From the CCS® Sales Blog

July 2018

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Sales Tips: Selling Bigger and Better through Personalized Customer Experience

Guest post courtesy of Yana Milcheva, Marketing, Talkative

In the past decade, shopping has been completely redefined by the opportunities for improved connection between businesses and customers. Today, in exchange for their hard-earned dollars, consumers expect not only a high-quality product, but also a seamless buying experience. Personalization is more important than ever- it has been found that customer experience drives revenue growth, especially within industries in which customers are able to switch between businesses. A satisfied customer is a returning customer- so what can companies do to ensure that their selling strategy is generating revenue and establishing a personal connection with the buyers?

Customer Experience

Technology and Customer Experience are connected

Imagine owning a business in the 80s and trying to establish a more personal connection with your customers. There wouldn’t have been much you can do, except providing excellent customer service from the moment the client comes through the door until they walk out with a shoppers’ bag and a smile on their face. Today, the latest technological advancements allow companies of all shapes and sizes to create unique, personalized experiences for their customers.

Whether you own a brick-and-mortar store or an eCommerce business, social media networks enable you to engage with customers regardless of their preferred communication channel. The increasing number of technologies introduced to the market comes with a level of uncertainty – it is difficult to choose a platform that will help you convey both your brand’s message and suit your customers.

In an environment where brands compete not only on their products but on the quality of their personal service, it is important to be able to provide a personalized experience to clients both online and offline.

Human Interactions are the foundation of great CX

While communication is becoming more automated, customers still insist on having personal, human interactions with brands. This is a great opportunity for brands to gain the customers’ trust and increase their revenue. There is no way to deliver excellent customer experience if you don’t know anything about who you are selling to. A brand looking to generate more sales and become a leader in its field needs to know all there is to know about its customers. Gathering insight on what drives people’s buying intent and keeping a record of their purchase history are key for creating a comprehensive customer profile. Having your clients’ trust you with their data allows for an exceptional customer experience that goes beyond the moment of purchase and that encourages brand loyalty.

CX Stats Infographic

Customer Experience vs. Customer Service

What some businesses struggle with it is differentiating between customer service and customer experience. Good customer service refers to the quality of the client interaction at the point of purchase- providing people with the support they need to make an informed, satisfactory decision. Customer experience, however, is a more elusive concept. Unlike customer service, good customer experience is not always related to the purchase of a product. It is an ongoing process of listening to your clients’ needs and desires and knowing what is the best solution you can offer them. It requires a deep understanding of your environment and of the drivers behind consumers’ purchasing intent. Improving your sales by providing good customer experience is similar to going on a treasure hunt- in order to bring in the gold, you need to know which is the most efficient and less perilous road to take. When you prioritize customer satisfaction, you are not only engaging with those 80% of customers who are willing to pay more for personal treatment, but are also improving your brand’s image amongst the competitors.

Why does this all matter?

80% of consumers are more likely to do business with a company that is focused on providing a personalized experience. For customers, a positive experience is one that offers convenience and knowledgeable help in a timely manner. Knowing what a customer is looking to gain from an interaction is how companies can design an effective selling strategy. The key to superior customer experience is centering your sales process around satisfying the customer and paying attention to the way they move through the sales funnel. Sales are, first and foremost, about people, so it is important that your customers feel like they are appreciated and that their purchase matters for your business.

About the Author
Yana Milcheva is a Marketing intern at Talkative and a freelance writer interested in topics ranging from technology, politics, fashion and sustainability. In her spare time, she enjoys practicing yoga and watching conspiracy theories on YouTube.

Sales Tips: Where You Start Impacts the Outcome

By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling®

The quality of a salesperson’s life in pursing opportunities is highly dependent on their starting point in the organization.

Starting Point in Opportunities

I hope you would agree that starting at Key Player or decision maker levels is likely to result in:

  • higher win rates
  • larger transactions
  • shorter sales cycles

Starting at low levels and trying to climb the corporate ladder can be hard rock mining. Each new person may have the ability to stop the product evaluation. My general rule is:

  • When calling at high levels, sellers should try to avoid asking questions the buyer may not be able to answer as you run the risk of being delegated downward.
  • When calling at lower levels, asking business-oriented questions that the prospect can’t or doesn’t want to share is a reasonable tact to take.

Sellers and buyers should want to avoid wasting time. If a seller’s contact can’t identify areas of value the seller can ask if he/she could introduce them to a person that can. I think it’s important that buyer and seller consider early on if the benefits would provide adequate justification to warrant a purchase.

