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from Systema

Customer Focus Ideas for
Today's Sales Managers

By Jack R. Snader

As a sales manager, you want to believe your sales people put their customers first. You certainly hope so. But let's be honest. When the pressure is on, your sales people will put numbers ahead of customers to impress you or those you report to and attempt to ensure their own job security.

Is this what you really want to happen? Of course not. For your company to achieve long-term success, the focus of your sales force must be on satisfying the customer because that's the only way to build toward the long-term sales results you want.

Who is fooling whom?

What good is it to say that your company is customer-focused and then demand that salespeople meet your needs, even though your needs often conflict with customer needs? Customers want your sales reps to offer top-notch consultative services involving a gradual process of relationship building and a lot of flexibility, while you need to push your reps to meet your own organization's needs which involve sales goals measured in short-term dollars, quotas, and margins.

  • provide high value at the lowest prices.
  • help them make the best purchasing decisions for now and for their future.
  • let them decide how and when to buy, without selling pressure.
  • be trustworthy, knowledgeable, and flexible.
  • help them look good within their organizations.
  • close business at the highest prices possible.
  • push for business to meet closing cycles for the week, month, quarter, or year.
  • close more sales, meet or exceed sales goals.
  • win more sales contests.
  • help you look good as a sales manager and keep you off the hot-seat.

Your sales people are often pulled in opposite directions and when the pressure is on, the negative effects of their built-in conflict may not surface immediately. To produce bigger numbers now this quarter, this month sales people are forced temporarily to short-cut service or pressure customers. After all, most customers will not make an immediate change.

Even if your reps have to put your needs ahead of their customer's needs over a longer period of time, there are still other factors involved. It may be that you have a distinct product advantage, and customers may continue to make purchases from your sales people in the short-term transaction mode even though your sales people's tactics have become irritating. But watch out. Just as soon as a competitor offers a similar product, your customers may jump at the chance to buy from someone else.

Maintaining customer focus

How can you, as a sales manager, implement a customer-focused management style and still get your reps to meet your management needs?

First, evaluate. Find out whether your people are investing more energy in pleasing you than in pleasing their customers. Ask your sales force intelligent questions, listen carefully to each person's answers, and react to their answers in a manner that you have planned ahead of time. Here are some critical points to investigate:

  • Do your reps find out what their customers really want? An accomplished sales person focuses discussion time on the customer, where he or she is now, and what he or she wants rather than talking about the product right away.
  • Do your reps build trusting relationships with customers? Trust is essential so the customer will open up and provide needed information.
  • Do your reps push customers or do they aim to be a valuable resource to clients? As a resource, the customer views the sales person as someone who understands and cares, and has therefore earned the right to talk about the product. Pressuring customers is a sign that other sales skills are lacking.
  • Do your reps act as though building friendships is enough? Most salespeople know how to make friends. But research shows that, in a competitive situation, friendship isn't enough.
  • Do your reps distinguish between generic needs and personal wants? Generic needs have to do with product features, but personal wants involve emotional drives. Given a choice of vendors who can all meet their generic needs, customers prefer to purchase from sales people who meet their personal wants as well.

Then, establish customer focus as a corporate value. Sales people need to become more than product experts, they have to be experts in their customers to bring added value. This kind of expertise differentiates both your sales people and your company in the marketplace.

As a sales manager, you need to coach and reward reps in multiple ways. Offer payoff for their customer expertise and selling skills, independent of rewards given for immediate sales results. This eventually works to your advantage as a manager in two ways:

  1. first, your leadership ability gains more respect when you take the initiative to align corporate values with customer satisfaction;
  2. second, you position yourself to rightfully accept partial credit for your organization's revenue as it increases over the long term.

Who gets rewarded?

But how do you know which of your sales reps have the kind of customer expertise worth recognizing or rewarding? Although asking your sales people intelligent questions is a good start, if you're not out with them in the field on sales calls on a regular basis, then do you really know whether your perceptions of their selling abilities are the same as their customers' perceptions?

Systema's family of assessment instruments is designed to gather the candid opinions and observations of a large sample of customers about their sales people in a completely confidential manner. Reports based on customer feedback presented to sales reps serve as the basis for self-development.

Based on their assessments, individual reps design their own action plans which they are then free to share with sales managers. This gives sales managers a clear idea of coaching needs for each individual. As reps achieve goals stated in their action plans, sales managers can offer positive recognition and rewards where they are most deserved. And as those goals are achieved, the areas identified as weaknesses by customers become strengthened, making a difference to long-term sales relationships.

The ultimate payoff is increased sales, happier customers, and the confidence that both management and customer goals will be achieved.

Want to learn more?

For more information on on how to assess management, sales management, and selling skills within your sales organization. E-mail us at:

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