The primary responsibility of a salesperson is to increase sales. For order getters this will involve identification of customers, presentation, demonstration, handling objections and closing the sale. In order to generate sales, six enabling functions should be carried out.
Prospecting is searching for and calling upon potential customers. Most sales person rely on established customers rather than actively seeking new business. They work in their comfort zone calling upon old contacts rather than searching out and selling to new customers. A company should insist that a certain percentage of the revenues should come form new customers.
Their incentive plan can be structured in a way that it becomes more lucrative to acquire new customers. But there is need for balance. When there is excessive emphasis on acquiring new customers, the current customers running requirements may be ignored leaving them dissatisfied. Prospects can be identified form several sources like existing customers, trade directories, enquiries, the press and cold canvassing.
Maintaining Customer Records and Information Feedback
Customer record keeping is an important activity for salespeople who focus on getting repeat orders from their customers. For industrial salespeople, information should be available on decision making limit i.e. who are the important people to see, when they have been seen, and what are their choice criteria. Salespeople should be encouraged to maintain data of finer nuances of their customer requirements and behavior.
Business would normally be won by companies which incorporate these nuances in their offerings. These records become very valuable when the key contact employee of a major customer leaves the company. These records will help the company in reconstructing its relationship with the customer.
Sales people should be encouraged to send customer and market information to the head office. Test marketing activity by competitors, news of imminent product launches by competitors, rumors of policy changes of trade and industrial customers and competitors, feedback on self and competitors’ product performance, performance of delivery and after sales service may be useful to management and should be provided to them.
Salespeople meet many customers and they become familiar with solutions to common problems. They have a good idea of the equipment, processes, and materials that other companies may be using successfully. Salespeople can help their clients by suggesting these equipment, processes, and materials to them.
Sales teams may provide after sales service to customers. For some equipment, after,sale services like installation, commissioning, warranties, maintenance etc. are very important factors in determining the satisfaction of customers. Sales engineers may also be required to give advice on operation of a newly acquired machine or provide assistance in the event of a breakdown. They may be able to solve the problem themselves or they may call technical specialists to help them.
The sales team should understand that the customer may be using an equipment, but he is not an expert in the technology of the equipment. So when a customer has a problem with the equipment he will expect the sales team to help solve the problem. The customer is obviously happy when the supplier supplies him a great product, but a relationship between the buyer and the salesperson can develop only when the sales team demonstrates its usefulness on small matters at frequent intervals. Sales teams should always welcome a call for help from a customer as the team gets another opportunity to demonstrate its usefulness to the customer and cement its relationship with him.
Dissatisfied customers tell six other people on an average about their cause of complaint. Dealing with complaints quickly and efficiently is a key aspect of selling. The ability of a sales team to empathize with customers and react sympathetically creates goodwill. When the sales team promptly solves customer problems, the complainants will now spread the news of how well they have been treated.
When dealing with customer complaints it is important to understand the anxiety level of customers and the difficulty that the customer may be facing because of the problem. Though the two aspects are related in most cases, i.e. the anxiety level of customers is proportional to the difficulty that the customer is facing, some customers feel high levels of anxiety even when the difficulty that they face is not much. Sales team may give such complaints low priority but it is fatal for a sales team to view a customer complaint objectively and from its own point of view.
A complaint is only as serious as the customer believes it to be so. If a customer is very worried about a small fault in his equipment, the company will lose the customer if its sales team were to label him as “unduly worried”, and ignores his problem. More important than finding a solution to the customer problem, which is obviously important, is to reduce the anxiety of the customers, which in most cases can be done by reaching the customer site as soon as possible.
Journey routing may be delegated to salespeople. Many salespeople believe that the most efficient routing plan involves driving out to the farthest customer and zigzagging back to home base. But adopting a round trip approach usually results in lower miles travelled. But efficiency alone should not rule the journey routing. If an important customer has some urgent requirement, a salesperson should make adjustments to reach him even if the distance travelled increases.
Call frequency is also delegated to salespeople. It is sensible to grade customers according to their potential of contributing to the revenues of the organization. Salespeople may over call on established, friendly customers even though they do not have much growth potential. Customers with greater potential to buy the company’s products should be visited more frequently.
Many selling situations are not one-off, situation-specific encounters, but long term in nature. This is particularly true in organizational markets, where the two parties work together to create, develop and maintain a network within which both parties do business. The management of relationships with key customers is a major responsibility of the salesperson. Although the number of salespeople is falling, the number of key account managers is growing, which is testimony to the importance that companies are attaching to managing relationships with their important clients.
Buyers are also reducing the number of suppliers that they are buying from. In fact, most companies are keen to source one component from only one supplier and most companies are willing to source more than one component from the same supplier.
They have more stake in each others business. Buyers and suppliers are doing more for each other than merely buying and selling products. Suppliers are aiding their buyers in designing components and are taking overall responsibility for the components they are supplying. Buyers are helping their suppliers to improve their processes and cost structures.
The sales team’s role will change as the two companies decide to interact more intensively and proactively. Sometimes the functional departments of the two companies may be interacting on a daily basis even without the knowledge of the salesperson. The salesperson may feel slighted, for once he was the sole interlocutor between the two companies. Under these situations the salesperson has to merely facilitate communications between the employees of the two companies, and sort out any differences that may occasionally arise.
The objective of relationship management is to build goodwill that is reciprocated by placing orders. This can be achieved by providing exceptional customer service through:
- Technical Support: The suppliers should help the buyer in installation, commissioning, and maintenance of equipment they sell.
- Expertise: The supplier and buyer have expertise in different technologies and they should be able to use their technologies for mutual benefits.
- Resource Support: The buyer and the seller should put their resources at each other’s disposal. The idea is that the buyer and seller should understand their mutual dependence and realize that they have to collaborate to become a competitive unit.
- Improving Service Levels: Since suppliers are supplying sub-assemblies instead of components, customers require greater services from their suppliers. Suppliers have to upgrade their level of services to be able to be add value to the operations of the customer.
- Lowering Perceived Risk: Suppliers have to assume some of the risk of the buyer. They may provide guarantee of performance and on opportunity to return the equipment if the customer does not find it suitable.
Salespeople should develop trust through high frequency of contact, ensuring that promises are kept, and reacting quickly and effectively to problems.
Photo by: CA Technologies
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