Volume 10, Issue 3 - May/June 2008

Customer Service
tips for quality service

Making Smart Customers
by Carl Tompkins

So, what is it that causes a customer to become convinced and committed to purchase your products and/or services? According to the majority of outside salespeople surveyed, price is the answer. Both salespeople and customers make a mistake, though, when they equate price strictly with the number on the invoice.

More to the Price
Smart customers know that the subject of price is a far-reaching topic that includes many more considerations than what an invoice provides. A common theme followed by smart customers is, “The cheapest product usually is the most expensive,” and the justification is that the costly topics of reprocessing, expediting, warranty, unplanned services, returns, rework, downtime, scrap, customer loss, damaged image and more tags along with cheap products. I want to help you by providing a series of tips in making sure you are doing your part in making smart customers.

Smart Steps
To help customers get smart, note the following required steps, listed in their order of priority:

  1. Have smart salespeople! I had a customer tell me once that the reason he needed to get better pricing is that his customers required him to give lower prices. This is an admission of an ineffective sales force. The bottom line is that you don’t need to be paying salaries for salespeople who feel that their best means to close the sale is having the lowest price. Have sharp people who know their industry, know the customers’ industry and have the ability to achieve partnerships through excellence in meeting the personal and organizational needs of customers. 
  2. Provide a winning environment! The greatest cause of business failure is top management not providing the environment for employees to succeed. As management, you can achieve a winning environment by providing the required time, resources and support for employees. The more accomplished under these three provisions, the more management can expect in return. 
  3. Don’t pitch customers; consult with customers! Truly, no one has ever sold anyone anything. Customers make buying decisions based on their attitudes and beliefs. The best way to shape a customer’s attitude and beliefs is to cause them to think through and analyze the big picture within any buying decision. My favorite way of doing this is to, right upfront, ask a customer, “Which do you view as being the most important in your decision, lowest invoice price or best bottom line?” 
    If the customer chooses lowest invoice, I choose not to help him because no one supplier can participate in that position for any reasonable period of time to make it worth his while. Most often this type of customer brings along too much other unwelcome baggage anyway. Most customers will provide hope by claiming that bottom line is key in making their buying decisions. Asking good questions at this point is key, along with listening carefully and making notes of the customer’s response. The theme in asking good questions is getting the customer to assign costs and values to each response. Ultimately, be equipped with a number of relative categories of considerations to explore with the customer that causes them to draw down to the bottom-line impact, “final-cost” versus invoice pricing or “initial cost.” Ultimately, the purpose of using good questioning skills gets the customer to discover answers versus having you sell them answers, which is far less effective. Customers believe themselves long before they will ever believe you. 
  4. Be reliable in the support of smart customers! With a smart sales team making smart customers, make sure your business operation is prepared fully to support those smart customers with products and services that truly are worth more to their bottom line. Not only do the products and services need to deliver more to the bottom line to justify a higher invoice price, your company must be good at leveraging such value on a regular basis with the customer. Leveraging means conducting evaluation meetings with the customer and using the previously outlined style of questioning to make sure the customer continues in his belief and attitude that your products and services remain in his best interest to purchase. 

Carl Tompkins is the Western states area manager for Sika Corp. in Madison Heights, Mich. He is based in Spokane, Wash. Mr. Tompkins’ opinions are solely his own and not necessarily those of this magazine.

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