Sales calls made to existing customers are often referred to as “meet and greets” or “coffee calls”, signifying a common perception among salespeople that the primary goal of an effective sales call is to build customer rapport. In fact, many sales people evaluate the success of a customer call based on their perceived level of pleasantness of the conversation.
The nature of these exchanges between salesperson and customer is commonly used as a measurement of the strength of the supplier – client relationship. “That was a good call…he/she (the customer) really seems to like you” has often been said by many a Sales Manager when commenting on the performance of one of their salespeople in managing an account. While the customer may sincerely feel this way towards the salesperson, determining the success of a customer call using this as criteria can be dangerous, at times leading to superficial client relationships, missed opportunities, and worse, losses of accounts to competitors.
When a sales call is centered solely on relationship building, important information is often missed. This leads to the supplier/client relationship being built primarily on the success of a personal relationship rather than mutual business value exchange. It’s no wonder many salespeople are surprised and often hurt when a client decides to switch their business to a competitor regardless of their seemingly great relationship. The client made a business decision based on what is most important to their business. Most astute purchasers make their buying decisions based on business value over relationship value. This is especially true in a down economy. So, how does one ensure they are maximizing the value of a customer call? Consider following these five steps in the Account Development Model to bring about a meaningful client interaction every time.
Ask about their business
Ask questions about the future direction of the company. Are they planning for growth or contraction? What are the top initiatives for this year? What is the future direction of the company? The more you understand your clients business the more you can offer relevant and tangible value adds to keep them your customer making it difficult to leave to a competitor.
Ask about your company’s product or service
Use client calls as an opportunity to make sure there are no outstanding concerns and if there are, commit to resolving them. It is sometimes assumed that if the customer is engaged in a pleasant conversation with you, they are satisfied with your product or service. This is not necessarily so. Ask for the customer’s commitment to your product or service to be sure of their loyalty. Avoid depending on general questions such as “Is everything okay?” or “How are things going?” Ask specific questions relating to their commitment to your company.
Suggest a value add
On every customer call, look for the opportunity to add value to their business through your product or service. The value-add can be simple or complex. When the customer associates your visits with adding value to their business, this is a much more sure way to build loyalty than rapport can achieve.
Ask for new business opportunities
Even if the original purpose of your call was to address a service issue or negotiate a contract renewal use this meeting as an opportunity to probe for new business. Begin by uncovering the nature of the new business opportunity in each of your existing accounts and then document them. You can then target the opportunities that are the best fit with your product or service. Bringing on new business from an existing account is often simpler and more profitable them bringing on a brand new customer.
Schedule the next meeting
Towards the end of each customer call, close by either scheduling or suggesting the next meeting time. This demonstrates professionalism and shows respect for your customer’s time rather than conducting surprise drop-ins. You will also demonstrate reliability and consistency to your customer and they are more likely to give you their attention the next time you call.
All too often, relationships are used to measure the success of a sales call leading to fragile relationships and missed opportunities. By following these steps during your client sales calls, you will definitely add structure and value. It is important to note that these five steps do not need to be conducted in the order they appear nor does this model suggest you avoid rapport building or avoid engaging in lighthearted pleasant conversation with your customer. On the contrary, the Account Development Model is best used as a guide to ensure that while you are engaged in rapport building, touching on each of these five areas will lead to maximizing value and opportunity within existing customer accounts. Carry the Account Development Model with you on your client calls to build customer loyalty and increase share of wallet opportunities.