Collaborative Selling During Tough Economic Times – by Tony Alessandra
Have you found that your competitors are more aggressive than they used to be?  Do you have more competitors than you’ve had in the past?  Does it seem that it’s harder to sell your product now than just a few years ago?  Are you finding it harder to differentiate yourself from your competitors?  Are price issues a constant problem?
If you answered “yes” to more than one of these questions, welcome to the world of tough economic times. 
In order to achieve success in today’s hyper-competitive and downward spiraling economy, your company must develop the needed sales skills to develop long-term relationships with its best customers. Too often, however, the constant push to increase sales and market share from new business leads companies away from their current customers and, instead, towards solely finding new ones. Such a strategy is a terrible waste of time and money.
Since 1974, while working with some of the smartest and most successful companies across America, I have learned that the ability to create “apostles” – a group of raving fans who will “preach your message” and “sing your praises” to the marketplace and set your company on the path towards stable, long-term growth.
Finding the Right Prospects and Avoiding the Wrong Prospects
Smart companies profile the top twenty percent of their current customers who typically provide eighty percent of their profits to determine the most important characteristics of a company’s best, most potentially loyal customers.
Looking for new business is very expensive. Therefore, companies need to avoid the wrong kinds of prospects. Just as it is critical in distinguishing the attributes of the right prospects, a company needs to outline the characteristics that make-up the bottom twenty percent of their customer base. Anybody in business can easily recognize who the complainers, price-grinders, and transaction-oriented clients are. By clearly understanding the bad traits of those bottom twenty-percent, companies can much easier avoid the wrong prospects and focus their resources on the upper twenty-percent instead.
The Steps to Successful Sales
When a company is ready to make contact with the right type of prospect, three steps are used to move to the next stair – “making the sale”. A successful sale is like building a pyramid; each step depends upon the success of the previous ones, and no step can be omitted without creating disaster.
Exploring Needs:  In this stage of the collaborative sales process, salespeople conduct research, meet with their prospects frequently, and do whatever it takes to become an expert on their prospect’s business.  This requires excellent skills in questioning, listening and feedback.
Collaborating Solutions:  Collaborative salespeople conduct the presentation process in the spirit of “let’s work together on the solution and together build a commitment to its successful implementation.” 
Confirming the Sale:  Confirming the sale should be a matter of when, not if. It is the logical conclusion to an ongoing communication and problem-solving process. If sales resistance does occur, the salesperson simply gathers more information or clarifies any details.
Building Long-Term Customers
Through the keen application of astounding customer service, smart companies design strategies that assure that customer expectations are consistently identified, managed, and monitored. Customers who consistently have their expectations exceeded are those who become apostles for your company.
Converting Customers into Apostles
Creating apostles should be the highest goal of customer development. Apostles will do more for your organization through their goodwill and word of mouth than almost any other form of marketing or sales. Smart companies look to double the number of apostles each year by moving prospects, sales, and customers up the stairs of customer loyalty. Such leading companies are the ones that will dominate their industries now and survive and thrive in these difficult economic times.

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