If and when a prospect will share desired business outcomes they may be willing to serve as a champion in granting access to other stakeholders that have additional areas of potential benefit.

Sales Tips: Three Questions to Predict if Your Customer Will Renew

Courtesy of Primary Intelligence, a CustomerCentric Selling® Partner

Building a strong customer base is a game of inches, as the football analogy goes. To sell the deal, you have to find the right market, build the right product, and create a strong buying experience. But, as we all know, that’s only the first touchdown. You continue to sell and resell your product every day the customer uses it (or worse: doesn’t use it). You’re reaching for the next touchdown — a renewal, new engagement, or up-sell — with every customer interaction.

renewals

It’s the norm now for companies to track and measure the experience of their customers after the sale, and spending for customer retention programs is on the rise. A 2014 Harvard Business Review survey found 53% of executives saw customer experience management as a potential competitive advantage and 45% made it a strategic priority. And yet, how customer experience measurement is done widely varies.

What’s the Purpose of Customer Experience Management?

More importantly, what executives think customer experience management can and should do for their organization is largely still up for debate. Should it drive loyalty and/or improve NPS scores? Increase customer referrals? Decrease costs? Help you gain market share? All of the above?

Let me wade into the debate. The core focus of every B2B customer experience program should be learning how to retain and grow customer revenue.

If your customer experience program is not telling you how likely your current customers are to renew or expand their spending with you in the near and long term, you’re missing a critical metric of success. Typically as much as 80% of a company’s revenue comes from its existing customer base. That means even a modest churn rate can cause a dent in your revenue.

So, how can you predict your customer retention? There are two main methods:

  1. Ask your customers if they will renew.
  2. Understand your customer’s experience.

Asking Your Customers if They Will Renew is Good

When you ask a customer outright if they plan on renewing with you, the answer is called stated data, meaning that’s the answer the customer said. There is definite value in stated data. For example, what if your largest customer said, “I’m not sure if we’ll renew. Our purchasing department recently told us we have to do a competitive bid for all large contracts, so we’ll need to do one for your product as well.” Clearly that is great information to have — you can start preparing now for a competitive renewal bid.

However, customers can’t always articulate what is most important to them. Or, in some cases, they may give an answer they think they should (eg: I’ll say price is most important to me just so you will give me discounts.) And in the case of renewals, they may hold off giving you a realistic answer because there is an existing relationship, they want to avoid sales pressure, or they just don’t know yet. So, while it’s extremely valuable to have candid conversations with customers about what’s important, I find it less helpful to collect stated data in this case. Instead, I would recommend derived data.

Understanding Your Customer’s Experience is Best

You can derive the answer to your renewal question by understanding your customer’s current experience with your solution by looking back in the rear view mirror to see what’s happened so far in their journey. Let’s start with the three core questions you need to ask the customer.

Question Question 1: What are the most important benefits you want my solution to deliver?

Customers purchase products to receive benefits. No one buys a phone system to have a phone system, but rather to be able to communicate effectively with others. This question will help you understand the outcome or result that drove the customer to purchase your solution in the first place. If possible, ask the customer to be specific about the benefit. For example, if they say they want “reduced cost”, ask if there was a certain percent decrease they were hoping to accomplish.

I like to provide customers a list of potential benefits to select from to make the analysis easier, but you need to be careful about leading — make sure you include plenty of “other” options so they can write in benefits you might not have thought of. You can also definitely ask this question as an open-ended statement, providing no options to pick from.

TruVoice Watermark Question 2: How well is my solution delivering those benefits?

This question can be asked as a scaled question (eg: rate from 0 to 10) or on a text-based Likert scale(somewhat, not at all, etc.).

It’s important to ask about the specific benefits mentioned in question one. If the customer wanted reduced costs, increased efficiency, and better employee engagement, make sure you ask about how well the solution has delivered all three of those benefits specifically. If the list gets long, ask the customer to narrow down to the top three benefits they care most about.

Do not miss the opportunity to follow-up for more details on any high or low rated items. Ask neutral probing questions like, “Please tell me why you rated X that way.”

Most importantly: Do not use this as a sales opportunity! Don’t explain that the customer simply missed a feature of your solution! There will be time for clarification and follow-up LATER. If you do it now, you’ll risk cutting off the candid feedback and interrupting the flow of discussion.

