Volume 9, Issue 5 - October 2007

Customer Service
tips for quality service

Creation Versus Reaction
by Carl Tompkins

Selling is one of the most important ingredients for business success. As I’ve said in the past, if you do not have an outside sales presence, your business doom is guaranteed. It’s only a matter of time.

Companies that do not maintain an outside selling presence with their customers are going to get out-hustled by competitors, who take their causes to those same customers through effective salespeople. Even if you provide the most attractive place of business, supported by the nicest people who provide the greatest service and workmanship, customers are not going to find you because they’ll be convinced to go elsewhere long before their search ever begins.

The Theory
Now having the subject of “selling” re-established as a business priority, my intention is to provide a strong recommendation that, when followed, results in higher profits and customer loyalty. My recommendation comes in the form of a theme on which all outside selling activities should be based: creation versus reaction. 

I always enjoy meeting with salespeople and hearing their stories. Unfortunately, so many selling stories revolve around the frustrations of dealing with customers who are constantly on the hunt for better deals and who take great pleasure in rubbing a lower-priced quotation in the face of the salesperson. What results is the reaction of meeting the current competitive price and/or service being provided by another supplier. Salespeople would be first to admit that their time on the job is consumed with this task, which seems to be an endless downward spiral. 

I was talking with a salesperson recently whose frustration revolved around customers never giving his company credit for its benefits, such as being a local supplier, providing a full line of flat and auto glass, multiple weekly deliveries, providing fair pricing and great credit terms. However, many of his customers would split their purchases among multiple suppliers, many of which didn’t provide the same features and benefits as his company. Similar to other salespeople, he too found himself being faced with the plague of meeting lower competitor pricing on a regular basis.

The Reaction Portion
This market circumstance is what I refer to as the “reaction” portion of selling. This portion needs to be reduced, if not totally eliminated. 

The reason that this reaction mode takes place is that salespeople are constantly on the defense because they don’t have an effective form of offense in selling. An offense is achieved when a reaction to competition is replaced with creating and delivering programs and concepts that benefit the customer financially. 

Great companies that dominate their fields are the best at the creation process and, the more they create, the less they have to react. Great companies are those that train their customers to realize that the cheapest invoice can be the most expensive mistake ever made. Great companies are able to prove that being bottom-line and profit-driven is more effective than being strictly an invoice shopper. Great companies understand that effective salespeople help in the creation process, deliver the creation to customers and leverage the value of the creation.

To help spur on the creation process, first realize that you have much more to offer a customer than merely a product. Realize that your role as a supplier is to do everything possible to help ensure your customer’s success and that the primary product or service you sell can only fulfill a portion of that total picture. Now determine what other things your company and salespeople can provide beyond your core product and/or service that increases your customer’s ability to succeed. I encourage you to think outside the box, knowing that the more diverse your offering of created concepts the more valuable you become to the customer and the harder to be caught by your competition. What follows is a listing of notable creations that have been developed by suppliers for customers.

One salesperson located in central California made a habit of delivering news articles to his customers that pertained to issues revolving around their industry. These articles were clipped and copied from various publications and covered a multitude of topics. Such creation took an effort that customers appreciated and added value to each sales call in that each customer learned something that may have added a little humor to life, a tip on improving productivity, an alert to a pending industry condition and so on. The creation was one of being a reliable and consistent source of information.

A salesperson learned what took place in phone calls between insurance agents and their policyholders and, as a result of this knowledge, organized, through their company, a telephone selling course that provided the value of helping agencies improve their policyholder retention rates. The creation was a training course that led to improved sales.

A salesperson and his company developed a club for customers to join that, on an annual basis, provided a predetermined calendar of events that included training courses on accounting, sales and marketing, help with auto glass technician certification training and instruction on new flat glass pre-fabricated door and window installation. Special package programs were provided that allowed customers to earn points when multiple products were purchased on a regular basis. Over all, the club concept provided each member more than $5000 in value on an annual basis while earning the salesperson and supplying company higher sales per customer and per delivery that were secured through the additional values provided. The creation was a club of membership that saved money while improving knowledge.

The Results
In the most simple format, a salesperson was a regular visitor to customers, seeing businesses that spanned the fields of auto dealerships, body shops and commercial accounts. She was excellent at questioning and listening skills, kept great notes on all sales calls and always was prepared with great questions that helped customers to provide detailed information on business issues that needed attention. The salesperson always left with an assignment, sometimes small, but yet something on which the customer required feedback and assistance. The creation was a partner that made life and business much more enjoyable for the customer.

A body shop, clearly understanding its customer service cycle, earned the attention and loyalty of the nation’s largest customer by dazzling that customer through the provision of one small but powerful differentiation over all its other competitors: a long-stem rose left on the front seat of every car it delivered back to its customer. Here, the creation was one of doing something different and special the left a favorable last impression of quality with the customer.

A hotel in Pittsburgh has incorporated a process that within 10 minutes following a customer’s check-in, housekeeping delivers a fresh bucket of ice to the customer’s assigned room. This one simple step, which added zero cost to the hotel, made a huge difference in the satisfaction ratings of customers. The creation was going beyond the call of expected duty by the customer and earning higher degrees of loyalty.

There are at least one-hundred more that I could list but, hopefully, the six that I have provided plant seeds as to what can and should be done to enact the “creation” process.

For creation to replace reaction, salespeople require training and a positive environment in which to conduct business. If you’re in a management or ownership role, make sure that you provide value to your salespeople in order that they will have an example to follow when needing to provide value through creation to your outside customers. Training comes second and must include how to interface with customers to develop partnerships for life.

Finally, take to heart that any customer seeking the lowest price is the customer who needs the most help, through a well-trained salesperson and the creation process, in learning how to make money. The customer just doesn’t know how to ask. 

Carl Tompkins is the Western states area manager for Sika Corp. in Madison Heights, Mich. He is based in Spokane, Wash. Mr. Tompkins’ opinions are solely his own and not necessarily those of this magazine.

AGRR
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