Perhaps you have seen the movie Glengarry Glen Ross, and know that famous scene in which Alec Baldwin, the slick, successful (kinda mean) uber-salesman comes to “inspire” a group of real estate salesmen to step up their efforts? “Put that coffee down – Coffee is for closers only!” The movie is famous for its explication of the ABCs of selling (A – Always, B – Be, C – Closing. Always Be Closing).
In this month’s newsletter, we expand upon the classic advice to salespeople to “Always Be Closing.” However, let’s make sure that while we’re closing we’re actually “closing in” on the right parts of the sales process – the ones that will ensure us more, and more happy, customers.
Julie Brown President
Mark Palmerino Executive Vice President
Always Be Closing
(Closing In on a Better Understanding of Customers and Prospects, That Is!)
Last month, many of us here at CSR had the good fortune to travel to Nashville for one of our favorite conferences – The Market Research Event. As always, we saw a lot of old friends, and met some great new people, including those who attended and participated in our workshop “Lessons From History: What Abraham Lincoln and the Battle of Gettysburg can Teach Market Researchers about Strategy.” Many of those attendees are receiving this newsletter for the first time – welcome!!
As you might imagine, part of our motivation in attending this event is to deepen our relationships with clients, and to meet other folks who are interested in hearing about what we do (did we ever mention that we are super-strategic, and love finding out what people really think through open-ended interviewing approaches?
In other words, part of our motivation, as much as we really don’t like to admit it – is selling. According to Daniel Pink, who delivered an excellent keynote address at the event, and who recently published his fifth book, “To Sell is Human,” we are not alone, in either selling or in not really wanting to “sell”.
In his presentation, Pink noted that one in nine of the entire U.S. work force is in sales. In addition, approximately ten in ten of us (NOT a typo) actually sell as part of our jobs.
Think about it – How many of us have had to persuade colleagues to conduct research? To motivate others to act on it? To convince our bosses to continue to fund an ongoing study for another year? The problem, according to Pink, is that 60% of us want no part of selling – we hate the very idea of it. It conjures up images of used car salesmen and false promises.
No matter what our stereotypes of salesmen are, though, none of us can doubt that sales are the lifeblood of our companies. Fortunately, as market researchers, there is a lot we can do to help keep that blood pumping. We are a key liaison between our company and its customers and prospects – the folks who can actually tell us what they like and don’t like about how our colleagues are selling to them!
How then, can we persuade/motivate/convince our companies to take a fresh look at our sales activities, through the eyes of customers and prospects? Here are three suggestions about “wins and losses” research that have worked for us and our clients in the past:
Talk with “Wins”: Recently-acquired Customers about what they liked and didn’t like about your company’s sales efforts.
How often do we ask our Customers what they thought of the sales process? Typically, we assume that they liked it if they bought what we’re selling. But did they, and did they like all parts of the process equally?
Did our Customers buy our product or service despite an unresponsive or intrusive sales interaction? Did they almost give up after having to wait too long for their questions to be answered? Was there one thing that might have happened that would have closed the sale even more quickly? Is there something we offer that we think is unique – but customers don’t see it as such because they see all that the competition offers?
Who the heck knows if we don’t ask?
We worked with one client, for example, who was pleased to report a very large sale and assumed, based on the sale, that the customer had been pleased with the experience. In conducting “wins and losses” research, however, we found that the opposite was true. Our client’s lead sales rep had been perceived as “arrogant and condescending” by one of the customer’s team members, and the customer only agreed to work with our client after determining that the “arrogant” rep would not be part of the ongoing relationship.
Also Talk with “Losses”: Prospects who participated in the sales process, but decided not to become customers at this time.
This group can really help us. These are potential customers who were interested enough in what we offer to engage in the sales process, but for some reason couldn’t pull the trigger. Why?? I, for one, am so curious, I want to call and ask them right now!
Was it something that we said or did? Or didn’t say or do? At which specific part of the process? Where did that prospect’s business end up going?
Gosh, it’s hard to know, unless we ask.
In our experience, this is the most difficult group to access, because our sales colleagues can be protective of their contact information. Maybe they are afraid that something less-than-ideal will be revealed about their sales style. Or they are convinced that the reason for “no” is the first answer they hear – often, that the price was too high – without more fully engaging in consideration about whether the value proposition was made clear.
Isn’t it worth digging to see if price is really the only reason?
Conduct these interviews using an open-ended approach.
As many of you know, we at CSR strongly believe that open-ended, structured interviews are the best tool for “digging in” to sensitive, complex issues like this. There are too many moving pieces and too many unknowns to capture in a closed-ended survey – “You weren’t thrilled with the salesperson overall, but she said the one thing that really made you decide to move forward?” How did that all play out? We can really only tease out the answer to that in a qualitative, one-on-one setting.
A key benefit of CSR’s approach – yes, I’m putting on my sales hat here for just a moment! – is that we gain superior insights. We structure our open-ended “Wins and Losses” interviews so that we can content code them and then compare, statistically, “Wins” to “Losses,” illuminating the differences between the two. Our clients appreciate that we can also compare “Wins” to “Wins” over time, or one type of “Win” to another type, for example by industry.
We call that closing in on a better understanding of customers and prospects!
Here’s the Twist: In his keynote address, Daniel Pink observed that the most successful salespeople are the ones who put themselves in the other person’s shoes. They really think through what the customer might want and need in that moment, rather than worrying about selling.
By asking customers and prospects what they like and don’t like, we’re helping our sales teams to strengthen that “empathy muscle” – and by doing that, we strengthen our company’s position in the marketplace. In addition, picking up the phone and intelligently asking questions of both new customers and recent prospects will speak volumes about how much your company values their opinion. It’s a win-win! Coffee for everyone!
Mixology (Putting Research into Practice)
It’s easy to say, “Go out and talk with folks who have been through your company’s sales process.” Many of our clients have difficulty imagining the results, and how they might be used.
In the “Twist and Shout” sidebar, you can click to see an example of the kind of information that we have gathered from conducting wins/losses research, and a way to display it. It shows which elements of the purchase decision are most critical to customers at the beginning, in the middle, and at the all-important “closing” phases of the sales process. Such displays help our clients understand what elements of the total offer to emphasize and prioritize at different phases of the sale.
From this graphic, which is directly derived from the interview feedback that we then quantify using our proprietary tools, we can easily ascertain that while previous relationships and our client’s reputation were crucial to getting our client’s proverbial “foot in the door”, capacity, service and responsiveness were the factors that got their closers a cup of coffee!
The Center for Strategy Research, Inc. (CSR) is a research firm. The “Twist” to what we offer is this: We combine open-ended questioning with our proprietary technology to create quantifiable data. As a result our clients gain more actionable and valuable insights from their research efforts.
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