Sales Coaching: Drive Improved Results by Focusing on the Customer

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Sales coaching is gaining a lot of traction among sales leaders and sales teams and for good reasons: as sales teams are forced to accomplish more with fewer resources, forward-thinking sales leaders are looking to provide their sales people with the right tools and information to do their jobs as effectively and efficiently as possible. This includes providing them with the right guidance, including areas for improving sale techniques and successful approaches for engaging with clients and prospects.

An excellent starting point for sales leaders is to have them encourage salespeople to become as customer-focused as possible in their approach to the total sales cycle. The customer buying experience is a critical aspect of the buyer-seller relationship, yet few companies pay adequate attention to it. According to a recent study on this topic by CSO Insights, nearly half of sales leaders at B2B companies agree that understanding and acting on the customer buying experience can be a competitive differentiator. Yet, many companies invest as little as 1 percent of their annual revenues to leverage these insights.

Learning as much as we can about customers and prospects  – the top challenges their businesses are facing along with new business opportunities that are emerging within their organizations and industries – is a great way for salespeople to engage with them. Salespeople who do the legwork to stay current with the needs and issues being faced by their clients and prospects will be better positioned to offer the right products and services designed to address these requirements. Here are three sales coaching tips to make your sales efforts more customer focused.  

The benefits of SPIN Selling

An effective way for salespeople to gather much of this information about customer and prospect needs is through SPIN® Selling (developed by Neil Rackham and Bob Kalomeer). In SPIN selling, the sales person asks a set of questions around four basic categories which make up SPIN – Situation (learning about the current situation of the buyer’s company), Problem (what are the buyer’s primary pain points), Implication (probe the effects and seriousness of the problem), and Needs-Payoff (questions that illustrate how your company’s products and/or services can address the buyer’s needs and the benefits that can be obtained).

Experienced salespeople tend to ask more questions about the problems a customer is looking to solve upfront and then reserve any discussion around how the company’s products and services can be used as solutions to those problems towards the latter part of the sales call. Just as in the B2C community, B2B customers who feel like a company or salesperson is listening to them and understands their needs and preferences are more likely to exhibit greater loyalty and a willingness to extend their business to that company. Coach sales people to allow the customer to drive the discussion and outline what their company’s needs are. The salesperson’s job is to offer solutions to those problems and not attempt to force fit products on the customer.

Applying the 80/20 rule

Salespeople should also be reminded of the 80/20 rule when considering customer-centric approach to sales: that 80 percent of a company’s sales are generated by 20 percent of its customers. As sales people are coached to focus on customers’ needs throughout various stages of the sales cycle, it’s helpful to remind them to concentrate their energies on their most profitable customers in order to get the most bang for the buck.

There are other customer-centric applications to the 80/20 rule. Sales leaders should remind salespeople that they should spend 80 percent of their time in customer meetings listening to what customers have to say about their challenges, needs, and interests and avoid talking too much (20%) themselves.

It’s also important to remember that while some salespeople require more hand-holding than others, the 80/20 rule also applies to the productivity of your sales team. This means that 20 percent of your salespeople will bring in 80 percent of the company’s sales. So, while it’s important for sales leaders to provide some level of coaching and guidance to all sales people, especially up-and-comers who show promise, don’t forget who your most productive salespeople are and be sure to share customer-centric tips and techniques with them.

Closing the deal

Some salespeople, including those who are younger and less experienced, often have trouble closing the deal with a prospect or client. At the end of a sales presentation, salespeople should be encouraged to use tie downs to avoid having a customer or prospect slip away from the meeting with “we’ll call you” or some equally vague response.

Tie downs are easy questions aimed to elicit a series of small “Yeses” from a client or prospect before finishing with a big “Yes.” Tie downs are basically variations on the same idea. For instance, a sales person can ask a customer after a sales presentation, “Quality is important to you, isn’t it?” Reiterate the value of the company’s products or services and finish each statement with a tie down such as “Isn’t that right?” or “Doesn’t that make sense?” Studies have shown that the effective use of tie downs will make customers and prospects more likely to agree to the big yes — the sale.