Best Practice #31 – Makes it a practice to expand the customer relationship by bringing customers to our facility

By Dave Kahle

Every now and then I encounter a salesperson who believes that it is to his advantage to have all the calls and requests from the customer go to him personally. Picture a salesperson with his arms wide open, trying to encircle and control every relationship with the customer, every communication, and every transaction.

100102167 Figure With Network Concept by sheelamohan

Salespeople with this mentality believe that they bring value to the customer by being the only contact with his company.

Unfortunately, this is one of those ideas that ultimately produces a mediocre salesperson. It reduces the salesperson to being a telephone receptionist, customer service representative, researcher of esoteric products, technical service writer, and expediter of back orders – all of which can be done, in all likelihood, better and cheaper by someone else in the company. It causes the salesperson to fill his day with busy-work – returning phone calls which could have been just as easily accomplished by someone else – and robs him of his selling time.

Salespeople who have created this habit often defend it on the basis of “good customer service.” The implication being, of course, that no one in the company is as competent to handle the customer’s requests as the salesperson.

Unfortunately the impact on the customer is just the opposite. Customers generally want to deal with a capable and competent company. One in which there is a solid infrastructure to support the products and services they sell, and which is staffed by quality people who are committed to their jobs and competent at them. The salesperson who tries to channel all communication through himself conveys to the customer that the company is so lacking in structure and personnel that they must rely on the salesperson to do everything. That doesn’t give the customer a warm and fuzzy feeling.

The best salespeople understand this, which is why they make it a practice to expand the customer relationship by bringing customers into their facility. There, the customer can see with his own eyes what sort of organization the salesperson represents. He can see the inventory, view the production areas, examine the basic processes, meet the key customer service people, and chat with the management.

And all of that reduces the risk of his decisions to buy from you and makes him more comfortable with you and your company. That makes him more likely, not less likely, to buy from you.

It also results in him having personal relationships with key inside people, who then become the go-to people for most customer requests. That takes the burden off you — the salesperson — allowing you to spend your time selling, which is, of course, the idea.

That’s why it is one of the best practices of the best salespeople.

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Dave Kahle is one of the world’s leading sales authorities. He’s written ten books, presented in 47 states and nine countries, and has helped enrich tens of thousands of sales people and transform hundreds of sales organizations. Sign up for his free weekly Ezine. His most recent book, How to Sell Anything to Anyone Anytime, has been named one of the “five best business books,” by three international entities.

The Sales Resource Center® contains 455 audio and video training programs for sales people, sales managers, and Chief Sales Officers.

Image Credit: sheelamohan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

CRM Buying Secrets of the Experienced Consumer

The Experienced Consumer

Companies that have become successful with CRM software have a uniquely different approach to the evaluation and selection process. I call these the experienced consumer. The experienced consumer has most likely purchased software before and knows that mistakes can be costly.

Creates a Requirements Document

Before seeking a solution they will engage their internal staff and document their specific requirements, so that everyone has a clear picture of what business challenges they are trying to address. The requirements are often the result of a deep understanding of their internal infrastructure.

To create a requirements document, ask your team the following questions…

  1. Where are we today with regard to business process automation?
  2. Where do we want and need to be?
  3. How are we going to get there? What steps are required?
  4. What resources or assistance will we need?

Requests Information from select Vendors

The next thing they do is send the requirements document to a pre-selected list of vendors as a request for information or RFI. These are not detailed requirements that you often see in a request for proposal or RFP. Many requirements have nothing to do with features and functions. This is simply a request for information that focuses on learning more about the vendor and their value proposition or what they provide to their customers.

Listed below are some common questions the experienced consumer may ask.

  1. How long has the company been in business?
  2. How many installations have you done in our industry?
  3. Is this a comprehensive solution that can support growth (people and transactions)?
  4. Describe your hosting service? Where is our data stored and managed?
  5. What level of support services do you offer (i.e. training, customization, system integration)?
  6. Who does the training and customization? Your company or a third party?
  7. Who are your top two competitors?
  8. How often do you release product updates or enhancements?
  9. What happens if I choose to terminate the service? How do I get my data back?

This initial document enables the experienced buyer to control the evaluation process and it cleverly allows the vendor to remove themselves from further evaluation based on their response to the request for information. Once again there is no discussion or evaluation of features, functions or price at this time. The experienced consumer knows that if the vendor cannot satisfy their initial business objectives listed above the functionality they offer is irrelevant. This is a complete reversal of how the checklist consumers and commodity buyers approach the evaluation process. The checklist consumer may not ask these questions while the commodity consumer believes they already have all the answers.

