The focus of business today has shifted away from selling products and services to creating a great overall customer experience. Customers are now in the driver’s seat, expecting an experience that is targeted to their demands. They’re better informed today, as technology has made it easier for them to do their homework.
Customers know more about an item’s strengths and weaknesses, and even what the seller’s costs are, than ever before. They are also acutely aware of how many other suppliers they can acquire the same item from.
Some salespeople assume that customers are loyal because “We give them the best deal,” or “What we sell is what they need.” Neither of those claims holds up in today’s customer-focused market. Customers now depend less on the salesperson as a source of basic information.
Today’s customer is better informed, harder to please and less inclined to be loyal to a supplier. Connecting with this type of customer requires a different kind of selling — not just different pitches, terms and tactics, but an approach that focuses on different things and different outcomes.
Here are the factors that contribute to a customer’s overall buying decision:
- Transaction orientation. Customers buy according to how well a salesperson meets the customer’s expectations regarding the buying process. Some customers may want an easy, intuitive transaction that is predictable and hassle-free. Others may desire a more engaged and consultative buying process.
- Reliability orientation. Reliability of products and services is paramount, often because the customer’s operations depend on it. These customers will invariably choose the most reliable offerings over those with the lowest price.
- Quality and performance orientation. Customers desire the best product and service quality and are willing to pay a premium for it. High reliability is assumed. Customers place a premium on the supplier’s sustainability record.
- Brand and image orientation. Customers place a lot of trust in the supplier’s brand, reputation and market history.
- Relationship orientation. Customers appreciate their history with the supplier and the knowledge the supplier has of their business. Long-entrenched relationships between various parts of the customer and buyer organizations are key, and these relationships act as a barrier to the entry of new suppliers.
- Customized solution orientation. The supplier’s ability to innovate to meet customer specific needs is very important to today’s customers. .
Analyze existing data
Identify existing data to determine the critical points in the customer’s buying life cycle. Compiling needs and preferences data from customers can take significant effort and time, but it can make your job easier in the long run.
This information can help you understand customer values, identify key purchase drivers and measure why and how customers make decisions, and detect common themes and buying patterns.
5 customer demands
Here are the five main customer demands today:
- Be on our side. Customers expect salespeople to be their representatives within the seller’s organization.
- Be personally accountable for our desired results. Customers want salespeople to take responsibility for every aspect of the relationship between buyer and seller.
- Be proactive. This means you stay ahead of the curve with customers, anticipating problems and acting in advance to solve them.
- Solve our problems. In the past, the closing of the sale usually marked the end of the salesperson’s responsibilities. Customers now expect salespeople to not only solve their problems during the transaction itself, but throughout the business relationship.
- Be innovative in responding to our needs. Because change is the only constant in today’s environment, your customers expect you to respond to their spoken and unspoken needs.
Developing a new strategy
Here are key questions which may help you develop a new strategy for today’s customers:
- Do you have a clear understanding of the customer’s needs and what matters most in the buying process?
- Do you have a compelling and unique value proposition that creates a differential customer experience?
- Do you fully understand what your customers want to buy and why?
- Do you understand how you can drive growth from both existing customers and new prospects?
- Will your sales strategy improve customer retention while identifying new prospects?
Adapted from the book “Selling Through Someone Else,” by Robert Wollan, the Global Managing Director of Accenture’s Management Consulting Division.