I have a strong belief that the real selling starts after the sale.
But so many sales teams are incentivised to focus relentlessly on pre-sale activity, ignoring the fact that a customer becomes more valuable to you once a sale is completed. The first sale is just the first step in the process – now you have to make sure the customer is committed to you, and remains committed to you, throughout their partnership with your organisation.
We all know the statistics about ratio of costs when it comes to acquiring a new customer versus retaining a customer. I won’t go into that – but what I will say is that the simple things that would help you retain a customer, are often not being done. Regular catch-ups, following up when you said you would, or inviting them to the days out that you normally only invite your new prospects to are ways to maintain a good relationship once the deal is done. Sales reps often just focus on the next prospect instead of spending time with existing customers who actually spend money with you. And the best thing of all about engaging with existing clients is that you know that your customer wants to be engaged with you, because they bought from you. They have given you the green light to engage and be a good vendor. Take the opportunity!
Familiarity breeds complacency
It’s easy to become complacent with your best customers – they pay on time, they don’t give you a hard time and they are always happy to see you. It’s easy to take them for granted – but if you think about the Customer Lifetime Value rather than the value of the deal in front of you right now, then it might change how you think about the time and resources you dedicate to continually winning back your customer.
Most marketing and sales ROI calculations are based on net new business revenue or margin – but how do you calculate ROI on NOT losing your best customer? Do you factor customer churn rates into your ROI calculations?
Sometimes all it needs is a period of review and reflect to think about your best customers, and look at what you can do to increase their experience after the sale. We like to organise our annual Jon Palmer Race Days – there’s no selling going on, no talking about work – just a chance to share some time away from the office with our customers, and it is our little way of saying thank you for working with us. It makes sense to do this with our existing customers to retain that valuable relationship, rather than ploughing all our marketing budget into finding new prospects who may never become customers. Obviously you have to do new business prospecting but marketing budgets should always account for how to focus resources on existing clients.
Keeping in regular contact helps to maintain the bonds created between you and your customer – and is a fundamental part of ensuring high customer experience levels. This relatively new trend of analysing customer experience forgets that it all comes down to a fundamental, and basic, activity: keeping your customer happy. Maybe in this new digital world where it has never been easier to reach thousands of new prospects on a daily basis, marketing and sales activities have flipped to continually focus on the new, new, new. But generations ago, the local cornershop with a loyal customer base knew the value of a good and consistent customer experience long before marketing experts coined the phrase.
A recent article by Tamara Schenk highlighted how marketing content should also be employed throughout the entire customer journey, both before and after you have joined your client for the ride. She advocates creating the right kind of content during the “implementation, adoption and usage” phase. These are the critical points where the customer starts to develop a view on what working with you is like. Dedicating time and investing resources into making your solution fit as seamlessly as possible will pay off when the next refresh comes around.
After all, your customer of today will be your competitor’s new prospect tomorrow.
To win in sales, you need to get a great territory plan in place, then carefully research each individual customer, run your analytics to see which customers are best placed to buy at that time, then develop your value proposition, prospect your customers, get them knowledgeable about your product roadmap, ensure their heatmap is filled out and finally, boom! They purchase.
Or maybe not?
These elements are important, to an extent, for the appropriate customer.
But a huge part of selling comes down to likeability. People often don’t like admitting that, because it can suggest that sales people are ‘born’. What happens to Sales Trainers if sales is just about being likeable; a quality that is pretty difficult to learn?
An article in Harvard Business Review discussed how co-workers preferred likeable people – and that managers often hire likeable people. That sounds incredibly obvious, but the suggestion is that we often make choices about people in a work environment, not on their skill or competence, but mainly on the level of their likeability. You choose to work with the person on a project, you offer them the job, you promote them because they get on so well with the team. That’s not to say that you can be completely useless and still get ahead (although that does happen from time to time) but it means that in a decision scenario, where all candidates rank the same on all other factors, is it not natural that the final decision comes down to likeability?