Plans for Training and Services

The experienced consumer also knows that they can’t fix everything, and that there is no perfect solution designed specifically for their business. While they will certainly pay attention to the industry leaders during the evaluation and selection process, they are more concerned in fostering a rewarding business relationship with a company that closely matches the unique functional requirements of their industry and the value added support services they may require.
10046862 Business People Shaking Hands by Ambro

The experienced consumer is keenly aware that they will have to make a resource commitment with regard to the implementation, utilization and internal support of any solution they select. They understand that the CRM software won’t run their business – their people will. They recognize that they may need assistance from the solution provider in certain areas such as marketing campaign management or the creation of a structured sales methodology. These support services and best practices may be critical to their success and not every vendor, regardless of size or leadership position, may offer them.

Experienced consumers are not looking for anything free and while they will pay attention to the overall cost of the solution, saving a few dollars is not the top priority for these businesses.

Looks at ‘nuts and bolts’ not ‘bells and whistles’

The next step in the process is for the experienced consumer to engage the vendors and learn about the product’s features and functions that address their specific business or service oriented requirements. With their request for information met, they are doing this with the knowledge that they have already narrowed down their decision to the vendors that have a strong track record for delivering exceptional value to similar businesses. This approach is more about finding the right vendor or business partner first, then digging into their product’s features and functions.

Some will then deploy a checklist approach, particularly if they have narrowed their process to two vendors. What they are looking for here is not a feature and function comparison, but instead if one vendor or product is more mature or experienced in a specific area than the other. Here’s an example. Let’s say you are in the construction industry. You have narrowed your decision to two great vendors with excellent products but one of the firms has more experience in your industry than the other. In fact, this particular company has integrated their product to one of the more popular accounting or ERP systems in the construction industry. This is not critical to you at this time, but it may be in the future and this may be just enough value add to select them.

What I have learned from my interaction in several hundred CRM sales processes is that companies that have adapted to this approach have a higher degree of success with the implementation and utilization of CRM than those that do not. While there are no specific analytics to confirm this, my firm Commence Corporation has experienced this within our own customer base. I plan to write about this in a future article. I hope this one provided some value to those considering a CRM solution for their business.

About the Author:

Larry Caretsky is the President of Commence Corporation, a leading provider of online CRM software for small to mid-sized enterprises. Caretsky is the author of numerous white papers on the subject of CRM and is considered an expert in the industry. His articles and the free eBook Smart Practices that Pay: Leveraging Information to Achieve Selling Results are available for download from the company’s website at www.commence.com.

CRM Buyers Guide for the Commodity Buyer

The Commodity Buyer

The commodity buyer is the complete opposite of the checklist consumer. There are actually two types of commodity buyers. They are typically defined by size.

Commodity buyer 1 is a mid-sized or larger firm with specific business requirements that need to be met. The requirements are typically documented but may not be fully understood by the product evaluators. This however is irrelevant because the commodity buyer is not going to spend too much time evaluating CRM solutions, or comparing features and functions like the checklist consumer does.

Trusts the Top Rated CRM is the Best CRM

Commodity buyers are highly influenced by brand recognition and have already made a decision to select one of the top two industry leaders, convinced that they have chosen the best solution available and one that will serve their business well.

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Are you confident the #1 CRM is the best CRM for your business?

This is not to say that they do not do some evaluation of the features, functions and services provided. They do, but the failure of this approach is that choosing a solution based on brand recognition alone does not guarantee success.

Where the Commodity Buyer’s Process Falls Short

 Choosing a solution based on brand recognition alone does not guarantee success.

The number of failed implementations and utilization rates associated with industry leading CRM products is in-line with all other service providers in the sector. What this illustrates once again is that it’s not about the consumer’s lack of commitment to success or industry leading products that are too hard to use. The commodity buying approach, not unlike the checklist approach, fails to take into consideration the same core elements that have led to the disappointment consumers continue to have in this industry.

Issues with the commodity buying approach include:

  • Rules out other good offerings – Commodity buyers make their decision based on brand recognition ruling out other offerings that may potentially be a better fit.
  • Higher upfront cost – Commodity buyers traditionally pay more for industry leading products, but suffer equally from failed implementations and low utilization rates.
  • Unbudgeted additional costs – Industry leading products are often generic in functionality and cost a great deal of money to customize for specific business purposes. Support services are also much more costly from industry leaders than vertically based or pure play CRM providers.

