What Would Your Customer Say?

by David Brock on July 21st, 2011

A major part of what I do for a living is to help individuals and organizations improve their performance and sales effectiveness.  I participate in a lot of meetings where I’m asked to review the sales effectiveness initiatives of organizations.  These people are very bright, extremely capable and have tremendous backgrounds in selling.  The initiatives they talk about are always very interesting.  There’s a huge amount of logic behind what they are trying to do.  They support their initiatives with great data, and sometimes the expert views of other consultants.

I sit in these reviews, I’m buying into what they are saying, I’m about to give them the “Dave Brock Seal of Approval,” (That and a few dollars gets you coffee from your favorite barista).  Then I get to the part where I ask questions.  My first question is usually:  “What do your customers say?”  or I might ask, “How many customers did you talk to about how you could be more effective in selling to them?”

This is where things start going south.  80% of the time, the response is, “We couldn’t possibly ask our customers this!”  Or the response is, “We’d upset our selling relationship by asking the customers how we could be more effective.”  They immediately try to proceed by presenting all the data.  They have customer performance data, they’ve segmented customers by performance, loyalty, maybe even profitability.  They may present customer satisfaction data.  All of this is good, all support what they are trying to achieve.

But I come back to the question, “What would your customer say?”  By this time, I’m either getting blank or hostile stares.

What’s interesting, is the 20% of the companies that do ask their customers the question, that do engage the customer in helping to define how they want to be sold to and what complements how they want to buy.  The insights are really interesting, the answers are sometimes so simple.  My friend, Mike Kunkle, shared a story.  In a past job, he went and asked the customers, “How can our sales organization be more effective in working with you?”  The response was different than anyone thought, “Answer the phone.”  They worked on “answering the phone.”  Relationships improved tremendously, sales effectiveness improved, results improved.

Several years ago, we did the same with a large technology company.  We went to their major accounts and asked, “How can we be more effective in selling and supporting you?”  The feedback was remarkable—we found major problems in coverage, we learned new ways of engaging.  We found a problem that too many people were involved in selling to them, making if very difficult to know how to buy.  We learned that we could support these major accounts in a very different way, with far fewer resources, but produce even better sales results.  We learned that we didn’t have to have field sales people in every location, but could have field sales people in a few key locations, complemented by telesales, and partners.  We were able to reduce cost of selling to this group of major accounts by 27% and increase revenue by 33%—a phenomenal increase in sales effectiveness/productivity.

In each example, usually the customer gives us insight that we may have never thought of.  Sometimes, there are things that can’t be put in place, sometimes, the solutions (such as answering the phone) are very simple.

For decades, product developers have known that we need customer input to design and develop products that meet their needs.  Early customer involvement is de rigueur in every high performing product development team.

Maybe it’s time to adopt the same principles in looking at improving our sales effectiveness and productivity.  Maybe it’s time to ask the customer.  You may be surprised at how simple the solution might be!

This article originally appeared in the Partners in EXCELLENCE Blog, at http://partnersinexcellenceblog.com/what-would-your-customer-say/

What Would Your Customer Say?

2 thoughts on “What Would Your Customer Say?

  1. Brian Brooker says:

    I am wondering how HPS treats product & customer development. Since I have no product, just a blank sheet of paper, I ask prospects about their needs & desires. They fill out the blank paper. I take it to another prospect and ask if it is something they want for their business. I get feed-back. Eventually I will find an unmet need and build a new product. Start-ups have no customer, no product & no business model. Established companies have all three and seek to grow sales, hopefully using HPS.

    But my startup is positioned to penetrate the market using nothing but customer feedback. So, I am wondering how HPS deals with new product & customer development. Maybe the salesman/marketer changes the offer until customers respond.

    Finally, I make no distinction between sales & marketing because 1) customers make no such distinction (customer only knows he is dissatisfied about something) and 2) as a solo entrepreneur I have no marketing department and no sales force. Therefore, no budget.


    1. Hello Brian,

      High Probability Selling (HPS) is about how people interact with each other. It’s a set of principles that can be applied to just about everything you do with other people. But we don’t sell it that way.

      We sell HPS as a way of selling. We teach salespeople to find a focus, and to sell that. We do what we teach.

      We teach the principles in the context of selling. People who learn to use HPS as a way of selling can then employ the same principles in other areas, and they often do.

      As a process, HPS does not directly treat or deal with product & customer development. However, the principles are relevant to both.

      Professor Steve Blank uses the term Customer Development to describe something that seems similar to what you do. If I were to apply the principles of HPS to his framework, the first thing I would do is change some of the language. Some of the terms are too similar to the language of persuasive selling.

      And finally, I do make a distinction between sales and marketing, but only when it is useful to do so. Sometimes, it is more useful to think of marketing as something that encompasses everything we do in business, including sales and fulfillment.

      Thank you for a wonderful question, and for the opportunity to think and talk about this.

      Yours, Carl Ingalls


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