The three customer wants revealed during our Customer-Selected World Class Sales Excellence studies are more than a wish list. They are a mandate and a challenge to you. Your customers' hierarchy of wants drives their expectations and demands of vendors, and it should drive your company's responses, too.
Most important for our purposes here, the fact that your customers want substantiated value in return for their investments, solutions rather than products and services, and the opportunity to outsource their non-core activities should also shape your approach to selling.
When we identified the three customer wants during our studies, we reached something of a defining moment ourselves. Now that we knew what customers wanted to accomplish, we were able to ask them the next logical question: "How do you want salespeople to support you in pursuit of your goals?"
Of course, in terms of generating results that are statistically valid, our job was not quite as simple as asking customers a single question. We needed to define and focus a series of questions. We had to ask them properly, as well as interpret and record answers. In addition, we had to determine the "share of wallet" that each respondent awarded each salesperson, and correlate their answers against the purchasing behavior.
This work entailed sorting and coding hundreds of thousands of responses of business customers into what turned out to be fifteen categories. Then, those categories were reduced to those that are directly applicable to salespeople, and within their control. Next, they were weighted to ensure that they were statistically significant, because there is no point in devoting time and effort to developing sales skills that are not capable of creating a substantial result. Ultimately, seven factors were revealed, factors that business-to-business customers believe define the world-class salesperson.
The seven factors that business customers most often identified offer us two major insights: the behavioral rules that they expect salespeople to adhere to, and the corresponding professional roles, and the associated skills, that they expect salespeople to embody. These are the seven customer rules and the sales roles that support them:
Rule #1: "You must be personally accountable for our desired results." The best salespeople, and those to whom customers award the largest portion of their business, take personal responsibility for the customer's results. Of course, these salespeople neither do all of the work that is required themselves, nor are they directly employed by their customers. But they do act as the single point of contact for the customer and they ensure that customers buy the best solutions and achieve the value they expected. They act as business agents—that is, surrogate managers—who are responsible for every aspect of the relationship between the buyer and seller, especially the achievement of solution benefits.
Rule #2: "You must understand our business." This rule flows logically from the first: in order to personally manage a customer account, salespeople must understand the customer's business. This requires a deeper understanding than the qualification profile that most salespeople use to identify prospects. It means understanding how the customer's business works—its competencies and business strategies and organizational culture. It means understanding the customer's customer. It means seeing the customer's business as its CEO sees the business.
Rule #3: "You must be on our side." Although customers have little or no control over what happens to their purchases within the seller's company, the seller's internal processes, such as design, manufacturing, and logistics, can have a tremendous impact on the results they obtain. For this reason, customers expect salespeople to be their representatives within the seller's organization. The best salespeople ensure that the solutions that their customers have purchased move through their own companies as required and promised. When necessary, they manipulate their own company's systems to see that the customer is properly served. They also act as the voice of the customer, keeping their company informed of the needs and desires present in the marketplace. They are advocates and expediters, representing the best interests of the customer throughout the sales engagement and within the seller's organization.
Rule #4: "You must bring us applications." Customers want salespeople who think beyond features and benefits to applications. They want to know how to use products and services to achieve their goals, and they want to be sure the solutions they buy can be properly implemented in their unique environment.
That's why the best salespeople act as consultants, assisting customers in their quest to capture the promised value of features and benefits through effective application.
Rule #5: "You must be easily accessible." Global is local in today's transnational, 24/7 business-to-business environment. This ongoing expansion of corporate boundaries has been accompanied by a corresponding growth in customer demand for local, accessible sales representation. Today's best salespeople are travelers who leap geographic, political, and cultural boundaries to instantly relieve customers' stress.
Rule #6: "You must solve our problems." In yesterday's sales world, the closing of the sale marked the end of the sales engagement and the salesperson's responsibilities. Today, the closing of the sale simply marks the end of the beginning. Customers expect salespeople to not only solve their problems during the transaction itself, but throughout the full term of the business relationship. The best salespeople act as troubleshooters who realize the inevitability of problems and, instead of hiding from them, commit to solving them quickly and effectively.
Rule #7: "You must be innovative in responding to our needs." Because change is the only constant in today's business-to-business environment, your customers expect you to respond with proactive and continuous innovation to their spoken and unspoken needs. To meet this demand, the best sales professionals are adopting the role of the innovator, acting as the point person in this effort and, as the closest customer contact, being the first to recognize and react to new business opportunities.