To find out what’s next we do need to look back for just a few minutes.  While many have suffered through past economic turndowns and recessions others have prospered.  The only thing I can get anyone in the financial markets, business analysts or in business in general to agree upon today is this time is different. No consensus on what’s next, forget consensus there isn’t even a majority.  Most analysts are looking for reasons for the collapse or reasons for recovery and we have such a mixed bag of reasons for the collapse, the perfect storm so to speak, that a normal recovery isn’t likely.

This is causing many businesses to go to a bunker mentality when aggressive innovation is the best path to opportunity.  To just attempt to survive until the economy recovers is a ercipe for failure. The problem with this strategy is that it worked during past economic turndowns because the recovery was cyclical and more predictable.  Let’s do what worked before, isn’t the best plan when most agree this isn’t what happened before and the recovery won’t be the same.

What’s next?  Well to begin to answer this puzzling question we have to add another cause into the mix of reasons business is in the mess is finds itself in today.

We changed business and selling over the past 4 decades from supplying products for the benefit of the buyer to supplying products to the benefit of the seller.  This affected product design first by changing the intentions of designers and product developers from how to make a product better to how to make a product cheaper.  This took product developments focus off the consumer and placed it on the product.  As this happened most products became more similar and gave consumers less reason to buy them. When all things are the same price becomes important. With price becoming more important as products became more similar, businesses began to apply pressure to reduce operating costs.  This was the second turn away from the customer and placed even more focus on the business.  The next step was increased pressure to make new sales as customers were lost and business growth slowed or came to a stop.  New sales became the driver of business. This happened at the same time we saw the explosion of media which allowed for a new way to motivate consumers to buy products.  Increased advertising drove sales and an increased cost to business which needed more sales to support the costs and more pressure was applied to reduce operating or product costs.  As this happened we moved to a philosophy of the, “The Customer Is Always Right”. Business created customer service departments to handle the problems created by lower cost products or operations and the unrealistic expectations set in making new sales.  We tried to market and sell customer service as a differentiation or value proposition to make new sales without real concern for the customer.  Customer service department’s job became fixing problems to allow salespeople time to make more new sales.  The problem was this created new costs needing more new sales to support the costs.  Somewhere in this mess business focus even moved from profits to revenues and the cycle escalated.  Sales forces grew and sales became focused not on the customer but on how to convince someone to buy product.

This was the final step and the beginning of what you see today. Sales training and sales meetings focused on sales and not customers.  You see traditional sales training teaching critical path sales skills.  These programs are packaged with many different names but even when relationship selling became popular it was focused on selling not serving. The intention is the same in all programs how to make new sales.  This escalates as businesses serve themselves rather than consumers.  Sales are made and customers are lost.

What was the result of these past few decades?  We began a slow slide toward the consumer and salesperson relationship we are experiencing today.  What’s next?  More of the same or even worse if we don’t change our intentions in business and sales because when the economic recovery does happen this relationship will be worse not better. Let’s look at where we are and how to stop this cycle.

Sales Strategies and a New Business Model

In this environment most companies’ sales strategy defaults to, “Our sales department’s job is to make new sales”.  No one in business would have started this process wanting to create the relationship that now exists between business and consumers, specifically how consumers view salespeople.  This is an unintended consequence of poor business intentions.

When a company needs more sales what do they do?  They escalate the existing strategy by increasing advertising, and the pressure on their salespeople to make more sales.  Add in that if this isn’t working well enough they add more salespeople, increase incentives for new sales or lowering prices. The consequence is usually higher cost of sales and operations and lower profits even if you make more sales and this just creates the need for more new sales.

It has been proven many times that referral and repeat business costs less and is more profitable than new business, yet most companies’ do little more than talk about customers, repeat business or referral business.  Sales people with new sales intentions may be told to ask for referrals or call back their customers, but in our existing default strategy this produces little to no results because no one wants to talk to salespeople or give the names of friends to a salesperson.

As mentioned before companies even started customer service departments and began calling them customer retention.  This creates higher costs and poor results in customer loyalty because the consumer’s relationship with a company starts with the salesperson and their intentions and is difficult to change after the first impression given by our default strategy of, “We only want to sell you something”.

Since customers create repeat and referral business that makes a company grow and generates more profit, then why turn over the customer to someone whose job has become fixing problems not keeping customers and converting the service contact into repeat or referral business.  The answer is an unintended consequence of our default sales strategy to just make more sales.

We have become so distracted by new sales we forgot the best way to get more sales is to make customers.

You won’t convert a sale to a customer often enough to grow your business significantly.  The focus of the consumer and salesperson relationship has become, what’s in it for me on both sides because consumers believe you don’t care about them.

Business growth comes from adding customers, not just sales. Sales are too expensive to maintain or create growth. Most companies are experiencing how difficult it is to keep generating new sales without a loyal customer following. Higher cost of sales is inevitable if you continue with the existing sales process that happens because of our default sales strategy.

