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CustomerCentric Selling® Sales Training Blog

Sales Tips: Death of Product Differentiators

Posted by Jill Perez on Jul 27, 2016 8:00:00 AM

Sales Tips: Death of Product Differentiators

By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling®

sales tips for competitive advantageRita Gunther McGrath is a professor at the Columbia Business School. A few years ago her book The End of Competitive Advantage espoused the thought that shrinking product development times and shorter product life cycles make it unreasonable for vendors to enjoy long-term product advantages. I agree with her premise and feel it is a continuing trend. The concept was unsettling for people in Product Development, Product Marketing, Marketing and Sales.

I remember in my first sales position with IBM that when competing with a vendor I wasn’t familiar with, I’d contact the regional competitive analysis support staff to explain the situation. They’d provide “knock-offs” (perceived strengths of our offering or weaknesses of the competing vendor). I’m not sure it helped sellers as they made calls with a rigid idea of where they wanted to take buyers. There certainly were instances where selling against competitors took precedent over selling our own offerings. 

Years ago a phrase I often used was: Given price and product are relatively equal, the better seller will win most of the time. By that I meant that the way somebody sold could provide the Holy Grail: a sustainable competitive advantage. For the last 10 years or so I’ve amended my thought to:

The company that provides a superior buying experience will win most of the time.

This change reflects the fact that most buying experiences now begin electronically, and it’s important for Sales and Marketing to coordinate efforts and agree to the steps needed to nurture visitors to develop them into leads.

That said, opportunities begin in one of two (2) ways: 

  1. Inbound - Which for many complex B2B offerings means that mid to low level staff are evaluating products with or without sponsorship (budget?) from executives. To Rita McGrath’s point, the buying experience (how to handle visitors) will change quickly as companies frequently research what their competitors are doing and making changes accordingly to their websites and strategies.

Some of the major challenges with inbound are that:

  • Visitors evaluate several vendors in parallel (there usually is no “Column A vendor”)
  • Entry points are low and gaining access to higher levels may be difficult
  • Vendors don’t have the ability to target companies they feel most likely fit the profile of an ideal prospect
  1. Outbound - Key Players are difficult to contact, but proactive outbound efforts to take them from latent to active need to achieve specific business outcomes provides huge benefits to vendors that are successful in doing so:
  • Higher entry points make qualification easier
  • Taking Key Players from latent to active need allow sellers to start as Column A
  • Average transaction sizes are likely to be larger because budget constraints aren’t as much in play
  • Buying cycles will usually be shorter
  • Win rates will likely be higher
  • Ideal profiles can be targeted

Googling “cold calling is dead” recently yielded 3,750,000 hits. Traditional cold calling will yield disappointing results. Two findings from an American Marketing Association survey provide insight as to why:

  1. On average it takes 7.2 contacts before reaching executives
  2. An overwhelming majority of sellers give up after making 1-3 contact attempts

Vendors that realize bus dev should be a process rather than a random activity and design a series of touches will have the ability to proactively build pipelines that start at executive levels. If it were easy everyone would be doing it. Those that do it well have a reward waiting:

A sustainable competitive advantage. 

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Need some help to increase sales? Take a look at the sales training workshops available to get started and improve sales performance. Your Roadmap to Revenue Growth® awaits!

Topics: sales tips, selling tips, sales process, improve sales performance, sales approach, selling process, sales technique, sales tip, selling technique, sales performance, selling approach

Sales Tips: Stop Spouting Features Buyers Don't Need

Posted by Jill Perez on Jul 20, 2016 8:00:00 AM

Sales Tips: Stop Spouting Features Your Buyers Don't Need

By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling®

sales tips for understanding buyer needsMost salespeople are proud of the products/offerings they sell. The most significant mistake I made when starting my Sales career was to believe my job was educating buyers about offerings. One of the biggest challenges was determining which features were relevant to buyers I was calling on.

I’m not proud to share there were instances where I got into “spray and pray” mode by blindly telling buyers about features. This was a tremendous waste of the buyer’s time and made little or no progress toward earning sales. Beyond that, when buyers decided certain features mentioned weren’t relevant, they were likely to start down the road of concluding that my offering was too complicated and therefore too expensive. This was an early death spiral for most buying cycles.

Since we created CustomerCentric Selling® in 2002, we have said the primary difference between superior sellers (A Players) and the rest (B and C Players) is patience. There are many areas where patience is important, but presenting offerings AFTER understanding a buyer’s needs is critical. 