Within our own organisation, one of the factors that makes customers choose us is often a simple “We can work with these guys” statement. If the trust and respect is there, then customers feel much happier working with a company they can work with easily, get along with and engage without friction – rather than a company who still has the same high levels of competency, but something just doesn’t ‘smell right’. Of course, we believe we have high levels of competency in what we do, but we also focus on fostering a culture of likeability – personality and character are important traits that bond us as employees and also create bonds between our customers and partners.
As the HBR article puts it, a little extra likeability goes a longer way than a little extra competence. This brings me to whether likeability is the biggest factor for buyers when making a purchasing decision.
Likeability in Sales
A Rain Selling post highlights how there are often underlying reasons at play, that we might not even recognise ourselves, when we make a purchasing decision. In situations where every supplier at the table has the same level of competency and capability, which is often the case in highly competitive markets, the decision usually comes down to who the buyer likes best.
And ‘liking’ doesn’t just mean you’d be happy to go for a beer with them – it can be broader and mean that you respect their perspectives, or find them more credible; therefore more likeable.
Rain also conducted a survey about what separates winners in sales from ‘the rest’. The main difference was ‘the seller and how they sell’ rather than an assessment of the company and its products. Amongst many other factors, the buyers surveyed listed points such as, “being more collaborative, listening to me, helping avoid potential pitfalls, and connecting with me personally” as reasons contributing to choosing a particular seller.
Rain go on to share how the likeability factor has a big impact on the entire sales process, from making prospects more likely to share information during the needs discovery phase, through to buyers taking insights shared by the seller more seriously and the ease of obtaining meetings and referrals. It’s obvious that you are not going to refer a company to a friend when you had a negative experience purchasing from them.
Think about in your own office. When you hear your colleagues complaining about a particular supplier or stating that they will never work with XYZ company again, is it usually the product or the seller/sales experience? In my experience, it tends to be the difficult sales experience or clash of characters that stops us working with a supplier again. The products or services on offer are often available from someone else, somewhere in the world. The difference is how YOU are going to deliver it.
We have a Sales Rep working for us, whose preferred way of handling customer meetings is to take a batch of cakes in. No super science sales skills, no clever tactics. And honestly no hidden agenda. Just cakes. He usually eats most of them too, with a cup of tea (2 sugars) and a lengthy chat.
This is how he’s always done it.
Customers love him, and trust him. I’m always fascinated by the idea of trust, especially as we have built our business based on years of continued trust, with repeat clients and longer contracts than usual. It’s difficult to put your finger on where that unique trust comes from, or how you even build it. We always thought it just happened.
But I came across an interesting graphic called the Trust Matrix. It perfectly articulated something we had been carrying out for so long, but didn’t have the words to explain.
The Trust Matrix says that you need a unique combination of both character and competence to build trust. You can go online and read all the case studies in the world about a potential new supplier, but if something just doesn’t feel right, then it probably isn’t right. Character forms a huge part of what we do – it’s why our customers stay with us for the long term. But how do you define it? Or even more complicated, how do you replicate character?
But what is character?
Who knows? It could be our strong Brummie accents, or our cheeky Dad jokes. We’re not quite sure. Our Sales Rep strongly believes it’s the cakes. Or perhaps it’s the lunches at the Vine around the corner (curry/pub that’s well worth a visit if you’re in West Bromwich).
The Trust Matrix believes character is a mix of integrity, openness and authenticity. In our world, we think being true to our roots and straightforward with customers is better than an overly polished slick presentation and a sales script. When we first work with customers, we deliver our FACE presentation, sharing everything about how the company came about, our approach and culture and what working with us is like. Our customers want to know that they are buying into something real, honest and reliable; that when they encounter an issue, someone is there to help. Sales have long left the building by the time your customer really needs you. Being there at the weekend, against all odds, is what makes the difference between character and a good sales patter.
The problem with many sales training programmes is that they focus on how to make cookie cutter sales reps – with everyone acting in the same way, saying the same things and delivering the same presentation.
