With all the talk of social media and its importance in marketing and lead development, sometimes the importance and value of the sales representative in the B-to-B environment are overlooked. This concept was reinforced to me this week while working on a project for a client.
We conduct product delivery surveys for this client, and these surveys are designed to measure customer satisfaction with the product and their sales process. Our client, like many, has a network of dealers that sell and support their products to the end-user. They wanted to know which of the questions on the survey were most strongly correlated with overall satisfaction and likelihood to recommend.
The results were surprising regarding the degree of correlation. For example, the sales representatives' understanding of the customer’s equipment needs and his or her general knowledge were more strongly correlated with satisfaction and willingness to recommend than even the customers’ satisfaction with the product itself.
These results are consistent with other product delivery surveys we do in other markets. There are high correlations between service outcomes (e.g. overall satisfaction and willingness to recommend) and many aspects of what the sales representative does, or does not do, during the sales process.
In short, the sales representative can add significant value to the selling process. This finding is consistent with the conclusions of an extensive study as part of the background for the Challenger Sale book. The research, conducted by the authors Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson found that 53% of customer loyalty was a function of the sales experience.[i]
Based on what we are learning, below are three important suggestions to ensure that your sales team is effective in selling and creating strong customer loyalty at the same time:
- Choose salespeople carefully: First and foremost an effective salesperson must be a good listener. If you are not a good listener, how can you understand what the customer needs? When hiring new a new sales representative, keep this requirement in mind. I know that many of our clients will often hire salespeople who lack the technical understanding but possess the right attitude and approach to people. As one senior manager said recently, “We can train them about our products, but we can’t teach them to actually listen.”
- Don’t skimp on technical and sales training: Most of the products our clients are offering are becoming far more technical than was true in the past. Make sure the technical training is ongoing.
Don’t overlook sales effectiveness training. My first job out of business school was in sales. I got very frustrated because the company was “always taking me out of the field” for more sales training. I thought I should be in the field doing my job. What I discovered in later years was there was a method in their approach. I became more useful in my selling role because I kept learning.
- Know and avoid the areas that diminish loyalty: Our research also shows areas where sales representatives can get in trouble with customers and reduce customer loyalty. For example, if the salesperson fails to explain the critical warranty provisions or key terms and conditions in a sales contract and the customer gets a surprise later, this harms loyalty. Be clear about when the warranty ends and the key things covered and those that are not. Encourage the customer to read the sales contract. Many salespeople are anxious to get the “ink on the line” to close the deal. While it is great in the short run, if in a hurry to close, rushing through critical information can create problems in the future and loyalty can be harmed, sometimes permanently.
I guess to paraphrase a quote from Mark Twain, the rumors of the death of the B-to-B salesperson are greatly exaggerated. Not only is the role of the salesperson alive and well but their role in creating loyal customers is more important than ever.