By Mark Donnolo
Last year, I found myself on the phone, listening as an irate woman spelled out the reasons she would never consider using a particular technology company again. “It’s pretty damn expensive for a product that doesn’t work,” she yelled.
Though technically I was on the receiving end of her anger, she wasn’t actually mad at me. I was talking to customers – and former customers – of our client, a large telecommunications provider, and trying to understand why their customers were leaving in droves. This helpful lady had agreed to participate in these “voice of the customer” interviews. At the end of hundreds of such interviews, the technology company agreed it needed to make some substantial changes to its customer service, service bundles, and overall value proposition. They needed to revamp their sales strategy.
Customer Feedback Plays a Vital Role
Customer feedback – or voice of the customer – is a critical piece of a sales organization’s strategy. Together with other essential information, including the macro market environment and competitor performance, the voice of the customer shapes the following:
- Products and services to promote or retract
- Customer segmentation and targeting
- Value proposition
- Approach to market
- Sales channels
- Sales roles and structure
- Sales process
- Sales deployment
- Incentive compensation and quotas
- Recruiting and retention
- Training and development
- Tools and technology
Sales leaders must understand the needs and expectations of their customers and the sales organization’s performance relative to those expectations. That insight allows leaders to see any gaps and determine where they can improve, as in the case of the helpful, irate woman informing them their value proposition was out of whack.
How Customer Feedback Informs Sales Leadership
Once sales leadership understands what’s going well and what’s broken with its products or services, they can create an informed sales strategy, which is essentially just an action plan to achieve its goals. The sales strategy will drive decisions concerning product and service focus, concentration on certain markets, value propositions, and the resulting approach to market.
First and foremost to the strategy, it’s critical to define the core and strategic products and services the business provides. In many companies, these are developed based on the needs of certain customer segments. Too often, however, products or services are internally driven and may not align naturally with customer needs, requiring a significant change in the offer or value proposition. Customer feedback helps keep products and service decisions in line with customer preferences.
The organization determines how it will organize and prioritize customers and prospects through its segmentation and targeting. The most effective segmentation and targeting considers characteristics such as customer industry, sales potential, profitability, common needs, and overall fit with the sales organization’s business. It’s important that segmentation and targeting flow into a plan that’s actionable by the sales organization. Simply defining the segment at a high level is not going to answer the sales rep’s question, “Who do I go see on Monday morning?”
Your Value Proposition
The value proposition goes beyond what the sales organization communicates to customers and articulates the organization’s understanding of the customer’s business and issues, what the organization can accomplish for the customer, and how the organization differentiates itself from the competition. The highest level value proposition is usually communicated at a company level. To be effective for sales, however, the organization must convert its value proposition to sales messages that can be communicated at the segment level, customer level, and deal level to adapt to changing situations and customer needs. And, it has to be honest. As the lady in my customer interview pointed out, a product that’s expensive and doesn’t work won’t live up to promises of high quality.
When developing the approach to market, sales leaders should incorporate insight about product, service, target segments, value propositions, and potential sales resources – especially when the information comes directly from the customer – into a plan that can be executed by the sales organization.
Mark Donnolo is managing partner of SalesGlobe and author of The Innovative Sale: Unleash Your Creativity for Better Customer Solutions and Extraordinary Results and What Your CEO Needs to Know About Sales Compensation.