Businesses of all types have one thing in common – without customers they wouldn’t be in business. A company can survive only when it has satisfied customers and grows only by retaining them and recruiting new ones. In a recent survey of more than 100 company managers conducted at the Columbia Business School, customer focus was identified as the single most important differentiator between the best and worst companies in an industry. As an inside sales representative, you have an amazing advantage to connect with your customers on a personal level, by learning and understanding their business, their product preferences, and how you can best bring value to the relationship.
Being in the animal health field, you are no doubt bombarded with new product information, industry news, marketing detailers, and manufacturer training materials to help you better serve your customers. The most successful reps take the time to sort through all that information and focus on the benefits that will be most important to their customers.
Before the first call
Projecting confidence and knowledge is essential to successful sales, so preparation is the key. Before you make that first call to detail a new item or promotion, play devil’s advocate and ask yourself the questions your customers might ask you. You can always count on them to come up with some interesting ones! If you don’t have all the answers, find them, jot them down and you’ll be ready to tackle any questions or concerns that may come up in your sales calls.
Once you’re prepared to discuss a product or promotion, avoid the temptation to just unload all of that great information on your customers. Instead, be ready to ask questions, actively listen, and get enough feedback from your clients so that you can customize your presentation to fit their needs. The features you feel are most important may not be the ones they focus on, so asking questions allows you to find out what your clients really want and need, and how you can best fulfill it. Effective questioning techniques help build emotions in your customers and keep them engaged in what you are saying. Asking rather than telling, then responding to and acting on your customers’ answers and comments, will let them know that they are truly being heard and will often allow them to “sell” themselves.
A significant aspect of customer focus is creating positive touchpoint opportunities – those times when clients interact with any element of your business, whether it’s placing an order, receiving your faxes or emails, returning an item, or visiting your company website. Every interaction has the potential for building loyalty and creating a positive customer experience. By homing in on your most influential touchpoints, you can build stronger relationships with your customers and add value to your company.
Ask yourself a few questions: What value are you personally providing to your customers? Why do they place their orders with you – or, what is keeping them from it? What unique attributes (industry experience, great product knowledge, etc.) set you apart from your competition? How do you want customers to feel while they interact with you, and when they hang up the phone? Your answers to these questions can help you implement effective strategies to connect with your customers at each of your touchpoint opportunities.
Obviously, customer satisfaction is essential to your success, but if you pay attention to providing a great overall customer experience at each touchpoint, satisfaction occurs naturally. That overall experience will differentiate you and your company in the eyes of your customers much more than satisfaction alone. Providing positive, valuable customer experiences at every touchpoint will set you apart from your competitors.
The customer-focused – and ultimately successful – sales rep is the one who asks questions, listens to their clients to better understand their needs, and equally important, lets customers know that their feedback is highly appreciated as a valued insight. Practice this and you’ll leave a lasting impression that directly translates to loyal customers and repeat sales.
Dawn Singleton-Olson has more than 25 years of experience in the animal health industry, including distributor sales, manufacturing, practice management and as a zoo supervisor. She is a volunteer, fundraiser and board trustee for several humane organizations and the Omaha (Neb.) Police Mounted Patrol.