What if, instead of caveat emptor (“let the buyer beware”), those of us in sales borrowed a page from the medical field and made a commitment to “first, do no harm,” to operate with the utmost integrity, to treat our customers the way we would like to be treated? The concept of genuinely caring about your customer – wanting what is best for your customer, putting that above what is best for you and allowing that to guide all aspects of your relationship, with the exception of negotiations (where there must be an equal focus on what is best for both parties) in my experience, is rare, and yet, very effective, making it an important differentiator. That is what customer-focus really means. When it comes to an effective sales mindset, there are two key elements: confidence and customer-focus. Genuine customer-focus can actually increase confidence – because it is in line with our core values and it fuels success.
Genuinely caring about what is best for your customer transforms multiple aspects of the relationship and sales/buying process. For example, imagine the impact of genuinely caring when asking questions. When approached in a customer-centric way, they become a true open exploration vs. a means to your predetermined end to sell the customer X. How about genuinely caring when responding to customer objections and concerns? I have seen too many people become combative – or annoyed and frustrated that yet again they are dealing with an objection or concern that has been voiced by other customers, thinking to themselves, “When are these customers going to ‘get it’ or worse, ‘get over it?’”. They forget that while they have addressed that same concern countless times, for this customer it is still new – and deserves to be acknowledged and respected and addressed in a way that communicates that we care about the customer’s perspective, where we come alongside the customer and collaboratively talk through the issue(s). The same is true in customer service, where on many teams the focus tends to be on the length of the call rather than the content of the conversation. Too often, arrogance, immaturity, being self-absorbed or leadership pressure gets in the way. If we adopt the mindset that we are there to support our customers as they work through their decision process (vs. driving our sales process) in order to identify the best possible solution for them, we are much more likely to gain our customers’ trust and with that in place, the sales process becomes immeasurably easier – and is often accelerated.
According to research from Deloitte and Touche, customer-centric companies were “60% more profitable compared to companies that were not focused on the customer” – making a customer-centric approach not only the right thing to do ethically, but also a sound business decision.At the same time, it isn’t always easy for companies to adopt this customer-centric mindset (1). From an operations perspective, much has been written about the challenges and benefits of a customer-centric organization and how to structure the organization to support a customer-centric approach. Even if the entire organization does not restructure to become customer-centric, the sales team can shift its own mindset. Yet, if we are going to be completely honest with ourselves, beyond the operational challenges, there is a cultural hurdle to be cleared before an individual, team or organization can become truly customer-centric. The concept of caveat emptor is deeply ingrained in society – and has been for centuries. Sadly, there is no clear moral obligation to behave with complete integrity in business. Focusing on what is best for your customer – and putting that before what is best for you – should not be a revolutionary concept – and yet, unfortunately, in today’s short-term, profit focused business environment, long term benefits are too often abandoned for short term gain. (Consider the well-known and wide spread tactic of sacrificing a larger opportunity with a longer sales cycle in order to push a shorter-term sale through at the end of the quarter to make your numbers – even when it is not the best approach for the client, or using highly experienced team members to win business, then assigning less expensive junior level team members to actually do the work in order to increase profit margin.) With executives in their roles on average for only a limited period of time (2), it is almost understandable – they need to make a quick mark or they’ll be gone. Given that, many leaders believe they cannot afford to demonstrate the patience required to permit their teams to treat customers the right way, others lack executive level endorsement – essential for successfully creating a customer-centric organization. Support for behaving in a customer-centric way must come from the executive team – they set the tone for the rest of the organization. Many sales organizations have extremely aggressive revenue targets with daily and weekly commit calls focused on short term wins and/or set and aggressively measure product adoption goals, both of which promote counterproductive internally-focused vs. customer-focused behavior, as well as a short term emphasis that erodes longer-term growth – and quality.
Aggressive sales targets and operating in your customer’s best interests are NOT mutually exclusive – but it takes finesse and open-minded leadership to keep them in balance. Product adoption goals are trickier. Working toward those goals while operating in your customer’s best interests leads to a sales team that is confused at best and disingenuous at worst – and choosing to operate in your customer’s best interests in an unsupportive environment can be career limiting. No wonder so many salespeople resort to pushing product and end up adopting other ineffective sales behaviors.
After 25+ years of partnering with sales teams in the leading organizations around the world, it is disappointing that the concept of a truly customer-centric sales approach remains a challenge for so many teams – and surprising considering that I have experienced firsthand, on multiple occasions, the powerful positive impact a customer-centric approach can have on a relationship – and the bottom line – an observation backed up by anecdotal evidence and research. As far as I’m concerned, it’s the only way to sell. What are you waiting for? Go ahead, first, do no harm.
(2) According to a Feb 2016 Fortune article, the 500 largest companies in the U.S. have a median CEO tenure of 4.9 years and according to BlueSteps 2013 Executive Mobility Report, 44% of senior executives will stay in their current position for 2-5 years.)
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