We don’t think that works and each of our Sales Reps operates in a completely different way to the next. That suits some customers, and doesn’t suit others – no problem, people are individuals after all. But those differences and quirks in our personalities make us real – and customers get a good handle on who we are as a company pretty early on.
Combined with competence
So what sits on the other side of character in the Trust Matrix? Competence is the other key element, apparently made up of the capability to deliver, alongside relevant skills and experience. This is the part where customers need to see proof that you can deliver the services they need to a great level, regardless of whether they get on with you or not. Organisations that focus too much on improving sales without looking at what happens once a customer is actively engaged with your business tend to suffer from a high rate of customer churn. This is where the client has selected you to work with, but quickly realises that the skills aren’t there, or problems start to emerge – and they ultimately walk away from the contract.
Character alone won’t see you through serious competency issues. A high degree of results-based competence, built on evidence of previous experience delivering the same services, alongside examples of where you have performed well for other organisations.
Balancing the two
A recent article in Director magazine from the Institute of Directors picked up on how companies now need to have an Emotional Selling Proposition – as people make choices based on their emotional engagement with a brand.
Maybe this is why we build such strong, and long, partnerships with our customers. The customers become friends and we partner in different ways as the company changes and our clients’ own businesses morph and grow.
Even in the B2B world, we believe that every decision is an emotional decision, based on a unique mix of character and competence, balancing that ‘je ne sais quoi’ with experience and skill.
A company’s sales team is crucial to its success. That’s because Marketing initiatives can whet an individual’s appetite for a product or service, but it’s the sales rep that makes sure the potential customer’s initial ‘want’ becomes that all-important ‘need.’ In doing so he or she manages to bridge that all-important gap between customer and company.
So, with such a crucial role to play, why does the Sales Manager frequently find her or himself relegated to a lower position in the company pecking order than say the Finance, Marketing, HR or Operations Director? Why doesn’t he or she get to sit in on important board room meetings and help make the decisions which will inevitably affect their team too? A recent study of 25 companies in a particular area in Georgia, USA, showed that of 25 companies, all had a Chief Finance Officer, 16 employed a Chief Marketing Officer yet only two had a Chief Sales Officer.
The reasons given for a distinct lack of sales presence in the boardroom are numerous, but are they particularly convincing – or even justified? See what you think…
Sales isn’t as important as other company functions
Many C-level executives would suggest that one of the reasons sales is regarded in such a lowly fashion in the company pecking order is because, unlike Accountancy or Marketing, there is very little formal education in the discipline. How many university or college courses specialising in solely Sales, for instance, have you spotted recently?
And it’s not just the lack of degrees and HNC qualifications that causes Sales to fall short in management’s eyes; neither is there any accredited qualifications to aim for – unlike in Marketing where the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) Certificate is the holy grail of the profession, or a similar piece of paper from the Institute of Chartered Accountants England and Wales (ICAEW) for their Finance colleagues.
Part of its ‘lowly’ standing and lack of respect in the company hierarchy then is perhaps due to the fact that Sales isn’t formally recognised in an academic sense. In some cases it’s even ‘tolerated’ and viewed by others in the company (including those in the upper echelons of management) as almost a necessary evil. This seems extremely unfair given the importance of Sales ‘bonding’ and the frontline function that sales delivers between customer and company.
Sales people think differently from colleagues in other sections
Many Sales staff haven’t been to university or other academic institutions simply because they went in to the sector straight from school and trained ‘on the job.’ In the world of Sales, experience and ability speaks far higher than academic achievement. But because of the lack of formal higher education, the individual leading the company’s Sales team may have missed out on the leadership and presentation skills taught to those with a more academic background.
There is also a general perception about salesmen and women that they were ‘born with the gift of the gab’ and that their charm and sales ability is somehow innate rather than gleaned through years of hard work and experience.
Then again, the company can often unwittingly encourage in the Sales team what directors from other sectors might regard as ‘bad behaviour.’ This is where sales reps are offered huge bonuses for the number of sales achieved rather than customer satisfaction.