TruVoice Watermark Question 3: How much effort was required to experience those benefits?

While this question might seem quirky at first, it’s the most important. A Corporate Executive Board (CEB) study found 94% of customers who have a low effort experience will purchase again. So, it’s critical to ask about the effort required.

I like to ask this as a scaled question (eg: rate from 0 to 10) because you can get more specific in your measurement, but make sure to follow-up with the customer to get more details. Try something like, “What specific processes or features did you consider when determining that effort score?” or “Please explain what type of effort you were expecting the solution to require.” or even “Tell me about a recent experience you had with the solution that felt more difficult than expected.”

One quick note about this question: the effort will be relative for each customer. While one customer might think it’s “easy” to pull a report from your software, another customer might gauge the same actions as “difficult”. That’s okay. What you are measuring here is the customer’s perception of effort. Customers who feel like the solution is difficult are more likely to seek easier solutions, putting you at risk for renewal.

Evaluating The Experience to Determine Retention

Now that you have the answers to these three questions, you can use the answers to derive likelihood of renewal. A very simple calculation might be:

((Number of benefits experienced strongly) / (Expected benefits))  / (Effort required)

For example:

Benefits experienced calculation

You might calculate that as: ((Number of benefits experience strongly = 1) /  (Expected benefits = 3)) / (Avg effort required = 7.3) = 4.5% likelihood to renew

I’ll reiterate this is a very simple version of the calculation you actually need to do, but even before you calculate, you should have a sense that this account might be in jeopardy because the customer is not experiencing all the benefits they want and the effort required is very high. You need to develop an action plan to help them experience the benefits and/or ease the burden of effort.

It’s All About Outcomes

I’ll leave you with these words of wisdom from our CEO, Ken Allred:

“In reality, the biggest influence on your customer’s experience is your ability to deliver the outcomes they wanted when they decided to buy from you. You can provide the best support in the world, have wonderful relationships, and be beloved by your customers, but if you can’t deliver what you promised, your customer will leave you as soon as they find someone who can.”

Sales Tips: How Any Industry Can Use CRM Software to Massively Increase Sales

Guest post by Dave Lawrence, Head of Growth at Follow Up Boss

How do you manage an army of experts?

No, we don’t mean scientists. We’re talking about customers.

Businesses are fast learning that today’s customer is internet savvy, information hungry, and willing to do the research.

As a consequence, relationship selling is dead. Thanks to the internet, customers don’t need suppliers or reactive problem-solvers anymore. But, what the internet doesn’t offer is market insights and tailored problem-solving solutions, the type of which only professional sales rockstars can provide.

If you want to stay ahead of the game, win long-term customers, provide value for money and keep revenue streams healthy —  you need to be super organized, consistent, authentic and committed.

CRM software is your answer.

crm increase sales

What is CRM?

CRM stands for ‘Customer Relationship Management’.

According to Zapier, “Customer relationship management software are tools to organize your contact info and manage your relationship with current and prospective customers, clients, and other contacts. They’re address books on steroids—the modern version of old-fashioned Rolodex.”

But more than a glorified Rolodex that’s undergone a digital makeover, CRM software has evolved into a tech companion that no sales professional can live without.

It can reach every corner of your business from lead tracking, sending personalized emails, uploading contracts, making appointments, and even preparing complex forecast reports (to name a few!).

CRM software exists in every sub-niche imaginable, from real estate CRM software like Follow Up Boss, to Healthcare CRM like Pega. The goal is the same – manage your relationships and make your business more efficient.

Without a CRM, 79% of leads fail to convert. Competition is getting tighter and tighter. At the end of the day, if you want your business to stand out, you can’t afford NOT to use a CRM.

How does it work?

These days, customer information is gold. Don’t waste it.

Your prospect intel must be organized properly, and a static spreadsheet won’t cut it. According to a study from Forrester Research, organizations who use lead nurturing can generate 50% more sale-ready leads, at 33% less cost. Here’s how a CRM does what a spreadsheet can’t.

Imagine you get a message from Jane Doe who is browsing new enterprise software.

Once you plug into your CRM, you’ll have instant access to a range of data that can tell you:

  • If she’s already a customer
  • What her needs are
  • How to solve her problems
  • How to turn her into a lifelong customer

An integrated CRM system can improve everything from sales productivity to brand reputation. It can even change how you operate your business, helping you automate and systematize your operations and free up more time to woo your prospects.