Customers are best created by changing the intentions at the point of first contact with consumers, then continuing the relationship as the most important part of your business. If this relationship doesn’t change then nothing we do will create satisfactory return on investment.

What Do People Think Of Salespeople?

For the past two decades I have been asking people, including salespeople what they think of salespeople.  I have gotten one overwhelming answer.  The number one answer, “salespeople only care about making sales”.   When salespeople give me this answer they qualify it by saying, “that’s not how they operate”.

What Are Salespersons Intentions?

When I ask salespeople what their intentions are when they go to work each day it usually gets quiet before someone says, “to make a sale”.  If this is a salespersons intention, are people wrong about salespeople?   The answer is no.  Salespeople go to work every day with the goal of making sales and consumers have seen right through them.  They have decided salespeople will tell them what they want to hear and don’t really care about them.  Consumers no longer trust or believe what salespeople tell them.

Buyers Are?

When I ask salespeople to finish the statement, Buyers are _____; the number one answer is “liars”.

Broken Relationship…Bad Sales Environment

Did we really start out to create a sales process that would make people not want to talk to salespeople and make salespeople believe buyers are liars?  No one in their right mind would have done that…but we did! Before we run out and blame salespeople let’s take a closer look.

How Are You Doing?

When a CEO calls a President and says, “How are you doing?” what do they mean?  When a President calls a Vice President and says, “How are you doing?” what do they mean.  When the Vice President of Sales calls a salesperson and says, “How are you doing?” what do they mean?  Get the picture?   We have all participated in creating a selling and business environment where sales people only want to make sales and this intention has sabotaged the relationship between buyers and sellers to the point that it diminishes the very sales results we wanted.

Our Salespeople Are Just Order Takers

I hear this all the time from top executives who have been asking the, “How are you doing?”, question and increasing the pressure to make sales on the entire company.  You are right, we do have a country full of order takers. But let me ask you, what do you ask your salespeople to do every week? That’s right, get orders.  People move in the direction of their dominate thoughts and we make sure our salespeople’s dominate thoughts are to get orders and this dominate thought has damaged the relationship between buyers and  sellers.

Sales Meetings

It’s Monday morning at the sales meeting. What do we discuss first?  How much traffic?  How many sales?  How many cancellations? How many appointments?  The entire focus is orders.  Then we wonder why our salespeople seem to be willing to do anything to get an order.  We have spent years training them that their job is to get orders and then we complain that they are order takers!

Do You Think There Is a Problem?

No one wants to talk to a salesperson and buyers are seen as liars by salespeople.  If you believe that what we’ve all been doing is working stop reading now and go back to what you were doing.  If I have your attention, then let’s talk about what we can do to change the buyer and seller relationship.

There Is a Solution…Change Your Intentions!

The purpose of business is to make customers…Let me say that again.  The purpose of business is to make customers.  Consumers feel what your salespeople feel, believe what your salespeople believe and your salespeople cannot hide their intentions.  It been debated but somewhere near 93% of communication is non verbal.  It is preconscious.  It comes from our intentions and we’ve been instilling the wrong intentions in our salespeople. In fact, as I said earlier, we have sabotaged the relationship with bad intentions that can deliver the results we want.

Making Customers…Change Your Focus…Change Salespeople’s Dominate Thought

Stop asking, “How are you doing?”, unless you really mean,” How are you doing?”, and stop talking about sales results.  You should have reports to inform you about your salespeople’s results. Focus on the attitudes, skills and behavior that will result in sales. How can you do this?  If you remove the pressure from your salespeople won’t they stop selling?  If they do, you have the wrong salespeople. If your salespeople don’t want to make sales as much or more than you do as an executive, manager or company, then you have the wrong salespeople.  It would be like trying to build a championship team with players who didn’t care about winning…it wouldn’t work.

Implementing New Intentions

Change has to happen at all levels of the sales process.  After more than 30 years of training salespeople, I also am aware it’s time to stop talking about selling and start changing salespeople’s intentions.  This can only happen in live sales environments and with the commitment and cooperation of an entire company. If you are waiting for the economy to change and expecting better results…Think again.  When the economy comes back the relationship between buyers and sellers will still be broken and your Return On Investment on your sales costs will continue to fall.  If we don’t change this relationship then technology will replace our existing sales process and it may be more cost effective in the beginning but it won’t make customers you can build a business on! Combining technology with salespeople who have the right intentions will be the hallmark of leading businesses today and in the future.

Don’t Just Train…Change

I have heard too often in this downturn that we need to get back to good old fashioned basic sales skills.  Don’t be fooled…they haven’t been working and aren’t what’s next in business. They haven’t been working because our sales process is flawed at its core intention. If your intentions don’t change your results will continue to diminish.

Great News In Bad Times

It’s time…there is a consumer base waiting to be served, waiting to see if anyone cares about them enough to put their needs, wants and desires first.  When they find that business they will buy from that business, they will refer that business, they will be loyal and that business will grow. Customers, growth and profits will be the byproduct of right intentions but never again will they be a good goal that creates poor attitudes and bad business practices.

By Mike Moore

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