in supporting this new product launch, but since you are displacing an existing vendor who we too have a long relationship with we needed to have all the decision makers in the room and have you present your products to win placement.
  • I gathered all team members for this meeting and we expected you to come here today and present the products about to launch and answer any questions each of our department heads had.
  • After your presentation we meet, discuss the opportunity and give you our commitment unless there was some unforeseen issues within two weeks.

 

Jason was having a “Sales Maria New Years Moment”!

 

  • He did not understand the buyers expectation for this meeting
  • He did not understand the buyers buying process for displacing current vendor partners
  • He did not know the other buying decision makers/ influencers or what they needed in terms of criteria
  • He was not prepared, no sell sheets, no lap top presentation, no content on the problems this new line of products solves, why we were introducing it, or why its better than the current vendor’s.
  • He did not know nor was prepared to discuss a program to help the distributor sell out the current vendors inventory, and the buyer expected one

 

Jason showed up and counted on his relationship with Lou to help him place the new product line (like he did 10 years ago). He was not prepared for what the account needed to make a buying decision. He did not understand the impact such a change would have on other leaders at this customer. At one point of the meeting it was as if the audience was singing the words he should have known. The meeting was awkward to attend and we did not gain a commitment.

 

Being the new guy in the room I wanted to somehow save this opportunity while Jason cooled off.

 

“It sounds like we have some homework to do. Being new to this industry I would really appreciate each of you sharing what you would have liked to hear from us today.”

 

Engineering – is your product a perfect replacement for what we are buying now or is modifications required, if so what are they and did you factor those into your price? He had some very specific technical product questions we were not prepared to answer as well.

 

Sales Manager- what is your plan to train my sales team. A number of my guys love our current vendor and their rep. Do you plan a SPIFF to launch? What is it? When would you have a sales training? Do you have new brochures? When we explain to our customers the change to your product why is it better? It would be great to have some third party tests or any data you had.

 

Customer service training – since so many of our orders come in over the phone what’s the plan to train my team? When would that happen? Will the sales incentive contest include my team? Is your product a perfect replacement? Will your product ship with bar code labels like our current vendor? Will you drop ship my customers with our invoice?

 

Buyer – you know based on our purchases we buy in volume. What is my truckload price? Can I include this new product with other current products to get my free freight quicker? What is your program to blow out my current inventory? Will you province upfront money or a discount off my orders over time? Can I place a blanket order and draw from it to get a good cost like the competitor or is price based on each order? What is the delivery window from order placement to arrival at our warehouse? We moved to a just in time model and I am now being evaluated on inventory turns and dollars in inventory.

 

We gathered as much information as they would share and scheduled a follow up presentation in two weeks and offered to make it over lunch. I apologized this meeting did not go as they expected and assured them they would have everything they needed in two weeks.

 

In the car Jason and I went over the coaching questions about the meeting and I could tell Jason felt uncomfortable. He shared: ” I can tell you are new, no one has ever asked me so many questions after a call before here at ______

Like many salespeople who have sold for 20+ years Jason is a strong relationship sales person but needs to adjust his style to grow his market’s sales today. I wish what I experienced here was rare or unusual but it is not. Every day salespeople are showing up and trying to win sales like the always have and are losing sales they should have won. Why? The main reason is they do not understand how buyers are buying or what they need to buy today. They lack updated sales tools that speak to needed buying criteria.

So what do they do?

They count on having “good relationships” and lose sales they could have won with some market research preparation, sales coaching and training.

 

Are your salespeople having “Sales Mariah Moments” with your customers?

 

How would you know?

 

If this was a new customer what probability do you think we would have of selling them? or a second meeting?

 

Who on your team understand what your buyers need to make buying decisions today?

 

The rest of our meetings that day went pretty much the same. They were what I refer to as “ Hi how are ya” meetings. (Almost as bad as dropping off donuts and logging it as a sales call in the CRM) They lacked a purpose and often left me feeling like we wasted the buyers’ time. They felt reactive and not proactive. Jason is a great guy and has done many favors for his customers over the years. All his accounts shared how much they liked him and appreciated him fighting on their behalf with corporate. But Jason’s account sales were flat and he has seen limited success placing and selling new products. Looking at the sales data he hit his numbers when his large accounts had good sales years but has not added any new accounts in 18 months.