In my mind superior sellers earn the right to talk about specific capabilities of their offerings. The best way I know is to follow the Covey core concept: Start with the end in mind. By that I mean sellers should create diagnostic questions for potentially relevant features. Based upon how buyers answer these questions should enable sellers to present only those parts of their offerings that buyers are likely to find useful/valuable.

A seller’s mission in first calls can be defined as: 

  1. Learning a buyer’s desired business outcomes.
  2. Asking diagnostic questions so that buyers understand barriers to achieving outcomes.
  3. Offering only those capabilities that address the barriers.
  4. Asking the buyer if having those capabilities would enable them to achieve the outcomes.

Blurting out random features or worse yet, doing “spray and pray” demonstrations without first understanding buyer needs is like entering a dark cave without a flashlight. I strongly suggest sellers do pre-call planning by creating diagnostic questions, which can be very enlightening for buyers.  

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Need some help to increase sales? Take a look at the sales training workshops available to get started and improve sales performance. Your Roadmap to Revenue Growth® awaits!

Topics: sales tips, selling tips, sales process, improve sales performance, sales approach, selling process, sales technique, sales tip, selling technique, sales performance, selling approach

Sales Tips: LinkedIn Social Selling

Posted by Jill Perez on Jul 13, 2016 2:49:33 PM

Sales Tips: How to Leverage LinkedIn Social Selling

By Gary Walker, EVP of Channel Sales & Operations, CustomerCentric Selling®

LinkedIn Social Selling Sales TipsI’m a regular contributor to CustomerCentric Selling®’s weekly ‘Sales Thought.’ (If you're not receiving them in your inbox every Monday morning, CLICK HERE to subscribe.) For those of you following me, you see a short article, a sales tip, maybe even a sales tactic, about every third week that I personally author. As a contributor, I’m on a mission to provide you with actionable information that you can use to:

  • improve your sales performance
  • add to or improve your existing skill set
  • and potentially help advance a current opportunity you're working on.

Why? Because in almost every respect I am a salesperson just like you are. I’m constantly striving to be more effective. On a daily basis I’m working to:

  • identify new opportunities
  • engage with senior sales executives
  • identify issues that I might be in a position to help them address
  • understand why these issues exist
  • understand how these issues are impacting their sales organizations and salespeople
  • and understand what CustomerCentric Selling® capabilities they believe they need, moving forward, to correct the performance of an underperforming team.

This week, it’s going to be a little different. I recently came across a blog entitled, “5 Ways to Boost B2B Sales Through LinkedIn Social Selling” that I want to share with you. It was written by Russell Banzon, Demand Generation Manager at Inkling. I’ve elected to share this with you for the following reasons:

1. You can put his five (5) strategies into play immediately; they are all actionable now. They are tactical!

2. His strategies are identical to what we have been teaching in our CustomerCentric Selling® Prospecting and Business Development Work Sessions.  

3. Social Selling continues to be overlooked by most salespeople and the organizations they work for. However, did you know that social sellers create 45% more opportunities and are 51% more likely to achieve quota?

4. LinkedIn is NOT just a place where you post your profile and sit on the sidelines and wait. You've got to join in the game. It’s time to participate!

5. Articles, posts and blogs like these give people the courage to begin to change how they sell.  

6. It helps validate what we have been instructing our clients to do for the last three (3) years!  

Like I said, this is a departure from my traditional contributions and posts, but I think you will benefit from Russell’s strategies and how succinctly he has positioned them. Read it, begin to put them into play and forward this post to a co-worker or peer.

CLICK HERE to read Russell's post on LinkedIn Social Selling.

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Need some help to increase sales? Take a look at the sales training workshops available to get started and improve sales performance. Your Roadmap to Revenue Growth® awaits!

Topics: sales tips, selling tips, sales process, improve sales performance, sales approach, selling process, sales technique, sales tip, selling technique, sales performance, selling approach

Sales Tips: Always Stay Curious

Posted by Jill Perez on Jul 13, 2016 8:00:00 AM

Sales Tips: Why Sellers Should Always Stay Curious

By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling®

sales tips to always stay curiousThere are many successful professionals I know that would struggle in a selling role. The skill set needed to be a successful B2B salesperson is daunting. When people are asked what the requisite characteristics of a successful salesperson are, one of the most common responses is having “nice way” with people. That may be true of a greeter as Caesar’s Palace but sellers have to be much more that that.

