In my last blog, Why I Hate Sales Reps, I said my pet peeves were reps who don’t listen, don’t care about my problem, can’t be trusted, or aren’t available when needed.
But some reps are different. They love their jobs and love taking care of their customers. Here are some personal examples to illustrate my point.
My Buying Experiences
For example, when I need to buy clothes, I usually head to Nordstrom. Why? Because the sales reps are knowledgeable and helpful, and available without being overbearing about it. One time I asked one of the reps how they learned how to match ties with shirts and jackets, expecting to hear about some kind of training program. But no, the rep said she had these skills before Nordstrom hired her.
When I’m buying technology, I go to Best Buy. I think the pricing is good, but mainly I shop there because the sales staff knows the products and gives good advice. If you’ve ever tried to buy wireless networking for your home, you know what I mean.
My last car purchase, in sharp contrast to virtually every other car I’ve bought over the years, was truly a pleasure. In fact, the sales rep, let’s call him Joe, had a phrase he used whenever I asked for something: “It’s my pleasure.” And it seemed he really meant it! At the end of the process I felt good about the car, the process and now Joe is the only person I ever want to buy a car from.
Notice I didn’t say, have Joe “sell” me a car.
When I asked Joe about his sales philosophy, he explained that he tries to treat his customers “like guests” in his home: be accommodating, respectful and appreciative. He says his number one priority is to make the customer happy, because “the only thing they never forget is how you make them feel.”
What about making money? Joe believes that if you take care of the customer, the money will take care of itself. He doesn’t pay attention to dealer bonuses or incentive programs, yet still finishes in the top one percent of new car dealer sales reps nationally, making about five times the industry average.
For B2B selling, one of the top reps I’ve known is Mike Chiappetta, who currently works for storage solutions provider Network Appliance as a global account manager. Mike handles one of Network Appliances’s largest accounts (over $30 million per year).
Over a 25-year career that includes stints at DEC and SGI, Mike has had a stellar track record, making his assigned quota about 85 percent of the time. And he’s one of the top sales producers at Network Appliance. Yet, despite all that success “selling,” he told me he doesn’t have a sales philosophy, but rather a “support” philosophy: “What the customer is really buying into is me, and the promise that I’ll be with them after the purchase, to help them if they have any problems.”
What the customer is really buying into is me, and the promise that I’ll be with them after the purchase, to help them if they have any problems.
In the increasingly commoditized world of technology, that feeling may make all the difference. Mike believes this support approach helps differentiate him and his company from other hard-selling technology suppliers.
Why don’t more reps behave this way? According to Mike, too many sales managers focus on numbers, not helping reps build the relationship skills they need to differentiate themselves. And sales training is often more concerned with helping reps sell product features and benefits, not sales philosophy.
Gee, it sounds like reps are left to fend for themselves in some kind of a Darwinian struggle. I asked Mike what sales professionals could do to help themselves be more successful. His advice:
- understand how to build and use relationships
- be careful what you say and who you say it to
- meet your commitments 100 percent
- under promise and over deliver (within reason)
- dry run everything with a friend, spouse, etc. (practice makes perfect)
- use a “buddy check” with a colleague before sending something to the client
Help Me, Don’t Sell Me
These days, customers don’t want to be manipulated into buying. They want reps who are genuinely interested in helping, know their stuff, and enjoy their work.
I’m not sure how much of this can be trained, but for starters sales managers can do a better job hiring reps with the right attitude and aptitude to sell to today’s empowered buyers.
Effective selling, the customer-centric kind anyway, is not that difficult. Love your customers, and they’ll love you back!
Bob Thompson is an international authority on customer-centric business management who has researched and shaped leading industry trends since 1998. He is founder and CEO of CustomerThink Corporation, an independent research and publishing firm, and founder and editor-in-chief of CustomerThink.com, the world’s largest online community dedicated to helping business leaders develop and implement customer-centric business strategies. His book Hooked on Customers (April 2014) reveals the five habits of leading customer-centric firms. For more information visit http://hookedoncustomers.com