 

Today is a new day with buyers having as much as 60%-70% of the buying process done before they meet with salespeople. The buyer obviously trusted Jason and we can build on this, but some of that trust was broken when Jason failed to listen to what the buyer’s process was, who else would be involved in the buying decision and what those leaders needed. Was it beyond repair? No. Jason must do a much better job of taking notes in meetings and following up. The company owes Jason a repeatable sales process to follow based on how the buyers buy today and new sales tools for each of the common buying influencers in this market.

 

“Sales Mariah Moments” are painful to experience and expensive in cost of sale and lost sales we could have won.

 

Understanding your markets and buyers is key to avoiding Sales Mariah Moments. Like Mariah Carey your salespeople are talented and all have gifts. Your company provides quality products and good service. We must insure we equip and train our salespeople to win in their markets today.

 

No matter how long your salespeople have worked for you they still need to make adjustments to how they present their customers. My guess is if I not had been at this meeting the CRM would have read:

 

“Good meeting, buyer loves us, we have some tough competition in this account and we need to revisit our price strategy to win. I am confident if we give them a volume cost program we will win their support”.

 

Does your CRM have a number of “Good Meetings” notes with no sales increases to follow?

 

To insure sales and sales leadership understands and implements a proven sales process and tools based on how buyers are buying today you must understand your markets and have sales training and coaching.

 

The sales training and practice role-playing is for when meetings don’t go as planned but you still can salvage a commitment.

 

Coaching is to insure your team knows this is not some new fad that will go away in a month or so but your team is committed to a formal sales process to win more sales.

 

The foundation of your sales success lies in understanding your buyers and helping them buy the way they are buying today.

 

Market research is critical parts of helping your sales team win today.

 

What happens if your team fails to understand what your buyers want and need and how they buy?

 

Your team will have “ Mariah New Years Eve Moments” leaving you to explain to your board and investors why so many good meetings are not helping you hit your number.

 

 

 

Voice Of Customer: Understanding The Entire Iceberg Of Purchase Decisions Today

Voice of Customer: Understanding the Entire Iceberg of Purchase Decisions Today

 

 

 

 

Understanding the current voice of your customers and markets is critical to winning sales. Companies who take the time to capture the voice of their customers understand how buyers buy, what they need to buy, and the criteria they use to make buying decisions and leverage that information close more sales . In this post I will share how the voice of your customer insures your sales proposals resonate with buyers and close sales quicker.

 

Why do buyers buyer from your team?

 

Why don’t buyers buy from your team?

 

If you can answer the above questions accurately you are well on your way to designing a sales and marketing plan to hit your number this year.

 

When I ask this question I usually get a very quick answer on why buyers don’t buy. As much as senior leaders want their sales teams selling value, I often hear “price” is why buyers don’t buy. I often hear many reasons why buyers do buy, and it usually accompanies stories of how they have won over the years. It is very rare however that I hear what I am looking for :why buyers buy and don’t buy today.

 

Think about all the changes we have seen in the last 15-10-5 years. We serve rapidly changing markets and it should not surprise any of us that market leadership positions change about every 10 years or so. Why?

 

“New market leaders emerge after identifying shifts in the buying process, buyer problems and or criteria and leveraging those changes.”

-Mark Allen Roberts

 

When sales says they lost a sale due to “price” or that buyers buy based on “price” this is what I hear…

 

  • You do not understand the value of your product or service to your buyer
  • You lack a strong current value proposition, or the one sales is using is dated
  • You do not clearly and completely understand the problem the buyer is seeking to solve
  • You do not completely understand how the buyer buyers and what they need to buy
  • Because you have not taken the effort to understand your buyer and their business, you have not earned the right to know all the buyer needs to buy today.

 

Earn the right to know?

Yes!

There was an excellent article recently in Brand Quarterly by Dave Tovey titled: Did Price Really Lose the Sale?

In this article Tovey shares that:

“Price is often blamed when we got something else wrong.”

