Why You Need Strong Customer Relationships More than Ever

By Sharon Gillenwater

You’re in sales. You’ve got a product to sell. Boom. Done. Then on to the next deal. Your technique? You use the sales enablement tools on which your company has spent millions to help you be more productive. At least that’s what your organization hopes is happening.

Why Is Sales Productivity Down by 36 Percent?

But consulting firm Accenture has studied this approach. What they’ve found is that – instead of being more productive – you’re too distracted by the information free-for-all. Sales productivity, they say, is down from 41 percent to 36 percent over the past five years. And 55 percent of you find using these sales tools more of an obstacle than a help. Even more say they have too many sales tools.

Well, that’s not a surprise to us. According to a May 2016 Gartner survey, worldwide CRM software totaled $26.3 billion in 2015, up 12.3 percent from the previous year.

But, while these tools can be very useful in managing and generating customer data, we’ve found that pricey systems alone can’t drive more sales. Instead of supporting a strategy, they sometimes become the strategy. They are touted as enabling salespeople to make more calls and send more emails – but most of these communications annoy and are ignored by buyers and disappear into the void.

The Shift to “Outcome Selling”

And it’s not just you. Customers are more demanding, more impulsive, more disjointed, and less predictable, says Accenture. In response, you try to change. You’ve been told to sell personalized experiences. Okay. But how do you identify that fleeting moment when your customer is ready for advice – ready to be guided? As Accenture notes, “In the land of evergreen customer relationships, the deal is never done.” In other words, there is no longer a single moment to capture.

So what’s the answer? Accenture claims sales zeitgeist is necessarily shifting to outcome selling, which emphasizes post-sales interactions and services to deliver on what had been promised initially. We used to call it “upselling.”

Here’s the bigger lesson: If the deal is never done, the only way to successfully practice outcome selling is to understand your customer, track your customer, and engage your customer.

A recent article in the Harvard Business Review acknowledges this, too. The authors, from L.E.K. Consulting, point out that, for an outcome-centric company to carry out marketing’s promise, sales organizations must know the customer well enough to understand the specific outcomes it seeks. It requires a strong partnership between sales organizations and customers. And it requires business intelligence.

And that should be good news for you. After all, salespeople enjoy putting their people skills to work to nurture relationships. The people part of selling has become so forgotten that your buyers will actually find it refreshing to hear from you – but only if you’ve educated yourself about them and their needs.

The Value of Strong Customer Relationships

Give salespeople a good current backgrounder on the decision makers they need to know – in tandem with what their CRM can offer – and turn them into listeners. They can then learn from customers what is driving the decisions and how your business can help. It’s just good old-fashioned sales.

CA Technologies’ CEO Mike Gregoire touted this strategy during the company’s October 2016 earnings call:

“From the earliest point of contact with customers through the many years that follow, we have vastly improved how we are showing up…CA’s brand familiarity and consideration continue to move higher – particularly among business decision makers. Our customers are giving us higher scores on product quality, and customer satisfaction continues to trend positively.”

This, he said, is key to driving long-term sustained growth.

Consistent with what Accenture is saying is the key to winning in sales, successful vendors are keeping an eye on the long game: customer outcomes. Because Fidelity National Information Services emphasizes creating operational efficiencies for clients to run and grow their businesses, president and CEO Gary Norcross told analysts in November 2016 that, “Despite continuing macroeconomic pressures, our sales teams continued converting opportunities to new wins and cross-selling and upselling to existing clients.”

These two vendors get their customers. They aren’t just selling; they’re connecting and learning about what their customers want to achieve now and over time. It’s then up to sales to provide the expertise to recommend what can help them get there – again and again.

It’s like that NBC public service announcement, “The more you know.” The more you know – about the people, their concerns, their goals, what the company strategy is, who is making the decisions, and what their competition is up to – the more you can offer to help them reach their desired outcomes. Instead of getting distracted, focus on that.

SharonGillenwaterSharon Gillenwater is the founder and editor-in-chief of Boardroom Insiders, which maintains an extensive database of the most in-depth executive profiles on the market, from Fortune 500 companies to independent non-profits, to help sales and marketing professionals build deeper relationships and close more deals with clients. Gillenwater is a long-time marketing consultant with expertise in marketing strategy, account-based marketing, and CXO engagement programs.