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July/August 2002

Customer Service
TOMPKINS tips for quality service

The Foundations of Successful Salespeople and Customers
by Carl Tompkins

In my first article of this new selling series (see May/June 2002 AGRR, page 16), I disclosed the three truths that lie behind successful selling. 

Now that you are ready to get going, I will begin by sharing the required know-how and skills to make the best use of your time. 

Three Main Principles
The Forum Corp. found that the highest-performing salespeople believed in and followed three principles when it came to their outside selling efforts. The first principle is “focus on the customer.” Excellence in selling relies on the salesperson’s ability to realize for whom he really works: the customer! One way in which I have tried to help salespeople understand the role of their employer is to define them as being a bank. The employer processes money and measures profit. Both money and profit are an automatic byproduct of effective selling. As long as the bank is making money, it usually doesn’t interfere much with their salespeople’s efforts. It takes in customers’ money and returns a portion of it to the salesperson in the form of a paycheck. While this is somewhat of a simplification, the motive was to get salespeople to quit looking over their shoulders and, instead, stay focused on the customer. A critical footnote to this subject is to make sure that company officers, management and owners don’t interfere with this focus by encumbering salespeople with distractions. These can be referred to as projects that only satisfy officers, management and owners who stay behind their desks way too much and don’t know what’s going on with customers.

To focus on the customer, salespeople build schedules and complete activities around always doing what’s in the best interest for the customer. When meeting face to face with customers, truly think of yourself as one of their own employees. Such a mindset creates a comfortable body language and an ease of building quick relationships. Know that if the customer wins, you as a supplier will stand most commonly to benefit as well. 

The second driving principle is “earn the right to advance.” Here, high-performing salespeople understand the uniqueness of each customer and their comfort-zone variances. It is sensitive to and carefully monitors the customer signals to ensure that the right pace of advancing the relationship is kept. Earning the right to advance locks in on making sure that our wording and actions always display that the customer is in charge. 

Staying Involved
The final driving principle of the highest performing salespeople is “persuade through involvement.” The smartest salesperson understands that he is not the most persuasive person involved in a dialog with a customer. It is the customer that maintains that ability. Customers always trust their own judgment over anything that a salesperson can do. Therefore, it is critical that the customer stay highly involved with the complete selling and buying experience. The more involved he is the more he will feel a part of designing effective solutions to his problems. Most of us have heard that “people don’t like being sold, they like buying.” There is a big difference. An enormous benefit coming from this principle is that the salesperson gets to learn something because he is encouraging the customer to talk.

The highest-performing salespeople make sure that everything they do does not violate any one aspect of these three driving principles.

The Customer’s Mindset
Now let’s move on to discovering what steps a customer goes through in making a buying decision. We refer to this as the “customer buying cycle.”

First up is the understanding that salespeople need to quit working according to their sales cycle and quotas. Instead, the highest-performing salespeople work within the matrix of the customer buying cycle. While some customers will require more time than others for this cycle to be completed, the steps are always the same. There are five steps to the customer buying cycle and they should be viewed in a stair-case sequence. 

“No interest” is the first step and exists at the beginning of all relationships. In selling, the customer feels that he has survived just fine up to this point without you or any of your company’s services. You are an unknown factor and, therefore, the customer has no interest in meeting with you. The goal at this point is to connect with the customer and use good questioning skills to get them participating early in a conversation. By raising a customer’s curiosity toward learning what new and wonderful things you might provide, they move to “low interest” that earns you the right to stay longer and possibly discuss more.

At the point of “low interest” the customer wants to quickly learn how you and your company have helped other customers with similar needs to their own. The delivery of a “capabilities statement” is critical at this point. This is a scripted and memorized statement that defines, in a general sense, how other customers have benefited from utilizing your company’s products and services. The goal is to get the customer to think “if this supplier has delivered these types of results to other companies similar to mine, maybe I should learn a little more.” When this is accomplished, the door is opened to move up the staircase to the largest of the five buying steps—largest in the sense that it takes the longest period of time to complete when compared to the other four steps. Salespeople properly exploring the needs of the customer accomplish the “strong interest” step. Needs are best defined as gaps that need to be filled. Either something has to be increased or decreased to allow the customer’s business to improve. The skill of asking good questions and listening carefully to the customer’s response is vital during this part of the relationship. Ultimately, it will be your products and services that will fill these gaps, but it is way too early to begin closing the sale. While you may already believe that the solutions you can provide are best, you would be cutting the customer off by presenting these at this time. 

The Convincing Point
As the design of solutions begins to take place, you enter the fourth step of the buying cycle referred to as “convinced.” At this point in the relationship, you have earned a great deal of trust from the customer due to your consultative attitude and demonstration of following the three driving principles. A greater element of teamwork will exist and the customer will be more comfortable in sharing detailed information. An element of excitement may arrive that causes the customer to feel “this salesperson is someone I can count on, knows his stuff and I’m convinced he can make a positive 

What actions are required at this point is for the salesperson to design options for the customer to consider. Options are merely choices the customer has to solve his problems. The motive is to review all the data that has been put together and then design generic solution packages that the customer will then need to analyze to determine which one is the best to buy. This point of the buying cycle is powerful because it tells the salesperson what ultimate package he must provide if he expects the customer’s business. 

The final buying cycle step is “committed.” This step involves, finally, the presentation of solutions and close by the salesperson. It is the easiest of all five steps to accomplish because of the great work that has been completed to this point. The presentation and close is known as a “no-brainer.” All the customer requires is to confirm which products and services will meet his chosen option from the last meeting and when he can get started. Great salespeople then orchestrate every detail of the pending activity to ensure their companies deliver.

Having the three driving principles of effective selling and the customer buying steps well implanted, I now will move into the structuring of effective sales calls and communication skills model to get your customer committed to you and your company. See you next issue! 

Carl Tompkins is western states area manager for the Sika Corp. of Madison Heights, Mich.



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