Your culture is your brand, and sales teams are the ambassadors of that brand. Customer-driven companies always ask, “Why would customers choose to purchase from the company?” as opposed to “How can we better sell the customer?”
It’s important to keep in mind that culture is not a subjective ideal. This white paper will explore the benefits of soliciting strategic customers and how to build new expectations for sales teams.
Sales growth is necessary for business survival. Sales teams are generally one of the more difficult areas of a business to consistently manage. If your business is not meeting GDP or industry targets, perhaps it’s time to review your competitive advantage.
Most manufacturers depending on industry and scale support a salesforce. Some manufacturers retain a direct sales team. Others utilize an independent or national sales agency or independent contractors. Some may have a hybrid combination of direct, contractor, and agency-based sales teams.
Regardless of the specific structure and size, effective salesforces must consistently achieve sales expectations.
Sales growth begins with understanding and managing company culture. For most management teams, culture is a vague term. They view culture as something unmeasurable and subjective. But the entire salesforce is an extension of company culture. Consider the definitions below.
- “Organizational Culture is a system of shared values, beliefs, and business practices.” – Investopedia
- The Cultural Management System governs how people behave, communicate, plan, engage, and perform within the organization. Company vision, mission, and core values establish cultural expectations.
When sales teams are challenged, the common management response is “These folks need more training.” Typically, some form of sales training takes place, met with great excitement and involving many time-consuming metrics. It’s the silver bullet for success.
But after the dust settles, the company reverts back to its original state of affairs, and the only real change is management frustration.
Pivot Your Thinking
Culture is the real culprit in slow-growth companies. As mentioned earlier, customer-driven enterprises always ask, “Why would customers choose to purchase from the company?” — not “How can we better sell the customer?”
Employee perception directly influences company culture. Company culture and employee behaviors are transmitted with each transaction and customer interaction. Company culture establishes customer perception and loyalty.
Tip: If company culture is rated below expectations, sales training is generally ineffective. Sales training does not translate to greater sales if company culture is poor.
Manufacturer Sales Expectations
When we drill down on sales expectations, most manufacturers expect predictable, strategic, and sustainable sales growth in every market. The truth is, sales teams are ambassadors of company culture, quality, relationships, and value.
Sales teams are expected to consistently achieve sales objectives and contribute to customer perception and satisfaction. Sales teams deliver four primary objectives to the manufacturer:
- Achieve the sales plan.
- Sustain customer retention by managing strategic customer relationships.
- Communicate market intelligence for competitive advantage.
- Introduce innovation.
Tip: Each of these objectives is measurable. Gaining competitive advantage through superior culture incorporates these objectives into company vision, mission, and core value statements. All of these factors contribute to customer satisfaction and loyalty.
Customer Quality Is a Choice
Manufacturers determine their customer base. This is not a random event. Sales team planning, objectives, and execution are a choice, making it critical to keep the following questions in mind.
- Is the salesforce focused on strategic customers as a first priority?
- Do strategic customers communicate superior customer satisfaction and loyalty?
It’s the responsibility of C-level management to provide strategic direction to sales team management in establishing what defines a quality customer. The fact is, enterprises often spend significant time and financial resources on low-value customers, failing to continuously invest in Strategic Customer Relationships.
Tip: Identify your top five volume and strategic customers. Survey and benchmark customer satisfaction and loyalty. Accurately measure sales time and resources applied to these customer accounts. Then compare these metrics to smaller-volume customers with high customer satisfaction scores.
Increasing the Value of Strategic Customer Relationships: Objective-Based Thinking
Sales teams generally find it more challenging to solicit strategic customers. Different types of professional language and sales approaches may be needed, taking sales teams out of their comfort zone.
Higher-quality customers have higher expectations of suppliers. But the rewards are much greater as well. If customer quality is to improve, companies must solicit customers valuing quality, service, and innovation.
The reality is that these quality customers are everywhere. Sales teams need to become detectives rather than maintaining the status quo with commodity-based thinking.
- Focus first on quality, service, and relationship rather than price.
- Sales teams are able to penetrate customers with more items, building customer retention.
- Larger customer orders are more impactful.
- Manufacturer brands are viewed as superior to private label brands.
- Because of their size, strategic customers force distribution and innovation.
The Decreasing Value of Smaller Customer Relationships: Activity-Based Thinking
Many companies remain locked in a vicious cycle of activity-based thinking. Management and teams continue to execute sales plans against smaller accounts, and the results are as predictable as the risk.
Put simply, smaller customers sometimes dilute the value of sales teams. While easier to sell, these smaller customers:
- Value price rather than quality, service, and relationships.
- Dilute the company investment in upgrading the customer base.
- Are generally unable to force distribution or innovation.
- Typically have greater customer attrition. Private label brands more easily convert manufacturer brands.
Working Toward Superior Company Culture
Cultural governance is the single greatest responsibility of the management team. Both sales teams and customers benefit from superior culture. Without it, shareholder value erodes and attrition invades.
Quality cultures communicate and breathe customer satisfaction, and strategic customers value suppliers with superior culture, allowing for better collaboration and better purchasing.
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