Sales people are trained to sell; I think we can all agree on this. Salespeople have a very high utilitarian trait. If I do this …I get this reward quickly. That is why salespeople should not own the voice of your customer. ( but many leaders think they do) The voice of your customer, voice of your market work does not produce immediate reward. That is why salespeople should not own this information. It is their nature to sell, and buyers will feel their probing , open ended questions as a manipulation, a trick to win a sale and trust is broken. Marketing and or a senior executive in the organization must own deeply understanding the voice of your customer and markets no salespeople. Having been the VP of Sales and Marketing for a number of organizations I made it my job to own this information while my sales teams executed their sales development plans.

The author does an excellent job of describing what its like to meet with a new buyer. New buyers often act like Ernest Hemingway used to write…with the iceberg principle or often referred to as the theory of omission. Basically, they share just surface information and do not share the whole story until they trust you. What I like about the iceberg analogy is it’s not the 10% of the iceberg that you see that will sink your ship. (Your sale) It is the other 90% you do not see, or do not know. Most sales are lost because the buyer did not trust you completely understood the problem and therefore did not trust your proposal.

The author leaves us with this: 

You earn the right to hear more than a client’s story of omission when:

  • You ask insightful questions
  • You listen for understanding
  • You avoid manipulation
  • You behaviors are congruent with your marketing messages
  • You are authentic; selling ethically and with integrity.
  • You are human – remembering that buying is rationalized emotion.

The voice of the customer, voice of the market follows the above.

Market leading teams take the time to understand the voice of their customers and markets…that other 90% of the purchase iceberg. They know how buyers buy, what they need to buy and the criteria they must have to buy today. They are constantly scanning the horizon and sensing for shifts in how buyers buy and the problems they are trying to solve today.

Why do buyers buy from you?

Why don’t buyers buy from you?

What do your buyers need to buy today?

What does the buying journey look like today for your buyers?

Who else is involved in the buying decision today? What do they need?

What new problems are your buyers searching to solve today?

 

When your team understands the voice of your buyers and voice of your markets you know the answers to the above. Understanding this information you will train your sales teams to serve your buyers with exactly what they must have to solve the problems they may not share with everyone. Your sales proposals stand out in a sea of RFP’s because they speak to real needs your buyers must have.( and that they failed to share with competitors who only scratched the surface) When your competition is just scratching the surface with price your team will be providing a complete solution your buyers must have.

Stop blaming price for why your teams fail to win the sale and understand all buyers need today and you will find price is not even high on the list.

When you understand the voice of your customer today and the entire buying iceberg, you will equip your sales teams with the big picture and they will build trust much faster with buyers because they will demonstrate they understand them. While competitors are scratching the surface and awkwardly trying to build trust, your sales team will be discussing meaningful solutions.

 

 

 

Voice Of Customer Finds “Sales Secret Weapons”

Voice of Customer Finds “Sales Secret Weapons”

 

 

 

In my last series of posts I have been sharing how powerful capturing the voice of your customers (VoC) and voice of your market ( VoM) is in growing your business profitably. In this post I will share how to leverage customer voice into a “sales secret weapon“.

 

In my last post I shared how critical it is to understand the criteria your buyers use today as well as how those criteria rank in order of importance. You may be providing services and features that cost you margins that your customers no longer value. Or, you may be leading with a dated value proposition and not sharing the most important buying criteria your buyers are shopping for today and losing sales you could have won.

 

First we need to meet with our customers and prospects and understand how they shop, the buying journey they take, as well as the key criteria they must have to make a purchase. With out this information your sales team is playing what I refer to as: “feature and benefit BINGO”. They are calling out features and benefits in hoping the buyers jump up and say… yes, I need that one…BINGO! In this sales model you are relying on your buyers to figure out the problems you solve, or could solve for them. In todays market you must intentionally share the problems you solve for your customers.

 

Sales teams who have been trained to understand how buyers buy, what they need to buy, and are equipped with the right sales tool for each twist and turn in the buyer journey win sales.

 

I read an interesting article in Adweek this week concerning how sports teams use various give away items to increase ticket sales as well as encourage fans to arrive earlier to the ballpark. Fans who arrive early spend more money; it’s as simple as that.

 

What does ballpark giveaways have to do with your business?

 

Great Question!

 

Please answer the following questions:

 

What buying criteria must your buyers have today to buy?

 

What is the order of importance for these criteria?

 

How does your overall service offering compare to what buyers want and need today?