The Commodity Buyer for Small Business

There is a second type of commodity buyer and that’s the small business consumer or commodity buyer 2. These smaller businesses are traditionally using an older contact manager or an Excel spreadsheet to run their business. Management may be getting some pressure from the staff to better manage customer data.

Thinks Free is Better than Cheap

The commodity buyer 2 is very price sensitive. They are willing to consider a CRM solution, but they are not going to pay much for one. Their requirements are quite basic and there are dozens of basic low cost CRM systems available that can most likely meet their needs. As such, while they are willing to pay a small monthly fee for a solution, they tend to favor the plethora of free ones that are available today. You have to admit, it’s hard to argue against free.

10097418 Free Trial On Blackboard by Stuart Miles

Does your business have the time to try a free CRM solution?

Has High Expectations of Low Cost CRM

Commodity buyer 2 suffers more from unmet expectations than failed implementations. These free or low cost offerings by design are quite basic with little to no implementation effort and don’t offer much with regard to system administration or customization. What occurs most often with their use is simply disappointment. The users quickly discover that the product is limited in many aspects such as functionality. Perhaps the number of contacts or sales opportunities you can enter are limited as well. Upgrading to a more advanced version may be possible at a higher monthly fee, but sometimes what you are using is all that is available. Typically, the buyer simply discontinues the service or switches to an alternative.

Where the Small Business Commodity Buyer’s Process Falls Short

The problem with this approach is as follows:

  • Narrow focus on price – The small business commodity buyer’s decision process is driven almost entirely on price, and does not give enough consideration to other selection criteria that are just as important to making the right decision for a small business. These may include functionality, data storage limitations, data security, and support services.
  • Trial and error – The small business commodity buyer very rarely has documented requirements, and as such does not know the right questions to ask. But because the majority of the offerings in this industry segment are either free or a few dollars a month, they are not concerned overall. They can discontinue their use at any time.

This commodity buying approach can result in time wasted and failure to improve internal business processes.

The Secret to CRM Customer Success

In this series of articles we have taken a look at two different approaches to the CRM evaluation process – that of the checklist consumer and the commodity buyer. Because so many companies fall into one of these categories you can begin to appreciate why the CRM software sector has continued to suffer for so long. But there are companies that have been highly successful with CRM software and can point to improvements in multiple areas. Many have successfully integrated their front office and back office business processes, resulting in their business becoming a more efficient sales and service organization.

So what have they done differently? Well let’s take look. Continue reading the next article in this series:  “CRM Buying Secrets of the Experienced Consumer

  • Image Credit: “Executive Leant On Number One” by David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
  • Image Credit: “Free Trial On Blackboard by Stuart Miles” at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Dealing effectively with the competition

This is a best practice for sales people by Dave Kahle, author and leading sales educator.

100156984 Leader Of Competition. Concept by jscreationzs

“This would be a great business if it weren’t for the competition!”

Unfortunately, the existence of the competition impacts every industry, every business and every sales position.  What the competition does or does not do can make a dramatic impact upon a company and a sales person.  That impact can range from squeezing you to the point where you go out of business on one extreme, to creating tremendous opportunities for growth and profits on the other.  The competition and their potential impact on your business is a fact of life.  No matter how hard you wish, you are not going to be able to make the competition go away.

While we can’t change the competition, we certainly are responsible for our attitudes and behaviors toward the competition.  What we say and how we act about the competition can have a daily bearing on our bottom lines.  An appropriate attitude and set of practices for dealing with the competition should be an essential part of every sales person’s repertoire.

This article is an attempt to describe some of the salient parts of that mindset.

1.  Respect the competition.

Speaking badly about the competition, looking down on them, finding fault with them and generally disparaging them are all common behaviors that I see frequently among the companies with whom I work.

It is easy enough to understand why.  In sales meetings we are constantly told how our products stack up against the competition, what makes our service superior, why our people are more experienced and more knowledgeable than theirs, etc.

In my position as a consultant and sales educator, I am uniquely positioned to test the truth of these positions.  I’ve occasionally worked with a company, for example, and then a few years later found myself involved with one of their competitors.  Or, I may have two or more competitors in one of my seminars.  This unique position has allowed me the opportunity to make observations about these kinds of claims.