As you might expect, some characteristics of successful sellers include:

  • strong verbal skills
  • intelligence
  • extensive industry knowledge
  • resiliency
  • willingness to risk compensation on performance, etc.

Once acquired, most skills remain assets for salespeople but I feel there is one notable exception: Curiosity.

In my mind superior sellers go into initial meetings or conversations with a strong desire to find out as much as they can about the buyer:

  • His/her desired business outcomes
  • A mutual understanding of why they can’t be achieve today
  • A good idea that the potential benefit will outweigh the cost

Sadly, over the years sellers can get to the point where they feel they’ve “seen it all.” This attitude usually causes fewer questions to be asked. Shortcuts are taken in need development as many assumptions are being made. To a buyer, this attitude may be perceived as a lack of interest.

Without realizing it, buyers may conclude the seller is merely going through the motions. In fact, an early sign of waning curiosity is sellers deciding pre-call planning and preparation aren’t necessary.

Most likely, an experienced seller has been guilty of not putting his or her best foot forward in some calls for whatever reason. My suggestion is to try to be sure to focus on being curious about each buyer.

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Need some help to increase sales? Take a look at the sales training workshops available to get started and improve sales performance. Your Roadmap to Revenue Growth® awaits!

Topics: sales tips, selling tips, sales process, improve sales performance, sales approach, selling process, sales technique, sales tip, selling technique, sales performance, selling approach

Sales Tips: Responding to "What Does Your Company Do?"

Posted by Jill Perez on Jul 6, 2016 8:00:00 AM

Sales Tips: How Sellers Should Respond to "What Does Your Company Do?"

By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling®

sales tips for handling buyer questionsCompanies are intensely focused on their offerings/products. I appreciate there are many valid reasons this is necessary. A major issue is passing this focus onto sellers who are given a great deal of product training despite that it can become a barrier for them to be “customer- centric.” Products unto themselves provide buyers neither value nor payback. Having buyers understand HOW offerings can be used to achieve desired business results should be a seller’s primary focus.

An unfortunate consequence of extensive training is that for B and C Players, talking about offerings becomes their comfort zone. Is it any wonder this opens them up to objections and premature discussions of price? Key Players are generally unwilling to tolerate product pitches. Some calls will end abruptly with sellers being delegated to lower levels starting the “death spiral” for opportunities.

Buyers, sellers and vendors would be better served if:

  • Companies and sellers viewed each offering as a potential means to an end.
  • Ends were defined as desired buyer business outcomes having inherent value.
  • Sellers realized titles might have different desired ends than others in buying committees.
  • Each person’s perspectives were known, enabling sellers to present “enterprise-views” of the potential value that can be realized. Sellers that fail to get each person’s perspective leave potential benefit on the table and will have less compelling values to present.

The way sellers answer a simple question can go a long way toward determining the outcome of a sales call. When asked: What does your company do? Answers that refer to offerings give buyers options to drive conversations in sub-optimal directions. If a seller answers by saying, “We offer sales training,” then buyer responses can be:

  • Our salespeople don’t need training.
  • There’s no budget for sales training.
  • How much does the training cost?
  • Tell me about your training.

Consider the last response. A seller is 30 seconds into a phone call and being told to describe his or her offering with no idea of a buyer’s needs. It is analogous to being invited into a dark cave without a flashlight! Somehow sellers must attempt to get buyers talking about their situations.

A better seller response would be to reference results the vendor has helped clients achieve, followed by a question to start a conversation such as: We help clients identify and share best practices to empower a higher percentage of sellers to achieve quota. How do you share your top performers’ techniques with other salespeople?

Steven Covey created the brilliant concept of starting with the end in mind. “A Players” learn the ends first. Next, they help buyers understand why ends can’t be achieved in the current environment. They offer the means (only the relevant capabilities) and seek buyer agreement. Lastly, they ask buyers: If you had these (capabilities) could you achieve the desired outcome? 

At Key Player levels, vendors and sellers are more likely to be successful when B2B buying decisions are focused on outcomes and usage rather than offerings.

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Need some help to increase sales? Take a look at the sales training workshops available to get started and improve sales performance. Your Roadmap to Revenue Growth® awaits!

Topics: sales tips, selling tips, sales process, improve sales performance, sales approach, selling process, sales technique, sales tip, selling technique, sales performance, selling approach

Sales Tips: Is There a Worse Way To Ask for the Business?