Sales people sometimes don’t have a great reputation
Like journalists or lawyers, salespeople are sometimes described as sneaky, self-serving and lacking integrity. Sure, there are some Sales staff who would fit that description, just as there are individuals in other jobs, such as policemen and teachers who would also tick that box. But there are many salesmen and women who take a huge amount of pride in what they do, and bring high levels of professionalism to every situation.
Sales reps, however, must take some of the blame here too. Often the Sales culture in an organisation can prove to be rather maverick, encouraging ‘reckless’ behaviour and giving the department a ‘bad name.’
Then there is a self-esteem issue in that some Sales staff themselves don’t believe they deserve to be regarded as highly as their Finance or Marketing colleagues for some of the reasons mentioned above, such as the lack of academic qualifications and how they are currently regarded by the company, ie as ranking ‘lower’ than other departments.
And yet, Sales is just as important for a company’s bottom line as other sectors – and perhaps even more so. Just ask top decision-makers at IBM, HP and SAP who have all established focused Sales Academies, having recognised the pivotal role their Sales teams play in their own success. Undoubtedly other companies will shortly follow suit.
Increasingly in these post-Brexit days where uncertainty over the UK economy is having a dampening effect on consumer spending, improving company revenue and adding to sales figures is crucial in order for a business to survive. And Sales, with its important opportunity to bond with the customer, is absolutely central to this. They alone can build trust and loyalty, and in doing so, enhance a company’s reputation and ensure that customers don’t switch to a competitor.
After all, the Sales rep may be the only individual from a company that the customer will ever communicate directly with – whether face-to-face or via telephone. So, isn’t it worth ensuring this ‘company lifeline’ is guaranteed to work? You can today, by investing more in sales training and general business awareness skills. This will foster professionalism and ensure Sales finally gets that long-deserved seat in the company board room.
Birmingham based C24 Ltd announce their success in the European Cloud Above and Beyond Awards, held in Monaco.
C24 has been announced as the winners of the Cloud Above and Beyond Award at the Data Cloud Awards 2016, held in Monaco in June 2016. In order to win the award, C24 had to demonstrate how they went above and beyond to deliver a cloud service that delivered tangible results for their customer. The award was presented to C24 at an event in Monaco in June 2016.
C24’s entry was for a project delivered at the Arthur Terry Learning Partnership, one of the top academy consortiums in the country comprised of eight schools. The Arthur Terry Learning Partnership (ATLP) has worked with C24 for many years and describe them as a true technology partner for their academy trust.
Following the award winning project, C24 created a case study from which Microsoft followed up with a video case study, filmed on site at ATLP.
The case study highlights staff opinion on their experiences with C24 and working together with Microsoft in order to deliver a better learning experience for students. C24 and the IT team at ATLP worked together to deliver a Microsoft Office 365 solution across the schools, which will provide them with collaboration capabilities in order to better communicate between different schools and enable improved learning experiences.
C24 believes that the ATLP and Microsoft project is a great example of a way in which technology partners can work together to add value to their customers, above and beyond delivering core tech services. By bringing in the support of key partners such as Microsoft and HP, it enables C24 to offer more value and expertise to their customers. This latest award is another example of their commitment to delivering exceptional technology experiences.
David Ricketts, Head of Sales and Marketing at C24 Ltd, a Six Degrees Company, said, “We are delighted to have been chosen for this award – and we are really pleased that it has highlighted the great work that the IT team at Arthur Terry are doing to improve the learning experiences of many children across the Birmingham area.”
Watch the Microsoft and C24 case study video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sb2Vi_wNPUo
Many businesses’ main priority is generating new leads. Well, of course, isn’t that everyone’s main priority?
Well, not everyone…
There is actually a way to generate more revenue by not generating new leads. Especially in the tech industry, companies have the potential to grow revenue from their existing client base, but instead, they go after new leads only. They start new telemarketing campaigns to generate new prospects and a year down the line, growth is usually flat.
All in all, vast amounts of money is spent chasing new leads. And according to aForrester report, less than 1% of B2B leads are converted into paying customers. Even ‘top performing’ companies have a conversion ratio of less than 2% – so what is going wrong?
