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Sales Tips: Honest Customer Feedback is the Cure for Insanity

Guest post from Primary Intelligence, CCS® Partner

It’s been said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

This is obviously a cultural rather than a medical definition, but if you sell for a living, and you cannot figure out what you’re doing that’s causing you to lose deals you were sure you were going to win, you might start to feel like you’re losing your mind.

When you get some honest feedback, and start doing different things, the outcomes change, and the insanity goes away. Suddenly the world makes a lot more sense, and you’re closing a lot more deals.

Customer Feedback

Tell the Truth

If you want to one day benefit from honest feedback, you should start building truth-telling relationships. That means telling prospects “no” when “no” is the correct answer. “No, our solution won’t do that yet.” “No, I cannot offer you a larger discount.” “No, we cannot implement the solution any faster than that.”

You can steer them to positive features of the solution or favorable aspects of the contract terms, but being honest is key to becoming a trusted advisor, a key position in B2B sales.

Creating a relationship of mutual honesty takes courage because when you’re selling, you want to present desirable solutions. But in order to influence the final decision, it’s best to be seen as an expert rather than a “pleaser.”

Hear the Truth

When someone – a friend, a co-worker, a supervisor, a client, or a prospect – is honest with you, it is proof that you are respected and admired. People are honest when they know that you are strong, capable and smart enough to hear the truth. They don’t have to pretend everything is fine when it’s not. They don’t have to pretend you did a great job when you didn’t. Because, to amend the famous line from A Few Good Men, “you can handle the truth.”

You need to hear the truth so you can improve – your preparation, your pitch, your presentation, your product – and win more deals in the future. Colin Powell said, “There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work and learning from failure.” Sales can be a hard career unless you view failures as opportunities to learn and are willing to listen. Other people hold the lesson to your failures and your successes.

And yes, you can also learn from your successes. What did you do right? How can you make sure you repeat those good practices that helped you close the deal? The truth isn’t always bad. Sometimes, it’s commendation and acknowledgement of the preparation and hard work you put in to be successful.

Elicit the Truth

First, you start down the honesty path, as stated above. If you are not honest with your prospects, you will be lucky to get any feedback at all, and if you do, it will likely be painful to hear. Successful professionals want to work with people they trust, and avoid people they don’t trust.

Second, ask for the feedback as a favor – a positive form of assistance rather than some kind of bitter medicineyou have to take. Explain that constructive criticism will help you be more successful. Otherwise, people’s desire to be polite and not hurt feelings can filter out the hard truths you need.

Third, ask for tips on ways to improve rather than just their opinions. The people you are selling to have seen lots of sales presentations, some that work, many that don’t. Allowing the feedback to come as a helpful tip removes any uneasy feelings that might come from criticism alone.

Get the Right Truth

The only honest customer feedback that really matters is the truth told by the decision-maker. Do your best to get that feedback directly from the source. It doesn’t make sense to change what you do based on feedback from people who didn’t make the decision. While their feedback may be generally helpful, the adjustments you make might not be aligned with the result you want – winning more deals.

Conclusion

The world of B2B sales begins to make a lot more sense when you know why buyers say “yes” and why they say “no.” But until you have those answers, you are going through the same motions and pitches every day and getting the same results. It is insanity: it’s hard work, it’s disappointing, and it’s leaving deals behind that you might have won. Learning from honest feedback makes the world of B2B sales a much saner – and more successful – place.

Sales Tips: Stop Measuring Customer Satisfaction

By Connie Schlosberg, Primary Intelligence

We recently worked with a company trying to fix their high customer attrition rate with annual customer satisfaction surveys. Their survey project was successful. Fixing the attrition rate was not.

Customer SatisfactionBut why?

The company measured satisfaction, and the numbers said customers were not satisfied. To raise the numbers, the company formulated and implemented action plans. Sounds like a solid plan, right? The problem:

The company was measuring how their customers felt, but not why they felt that way.

They knew perception of their services was low, but couldn’t figure out why. Measuring satisfaction provides no predictive analytics that score the likelihood of renewal.

The account teams were earnest in their actions to attempt to solve the issues, but the actions were misguided because the surveys failed to ask the customer: What are we doing wrong or right? The team was assuming root causes based only on customer satisfaction numbers and their own best guesses about what, exactly, was causing those numbers.

Measuring Satisfaction is Not Enough

“Satisfaction” (including NPS) tells you if they like you. It gives you a thumbs up or thumbs down.

It doesn’t, in our opinion, accurately tell you what it’s like to be your customer (the customer journey). It also doesn’t necessarily help you retain customers because it leaves a host of questions unanswered. What will the customer care about when considering a renewal? What will drive their perception of value and ROI? A score can’t tell you either.

Customer experience analysis is ultimately about renewals.To really retain those renewal dollars, you need to do it differently.

Now, let’s be clear:

If you are not measuring your customer’s satisfaction, stop reading this post and do it now. It’s that important.

We are not really advocating doing away with customer satisfaction numbers. Instead we are advocating changing what is measured and how.

Start Measuring the Journey

The Buyer's Journey

Instead, start measuring and analyzing the customer’s experience. Customer experience analysis is different from customer satisfaction because it helps you walk the same path as your customer. At Primary intelligence, we’ve found a three-pronged approach works best.

  1. Feedback – Figure out what the customer thinks and why. I’d recommend conducting interviews using both quantitative (scale, ranking, binary, etc.) and qualitative (open-ended) questions. Create a formal discussion guide to create consistency and a focused discussion, but don’t be shy about going off script to probe for details. Figure out what will be driving a renewal decision and the overall perception of value.
  2. Discovery – Although the customer has filled in the gaps on what they are feeling and why, your account team needs to round out the view. Ask everyone involved with the account to review the interview feedback and then schedule a debrief session. Focus the session on what the team is doing – good or bad – to drive those perceptions and what will likely drive a renewal decision. (Get more tips on debrief sessions in this webinar.)
  3. Act – As you end the debrief and move into planning mode, identify specific actions the team can take to resolve concerns and emphasize value. Also don’t neglect identifying growth opportunities and how you’ll act on those. Ultimately determine what you want the customer to say during the next feedback session.

The When Matters Too

And while you’re at it, adjust when you measure. Reaching out to all customers at the same time each year doesn’t do your account teams any favors. They need feedback throughout the customer’s journey, so map the feedback timeline to that journey. No time is more important than 3 to 6 months prior to a renewal event. Give the team enough time to shore up weaknesses and plant seeds for growth opportunities.

Remember: Your customers are future buyers. Stop just asking if they’re satisfied. Instead use customer experience analysis to predict the likelihood of renewal.