Make customer experience your best sales person

Readers will recognise the power shift that is underway from from suppliers to buyers. Access to information and the relationships enabled by the Internet create better informed and connected customers. Buyers now use multiple sources to research their options, engage salespeople much later and take a broader view of the companies they want to do business with. They also make their views heard loud and wide, reaching thousands of people in minutes with their views: good and bad.

Delivering the sort of experience that wins, satisfies and retains chosen customers better than the competition cannot be left to chance; it has to be the result of purposeful design. In response, companies are having to turn themselves inside out with everything starting from the customer perspective.

The process of purposeful, customer centric design starts with the customer journey, which in turn starts with the buyer journey. As the saying goes; you don’t get a second chances make a first impression. How the potential customer experiences your company through the buying process is key. But often that first impression is not the result of interactions with your salespeople and process. As buyers do more research before contacting you, your reputation is in the hands of bloggers, analysts and, most importantly, other customers. The views and perceptions these people share increasingly determine if you make it onto the shortlist. And here is the crunch – the biggest influence on these views is the experience you have delivered to other customers.

If you do make it into the buyers mind and get on their list of possibles, the hard work starts. How well you can guide and help the buyer through their decision-making process will shape your success.

Sales heads should take a leaf out of the playbook of customer experience and take an outside-in view of the sales process. For years, companies have managed the sales funnel, with a process defined in terms of what salespeople do. A number of companies have redefined the sales process as a buyer journey, focusing on the buyer activities and decision-making process (see table).

Suspect Interested
Prospect Impacted
Pipeline Exploring
Upside Evaluating
Commit Validating
Close Buy
Renew Onboard & Engage

Each of the new stages describes what the buyer is doing, how we can help them and what the buyer has to do to move to the next stage. This change is more than semantics: it has two objectives, both of which are important in the new world of the informed buyer:

  • It changes the nature of the sales conversation, shifting the emphasis from product features to the value of making the change and the risks of not changing. It recognises that helping the buyer through their decision-making process is the best way to win the sale.
  • It puts greater emphasis on the buyer decision process delivering more control and predictability of the sales pipeline.

Many will say that this is what good sales people do anyway and I would agree. Why not therefore reflect this best practice in the way the pipeline is described, managed and coached?

This approach requires understanding beyond the close, insights into the customer’s end goal, their priorities and challenges. It is here that most salespeople fail, focusing too much on the features and benefits of their product/service and too little on the buyer’s goals, priorities and constraints. BTW, this is not unique to B2B sales: successful UK retailer John Lewis talks about the importance of taking responsibility for delivering on the customers ultimate purchasing intent.

Companies that recognise the importance of the buyer journey are using feedback to improve performance in three key areas:

Surveys at key points in both the buyer and customer journey are effective tools for improving performance. For example, a sales win/loss survey can be used to improve several areas of sales effectiveness:

  • Assess impact of salesperson and guide coaching
  • Understand the drivers of purchase intent to focus marketing and sales messages
  • Identify competitive advantages and disadvantages to improve product and positioning
  • Test ease of doing business to remove purchasing barriers
  • Qualify commission payments to ensure sales focus on real buyer intent
  • Generate new leads from satisfied buyers

Beyond the sale
Rethinking the buyer experience is only the first part of understanding the impact customer experience plays in delivering successful sales. A much greater impact comes from how it shapes buyer’s perceptions both in the initial and subsequent sales.

This focus on subsequent sales matters because most customers only become profitable on the second and subsequent sales, as research from Reichheld and Sasser (Zero Defections: Quality comes to services, HBR) shows.

Consider also the following stats and how they relate to the CEO’s war cry for more sales.

CEO’s War Cry CX Contribution
Get more leads! Word of mouth influences 80% of all purchases (Forrester)
Convert more! WOM leads convert 3-5x more than other lead sources (WOMMA)
Charge more! 55% of consumers will pay more for a better CX (Defaqto)
Close quicker! B2B: 76.3% of existing customers closed in >6 months. Only 45.2% new customers closed in the same time frame. (Accenture)
Retain more! 89% of customers stopped doing business with a company because of poor CX (Right Now)
Reduce acquisition costs 60-70% of existing customers likely to buy cf 5-20% new customers (Marketing Metrics)

A winning customer experience is not just essential to retaining existing customers, it has a massive impact on lead generation and sales to new customers.  If they care about achieving their revenue targets, it is an area of business sales leaders ignore or leave to others at their peril.

Note: A version of this blog was first published in Customer Experience Magazine.

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