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Holding on to valuable customers

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Getting The Edge In Professional Selling
Terence A. Hockenhull

A SALES FORCE tasked with increasing sales by an additional 20% within a relatively short time frame are unlikely to go out and look for new customers. They will almost certainly approach their existing client base and look for an increase in orders. And leaning heavily on the relationship that exists with a loyal client base, they may very well be able to secure the additional sales they are looking for (in the short term). Indeed, correctly managed, these clients may possibly provide an increase in long-term sales too (but only if significant effort is expended in helping the client rationalize the need for new/additional purchases.)

Acquiring new customers (as opposed to selling to pre-existing, loyal clients) demands a huge effort in terms of time, money, and human resources. Nonetheless, looking to expand a business or increase long-term sales demands that efforts are expended in this area. Even the best run businesses will experience some attrition of customers and these need to be replaced.

The importance of retaining new customers cannot be stressed enough. In fairness, most professional salespeople are aware of this. Nonetheless, it is not only salespeople who interact with clients; the rest of the organization has a similar responsibility to keep this in mind. Perhaps a good example of this was the occasion I bought a new car. The sales executive handling the sale went out of her way to answer questions, respond to my stated needs and render satisfactory levels of service that boded well for future dealing with her company.  I’m happy with my choice of vehicle; it certainly lives up to expectations. Nonetheless, routine and non-routine servicing leaves much to be desired. Even with an appointment (that I now have to wait two weeks for) I have to wait for the service technician to see me, listen to my service requirements, and book the car, wasting an hour or so of my time. Renewing the insurance this week, I determined to check another reputable provider for an alternate quote. I was horrified to find out the dealer was charging 60% more (well over P10,000) more than the other company. I complained and the quote was immediately reduced to something which was competitive.

No surprise that this has left a slightly sour taste in my mouth! Certainly, reviewing what I paid last year, I feel I have been ripped-off. Will I switch brands next time around? Probably not. However, if I find another brand that meets my needs just as well, I will certainly take an “interested” look!

As I say, salespeople know that treating their customers well is a prerequisite to keeping them loyal. It is the organization that needs to understand that every “touch-point” must similarly do their part to keep the customer satisfied. Too often, one hears stories that reflect this situation when a complaint to service personnel is met with “This is the best we can do.” It is rarely the “best they can do” and is far more indicative of “the best they are willing to do.”

Changing a company’s attitude to customers cannot be achieved overnight. In the first instance, there must internal recognition that customer service, quality, and support is not being rendered and internal changes may have to be made to bring performance in line with customers’ expectations. A customer satisfaction survey might help (although experience tends to show that these are rarely given the time or attention needed to come up with any useable data). Close working relationships with one-on-one meetings to secure feedback on clients’ expectations, thoughts, opinions, and needs are perhaps a better way of gathering data. Opportunities exist during the sale process (even if the sale is lost) and during product or service delivery to gather further data on customers’ needs and requirements.

There is no question that client loyalty and customer satisfaction ride hand-in-hand. The sales executives must play their part to get the benefits from a loyal client base that will continue to buy. The organization and everyone in it must have a similar understanding of the importance of the customer, and structure activities, procedures, and policy to render exceptional service and retain existing and loyal customers.

Terence A. Hockenhull is a long-term resident of the Philippines. He is an accomplished sales consultant who currently holds an executive sales position with an Italian geotechnical company.

hockenhull@gmail.com.