 

Some common giveaways I see companies offering include:

 

  • Time of shipment
  • Service level
  • Free freight or FOB freight
  • Payment terms
  • Packaging specifications
  • Quality specifications
  • Added value engineering
  • Marketing tools
  • On line order entry/ EDI
  • Customer sales force training
  • Technical support
  • Material recommendations
  • Discounted material costs based on your total buying power
  • Returnable freight packaging
  • Quality guarantees
  • Out going product inspection
  • Product testing

 

The list can go on and on based on your specific industry.

 

Based on your industry you have heard a number of requirements from buyers. Obviously the job of a buyer is to ask for as much as they can receive for the lowest price. The trouble occurs when your salespeople do not understand how they key buying criteria rank in order of importance for your buyers.

 

Market leading sales teams are trained to ask.

 

What I have observed more often than not is sales teams spill their candy in the lobby. They “show up and throw up” until the buyer agrees to buy. It is not your sales team’s fault. They are trying to use the tools they were given. My challenge is what if you could have sold the buyer with the ability to execute three key buying criteria and not all 12-15 your salesperson listed? If this occurs your team is incurring costs and performing features, benefits and services that are costing your team margins and are not of key value in the buying decision today.

 

For example I mentioned the recent AdWeek article. In this article it shares how major league baseball teams have taken the time to understand the voice of their customers, the fans, and in doing so identified a direct sales increase on the game nights they give away bobble heads. Bobble heads produce more results than any other giveaway.

 

Major league teams have given away all kinds of things (just like your business may be doing now) in the hopes of increasing ticket sales and getting consumers to arrive at the ballpark earlier. Things like tote bags, T-shirts, baseballs, baseball cards, towels and bobble heads.

 

When fans arrive earlier, they spend more money. It’s as simple as that.

 

The article shared the following:

 

  • Bobble head giveaways increase ticket sales 15%-30%
  • The Cubs realized a 71% increase in fans arriving more than an hour before the game

 

What I like about this information is it is simple, quantifiable and easy to execute.

 

What impact could your sales and profits see if you identified your one to three top “bobble heads” secret sales weapons your buyers need to buy today?

 

Do you agree how powerful this information would be to increase sales and profits?

 

With this kind of focus do you feel your team could execute in delivery? (I bet they can)

 

The trouble with most businesses today is they are providing a laundry list of features, benefits and services and are often not sure the top one or two that truly drives sales behavior. So what do most teams do? …. They offer them all. Just like giving away tote bags and baseballs fail to move ticket sales dials, your team may ( more than likely is)  giving things away that buyers do not value today, or do not value as much as they did in prior years.

 

How can your team know what buyers value today?

 

Capture and leverage voice of the customer and voice of the market.

 

How about your company….

 

Do you know the key buying criteria your buyers must have today?

 

What are all the features, benefits, and services your team is offering to win sales today?

 

What impact would just offering what buyers need today have on your operations efficiency?

 

What impact could knowing and ranking buying criteria have on your teams’ sales close rate and gross profit margin?

 

What additional profits could you realize by eliminating things no longer high on your buyer’s key criteria list?

 

What is your team’s one or two bobble heads that really drive sales growth?

 

I have helped companies increase sales and profits for over 30 years. I wish it was some crazy technical secret process but it really is not. If you take the time to understand your customers, capture their voice and leverage what you learn you will see what I refer to as explosive growth.

 

Why?

 

Simply put, most companies you are competing with have salespeople showing up and throwing up. They are verbally vomiting all kinds of promises to win the sale. Some are important, some are industry standard performance requirements, and some are no longer a value, and some are dated based on how we have always done things around here.

 

If you have not captured the voice of your buyers and market in the last 12 months I promise you …

  • Your sales process is broken
  • Your team is giving away things buyers no longer value
  • Your team is losing sales you could have and should have won

 

Once you capture the voice of your customers you can leverage that knowledge into a repeatable sales process  ,sales tools, and sales training that guides your sales team based on what your buyers value most today.

Customer voice helps you create your own repeatable sales process  GPS  for your sales team to close more sales profitably.

