Customers are in short supply — that is an unavoidable reality. Why does even Wal-Mart continually look for new sources of customers? Dell dropped “Computer” from its name as it has branched out into printers, servers and services. The merchandise mix in today’s Banana Republic stores is a far cry from what it was just a few years ago. The food processing giants such as Kraft and General Mills are in a race to rid their products of anything that’s “unhealthy.” It’s all the same message: customers are in short supply.
Just as we learned to live with other limitations, it behooves anyone in sales to look at each prospect and every customer as incredibly valuable. Here are guidelines for breaking free from the noxious notion that there will always be more than enough customers.
- Don’t display stupidity
It’s time to think carefully before bypassing what appears to be the small customer, the one we decide is “not going anywhere.” Figuring out how to serve all customers is the real challenge for today’s salesperson, not just trying to pick off the ripe plums. Anyone can do that. There’s not a salesperson anywhere who hasn’t made the mistake of assuming that there was no future spending time by a particular person, only to discover that he or she had quickly blossomed into a major customer for a competitor.
Act as if every prospect is important and every customer counts. There’s nothing worse than wasting a prospect or a customer. Unless executives and sales reps begin thinking this way, the future may be far less than rewarding.
We still have time to change our thinking. But it takes a new approach if we are to reclaim the future, one that respects prospects and customers, no matter their size.
- Always look for the sales potential.
This is an effective way to clear our minds of short-term thinking. The entire sales process should be aimed at creating a long-term customer relationship. Too many sales managers actually defeat themselves long-term by emphasizing what the sales force should be doing today or this week, leaving little or no time for discovering customer potential or cultivating longer-term sales objectives with individual customers.
- Meet the customer’s needs.
It sounds so simple. Isn’t this what we all do? Not really. We still think that what we want to sell is what the customer wants to buy. It’s time to clear our heads of such nonsense and make a point of concentrating on what your customers need to be happy and satisfied.
A sales manager for an office equipment dealer urges his salespeople to look around once they are inside a business to see what they are doing. He is sometimes frustrated because salespeople are so focused on getting the order for a particular product that they miss the big picture and overlook what may be a substantial potential for ongoing sales.
Unfortunately, what happens is that we make one sale and then move on to the next prospect, failing to recognize the possibilities in the customer we just sold. How often do we leave a tremendous amount of business on the table for competitors to take for the asking? What about F&I, accessories, apparel?
- Stop destructive sales practices.
We need to think about what we’re doing, not just go about it blindly. Start thinking about new ways to generate additional business. Never stop thinking like a customer. In fact, take time to talk to customers and ask them how they would like to be approached.
- Recognize your value.
Every salesperson suffers from a lack of customer appreciation. It goes with the territory. Ironically, it’s not always what we see that earn us special appreciation.
Today’s customers are looking for relationships based on results and trust. With downsized staffs, they count on the added expertise of their vendors.
- Show appreciation.
Too many salespeople never take the time to express appreciation, to say thank you. Once they have the order, that’s the end of it. They’re so interested in their next customer that they ignore those who have contributed to their success.
How many salespeople take time to write a thank you instead of dashing off an easy email message? Too often, it’s the next conquest that gets our attention, while our existing customers pay the bills. How about 30 days after the transaction? Or six months? Or a year later? Here’s a good rule: If you remember the sale, the customer will never forget you.
- Decide who you want as customers.
Don’t just sit back and let fate decide your destiny. While most salespeople are always on the lookout for prospects, finding them becomes more a matter of chance than a planned encounter.
A much more professional approach is to be proactive and develop profiles of those you want as your customers. Make an effort to gather all the information you can on them. Let them know that they fit the profile of customers you serve best.
Roll out a program to acquaint these prospects with your expertise. Keep moving closer to them by gently pull them into your orbit. Once they know you and are comfortable with your approach, you are in the process of transforming them into actual customers. When this happens, you will get the orders.
Keeping your pipeline filled with qualified prospects is your sales lifeline. From it will flow a steady stream of orders. Why? Because when the customer gets ready to buy, you’ll be there. psb