One of the observations I have made is this:  There is usually some degree of truth in the details of these elements.  Your hot new product may have several features that your competitor’s does not have, for example.  However, in the big picture, your competitor offers a sound business option to your customers.  While your new product contains some features that your competitor’s does not, his product probably contains some features that your product doesn’t contain.  And while you claim your service to be superior, so does he.  And your people are probably not any more experienced and knowledgeable than his people.  From the 10,000 foot high perspective, if your competitors were as flawed as you think they are, they wouldn’t be in business, and your customers wouldn’t be buying from them.

In all likelihood, your competition is made up of educated, committed people who are trying just as hard as you are to be a viable option to your customers, to conduct their businesses with integrity just like you, and who strive to do a good job and to provide for their families through the fruits of their labors, just like you.

So, bury those attitudes of superiority, and cast off that disdain for the competition.  If your customers didn’t think they presented a viable option, they wouldn’t be buying from them.

2.  Don’t believe everything you hear.

We occasionally hear comments from our customers with complaints about the competition, or stories of how they messed up on some project.  This, of course, contributes to our natural tendency toward smugness by confirming our views.

Let’s take all of that with a healthy degree of skepticism.  Understand that the people who share that information with us are typically those customers with whom we have the best relationship – those that we consider our friends.  What we see as confidential information about the competition’s weaknesses may just be the natural human inclination to tell us what they believe we want to hear.  Our friends want to find common ground with us.  And our animosity toward the competition provides potentially productive soil to plow.

It’s been my observation that many of those customers who are reporting on the flaws in the competition to you, are reporting on your flaws to them.

Don’t view everything you hear as 100% accurate.

3.  Don’t speak badly about the competition – ever.

            Disparaging the competition, speaking badly about the company or the individual sales people, using little innuendos and side comments – all of this says more about us to our customers than it does about the competitors to whom we are referring.  It reveals us as small-minded, petty, smug and far more interested in ourselves than we are in our customers.

It is reminiscent of the principle behind  the oft-quoted passage from the Sermon on the Mount: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?

This is something I learned the hard way, in one of the most embarrassing incidents in my tenure as a sales person.

I was selling a piece of capital equipment, representing a product line that was 35% more expensive than the competition.  However, the additional cost was justified in a far superior product.  The competition had been experiencing a problem with one component of their system – the batteries easily worked loose and disconnected.  They solved that problem by using a rubber band to provide additional tension on the battery and keep it from jiggling loose.

I pointed that out to my potential customer — asking them how comfortable they felt with a product that was held together with a rubber band.  My customer’s response?

“Do you know what I don’t like about you?” she asked.  I was floored and speechless.  “You are so negative about your competitors.”  I turned beet red, stammered an apology and retreated quickly.  That incident has stuck with me for decades.

At this point there is a question which naturally occurs.  If I don’t want to speak badly about the competition, how do I present the advantages of my offer relative to the other guy’s?

Here are four options:

1.  Consider the competition’s offer as irrelevant.

I believe this approach to be the most effective in the long term, because it focuses on the customer, not the competitor.

If you have done an accurate, detailed job of understanding the full nature of your customer’s situation, and have presented a solution that precisely meets the customer’s requirements, what difference does it make who the competition is, or what the competition does?

The issue is not the competition; it is your ability to meet the customer’s needs.  Your mindset, from the beginning, is not a bit focused on the competition, but rather is 100% targeted to completely understanding the customer’s requirements.  The conversation is not about how you compare to the competition, but rather how you meet the customer’s needs.

Obviously, this approach is not for every selling situation.  It requires a commitment on the part of the sales person to spend time with the customer in order to fully understand his needs.  It assumes that you have the ability to shape an offer that meets the customer’s needs.  And, it requires a more professional self-image on the part of the sales person, who sees himself/herself as a “consultant” to the customer.  If your routine is limited to asking for the technical specifications and then quoting prices, this approach is going to be outside of your reach.

In the long run, however, it provides the ultimate response to the competitor’s presence in your accounts.

2.  Speak in generalized, not specific, terms.

It is more effective and more professional to speak in general terms about the class of competitor than it is to speak specifically about a particular company or person.

For example, if you want to make the point that you favorably compare to X Company (that national competitor), say something like this:  “Generally, large national companies are more concerned about their own financial performance than they are the needs of the local customers.  Since we’re local and family owned, we highly value every customer, and that translates itself into more personal and responsive service.”  Notice, you didn’t talk about the competitor, you talked about “national companies” – a general class of competition.

