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How to Avoid Alienating Customers When You Really Need the Sale

As organizations rush to make up for unprecedented declines in revenue during the pandemic, they’re keenly focused on shoring up their sales pipeline. Yet in their haste, businesses are at risk for alienating the very customers they need if their sales team takes the wrong approach.  Here are three things leaders can do to ensure their teams are winning customers post-pandemic and not alienating them.

1. Use customer listening tours to gather market intelligence.  
In the absence of trade shows and customer visits, senior leaders have to be more proactive about connecting with clients. For instance, one CEO client of ours discovered that clients perceived his company’s quarterly “State of the Market” updates as high value, so his team began issuing the reports monthly and tailoring the content to be a jumping off point for customer conversations. This enabled their salespeople to gain higher level access and be more relevant to senior decision makers.

Think about your firm’s clients; when was the last time a senior leader from your firm approached them without your own sales agenda? If it’s been a while, identify your top tier customers and schedule a top-to-top conversation. Focus the agenda on understanding the customer’s goals. Ask questions to understand how they’re approaching the current (volatile) market and how they plan to adapt to the new norms.  How have their strategic goals shifted, what’s the same, what’s shifted? Share the intel with your sales team, this will enable them to think more strategically. As you gather insights from more customers, schedule a ‘State of our Customers” meeting with your sales team to share themes and insights. The purpose is to deepen your team’s understanding of and empathy for, you customers.

2. Avoid policies that put your sales team on the defensive.
During these challenging times, it’s easy for companies to implement policies that spark unintended consequences. One firm we know needed cash, so they changed their payment terms from net 30 to net 15. It backfired and wound up costing them money because their sales team had to spend a month of customer face time defending the decision, instead of having strategic conversations and actually selling. Analyze any procedural changes from the lens of your customers – not just your own operations.

Look at how you onboard customers, your terms and conditions, your implementation team, and other non-sales areas that interact with customers. Ask the challenging questions; if I were a customer, how would I want this handled? Does this procedure make customers more enamored of our firm? Or is this a hassle, that has a chilling effect on our relationship? Your firms purpose goes beyond money. The real purpose of an organization is to improve life for customers. Now is the time to align every facet of your business around improving the customer’s condition.

3. Recognize and reward sales behaviors, not just results.
Rewarding sales results can be very motivating – but only up to a point. Taken too far, it can hinder performance by introducing too much stress and even push some toward unethical shortcuts. A better plan is to reward both performance and positive sales behaviors that eventually drive sales, such as ‘living the values’ and customer retention.

Look at the language leaders and sales managers use to talk about wins. Is the daily conversation limited to internal targets? Yay, we just made a bunch of money!  If so, there are two things you can add to will help your team stay customer oriented. First, when you talk about a big sale or opportunity, go beyond the revenue to tell the entire team: Here’s how this sale makes life better for the customer.    This points everyone on the team in the right direction. Knowing that someone else closed a deal while you did not, can make you desperate. Understanding how the deal benefited the customer gives you a story and model you can use for your own prospects.

Another powerful technique that improves sales effectiveness is recognizing and rewarding upstream sales behaviors, the things good salespeople do prior to the close. Make a point to spotlight great discovery conversations, compelling call openings, compelling presentations, and excellent strategic thinking.This shows the sales team what good looks like, and helps them avoid becoming desperate and grabby at the end of the sales process.

Implementing these strategies enables your sales team to balance short term needs with the long-term health of your customer relationships. In the end, the teams who win will be the teams who told their customers, we’re on your side.