Posted by Jill Perez on Jun 29, 2016 8:00:00 AM

Sales Tips: A Poor Way to Close

By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling®

Proposal ContractMany sales organizations place an extraordinarily high emphasis on closing. To ensure we’re on the same page let’s define closing as asking for the business. While exceptions (end of month, quarter, year) are common, my belief is that sellers are closing prematurely if buyers don’t have everything they need to make decisions. Closing too early pressures buyers. The best case is that concessions or discounting are necessary. The worst case is a loss to another vendor or to no decision.

When you think about it, issuing a proposal is a closing technique, as it should contain all the information needed to make buying decisions. In my experience, most proposals (especially those issued in multiple copies) are presented too soon. I’m especially concerned if an executive’s first exposure to a vendor is a proposal. I hope you’d agree in many cases the document isn’t fully read and an executive is likely to go toward the end to see the pricing. Absent any idea of value or a vendor’s capabilities they are likely to have sticker shock.

Ultimately proposals don’t sell, salespeople do. My suggestions:

  • Ask for the order only AFTER the buyer has everything they need
  • Try to provide proposals ONLY to Key Players that you’ve spoken to
  • Don’t expect anyone but your “coach” to read the proposal “cover-to-cover”
  • Proposals should document and confirm what has already been discussed and there should be no surprises in proposals
  • State an expiration date and enforce it. Many proposals linger in pipelines for months until they are finally acknowledges as losses. Proposals, like radioactivity, have half-lives.

I hope you agree proposals are a poor way to close. Consider trying to orchestrate a way to meet with buyers toward the end of buying cycles and review a draft of the proposal with Key Players. Certainly, getting it front of a buying committee just before they are scheduled to make decisions is a strong indicator that you are the preferred vendor.

sales training workshops

Need some help to increase sales? Take a look at the sales training workshops available to get started and improve sales performance. Your Roadmap to Revenue Growth® awaits!

Topics: sales tips, selling tips, sales process, improve sales performance, sales approach, selling process, crm, sales technique, sales tip, selling technique, sales performance, closing, selling approach

Sales Tips: How to Go from the Underdog to the Favorite

Posted by Jill Perez on Jun 28, 2016 8:00:00 AM

Sales Tips: Winning Sales - How to Go from Underdog to the Favorite

By Mike Brose, Primary Intelligence

A client who has a 75% plus market share in one of the healthcare device markets had been reviewing their loss engagements over the course of a few months with their program team and me. Through a series of Discovery sessions, we identified a trend unbeknownst to the sales reps that was causing them to lose sales. At first glance, you would think price is the reason, but as we dove into the responses from the buyers, the real issue became very clear.

Initially the client thought the competition was out-pricing them. Their product was priced 15% to 30% higher than the competition, according to buyers. However, their product wasn’t really priced too high. The sales teams were too complacent with the product they sold.

The sales reps, accustomed to winning, approached their buyers with the “best and newest offering” that had features and functions the buyer didn’t need at the time.

So what was the competition offering?

UnderdogUnderdogs vs. Favorites

The competition has been looking for a way to get in the door at the hospital chains and find a way to break the dominance our client has in many healthcare systems. Knowing they are the underdog when competing against our client, the competition paid attention to what the buyer was asking for.

Buyers Have More Choices

Now our client’s competition is starting to get some traction by listening closely and understanding the specific needs of the client. If ignored, this could be a hefty loss to our client as substantial market share—including their utmost loyal clients—will soon have multiple vendors at their sites. Their competition is configuring or offering a solution that best fits the buyer’s needs even if it isn’t the “latest and the greatest” product.

Understanding Buyer Needs is Job #1

Don’t get me wrong. Innovation is important. But listening to the buyer and tailoring your product for each buyer is paramount. You need to make sure your intent is to help them get the best solution for their needs regardless if you are used to winning 75% to 80% of the time. In those deals you lose to the competition where they can get a foothold.

If the sales teams were listening and offering the best solution they could—even if it is a basic offering—they will continue to benefit from the blue ocean. Where often in the losses we are seeing there is now blood in the water. Watch out for the sharks.

Click the image below to download Sales Rehab's Episode 26 with Primary Intelligence CEO, Ken Allred as he talks with CCS® President/COO Frank Visgatis about buyer needs and what companies are doing wrong in attempting to understand losses.

