Scaling Up Customer Base

Building up a strong customer base and improving profitable sales growth are major challenges for all types of businesses, be it a start-up or a conglomerate going global.

Often, it might be better to stay at the same level and do things more meaningfully. Scaling up is a tricky subject especially for sales people looking to gain new customers. I am going to list some pain points for sales folks while looking to scaling up the customer base.

· Are your sales folks talking too much? Sales executives who are too focussed on their pitch end up dominating the time with a prospect. As a result, for every sixty minutes spent in front of a prospect, five minutes is spent selling the product or service and 55 minutes saying things that might actually be buying it back. Result: no order, cancelled order, or “I’ll think it”.

The 80/20 rule applies to selling. The goal should be to get the prospect to do 80 per cent of the talking, while you do only 20 per cent.

The trick is in training them to do so.

· Are your salespeople complaining that selling is akin to begging? Quite often salespeople fail to think of their time with a prospect as an interview to find out whether the prospect qualifies to do business with you. Instead of asking the questions that will determine whether it is possible to move the prospect to the level of customer, salespeople often find themselves hoping, wishing, and even begging for the opportunity to “just show my wares” and maybe make a sale. In selling, questions are the instrument to conduct a qualifying examination of the prospect.

· Are your salespeople answering unasked questions? When a customer says something like, “Your price is too high,” sales people often switch into a defensive mode. They will begin a lengthy speech on quality or value, or they might respond with a price reduction. If customers can get a discount by merely making a statement, they will reason that they should not buy before trying something more powerful to get an even better price. “Your price is too high,” is not a question; it does not require an answer.

Are your salespeople making too many presumptions? Most companies are no longer in the business of selling products but of providing solutions.

This is fine, except that often salespeople try to tell the prospect the solution before they even understand the problem. The salesperson must ask questions up front to get complete understanding of the prospect’s perspective.

Are your salespeople failing to get a prospect’s commitment to purchase before making a presentation? Sales people jump too easily at an opportunity to show how smart they are by making a presentation about their products or services features and benefits. They forget their true goal - to make a sale - and end up merely educating their prospects, which then have all the information they need to buy from a competitor.

Yes, presentations may be necessary, but this should be planned carefully. Make your salespeople do prior study of the prospect and then decide.

·Are your salespeople failing to get the prospect to reveal budget up front?

How can the salesperson possibly propose a solution without knowing the prospect’s priority on a problem? Knowing whether money has been allocated for a project can help distinguish someone who is ready to solve a problem from someone who is merely fishing around. The quantum of money the prospect is willing to invest to solve a problem will indicate if a solution is feasible, and which approach will be best.

Are your salespeople waiting to hear “I want to think it over” rather than “No”? Prospects frequently end a sales interview with the standard “think it over” line. The salesperson often accepts this indecision. It is easier to tell a manager or convince yourself that the prospect may buy in the future than to admit that the prospect is not a qualified candidate for the product or service. A “no” allows them to actually go on to prospects that are more promising.

· Are your salespeople making too many follow-up calls? Because of a stubborn attitude that every prospect can be turned into a customer or of a fear that a sale is truly dead, salespeople sometimes spend too much time chasing accounts that do not qualify for a product or service. I am sure all of us have experienced this occasionally. Watch out for this all the time.

I have been talking to a number of sales trainers, and most of them tell me that sales folks barely listen to their potential customers. Clients want to know that we get it - we understand their needs, expectations and concerns when doing business.

The author spearheads execution and innovation for clients@CustomerLab

M Muneer