Why are we spending all of our money and efforts on developing new leads, when we have a base of great customers who could actually fund that growth, without the cost, worry and wasted time?
So what do we have to do to get our existing clients’ business? Do our jobs well, deliver a great service and be on hand to provide additional complementary services at the right time, to fix the right problem.
Land and expand – focusing on the existing client base
One of the ways that C24 (a Six Degrees Company) has fuelled its growth, is through our focus on improving our end to end customer engagement and service delivery – by trying to improve customer experience by even just a few points at each phase of a client project.
I call this a process of ‘land and expand’ – basically, ‘landing’ in a customer when you win a project, and then looking for chances to ‘expand’ what you deliver to that account in a way that makes sense to you and the customer. It’s a win-win scenario.
To do this, we broke our sales, project delivery and ongoing support processes down into segments, and looked at how we could improve each different element in a bid to keep our customers happy and hopefully increase our position of trust within accounts.
In our Sales segment, we created standardised client presentations to present the C24 story, and offered personalised marketing support to our sales teams. For instance, our analytics Account Manager wanted help to better articulate C24’s Bi24 analytics tool outcomes to legal clients, so as a management team we helped with personalised, targeted marketing support to underpin his sales campaign.
Within the Account Management segment, we overhauled our entire account management process and implemented Key Account Plans for our strategic accounts, conducted sales training sessions and integrated monthly management reporting processes to ensure we were tracking the correct metrics and driving the appropriate behaviours across our teams.
On the Support side, we created personalised handbooks for when we transitioned a project from implementation stage to ongoing support – to show the customer how we carefully handled their service and migration process. We also spotted that we needed to increase the headcount in our Project Management team to improve project handling as the business grew.
We also added resources to our Tech team and implemented a dedicated Help Desk contact approach to our larger customers to improve their experiences of dealing with support calls.
None of this focuses on new lead generation. Obviously, we always have one eye on new business generation but we make sure that new client acquisition is not our primary focus – but that we are instead focused on minimising existing customer attrition rates, alongside new business development.
Improving client experiences and reducing customer churn
For us, a key measurement of success often centres on customer churn rates, and our ability to minimise those churn rates through better service delivery and improved account management. It’s well known how much more it costs to acquire a new customer than it does to sell to an existing client – and the time spent chasing down all the new prospects that never convert to customers is wasted sales time that could be spent on developing existing relationships.
What I’m proposing is that, for an experiment, we instead direct the same sales and marketing methods that are funnelled towards new lead development, into existing client activities.
This could take the form of focusing acquisition sales staff on uncovering new opportunities within the company’s existing client base. This may be the role of your current farming reps, but in fact, sales staff often don’t approach existing accounts with the same vigour that acquisition reps handle their new prospects.
Microsegments, heat mapping and lead development
Last year, C24 undertook an exercise to critically review everything we knew about our key accounts and created heat maps of what we did and didn’t provide to determine how we could better align ourselves to our clients’ strategies. It’s impossible to do this on every account, but we take some elements of this exercise and overlay it across many of our client accounts in our processes today. During the exercise, we micro-segmented our client accounts across each area of their business and each area of our service offering to find out where there could be potential opportunities. From this exercise, we uncovered a number of new opportunities in each account to investigate – and because of our existing relationships with these accounts, we could quickly find out if the lead had the potential to be a qualified opportunity or one not to pursue. This is unlike normal lead gen activities where we end up chasing leads that often come to nothing.
Our land and expand approach has meant that we have delivered great growth, alongside keeping customers happy and ensuring that sales and marketing efforts pay off, rather than failing to deliver an acceptable ROI. And because of this, we are confident that our conversion rates are well above the Forrester averages of 1%.
For some industry expert perspectives on a ‘land and expand’ strategy within client account management, take a look at Gartner’s blog or Forrester’s article on the subject from a new business perspective.
Check out our latest Slideshare about ‘How EBITDA Killed Innovation’ – this is just a snapshot of our original article on the topic here: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/how-ebitda-killed-innovation-david-ricketts
Why do so many startups avoid the customer and lose the sale in the early days?