Sales Rehab Podcast with Frank Visgatis

Need some help to increase sales? Take a look at the sales training workshops available to get started and improve sales performance. Your Roadmap to Revenue Growth® awaits!

Read more sales training articles for helpful sales tips and techniques from CustomerCentric Selling® - The Sales Training Company.

Topics: sales tips, selling tips, sales process, sales approach, selling process, crm, sales technique, sales tip, selling technique, selling approach, win loss, win loss reports, competitive intelligence

Sales Tips: "Trust but Verify" Opportunities

Posted by Jill Perez on Jun 22, 2016 8:00:00 AM

Sales Tips: "Trust but Verify" Opportunities

By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling®

sales tips for qualifying sales opportunitiesLet’s lay the cards out on the table. Sellers that are underperforming aren’t much interested in accurately forecasting what will close in the next few months. Their primary concern is keeping sales managers off their backs by showing they have adequate activity to get at or near YTD against quota. There is an inherent conflict of agendas.

Rightfully, a great deal has been made about hearing “the voice of the customer.” Within CCS® this means achieving milestones based upon buyer actions rather than seller opinions. As an example, we define a Champion as a person within an organization that will provide access to the titles a seller must call on to sell, fund and implement an offering. We show a way to request access via an email. If and when the seller indicates the buyer has agreed to provide access, the manager can then grade the opportunity at the “Champion” milestone.

While sellers can misunderstand or lie about whether or not champions have agreed to provide access, this is NOT a one-time qualification. Over the coming weeks the seller should be able to debrief the calls made on the titles that were requested. By doing so the opportunity remains at the milestone. If after a reasonable period of time no access has been granted, the opportunity either slides to the previous milestone or is removed from the pipeline.

Ronald Reagan is given credit for coining the phrase: “Trust but verify.” Taking this approach with sellers in grading pipelines can allow much better visibility into qualifying opportunities.

Social Selling podcast

Need some help to increase sales? Take a look at the sales training workshops available to get started and improve sales performance. Your Roadmap to Revenue Growth® awaits!

Topics: sales tips, selling tips, sales process, improve sales performance, sales approach, selling process, sales qualification, qualifying opportunities, sales technique, sales tip, selling technique, sales performance, selling approach, opportunity qualification

Sales Tips: Set Aside Time to Perfect Your Skills

Posted by Jill Perez on Jun 21, 2016 1:19:35 PM

Sales Tips: Make Time to Perfect Your Skills

By Gary Walker, EVP of Channel Sales & Operations, CustomerCentric Selling®

practice skillsHow many hours have you set aside this week to perfect your sales skills?

Flying home the other day, I picked up a copy of the USA Today and was reading about the NFL workouts that are currently underway. I’m talking about the rookie camps and the veteran practices that precede the start of pre-season training for the 2017 NFL season. I thought, these players are the best at what they do, professionals, experts at their positions, yet here they are, early summer, practicing! Most are recruited out of college and are paid handsomely for playing a game that most have played all of their lives. However, what dawned on me is that they don’t just sit around all ‘off-season’ doing nothing. Even during off-season they practice and stay in shape. Even before the pre-season begins, the best of the best in the NFL practice daily.  And once the season begins, they practice twice a day, for four or five days before game day. That’s right, they don’t sit around and play video games and wait for someone to yell, “Who wants to play on Sunday?” They are on it! They are continually practicing to improve their skills to be the professionals they are paid to be.

Now let me ask you a few questions:

  • How many times since attending sales training have you actually set aside the time to practice and attempt to improve your ability to execute what you learned?
  • When was the last time, in anticipation of an impending meeting with a prospect, that you sat down with your manager or a co-worker and actually practiced the conversation you wanted to have?
  • When was the last time you took the time prior to a sales call, to attempt to anticipate the questions or requests that you might receive and practice how you will respond?
  • What is the likelihood that you will be outsold by a better-prepared salesperson, a salesperson who takes the time to practice their profession?
  • How many times can you afford to be outsold by a better-prepared professional salesperson before you have to start looking for new work?
  • Is sales call preparation for you simply doing what you did the last time?
  • How many times following a loss have you looked introspectively at your skills and actions, to determine what you personally need to do better to prepare to win?

You are responsible for your own sales success. If you want to truly be a successful, professional salesperson, it is going to take practice, practice - and more practice.

mobile sales app

Need some help to increase sales? Take a look at the sales training workshops available to get started and improve sales performance. Your Roadmap to Revenue Growth® awaits!