 

 

 

“Voice Of The Customer” Increases Profits…Lesson From A Christmas Ham

“Voice of the Customer” Increases Profits…Lesson from a Christmas Ham

 

 

 

There is strong power market leaders leverage in understanding the current voice of the customer and voice of the market. As markets change the key buying criteria may change and or change its priority in the buying decision making process. In this post I will share how understanding the voice of your customer and market will help your team better understand and prioritize key buying criteria and how this will result in increased sales and profits.

 

I heard a fun story a few years ago. It seems this couple recently got married, bought a home and wanted to have everyone over for Christmas dinner at their new place. So they went out and bought a huge ham and all the fixings.

The guests arrived and everyone was seated around the dining room table for the holiday feast. Much to the husband’s surprise the wife brought out two Christmas hams, or to be more specific she had cut the ham they bought in half. As the dinner went on the husband had to ask: honey, why did you cut the ham in half then cook it? She quickly replied well that’s how my mom always cooked it, Her mother chimed in, yes and that’s how grandma always cooked it. Grandma smiled and said: I had to cut the ham in half because our oven was so small, but with that huge oven of yours there is no need…

 

When I work with teams it is not unusual to find “Christmas hams” being cut in half when they no longer need to be.

 

Does your team clearly understand the buying criteria your buyers must have today to make a buying decision?

 

Of the criteria buyers are asking for, do you know the most import to least important?

 

Sales teams often make the mistake of assuming they know, based on how buyers have always bought.

 

If that is the case in your company, one of two things is happening;

 

  • Sales leads with a dated value proposition and the buyer does not buy

 

  • The buyer buys and the rest of the team scrambles to execute on something that is no longer a key criteria costing your team frustration and margins.

 

I was asked by a private equity group to help one of the companies in their portfolio struggling with both sales and profitability.

The first step in my business development process is establishing market truth. So I joined this companies’ salespeople on four legged sales calls with key customers. For the most part I was pleased the customers were happy with the products’ performance and (being the new guy) I asked a lot of questions.

 

One common sales approach all their salespeople were using was promising two week delivery. In this market the competitors typically delivered orders in 8-10 weeks but the company I was helping was offering two weeks. So I had to ask the buyers:

 

When you decide what vendor to order from, how do you make that decision? Or put another way…what is important when you pick a supplier?

 

I heard things like;

 

Quality Products

Good service

Do what they say they will do

Ship products on time

Reports from our engineers the product solved the problems I bought it for

Competitive price

Service after the sale

Warrantee policy

Payment terms

 

So I asked: if you had to rank the top three, how would that look?

 

 

#1 Reports from our engineers the product solved the problems I bought it for

 

#2 Do what they say they will do, I trust them

 

#3 Ship products on time so we can meet our commitments on time

 

What I kept hearing was: “ship on time” but not ship in two weeks.

 

So being the new guy in the room I had to ask:

 

How important is it that we ship our products in two weeks?

 

The buyers all consistently replied that it used to be really important 8-10 years ago when they lacked the buying planning systems that they have today. “Back then we were kind of ordering blind based on the past, however today our systems give us buyers a look into what production plans in the future and we order appropriately.”

 

How far out of a view are you able to see?

 

I can see as far into the future as I want, but I typically look 4-6 weeks out.

 

So if we shipped you product in 4-5 weeks you would be happy?

 

Yes, as long as it shipped and arrived on time.

 

We learned other things like new products our competitors were about to launch, problems our competitors were having with one particular product line and so on. We learned the warehouse employees at a number of the OEM accounts did not like the pallets we were shipping on because they did not fit on the common rack designs.

 

After spending over 30 days on the road in front of customers we gathered how buyers were buying today and what they needed to buy today. We gathered very useful information calling on prospects about how they buy, the steps they go though and where and how they search. For example they shared the key words they used when searching for solutions like ours and none of them were on our web site.

 

I presented the findings of our (VoC) work to the private equity firm and the management team.

 

I had to ask: In each of the calls I went on, sales was promising two weeks delivery, but none of the customers were requiring that anymore? When did that start?

 

The previous owner identified our ability to ship quickly as how we could win business from the competitors and that is how we have done things for the last 12 years…. (a Christmas ham , cut in half!)

 

As you can image, operations and quality were thrilled to hear buyers no longer needed two-week delivery.

