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The customer-centric sales process examined 

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By Alex Springer, Director, Sales and Solutions, Impact EMEA

As anyone who has ever been on the receiving end of a typical sales pitch knows, the default sales mindset is not necessarily ‘What does this customer need?’ but, all too often, ‘What do I want to sell, and how can I persuade the customer that they need it?’

It is pretty clear that even if that approach gets you over the threshold to start with, interactions that begin this way are unlikely to be healthy, long-lasting ones. The customer’s nagging sense of being skilfully sold something they didn’t quite ask for breeds mistrust and ultimately condemns the relationship. Putting the customer at the center of the sales process, and thinking of them as customers first and not just prospects, requires a fundamental change in the sales process.

Our most important qualifying question in the earliest stages should be: is our solution what the customer needs to grow and be successful? Budget, timing and ability are important but secondary, because everything proceeds on the goal of helping the customer get the solution in place that they need. We always need to be doing exactly what is right for our customers. If their need is something we can serve, move forward. If it isn’t, move on. 

A few more thoughts on customer-centric selling:

Let your goal be a deeper understanding of the customer’s full buying process

You want to be a trusted advisor to your customer, not just about the product, but also the process that it takes to get it purchased. So you need to understand how they think, how they operate, and above all what they need. Any reputable sales methodology will do as long as it helps you get ahead of surprises and deliver on a mutually agreed plan.

This isn’t about your quotas

Quota attainment is the measure of the success of this approach, not the end itself. Our customers don’t care about our quotas. Individual account engagements are all unique and proceed at a pace set by both us and the client – not a pace designed to help us meet our artificially imposed targets. Understanding this will not only help you hit those targets but also allow for realistic forecasting.

Build trust

Customers need to trust us enough to tell us what they need. They benefit from our help in explaining the solution/product/USP/market problem, but also in setting the pace for a successful process. Remember, we do this all the time – the customer doesn’t. Actively listening, echoing what we have learned, tailoring messaging based on it, and showing how each of our steps add value are all important. With every next step, the question in our minds is: ‘what moves this customer closer to their end goal?’

Ask, listen and learn

From Impact’s perspective as a partnership marketing platform, there is a lot that we need to know if we’re going to do our job right. We’ve got to find about challenges in their current program and processes, their requirements of their future platform, their KPIs and goals. In broader business terms, it’s getting a clear sense of the decision makers, signatories and gate keepers across security, procurement, legal and more. Then timelines: internal ones, decision-making ones, legal and security review ones. Not to mention code freezes and the customer’s budget and business cycles and broader business focuses. That’s a lot to learn, and you need to learn it all.

Know your stakeholders

Find out who needs to be involved every step of the way – make recommendations about who is an important stakeholder from our perspective. For any given session, ask the client who needs to be involved on the migration and/or commercial side. Get tech involved early, and senior executives too, but make sure you don’t waste their time without a solid and compelling business case.

Owning the process

A bit of housekeeping here:

  1. Confident and quick follow-up is key – don’t ever leave the conversation hanging. A quick thank-you note and a promise of more in-depth follow-up is fine.
  2. Be specific about times. ‘Can we set something up for Tuesday or Wednesday next week?’ instead of – ‘oh, let’s get something in the books in the next couple of weeks’. Do this at the end of a call where possible, instead of waiting for the follow-up email – compare diaries while you are still front and centre.
  3. Be proactive about suggesting next steps. At the opening of each meeting, set the agenda and then say, ‘If we do all of this, what happens next?’ Or, when you’ve shown them what you can do: ‘Now that you’ve seen the platform, our advertisers often find it helpful to get an idea of migration effort and pricing.’
  4. Be upfront about challenges that you foresee and enlist the customer’s help in navigating them. These might be general – seeing the summer coming and working around stakeholders’ particular holiday schedules – or more specific, such as the deeper details of a client’s publisher mix when you’re planning to migrate a program with no loss of revenue.
  5. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, as long as they clearly demonstrate a client focus. People make questions harder in their head than they actually are.

Last thoughts

Diligence, transparency and ownership lead to professional interactions, and there are numerous dimensions to this. Deliver timely responses, with considered and relevant information. Echo what we have learned in the most recent conversations, good or bad. Respect the timings of the customer – but make sure we know them in the first place and understand the reason behind them. And above all, remember one thing: it’s not about what we need, it’s about what the customer needs.

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