I recently delivered a guest lecture to students of Birmingham Uni interested in setting up their own business, on the subject of sales and marketing – and more importantly, getting those first few clients under your belt.
The session got me thinking about why so many startups fail to actually sell enough products or services, or even ignore the entire sales function. This unfortunately often results in many going under through lack of sales or traction.
Too often, startups avoid confronting customers in favour of locking themselves away coding or in product development. Or maybe doing activities that might be nice to do or enjoyable, but don’t actually result in money in the bank account. And after all, that’s what it’s all about.
Building what they need
We are often told that product is everything, that if you develop an excellent, top notch product it will attract customers: “If you build it, they will come”, to quote Kevin Costner’s Field of Dreams. Sadly, this simply isn’t the case. The main reason startups fail is because there was no market need for their product: in fact a staggering 42% of failed startups cite this as the main reason for failure. Therefore it’s probably prudent to make sure you’ve got an established client base during development, and develop your product based on their needs. This might seem like you’re putting the cart before the horse, but by making sure that there are customers willing to buy your concept ensures that any investment you put into product development will come back with results.
Product development in a vacuum might yield fantastic results from a development point of view: you could have a product that is truly innovative, years ahead of whatever else is on the market, or something that is completely and utterly revolutionary. But if there’s no one out there willing to buy it, where did all that money and time go? Sadly, pet projects rarely put money in the bank. Selling a product that responds to market demand puts money in the bank.
I feel the need to add a caveat to the above point about responding to market demand: don’t be a chaser. If your potential clients or competition are pressuring you to add features, it’s not always the best idea to agree with them straight away, especially if you’re not confident in that field. It’s better to focus on a core proposition that you’re capable of fulfilling, rather than tacking on sub-standard features that can drag down the overall quality of your business.
Now this might require you to start off as quite niche, being only able to meet the needs of a select few clients. But these core sales are essential. By building this kind of loyal, dedicated customer – whose needs only you can meet: you build a dedicated, steady stream of revenue. This is a great time to get case studies under your belt whilst you have the time, and are trying to establish your position in the market. Once this is established, you can start think about expanding to wider customer needs. Look at Amazon, for example. Amazon didn’t start off selling everything online, as they do today. They started off selling books, and books alone. Once they’d established themselves as a reliable, effective delivery service, they were able to expand their product range into broader fields, to the extent that you can now buy just about anything imaginable from Amazon.
Sales as a foundation
Having a startup that is too product orientated can have further issues in the long run. If you have managed to develop a product that is excellent, and is in demand, what do you do then if you have no one on staff with sales experience, or you don’t have the internal structure to support a sales team?
Your product then becomes a white elephant: it’s big, fancy, and a great conversation starter, but you’ll be haemorrhaging upkeep costs while you try and find something to do with it. By taking a sales orientated stance right from the get go, you can ensure that as soon as your product is ready to roll out, you can get it out to clients and customers on demand.
Now, this isn’t a quick cash method of building a startup. By focussing your product for a potentially small client base, revenue will be low for the first few years. But immediate mass market appeal doesn’t always equal a viable long term business. The above example of Amazon is an excellent one. Did you know that they didn’t turn a profit for the first nine years of their existence? Now they are the undisputed kings of online retail. They were niche, they only sold books, a product that doesn’t exactly go hand in hand with a tech business. But they built slow, and developed a core customer base before they expanded. They never ignored sales, but they allowed these sales to be small at first to guarantee consistency. Follow their model and other successful startups and be willing to start small, but make sure it is small with sales on board. Once you have an established revenue stream, no matter how small through some key sales, then you can start trying to appeal to a broader audience.
Keep the faith
Sales are the heart and soul of a startup, and you need to build a product around that. Building up a revenue stream is essential as it can give you the funds to then start building the product of your dreams. Don’t fear the sale, embrace it.
For some more info on why startups can fail at sales check out:
Rick Salmon: Why do startups struggle with sales?