Topics: sales tips, selling tips, sales process, improve sales performance, sales approach, sales skills, sales skills improvement, improve sales skills, selling process, sales technique, sales tip, selling technique, sales performance, selling approach

Sales Tips: Why Phone Interviews Are Effective in Collecting Customer Insights

Posted by Jill Perez on Jun 16, 2016 8:00:00 AM

Sales Tips: Why Phone Interviews Are My Favorite Method for Collecting Customer Insights

By Jessica Bledsoe, Primary Intelligence

I lead Primary Intelligence’s new Research & Development division. I was tasked with developing new solutions that allow our clients to understand and act on the insights we gather through our Win Loss and Customer Experience programs. Plus, anything else I think sounds interesting. (It’s a pretty awesome job.)

To succeed, my lifeblood is customer insights. I want to hear how they spend their days, their problems, what they like most about our services, where they want us to improve, and everything in between. I also talk to plenty of non-customers (or, to use the marketing euphemism, “potential customers”) to identify new problems we might solve.

I’ve led marketing and have worked with plenty of sales leaders, and their need for customer insights was just as urgent. In fact, there are probably few jobs in an organization that wouldn’t benefit from customer insights. We all want to understand our customer better. So, how do you do it?

I’d like to argue in favor of phone interviews, but first let me share some thoughts on two popular methods: on-site interviews and Net Promoter Score (NPS).

On-Site Interviews – The Holy Grail?On-Site Interviews – The Holy Grail?

I am pretty confident a poll of product, marketing, and sales leaders would reveal the majority of those people believe on-site interviews is the “best” method for customer insights. We instinctively understand sitting in the same room as another human is helpful to capture body language, focus, and build rapport.

I too love meeting with customers face-to-face. It breeds trust quickly. But, I’m also aware of three potential limitations with on-site interviews.

Time

Let’s get real: Who has the time to continually travel the country speaking to customers while still doing your day job? I know the popular thought is there is nothing more important than meeting with customers. It’s true.

But, I’ve also learned that everything is about balance. If 90% of my time is spent speaking with customers or traveling to and from speaking with customers, that means only 10% of my time is spent taking action on those insights. That doesn’t seem right.

Let’s say I bring it down to 50% / 50%. In a typical 50-hour work week, that leaves only 25 hours for customer insights. Most trips take 5 to 10 hours of travel time, all in all, and require staying overnight at least on one leg. In reality, I could get to maybe 2 customers a week if I really planned well. That’s a hard schedule.

Money

Besides the time cost, the actual expense of travel has to be considered. This is a balancing act as well. With virtual meetings becoming the norm and budgets under scrutiny, you have to make a strong case for a large travel budget to meet with customers. The benefits of being on-site have to significantly outweigh the cost. Which brings me to my next point…

Candor

If you’ve spent time on social media, you know distance often breeds candor. Many people are willing to be more honest in an anonymous forum than an email, and more honest in an email than a phone call, and more honest in a phone call than a face-to-face meeting. Because candor is what you need for customer insights, be wary of this potential limitation of meeting on-site: people will have a harder time being candid when they’re sitting across the table from you.

Primary Intelligence once worked with a client who really wanted on-site win loss interviews. Our consultant traveled the country to conduct video-recorded interviews. It took a month and cost the client four times more than phone interviews, but it also delivered rich insights. However, when I asked the consultant about the experience, she said it was surprising how “polite” people were when talking to her. As a third-party, we are used to blunt feedback in our phone interviews because participants have no relationship with us and know they won’t hurt our feelings. The consultant expected the same candor for the in-person meetings, but said there was something about her sitting across the table that caused some people to clam up.

B2B Vendor Success SurveyNPS Surveys – Easy, but not Actionable?

I once created a dashboard with one score on it. When I spoke to users, they told me how valuable a single score was because it would be easy for them to explain to their bosses. I asked how they would use it to take action and mostly heard silence. I worried they were favoring ease of explanation over value. I worry Net Promoter Score (NPS) does the same.

NPS emerged in the past decades as the simplest way to get the insight you needed from customers by performing a one-question survey on your website, via email, or even over the phone. The survey asks if the customer would recommend you to others. NPS is reported as an aggregate score, which means you have a single number acting as a leading indicator for customer spend and growth.

