Peak Performance Strategies

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Client Satisfaction Selling


In spite of a growing body of research material, salespeople still talk about and get trained in “how to satisfy the customer.” Apart from debating whether it is cost-effective to try and "satisfy the client," there is also the reality that "satisfied customers defect" (see the Harvard Business Review article by Thomas Jones and Earl Sasser Jr. written in 1995!). McEwen and Flemming (Gallup Management Journal, October 2003: "Client Satisfaction Doesn’t Count") indicates from extensive research by Gallup that satisfied customers do not necessarily contribute to more business or business growth. Further, clients are seduced away by whoever satisfy their needs better. No wonder that questions are being asked about customer loyalty: what does it take to get a customer to be loyal to either the product or the supplier? More benefits? More (hidden) perks? More professional, friendlier, or sexier sales people?

In "first agenda selling" (aiming for client satisfaction) there is a thought virus. Namely, that effective selling meets the needs of a customer better than the competition. The rationale for "need satisfaction selling" is not held in high esteem by top sales people interviewed by the author. Firstly, having a need is only good for indicating that the person is ready to be talked to. Secondly, every need a human being has, is filtered through their value-set that they hold about the need in question. For example, it is not that people are hungry; it is about what are they prepared to eat to still the hunger.

A vegetarian will consider decidedly different food than the people who believe that only a piece of steak can be considered "good food". Effective selling starts with recognising this fact in the client: they run an internal decision strategy based on a value assessment. Matching the value is where the sales process start!

"Template" Selling

The strategy to buy, and not have buyers remorse, starts with the client matching the product against an internal set of standards or criteria which are loosely called "values". If there is a mismatch between the reasons for buying and these private standards, eventually the discomfort will win out and the person suffers from buyer’s remorse.

These internal standards are verbalised through a variety of value-words, like good, effective, doing the job, value for money, fit my image, etc. The challenge is that the meaning of all value words is determined by the context to which they apply. An example: consider how the word "friendship" changes when you consider the various kinds of friendship. Or, take the value-word "trust": notice in your experience how the content and the meaning change if you consider how you trust somebody in business, to trusting your favourite person, to trusting your spouse (if he/she is not the same as your favourite person)? These internal meanings act as an experiential template against which people judge the end-results of their buying strategies. If it matches, they are "happy buyers" but if not, they get buyers remorse, so feared by insurance brokers and sales people.

"Engagement" Selling

This is where you "engage" your customer. The "engaged customer" is a word used by the researchers of Gallup (see www.gallup.com.) and refers to the client having an emotional link which creates a sustainable (loyal) relationship and repeat business. Our (to date, very limited) research has allowed us to be more specific as regards the nature of the "engagement". It consists of four components which can be expressed in the following way: engagement = f(loyalty+perceived source+vested interest). Briefly, loyalty is enduring since it is not "need bound" and not depended on the client having a need to be satisfied. Loyalty is value-bound. Secondly, the supplier or the product is deliberately seen as the source of matching certain internal, but very context specific, multiple standards in the person’s experience. Thirdly, due to the previous two components in the person’s experience, the person has a reciprocal vested interest in the success/sustainability of the relationship with the supplier or salesperson.

The success in second agenda selling is based on the following:
i. People operate of a short list of values or standards through which they make their buying decisions. The meaning and content of these standards are context specific.

ii. The value words people use denote "templates" in their experience through which they assess whether something is "like" their standard or not. In a particular situation they might be overwhelmed to buy because of reasons that temporarily override these internal standards. However, once they review their decision, these internal standards dominate and are responsible for the experience of having made a "good or bad" decision.

iii. Emotions, an expression of value-judgements, play a key role in making decisions leading to repeat or growth business. Ignoring the message and value of emotions in selling to a client is done at the peril of client "engagement".

iv. People operate from "threshold experiences", that is, they have a limit to what they will tolerate as far as not complying with standards are concerned. Stopping such negative experiences can lead to pretty dramatic and "emotional" decisions, as the author can testify from his experience in the advertising, insurance, computer and bulk moving industries.

v. The standards that people apply to buying is not the same as the standards they apply when deciding on repeat business (see "Cost Effective Client Management")

Measuring Client Engagement

Over the past twelve years extensive work was done in "profiling clients" and predicting their engagement with a supplier or salesperson.

The method of choice is qualitative interviews since our conviction is that expert designed questionnaires only give what the experts are asking about. Secondly, we apply a little saying that "words are unverified rumours". Asking people about their opinions for why or why not they do things could get you the "words" or what they would like you to hear, but not necessarily the actual decision making elements. However, if one explores actual experience or examples of their buying decisions, the validity of the information improves dramatically.

The final presentation of the client profile to the clients are based on a measured index of the extend to which the client expresses engagement. A simple scale is used where 0. not complying with a standard; 1. complying with the standard but not consistently; 2. complying with the standard consistently. It should be obvious to the reader that the measurement would reflect multiple standards, even though expressing it in averages seem to work for most clients for whom profiling was done.

Perfect Selling?

In researching top sales people for a pharmaceutical company, I had to interview the doctors who where on the receiving end of the excellence of the representatives. One story tells the tale: a doctor said that a game he liked to play was to identify from the questions and statements made by the representatives which sales training program have they been exposed to. He got so good at it that when he verified his observation with the representative, he was accurate in more than 90% of the times in identifying the sales program.

Every sales program has the answer! My question is: how can there be so many perfect sales answers? Modelling top sales people I came to the realisation that the top people cannot be classed into any one classification system, the variety of people who were being successful are as wide as the universe. The common denominator: how people apply their natural talents in selling. It would seem that some people are naturally good at doing what is required for successful selling.

A friend, who travels internationally by many airlines, plays this game: how long does it take him to identify the "naturally good" airhostesses. They are the ones who get people to respond smilingly to them, who with ease handle the difficult passenger, and who seem to do it all effortlessly. It would seem that this verifies my own experience: it is not possible for everybody to be good at for example sales. If they would be good they would have a history of doing sales-things.
The role of training? To fine tune the talents and expand the range of what people are already good at.

Summary

Breaking one’s head and budget to find ways to satisfy clients is just not smart business. Researching the experience of top salespeople this author’s conclusion is i. There is no one perfect sales technique, but that which works for the client based on their criteria they hold about "good/effective/credible" salespeople; ii. There are more than one way of meeting clients internal standards during the salesprocess, and iii. The best match brings about an emotional charge called "engagement" which, according to the research by Gallup, is the best kind of client to have since they are loyal and actively contribute to your financial bottom line; iv. It is advisable to select your salespeople on an existing "people pattern", since people with talent has a better change of being successful at the performance requiring that talent; talent is what "hides" the recipe-kind of canned selling approach with a better change of being the salesperson being "believable", i.e. matching the client’s standards for a salesperson.