Here are 9 brilliant ways a CRM can help. 

  1. Take your leads to go

This is a real game changer. Mobile CRM systems are nimbler and boast way more cost-effective features. In fact, 65% of companies that used a mobile CRM solution met or exceeded their sales quotas.

  1. Know your hottest markets

A smart CRM will help you qualify leads and identify the leads that are most likely to buy. CRMs that come with visualization and analytics features can give you a bird’s-eye-view of what works so you can invest resources into the most lucrative lead gen and follow up activities.

  1. Get golden business insights

CRM systems help you operate more strategically and efficiently. For instance, you can monitor data to identify new areas of revenue, problem solve issues in the sales funnel and analyze business performance data. The most profitable sales strategies are rooted in systems, not techniques. Your CRM helps you optimize your system to make the most of every call or email.

  1. Market like you mean it

CRM software can help you understand the type of content your ideal prospects love. Building a clearer picture of what your prospects really want (not what you think they want) can help you craft value-driven marketing plans, specifically aimed at your various prospect groups.

  1. Accurate resource planning

A CRM can help you understand when and why targets are (or aren’t) being reached and give optimal insight into which activities your sales teams may need additional training and support for. Planning your sales approach based on clear data is always better than engaging in a costly guessing game.

  1. Faster follow up

A stellar CRM will alert you to lead activity in real-time so you can quickly respond to prospects. These days, it’s hard to close deals overnight, but the person who is the most responsive over time will win.

  1. Boost lead ROI

Let’s not forget that sales is still a numbers game. If you want to boost your company’s profitability index you need to generate and manage your leads more effectively. CRM software will keep you on top and make sure you don’t miss a single opportunity.

  1. Keep your customers

Shiny object syndrome is a real problem in sales. But in order to maintain a secure revenue stream, businesses need to invest in long-term clients. In fact, 80% of a company’s future revenue often will come from just 20% of its existing customers. A great CRM enables you to create follow up and nurture sequences for everyone in your digital Rolodex, even those who have already become clients.

  1. More credibility = more sales

Consistency builds trust. Give your customers what they want, every time, without issue and the sales will follow. The more credible your approach, the stronger your brand identity, and the more customers you’ll attract in the future. A CRM helps you stay consistent and credible in the eyes of every lead on your list.

A great CRM brings you closer to your customer

At its heart, CRM is about helping you know your customer better. And we all know loyal customers are central to helping any business thrive. In fact, companies that are customer-centric are 60% more profitable than organizations who aren’t as customer focused.

Give your customer the love and time they deserve, and you’ll be the first one they think of when they’re ready to make a move.

Dave LawrenceAbout the Author
Dave Lawrence is the Head of Growth at Follow Up Boss, a CRM for real estate teams. In his role he spends his time ‘under the hood’ of many of the top performing real estate sales teams in North America, helping them leverage technology and process to become more effective at delivering value and service to their clients. You can follow him and Follow Up Boss on Twitter: @FollowUpBoss or visit www.followupboss.com

Sales Tips: How to Sway Your Buyers’ Decision in B2B Sales Deals

Courtesy of Primary Intelligence, a CustomerCentric Selling® Partner

Although B2B buyers are most interested in product features and functionality when evaluating companies, buyer’s perception of your company can sway their decision in your favor (or not). Primary Intelligence discovered that 20% of buyers, approximately 1 in 5, rate vendors as “poor” in most company-related criteria.

While solution capabilities are typically the most important aspect in B2B sales evaluations, consideration of how vendors are perceived overall – including vendor reputation, service and support, and future direction – are also influential in the final decision.

attract buyers

How can you improve buyers’ perceptions of your company? Here are three best practices you can implement at your organization.

1. Vet customer references.

Ensuring that your company has solid customer references will help to assuage any concerns customers may have about your experience in and commitment to their industry. Look for promoters who can help to evangelize your company and the strategic direction in which it’s heading. Case studies, user conferences, co-webinars, and joint customer-vendor presentations at industry events will help to showcase your most successful customer accounts.

One CIO shared with us,

We didn’t have a lot of references that were a similar fit to the kind of resources we were looking for. Ideally, I was looking for a company similar to our size that was spread out with multiple locations. I could never really get a good, exact fit for somebody to talk to that had the same layout.

