Exceptional salespeople recognize that they have dependencies and that their success depends on the performance of others in the delivery chain, particularly customer service.
But in my experience engaging the frontline service team as a regular source of customer and market information doesn’t occur often enough and is not seen as a particularly high sales priority.
Frontline service people receive information on these five subjects that are vital to effective long term sales performance.
1. Competitive intelligence.
Customers always talk about being courted by a competitor when they are in contact with a service employee.
I recently had a TELUS OPTIK service technician in my home to replace my PVR and I enjoyed sharing with him the fact that I was being “hounded” by Rogers to switch to their TV service. I discussed the offer I was given as well as the overall value proposition they were using to entice me.
He was intrigued by the amount of detail I gave him and was taking notes vigorously.
The challenge for sales is to tap into the information and use it in their tactics.
Regardless of formal competitive analysts studies, nothing is more telling than the voice of the customer.
2. Customer communications.
Sales relies on effective customer communication to prime the sales pump. An ill informed customer makes the sales process difficult and long.
The service folks are a brilliant source of exactly how customers feel about the organization’s messages they are receiving.
A customer will routinely tell them how they feel about such matters as:
- the relevance of the messages. Do they address a high priority want or desire they are trying to satisfy?
- the timeliness of the messages. Are they being overwhelmed by the volume of communications, or is the company not communicating enough?
- the amount of support the organization provides to the local community. Is the organization investing enough in communities where it does business?
- new product introductions. Is sufficient information on new technology and products communicated in a timely manner?
- use of social media. Are customer’s tweets paid attention to? Does anyone in the company even monitor their twitter feed?
- the company’s web site. Does it provide value? Where does it fall short? How can it be improved?
Obviously, sales needs accurate feedback on how prices are being perceived in the market in order to prepare for possible objections from a customer. The service organization is rich with this information; they are constantly on the receiving end of how customers feel about the prices they are paying.
- are they getting value for the prices they pay?
- how do they compare to competitor’s?
- do they like the pricing structure the organization uses?
- are prices too complicated? Are there too many price options?
The service team will provide information on how the customer perceives your prices which is often different than the conclusions reached in formal price-demand studies based on the real level of prices.
The thing is, people buy on perception not necessarily on reality.
4. Systems and procedures.
People make purchase decision based on how they feel about the organization, not always on the merits of a particular product or service. And operations functions — for example repair, maintenance, billing, ordering, service enquiry, fulfillment and delivery — are windows through which people judge whether or not they want to continue to do business with a particular organization.
Sales must understand how these basic operations disciplines impact how customers view the company, and the frontline is the best source.
In addition, internal rules and policies determine how “friendly” and organization is, and the “dumb” ones very often annoy customers so much they leave.
5. Changing customer needs.
Your service representative is in a strategic position to witness how customer needs change over time. What was important yesterday and what is important today is available only from the source who touches customers continually.
“What do they covet today that they didn’t care about yesterday?”; “What angers them off today that they were content with last week?” are important questions that influence the sales cycle.
The service team are custodians of critical marketing information on the customer because they aren’t selling; the fact that they have no “hidden agenda” enables them to gather information others can’t.
As VP Business Division, my relationship with the frontline organization enabled me to obtain information on our key accounts that no other organization could; it was priceless in helping us formulate our sales strategy to grow our account base through quality referrals and to increase our share of wallet by selling more products and services.
The frontline service team holds information that is vital to sales success, yet few sales organizations take advantage of the opportunity; they continue to rely on traditional research tools to provide insights on their customers.
A comprehensive approach to harness the power of what the frontline knows will not only boost sales performance, it will establish the sales team as an industry leader that is unmatched in the marketplace.
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