 

To execute two-week delivery this company had a large amount of inventory and whip in hand since most of their vendors for the electrical components required 6 weeks and the glass vendors were 8-10 weeks.

 

As we kept peeling this onion we discovered;

 

  • Over 40 % of orders required overtime at time and a half assembly labor
  • To meet two weeks we were expediting component parts from New Jersey and paying overnight freight charges
  • To make our deliveries in two weeks as promised we were paying for overnight delivery more often than anyone realized
  • Because we worked people overtime we saw a direct correlation to an increase in quality rejects during pre-shipment testing when our assembly workers worked overtime
  • Since we had to order and store the glass components, they were often damaged and thrown away from moving them around the plant
  • We had to buy a truckload of the pallets we were using and we paid a premium for them. It seems the original owner designed this unique configuration to maximize the number of master cartons we could ship per skid and then designed our bin rack system to accommodate them
  • We occupied a large warehouse with expensive rent based on our perceived need for so much inventory, and proximity to the previous owners home

 

As a team we ranked what our buyers valued most today, and we created a number of projects to better serve our customers while reducing costs (and often frustrations)

 

Over 12 months our quality failure occurrences dropped to almost zero and our on time vendor sore cards improved significantly at our two largest accounts. We moved to a much smaller warehouse and we started using standard pallets that fit our customers’ racks. Standard pallets were a much lower cost and we bought them just in time not tying up cash in slow moving pallet inventory. The result of our voice of the market work was sales increased by 125%, but profits increased over 20%.

 

When was the last time you captured the voice of your customers?

 

Could your team be cutting a Christmas ham in half for no reason today?

 

How would your buyers rank their buying criteria? Do you know?

 

Could your team be jumping through flaming hoops customers no longer value?

 

How excited would your owners and investors be to realize a 20% profit increase?

 

Capturing and leveraging the voice of your customer helps your team understand what is important to your buyers, how they buy, what they need to buy and how they shop…TODAY.

 

Sales teams that “assume” buyers are still buying like they have for 10-15-20 years are losing sales they could have won, and or losing margins they could have enjoyed.

 

Market leaders leverage voice of customer to increase sales and profits.

 

Why not understand the voice of your customers today and leverage that information to increase sales and profits?

 

I guess you can “assume” your team knows, but you know what they say assuming makes you and me…

 

 

 

 

 

Increase Sales: Key Buying Seasons Surface In “Voice Of Market” Work

Increase Sales: Key Buying Seasons Surface in “Voice of Market” Work

Market leading organizations understand the power in understanding the voice of their customers and markets. In my last post I shared how voice of the market work helps identify key buying triggers. Understanding how your buyers buy, the journey they take today to a purchase and the criteria they must have to buy is critical to growing your sales profitably. In this post I will share how Voice of your Market work identifies key buying seasons for specific products.

 

I was hired to grow the sales for Gardner Denver in the rust belt region. Gardner Denver is one of the leading manufacturers of industrial air compressors and accessories in the world. Industrial air compressors support manufacturing plants by supplying compressed air to power machines and tools used in the manufacturing process.

 

The first step in my business development process was to meet with as many end customers as I could on four legged sales calls with my dealer distributor salespeople. While the salespeople asked questions about upcoming changes that may require new or additional air compressors, I asked opened ended question and listened for unresolved market problems and buying trigger events.

 

Working with one of my larger dealers: Atlas Machine and Supply we identified a common problem end users have every year from May through August: Moisture in their air. Industrial air compressors compress ambient air and one of the by products of this process is water. Buyers purchase air dryers to remove moisture before it has a chance to damage machines and tools. What buyers shared was during the summer months in the Midwest they experience humidity and it often taxes their compressed air dryers and it is often a challenge to find new dryers when one of their dryers fail.

 

We developed a proactive business development plan based on this common seasonal problem our buyers were experiencing. Our dealer produced a postcard mailer that was sent to all their current accounts as well as targeted new accounts they have always wanted to serve. It was a simple message asking if they would like a free audit for moisture to insure their plant does not have any manufacturing problems when the high humid months hit. We conducted a sales training meeting and trained the distributor sales team how to execute the sales process.

 

Our distributor sales team followed up with each account within seven days of the mailer and scheduled audits to insure their customers and prospects they always wanted to serve would not experience any service interruptions in the humid summer months.

