So often, as sales reps, we neglect to realize that the customer journey starts with the prospect experience.
Sean McDade, PhD, is the founder and CEO of PeopleMetrics; a software and services company that helps organizations measure and create a better customer experience by listening to their customers and prospects. Sean is also the author of “Listen or Die: 40 Lessons that turn Customer Feedback into Gold,” a book about how to listen to your customers, clients and prospects in order to create a better experience for them.
Any time that a company interacts with a customer or prospect, they are providing a customer experience. It could be a digital experience on a website, an in-person experience through a meeting with a sales rep, or customer experiences via contact centers or online chats.
A great company is one that consciously manages those interactions to create positive experiences for their customers.
As a sales rep, the experience you give to your prospects is very important. The prospect’s interaction with a sales rep sets the tone for the experience he can expect as a customer.
This is especially true if you are selling B2B products, software, professional services, or any high-end consumer products that a prospect is likely to spend significant dollars on to purchase.
A sales rep can increase the value in the sales process by answering questions in detail, by solving problems, and by reducing pain for the prospect.
The metric used to measure customer experience is substantially higher for sales reps who add value over those who do not.
When a prospect feels that he was lied to, or misled, at the beginning, it is difficult to recover. The great sales reps are the ones who set the tone for a great customer or client experience over the long-term.
As for the sales reps who are not setting a positive tone – Sean believes they are creating the very real possibility that the client will churn in the future instead.
Marketing vs sales
Marketing sets the brand promise. They set the expectations but it is up to the sales reps to bring it to life.
The prospects will remember their conversations with sales reps long after they’ve forgotten the marketing campaign. The sales rep has more credibility and is more effective, as a result, in setting a positive – or negative – tone with the prospect.
Positive prospect experience
PeopleMetrics measures various attributes by sending a survey to each prospect to determine the experiences that the reps create.
In this way, Sean has found the prospects always feel that value has been added to their experience whenever a sales rep is able to provide these five things:
- Be prepared. A great sales rep is one who is super-prepared. They know the prospect inside and out; the reps don’t ask questions that are easily found online, for example.
- Be comfortable answering questions. A great sales rep understands their prospect’s situation and can suggest solutions.
- Be a good listener. A great sales rep listens more than he talks and will really understand the needs of the prospect as a result.
- Be knowledgeable about your product. Be able to answer questions beyond what is already available online.
- Be proactive. Be timely and follow-up.
Referrals are key, especially in the B2B market. At that level, buyers actually seek out referrals from other buyers before making big decisions.
The consultative sale rep
As sales reps, we sometimes feel as though we are simply taking orders when, in truth, we should aim to be more of a consultant for the buyer. The company we work for should be one that values the consultative element: providing training, experience, and hands-on opportunities for the sales reps to really learn the product well.
As an example, Sean has a great rep at his company who is generally tasked with opening doors by understanding the prospect’s needs, identifying problems, and introducing solutions. On his own time, the rep learned the product inside and out to the point where he can now read the reports the analysts write for similar-type prospects. He knows the industry, the language, and the company so well that he is extremely credible as a result. The value that the company placed on his training continues to pay off.
Unfortunately, a lot of smaller companies are unable to provide training, so it is up to the rep to become consultative through proactive measures. Learn as much as you can about the product and the industry and talk to account managers who are servicing similar products, etc.
Learning your customer
As sales reps, we don’t need our buyers to know all about our business. Rather, we need to learn as much as possible about theirs. We need to be able to help them see their blind spots and identify their weaknesses so that we can create a great prospect experience by providing solutions.
Nothing annoys a buyer more than having to answer questions simply to bring a sales rep up to speed, especially when it is something the sales rep should already understand. Instead, if you can offer the buyer insight into the many ways that your product can reduce their pain, or further them in their careers, you are already ahead of the game. You’ve got the inside track.
It reminds me of a story where a sales rep friend of mine was shadowing a more established rep. The established sales rep, however, was also a really cocky and arrogant guy who didn’t feel the need to do any research on his prospects before a call. He was confident that his knowledge of the product would be sufficient to land the sale.
Long story short: Because the sales rep failed to take the time to research an acronym that he had seen on the prospect’s website, the sales rep misused the acronym and was unable to recover. It was a horrible experience that could have been prevented with a little research.
PeopleMetrics researched 800 B2B buyers and discovered some fascinating reasons as to why they buy or don’t buy.
- Seventy-eight percent of B2B buyers actively seek recommendations from their trusted colleagues as their first step toward a purchase. They rarely look online or make a choice based solely on an interaction with a sales rep.
- Seventy-six percent of the time, the recommended company wins the contract. The losing providers, on the other hand, are almost never recommended.
- Furthermore, the sales rep makes a huge difference as to whether or not a company is recommended. Sixty-one percent of B2B buyers that bought something report that the sales rep provided high value: he was consultative and he was prepared. He provided a positive prospect experience.
- And here’s the kicker: the sales rep that provided the high-value experience for the B2B buyer got bigger contracts – up to $100,000 more within the 800 buyers.
The champion cycle
Seventy percent of B2B buyers who experience a high-value meeting recommended the provider to others. It is a cycle that goes around and around and around. It all comes down to the experience that the sales reps have with the prospects.
Sean highly recommends reaching out to your prospects after interactions with your reps. Ask them what they did well and what they could do better. At PeopleMetrics, the survey takes less than a minute and they regularly see a 75% response rate.
Was the meeting valuable? Was the rep prepared?
And most importantly – do you have any concerns related to moving forward? This is a beautiful question because, as sales reps, we waste a lot of time chasing leads that are going nowhere. This question offers a non-confrontational way for a prospect to let us know if our product is not a good fit. Then we can focus our efforts on prospects who are.
The survey is sent to every decision maker in the group who attended the meeting. Sean does not recommend, however, having the sales manager call the prospect with the same survey questions as it is unlikely they will provide completely truthful answers.
People are more likely to provide honest feedback via digital means than in person.
The Net promoter question
“How likely would you be to recommend our product or services to a colleague?”
Sean is working with a company that is taking this one step further. Their sales reps call and thank every single customer who provided a 9, or 10. This simple act has resulted in even more referrals!
The mindset of most sales leaders is very hard-charging, or maybe marketing owns the customer experience side of things. Once the sales leader recognizes customer experience as a revenue-generating opportunity, he is more likely to implement it.
Sean recalls a client who left a meeting feeling very confident that he had landed the sale only to receive lukewarm feedback. As a result, he was able to get on the phone and determine where a misunderstanding had occurred. He was able to turn it around and make the sale.
Valuable prospect experiences can be easily and systematically incorporated in very low stress ways. At PeopleMetrics, they are super passionate about the prospect and customer experience. Their software automatically sends the survey to your prospects. Once prospects complete the survey, the company sends an email alert of results along with recommendations on how best to proceed.
PeopleMetrics also provides the ability to focus on which reps are doing well, and which ones might need more assistance. It is a complete solution for improving the prospect/customer experience by helping companies listen to their clients.
The prospect experience is the key to delivering a great customer experience that can hopefully last a lifetime.
Take the guesswork out of it. Know how your sales reps are interacting with your prospects.
“Customer Journey Starts With the Prospect Experience” episode resources
You can reach out to Sean via email at Sean.firstname.lastname@example.org , or find him on Twitter @smcdade. Learn more about the company at Www.peoplemetrics.com.
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