Customer Centric Selling: Shifting Buyer Expectations

Customer Centric Selling

The job of a salesperson is becoming more demanding—and customers are demanding more. These expectations point to the need for enablement programs that promote sales effectiveness and drive customer centric selling, not only from the product point of view but from the customer’s.

In other words, being customer-centric means focusing on customers, not products.

What does it mean to be customer-centric? Here is the shortlist of expectations customers have when talking with salespeople and customer-facing teams.

Buyer Expectation #1: “Take More Responsibility”

Buyers expected to make correct purchasing decisions want salespeople who work as partners to help them achieve business results. Buyers are now demanding an understanding of their business, objective interpretation of their needs, and a more clear translation into implementation actions. Due to the evolution of buyer expectations, successful sales professionals’ knowledge, skills, and attitudes are changing. Whereas in earlier times, salespeople were valued primarily for their persuasiveness and persistence, their abilities now must tend toward strategic thinking, problem-solving, active listening, and so forth.

Customer Centric Selling

Salespeople are under increased pressure to attain not only the goals of the selling organization but also the goals of the buying organization. Increasingly, they must accept responsibility for ensuring success on both sides of the transaction. Yet, when we dig into existing sales training, gaps exist in content and delivery. This presents a challenge, as salespeople need to become better problem-solvers rather than pushers of off-the-shelf solutions.

Buyer Expectation #2: “Understand and Relate to Our Business”

Salespeople must continue to transition from transactional selling to relationship selling, adopting a true partnership mentality. More firms are striving to become trusted advisors to their customers. Salespeople must develop deeper relationships and a personal network within customer companies while also developing networks and expertise within their specific industry. Salespeople need to probe for problems, needs, and opportunities that are top-of-mind for the buyer” As a result, salespeople should recognize that their products, typically seen as an area of differentiation, may be viewed as commodities by buyers. The key to true differentiation is demonstrating how the product will solve the buyer’s business problems.

Buyer Expectation #3: “Be More Professional”

Historically, the roles of the salesperson and sales manager have focused on monthly or quarterly targets and results. As a result, many sales professionals are forced into a commodity-selling environment that is transactional rather than strategic or consultative. However, in today’s competitive landscape, sales professionals must maintain professionalism with buyers who may not have the same timeframe in mind or who may have strong negotiating skills. The salesperson must stay focused on delivering value to the buyer based on the buyer’s goals and objectives and can feel challenged by balancing revenue implications with ethical considerations while under pressure to meet short-term goals.

Buyer Expectation #4: “Listen to More”

To help buyers solve their business problems, salespeople must understand the buyer’s business, industry, customers, competitors, and products. Such skills as listening, analyzing, problem-solving, and questioning have overtaken product knowledge in importance for the successful salesperson. These skills are key to a salesperson’s ability to help buyers navigate the complexity of the solution and the volume of available information. While communication skills are essential to success in any occupation, listening skills can help sellers identify root problems and hidden obstacles that could affect the buyer’s business success. Listening also requires building rapport, patience, and timing to build the foundation for a trusting relationship. As a result, listening provides the foundation for learning about problems and supplying relevant solutions.

Buyer Expectation #5: “For Us to Be Productive, You Have to Be Productive”

Traditionally, sales organizations have focused on the volume of individual activity—number of calls made, number of presentations given—as an indicator of productivity. In addition, compensation was determined by meeting or exceeding sales quotas. Now, firms are instituting new metrics, such as profitability and customer service satisfaction. Further, the relevance of a salesperson’s activities can be scored and measured in addition to, or instead of, their frequency. These more sophisticated measures are surfacing as organizations attempt to shift or replace direct selling with lower-cost sales channels, such as telemarketing, direct mail, or email marketing. Plus, organizations must ensure that their sales team stays focused on the most appropriate use of time.

Aligning Enablement Needs to Buyers, not Products.

Think about it — How do you and your team build, buy, or deploy specific sales training that helps your salespeople succeed? More importantly, maybe now is a good time to take a step back to re-evaluate your approach to this year. So here are some talking points to consider with sales leaders, sales managers, and sales trainers in your organization:

  • What’s our enablement approach this year? Will our organization a) hire for an already developed competency, b) develop competency internally, c) manage the gaps through outsourcing, or d) blend all three approaches? How do we feel about talent overall, especially concerning these buyer expectations?
  •  What baseline measures are we going to ask every sales team member to improve? How does that translate into 2-3 behaviors they need to focus on? How will managers be expected to coach and develop their people? Will they be goaled on that as well?
  •  What are our targets for closing the gap between the current competencies and skills and those needed to hit quota this year?
  • How do we more quickly develop skills this year? How do we make of required resources and time, and how will you measure the effectiveness of our training and development initiatives?
  • What internal communications and change management plans will accompany our action plan to address any skills gaps?
  • How will we ensure we include sales managers at critical points in our approach? What’s their role?

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