 

Our compressed air dryer sales more than doubled compared to the same months the prior year and new compressor sales increased. Since our dealer sales were contacting buyers about a common seasonal problem and offering to solve that problem, buyers trusted the sales and service people. They demonstrated they knew the industry and common unresolved seasonal problems. The sales and service team was not focused on “selling” but “serving” the market. While conducting audits proactively, our maintenance mangers and plant mangers openly shared other issues they were concerned about. These “other issues” resulted in new incremental compressor sales, service revenue and aftermarket sales increases.

 

Do your end customers have buying seasons for specific products and services?

 

Who on your team is responsible for helping dealer distributors grow their sales?

 

Does your sales team proactively reach out to buyers to address seasonal buying trigger events?

 

Would your team like to double your product sales in key buying seasons?

 

As we approach a new year, there is nothing more strategic than understanding your buyers, how they buy and the criteria they need to buy TODAY. “Today” is the key word. Think about all the changes we have seen over the years in how buyers buy. If you have not adjusted your repeatable sales process in the last 12 months or created new sales tools …I promise you have a broken sales process and you are losing orders you should have won.

The voice of the customer, voice of the market work becomes the foundation of your sales, marketing and business development strategic plans.

If you don’t have an understanding how how buyers buy and what they need to buy today…How do you plan to hit your sales numbers next year?

 

 

 

Voice Of The Market Identifies Key Buying Triggers

Voice of the Market Identifies Key Buying Triggers

 

 

Companies who understand the power in the voice of their markets today realize greater and more profitable sales growth. Understanding your market, buyers, and how they buy and what they need to buy is critical to hitting your sales numbers today. One outcome of understanding the voice of your customers and markets is identifying sales trigger events.

 

What triggers one of the buyers in your market to begin the buying journey?

 

The answer to that question becomes a key consideration when developing your business development plan to hit your sales numbers.

 

In a past post I shared the work I did in the accessible van market with VMI. We sold lowered floor mini vans that were adapted so consumers in wheelchairs could drive and or ride in comfort. I launched VMI’s first retail mobility dealership Arizona Mobility Products.

 

Our team spent a great deal of our time out conducting vehicle demonstrations at consumer’s homes and our sales grew quickly. We were constantly asking questions to better understand our customers, how they shop and what triggered them to make a new purchase.

 

Consumers in wheelchairs must have a vehicle they trust and is reliable. You might say: well Mark I need that too. The difference is if our vehicle dies on the road somewhere we can call a tow truck and they will tow our vehicle and give us a ride to a service garage. Tow trucks are not equipped to accommodate a consumer in a wheelchair. Should their vehicle experience a malfunction, they are left at the point where the vehicle failed until they make alternative arrangements to be transported. Reliability is an even higher buying criteria for consumers in wheelchairs. Based on this we should not have been so surprised as we were when we kept hearing how consumers with accessible lowered floor mini vans often start shopping for a new van within three months of their vehicle warrantee expiring. When we surveyed our customers this came out loud and clear in almost every interview.

 

Our team sorted our customer database based on when vehicles were purchased and each month proactively contacted customers whose vehicle was about to lose its warrantee. We established a four-touch campaign.

 

-The first touch was a simple letter notifying them their vehicle warrantee was about to expire, share any current promotions, remind them we sold extended warrantees and suggested we quote the trade in value of their current vehicle.

 

-The second touch was a phone call, ideally from the salesperson that sold them the vehicle reminding them as a service their warrantee was about to expire.

 

-The third touch shared specific dealer incentives, rebates and once again mentioned their warrantee was about to expire.

 

-The last touch was a request for us to book an appointment to have their vehicle inspected by one of our certified service experts at no charge.

 

Identifying this buying trigger and developing a strategic series of communications, a GPS to new sales for our salespeople, helped us increase sales and build customer loyalty. As a side benefit it also provided our dealership with a supply of used vehicles that were in huge demand in this community.

 

What triggers your buyers to start the buying journey?

 

Does someone on your team Know?

 

How has your team used this information?

 

What could your team do to serve buyers who triggered the need to buy?

 

What is your team doing to make lifetime customers for your products?