I think NPS is good. It’s easy for customers to participate, easy to implement, and easy to understand. However, as a product leader, as a marketing leader, and as a friend of many sales leaders, I can’t understand what action to take when I see an NPS score.

Customer Experience Analysis is largely about the individual customer, though you will definitely make systemic improvements to help all customers. You can’t afford to generalize your accounts, especially not your top revenue clients. I want to know if this one customer will renew or not, so a single aggregate score is not helpful.

But even if I take that one customer’s NPS rating alone, it doesn’t even point me in a direction. There is no understanding of needs, benefits, effort, or any of the areas I want to understand to know my customer better. The one benefit I see is NPS can point me to customers who are detractors so I can interview them first to understand what’s going wrong.

Tips for a quality for interviewWhy Phone Interviews are My Favorite Method

I know I’m biased – phone interviews are the core of Primary Intelligence’s data collection process – but there is a reason.

A client recently described a year-long project her company completed where their customer insights team went on-site to more than 100 customers and sat with them for multiple days to understand how they work, what their day is like, and where the client’s product was helping or hurting their process.  From those learnings, the company designed a new corporate strategy that was genuinely focused on their customers.

Our client shared the story because we had just completed a series of customer phone interviews and our findings aligned well with the major insights from the year-long project. I took some pride in knowing we had done it in a quarter of the time and likely a tenth of the cost. Clearly their on-site research was still vital, but it reaffirmed to me the quality of phone discussions.

In my experience, phone interviews often do the trick, especially when I include a web survey with quantitative questions prior to the call. Phone interviews provide the balancing act between depth of insights and effort required.

Phone calls are relatively low effort for the customer. It takes about 30 minutes of their time with little, if any, prep time needed. During the conversation, customers have the opportunity to explain their opinions and experience in depth, without the effort of writing it all out.

Phone interviews are pretty low effort on my part too. It takes a bit of time to coordinate schedules and prepare the questions I want to cover, but once I’m on the call, I just need to focus on having a good conversation. Active listening is honestly the hardest part, along with resisting the urge to offer solutions to their issues or counteract a shared opinion, but it’s a skill set you can learn.

Most importantly, a well-planned phone discussion offers a high level of detail. I can ask clarifying questions and refocus the conversation in a way that an in-depth survey wouldn’t be able to, with the added benefit of hearing voice inflection and tone.

CX Analysis Spectrum

Tips for a Quality Phone Interview

I’ll end with a few recommendations for conducting a phone discussion, based on our experience in doing more than 25,000 such interviews.

A good phone interview is:

  1. Scheduled – Set up a formal time to speak with your customers, rather than on-the-fly discussions. It ensures the discussion is not rushed and gives the customer a chance to prepare, if needed.
  2. Planned – Don’t wing it or the moment you hang up you’ll think of 10 questions you forgot to ask. Take the time to think through a set of discussion questions you can use for all customers, knowing you can add more if the conversation shifts course.
  3. Conversational – You should stay somewhat neutral to avoid leading the responses, but that doesn’t mean you have to sound like a pollster reading from a script. The more the discussion sounds like a conversation, the more candid the feedback.
  4. Both Quantitative and Qualitative – You really need both question types. A qualitative question describes the situation while a quantitative question can pinpoint exactly what the description means. (Check out this article for a closer look at qualitative versus quantitative data.)
  5. Recorded – Trust me: it’s very hard to be an active listener when you’re scribbling notes. A recorded call allows you to listen better, catch nuance, and share the recording with others so they can hear the true voice of the customer.
  6. Analyzed – Don’t leave the feedback raw; put some structure around it through analysis. What are the major themes? What will likely drive a future purchase decision? Create concise, focused insights that can be shared throughout your organization so everyone can benefit from the discussion.

Click the image below to download Sales Rehab's Episode 26 with Primary Intelligence CEO, Ken Allred as he talks with CCS® President/COO Frank Visgatis about buyer needs and what companies are doing wrong in attempting to understand losses.

Sales Rehab Podcast with Frank Visgatis

Need some help to increase sales? Take a look at the sales training workshops available to get started and improve sales performance. Your Roadmap to Revenue Growth® awaits!

Read more sales training articles for helpful sales tips and techniques from CustomerCentric Selling® - The Sales Training Company.

Topics: sales tips, selling tips, sales process, sales approach, selling process, crm, sales technique, sales tip, selling technique, selling approach, win loss, win loss reports, competitive intelligence

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