By Walt Zeglinski
Even as the economy hints at making a rebound, markets are becoming more competitive and products are rapidly commoditizing. As customers cautiously begin to spend their tightly held dollars, companies are realizing that re-establishing their previous customer relationships isn't enough. The success of their growth strategy depends on increasing customer acquisition and loyalty.
Traditionally, sales organizations were charged with executing successful growth strategies. However, in today's upside-down economy, all employees are being asked to contribute to achieving revenue goals by upgrading their sales capabilities as part of an overall commitment to growth. Therein lies the first dilemma: how to acquire new customers and increase the number of products and services purchased per customer, while maintaining the high level responsiveness customers have come to expect. Despite the economic downturn, customers still demand high levels of service.
If you can identify ways to transform your employees' service best practices into "service-selling" behaviors, you can expect to increase your customer base and your bottom line. That's the second dilemma: convincing your service employees to integrate selling practices into their customer interactions. It means getting these employees to move beyond their current perception of what sales is, and to how their use of ethical principles in selling can be a service to their customers.
In a pure service culture, organizational and employee behavior is contingent on their knowledge and skill in responding to customer questions or concerns. However, in a service-selling culture, employees practice the attitudes, beliefs and skills to proactively seek to understand customers' wants and needs that will increase the value created in every customer experience. Service organizations that have not made this transition will find organic growth difficult. In fact, research has shown that a positive customer-service reputation does not guarantee you will be the first choice by consumers.
In order to achieve significant growth, everyone in an organization must enhance their commitment to identifying the specific wants and needs of their customers and demonstrating how the organization's products and services can fulfill them. By helping your service-selling teams to develop the attitude, beliefs and skills to provide more value to customers, they will build stronger emotional bonds in the relationship, a key prerequisite for customer receptivity and loyalty.
Overcoming the Barriers to Change
Many organizations serve their markets and their customers with a high level of personal "touch." Even in today's troubled economy and despite more aggressive competition and little differentiation, most committed service organizations can maintain their reputation for providing a high level of customer focus. At a time when most consumers feel "like a number," this has great appeal.
But the successful transformation from a service culture to a service-selling culture can have many barriers — and most of them have nothing to do with knowledge and skill. Many employees struggle with the concern that embracing a sales philosophy may not be in the best interest of customers. As a result, they are resistant to adopting a service-selling philosophy.
To make matters worse, this negative view of selling has created a cynical perspective with leaders in many organizations. Although non-sales leadership may still be committed to growth, they will resist a strategy that may force superior service to take a back seat.
A successful transformation must engage the hearts and minds of employees and their leaders. To accomplish this, they must learn to embrace the definition of selling and service as two sides of the same coin. In our experience, employees will change their perceptions if they discover that selling, like service, is focused on identifying and fulfilling needs to create value for customers (rather than pushing products). In fact, if selling can be redefined as "doing something for someone," your team will give themselves "permission" to ask the extra question or provide the added benefit that increases value. Once this is achieved, you will be on the path to transformational change.
Building a Bridge between Service and Selling
Organizations that encourage their employees to practice ethical principles while selling and serving customers, will find their people willing to reach beyond their traditional roles and establish a foundation for deeper, more productive customer relationships. Here are 11 ethical Principles that, if consistently applied, will assist your employees build their service-selling relationships with your customers:
- Service and selling are an exchange of value.
- Service and selling are not something you do to customers; it's something you do for and with them.
- Developing trust and rapport precedes any service or selling activity.
- Understanding a customer's wants or needs always precedes an attempt to offer a solution.
- Service and selling techniques must give way to values-driven principles.
- Truth, respect and honesty provide the basis for long-term success with customers.
- Service and selling pressure is never exerted by a service team. It's exerted only by customers when they want or need the solution being recommended.
- Dealing with customer concerns is never a manipulative process.
- It's a strategy to overcome problems ... when customers want to overcome the problems.
- Getting agreement to a solution is a victory for both the service team and the customer.
- Ethics and values contribute more to sales and service success than techniques or strategies.
Most organizations understand that customer loyalty is a key factor in achieving profitable growth. If you define loyalty as the willingness of a customer to repurchase or provide referrals, than building high-value relationships is mission critical. Today's challenging landscape has forced us to look beyond the sales team as value creators. Unless everyone in your organization is willing and able to contribute to your growth strategy it is unlikely that you will achieve your revenue goals.
By engaging your employees' buy-in to ethical service-selling behaviors you will not only increase your sales per customer, but also retain the service atmosphere your customers have come to expect. Service-selling is a value multiplier, as it increases sales, retains your customers, and drives more referrals from your client base. Dilemmas solved.
Walt Zeglinski is the former CEO of Integrity Solutions and current Managing Partner for Vital Factors, Inc. VFI is a training and consulting organization that helps its clients to accelerate strategic execution. You may contact Walt at email@example.com or 480-255-1120.