 

Understanding the voice of your customers and market has many benefits. One benefit is to intimately understand what triggers your buyers to shop, to search for a new purchase. Taking the time to understand your buyers, why they buy and what they need to buy is critical to consistently hitting your sales numbers.

 

 

Voice Of Market Identifies “Roundabouts” In Your Sales Process

Voice of Market Identifies “Roundabouts” in your Sales Process

 

 

The voice of your customer (VoC) and the voice of your market (VoM) are powerful data points if leveraged correctly. Your customers and your markets are eager for suppliers who take the time to understand them, their buying process and the criteria they need to make buying decisions. Market leading companies are constantly assessing how buyers buy and any shifts that occur in their markets and they adjust. One common outcome of voice of the customer work is changes to your repeatable sales process and eliminating any roundabouts in the sales process where sales stall or get lost.

 

I was asked to help the leader marketing and product training develop a seminar on how to help companies tune-in to their markets. The owners wrote a best selling book titled Tuned in. (a must read if you have not read it yet) This is what I have done my entire career and I was so excited for the opportunity to help thousands of companies and serve this market leading team. Then 2008 hit. We like many companies experienced a large market shift, particularly in the tech market space and it was not the right time to launch a new seminar.

 

After that market shift of 2008 the company experienced a significant drop in their on-site customer specific training. They offered public training where we would fill a conference center and train people from many different companies. One result of the public trainings was often someone coming forward after the class asking if we could do the same training but just for his or her team. We historically had a very high close rate when this occurred and we would provide an amazing onsite training experience. On site training is a great way to get an entire team aligned and using the same framework.

 

Once the stock market dropped we saw a significant decrease in onsite sales. The company asked if I would help lead sales out of this recent sales decline.

 

We conducted win loss calls with all our recent customers and the customers we recently did not win. (Just as we taught in our training) We asked open-ended questions about how they bought now after the stock market crash.

 

Was their process different?

 

Did they require new criteria to make buying decisions?

 

Who else in their organization was involved, if any in the buying decision? And so on…

 

What we learned was the following:

 

  • Human resources no longer could make buying decisions alone over a specific $ value
  • Human resources now had to sell the CEO and CFO on why they should invest in this training
  • The customers we won shared how they would prefer speaking with one of our instructors much earlier in the sales process

 

 

Based on the above and much more feedback we mapped the buying process and next to it our repeatable sales process. What we looked for were common roundabouts where the opportunity to serve our clients spun out of control. These roundabouts are always opportunities for new sales tools. For example, since the human resources group now had to internally sell the CEO, we proactively provided a short slide deck written for a CEO buyer persona as a sales tool.

 

We introduced our instructors much earlier in the sales process as they requested and often asked human resources to invite others who could authorize the expenditure.

 

We developed a new sales process with new sales tools and trained our sales team.

 

Within 3 months sales started to climb and after 12 months we realized a sales increase over 150%.

 

How about your company…

 

When did your team last capture the voice of your customers?

 

Did it result in a new sales process?

 

Did you identify new sales tools needed to help your buyers buy?

 

When did your team last capture the voice of your market?

 

Did you map how your buyers are buying today? Notice any changes?

 

Did you adjust your sales process based on how buyers are buying today?

 

Do your markets have new problems they need solved since the last time you did a value proposition audit?

 

We serve dynamic markets that continue to shift and change. How many changes has your team identified in the last year? Two years? Five years? Did you adjust to those shifts strategically or did you, like many teams tell sales to “just make it happen, work harder”?

 

If you have not recognized any market shifts nor changed your sales process or designed new sales tools it is broken but there is still time to tune in to how your buyers are buying and the market voice.

 

Spend time in front of your customers and understand how they are buying today, what they must have today and make the necessary adjustments. I estimate as high as 60% -70% of companies are not actively listening for the voice of their market today. Of the 40%-30% who are, less than 10% will actually adjust their sales process and design new sales tools.

 

Why wouldn’t your team want to be one of those 10% who hit and surpassed their sales numbers next year?

 

There is a power in capturing the voice of the customer and how you use what you have learned to adjust your repeatable sales process. Simple often-minor adjustments can have a huge impact on your sales close rate. Adjusting your sales process to how your buyers buy today creates a GPS for your salespeople to follow to the sale.