2. Share future direction.

It’s important to share product road maps, strategic vision documents, long-term planning, and other evidence of your organization’s future direction with your customers and prospects. Ask recipients to sign non-disclosure agreements if necessary but make sure your customer base is excited about the strategic direction in which you’re headed.

A vice president of IT explained,

They’re trying to change the face that they bring to their customers, but so far I really haven’t seen it materialize in a change. They wouldn’t be on our short list of companies to talk to.

3. Improve service and support.

While service and support is often a challenging area for most companies, understanding what changes need to be made in order to offer customers outstanding service and support will help make your company stand out in the eyes of your customers. Leading organizations target improvements in customer experience as a competitive differentiator to ensure their customers stay loyal over the long term and don’t defect to competing vendors.

The financial manager of a healthcare organization stated,

I’m pretty adamant about customer service at the leadership level. It has eroded a bit lately. They just seemed to be lagging behind.

Remember: Buyers fear that they’re only as good as their partners and providers and that they can’t afford to have a weak link in the chain.

Sales Tips: Wakeup Call for Sales – Today’s Realities and How to Adapt with Your Buyer

By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling®

At the risk of sounding like my parents, selling seemed so simple 25 years ago. Sales was on its own island and were the keepers of information buyers had to contact if they wanted to learn about new offerings.

Sellers could enjoy “Column A” status for most of the buying cycles before Columns B, C, etc. were brought into the fray late as fodder to provide leverage in negotiating the best price from Column A. Many of my blog posts have discussed how buying has changed, but few organizations have fully understood the implications of Sales 2.0.

Best of breed technology was the trend in the 90’s until organizations started to realize the exorbitant cost of integrating disparate offerings. This was also the time the buzz about integrating Sales and Marketing died because there were so few Success Stories.

ducks in a row

Getting Your Ducks in a Row
In today’s environment sales organizations make their own decisions about sales training or process as marketing does. Product Marketing tries to identify specific market segments they want to reach out to. Product Development (furthest from buyers) attempts to create new offerings that address buyer/market needs. It seems there are several silos making what they feel or hope are good ‘best of breed’ decisions with little or no thought for the other silos’ requirements and how to integrate the different approaches.

Absent a coordinated approach that views revenue generation as an enterprise rather than a sales responsibility, it will be nearly impossible to react in a coordinated and meaningful fashion to the changes in buying behavior.

When choosing a process for revenue generation I’d suggest the following capabilities are needed:

  • For each offering, sales and marketing must agree on the titles that comprise the buying committee.
  • For each title, sales and marketing should agree on desired business outcomes that can be achieved through the use of the offering.
  • Sales and marketing should create messaging for each conversation (title/outcome) to help sellers more consistently position offerings.
  • Standard milestones in the buying process should be developed that can be verified based upon buyer actions rather than seller opinions.
  • A common vocabulary that all four silos use should be agreed on so that customer-facing staff can more effectively articulate buyer/market needs for future offerings.

Organizational changes are necessary and difficult to put into effect, but having all silos understanding one another’s’ responsibilities in revenue generation would go a long way toward making vendors more customer-centric.

Sales Tips: How to Respond to “Best and Final” Pricing Requests

By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling®

How should sellers reply when they are not going to win a transaction but are asked for a “best and final” number? Some respond with the lowest possible price with the thought being they may be able to steal the business (unlikely) or at least make it a skinny deal for their competitors. It’s not a tactic I endorse.

I believe floating aggressive prices can come back to haunt sellers if and when the roles may be reversed in the future. It would be awkward if a seller’s customers got wind of pricing that was lower than what they paid.

best and final pricing

My suggestion when asked for best and final pricing is to ask:

“Am I the vendor of choice and is price the last remaining obstacle?”

  • If the person asking is not a decision maker, indicate that he/she, the decision maker, your manager and you would have to meet to see if the transaction could be completed.
  • If the person asking for better pricing says you are not yet the vendor of choice you can respond:

“It sounds as though you have more work to do in finalizing your decision. If I become the vendor of choice at that time we can all meet to see if we can come to terms. For now, let’s leave pricing as an open item.” 

Some positive things happen by taking this approach:

  • You avoid putting low ball numbers on the street
  • The “buyer” hasn’t gotten what he or she wants
  • It makes sense for both parties not to negotiate unless you are Column A

Always and never don’t usually apply to sales, but my suggestion is to always act as though you are Column A when asked for better pricing. If you are, buyers will come back to you. If you’re not, you keep your dignity by not getting dragged into a discounting death spiral.