I have the privilege of knowing a first class sales training company that operates in Houghton Le Spring and often share insights with its managing director.
Selling and the development of sales people is just one part of the coaching repertoire of my company but he specialises in it and excels in it. We both scratch our heads in amazement sometimes at the naivety of people who are involved in selling. We both exchange notes on the often extraordinarily simple things that we need to do to actually make a customer happy which don’t seem to compute.
Good sales is not a transactional process, this is an emotional process that links the buyers’ needs and aspirations to the products on offer, reality tests these and only after which does it move towards a transaction.
In this sense, the notion of “person centeredness”, more often used in psychology and some social sciences is at the fore. People are in their own world. The world is a construct based on their five senses, their beliefs, values, learning and attitudes. Before making assumptions about anyone, we need to understand their take on reality, enter into it, join with them and understand what considerations, needs, aspirations and values they hold in order to ensure them the matching process.
Done well, a good sales transaction then becomes a simple process of enquiry and matching, leading ultimately to selection and sale. Done badly, sales people can completely lose sight of their client and his/her process.
Take the automotive trade and the notion of “tyre kickers”. Pressured sales targets and competitive behaviours between sales personnel within the trade have often resulted in such people being vilified and quickly dispensed with as effectively “time wasters” on the forecourt. Those people would invariably go away and not effect a sale, confirming this perception. The reality however, is that the tyre kicker is often a person who has complex needs and/or is an early phase of considering change, who may need to take some time to come to a discerning decision. They rarely complete that process before the attitude of a sales person communicates that they are not important and are dismissed from the consciousness of the sales person before any information exchange that might throw light upon the decision making process can occur. The situation then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy as the so-called tyre kickers vacate themselves from the forecourt never to darken it again.
It is a truism that if you look after your customers they return again and again. In this respect the post-transactional experience of the customer is absolutely critical. Simply to experience a salesman for the sales transaction only then to be handed over to some other department in the organisation is probably the most frustrating experience that a consumer can have. In a modern, complex world of multifarious roles within organisations that can happen sometimes, but all too often the experience is that the salesman who effected the transaction is passing you on when in fact your key relational connection with the organisation remains with the salesman. Companies that ignore this process and simply prefer to have a welter of customer services operatives need note. However good your customer services are, unless there is smooth, thoughtful and considered handover from the salesman when re-approached by an unhappy client, the relationship, the so called “psychological contract” the customer has built up with the organisation through the human connection with the sales person, is thrown and customers can feel the one thing they must never feel, less than an individual.
Observance of the unique individuality of people is part of the cultural mores of western society. Organisations who do not incorporate this in their overall client journey, fail to do so at their peril.
Finally, when things go wrong, there is an opportunity to treat the client as an absolute unique individual. The problem is unique to them, the inconvenience is probably also unique to them and so the response must be similarly so. It is amazing how an effective correction of a problem re-asserts customer individuality and strengthens the psychological contract. Problems, therefore, are to be welcomed, as they enhance and increase the relational link between the customer and the organisation. Despite the seminars, the slick sales academies and all of the other sophistry, some of the key fundamentals of selling still are not observed and the consumers’ experience is compromised thereby.
Savvy companies know the difference. Others are in denial. Where would you shop?
David Cliff is Managing Director of Gedanken and Vice Chairman of the Institute of Directors’ County Durham and Sunderland Committee.