This “generalizing” the references to the competition provides you a means of pointing out your distinctiveness without being negative about your specific competitors.

3.  Use questions, not statements.

It is far more effective to put questions in the customer’s mind that he/she should ask about the competition, than it is for you to make statements about the competition.  Remember, your comments are always suspect, because the customer knows that you have a vested interest in persuading him one way or the other.  His observations, however, have far more validity to the customer than anything you are going to say.

Understanding that, this practice seeks to help the customer make his own observations by providing the questions that the customer should ask.

For example, don’t say, “Y Company is a small local company that doesn’t have the systems or technology to support you in the long run.”  Instead, say, “One of the questions you should ask of every vendor is this, ‘What technology and systems do you have in place to assure that you will be able to support us for the long run?’”

4.  Use tables and charts.

This is a commonly used technique to point out the differences between your offer and your competitors’ in a detailed and professional way.  Imagine a chart, with the salient features of your offer down the first row, and across the top your company’s name, followed by “Option A,”  “Option B,” etc. with the options being your competitors.

Then use a check mark to indicate the inclusion of that feature in each company’s offering.  Here’s an abbreviated sample:

Your company Option A Option B
State of the art systems X X
Long-standing local reputation X X
Highest quality products X

This can be a highly effective way to point out the differences between your offer and the competitors.  In addition to the detail that it presents, the document itself is often prepared by your company, not by you personally.  That means that you are one step removed from being the source of this information. The problem with this approach is of course, that the source of the information is your company, and you are always suspect.

Regardless of which one or combination of these approaches work for you, the discipline to deal with the competition in a professional manner is one of the hallmarks of the best sales people.  Every sales person should think through and decide on an approach that best fits you.

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Copyright MMX by Dave Kahle

All rights reserved

Image Credit: “Leader Of Competition” by jscreationzs/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

CRM Buyers Guide for the Checklist Consumer

The Checklist Consumer

The checklist consumer is motivated to find the best solution for their business. This is no simple task because they may not have documented requirements to guide them, nor do they have a lot of experience as software evaluators. As such, the best solution is typically the one with the most features.

Uses a Point System

The checklist consumer’s process consists of documenting a list of all features then comparing vendors using a point system, one point for each feature. The vendor with the most points at the lowest price quickly becomes the front-runner.

This evaluation process is based primarily on features and functions, many of which may be irrelevant to their actual business requirements. This results in the selection of a solution with comprehensive functionality that, more often than not, never gets used.

Reads CRM Reviews and Feature Comparisons

Checklist consumers do not want to make a mistake so they are going to take their time and review a laundry list of products. They do not initially rule anyone out. They are looking for the perfect solution – the one that stands out among the competition. They are often frustrated when they can’t find it, but they won’t give up because this is the only way they can feel comfortable that they are making the right decision for their company.

Often Runs out of Time

The checklist approach takes so long that business requirements often change during the evaluation period…

Checklist consumers always feel like they are compromising. They have not been able to find the perfect solution, but they continue the search month after month frustrating the administrative, sales and service staff who have been waiting for a decision. The checklist approach takes so long that business requirements often change during the evaluation period, adding to the frustration. Everyone wants a decision so they make one even though they are not comfortable doing so. This often ends up being one of the more popular solutions or simply the last one they evaluated.

10034838 Attractive Woman Writing On Clipboard by photostock

Feeling overwhelmed? Out of time? Let the checkmarks make the decision.

Where the Checklist Consumer’s Process Falls Short

The checklist approach is a popular one and is built around the concept of more is better. This results in the purchase of a comprehensive and costly solution that may never fully be implemented.

Industry surveys indicate that most companies use between 30 – 60 percent of the CRM functionality they purchase. I believe this is an accurate assessment that has nothing to do with the consumer’s lack of commitment or the vendor’s product being too hard to use. It is the result of an evaluation process that often overlooks the following:

  • Functional requirements – Do the product features match the functionality we need? Do they address any of our specific documented business requirements?
  • Best Practices – Does the solution provider offer best practices for the successful implementation and utilization of their solution?
  • Change management – What internal changes need to take place to improve things, and who is going to manage them?
  • Value added services – Does the solution provider have an experienced staff that can provide the training and support services required for our success?

The next article of this series will be a CRM Buyers Guide for the Commodity Buyer

Image Credit: “Attractive Woman Writing On Clipboard” by photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net