"My sales people have turned into order takers. They're all chasing paper, the next transaction. Our customers don't even know all we can do for them. How do I get my sales force to focus on building client relationships?" Sound familiar? That's what the sales manager of a prospective client said to me on the phone the other day. And you may be dealing with the same dilemma at your staffing company. So let's talk about some of the ways we can make that mission-critical migration from a short-term focus to nurturing and developing relationships.
Let's begin by taking a look at how we got here...some of the factors that contribute to short term thinking.
Part of it is obvious. In our short attention span world sales figures are a quick, convenient and easy way to measure our value, much like the stock price in a publicly traded company.
As we often hear, the numbers don't tell the whole story, but they stare at us every day like a bright shiny object, and it's hard not to give them lots of attention.
Sales numbers don't tell the whole story, but they stare at us every day like a bright shiny object, and it's hard not to give them lots of attention.
Another factor is the sales manager. Often they are the ones driving short-term selling if they are constantly hounding their sales team about their "numbers." After all, they have sales goals too, and they feel the pressure to meet those goals, same as the front line.
A third factor is your customer. Maybe they simply want to "place the order." Perhaps they aren't looking to you - or your sales team - for solutions, or how you might be able to improve or impact their business. Your customers might be making order takers out of you, even if you desire something more.
The final significant factor is your sales people themselves, and coming to understand their skills, personalities and natural tendencies. Let's talk about two common types: the hunters and the farmers.
The hunters are high-energy optimists with a laser-like focus on the short-term...this year...this quarter...this deal. They're always looking for their next target, and once located, they track it, bag their quarry, do the deal, and quickly move on.
Farmers are planners and visionaries who work day after day to grow their crops. Good farmers know their soil and seasons, read the weather, prepare the ground, plant the seeds when conditions are right and nurture them daily. They stagger the plantings, thin the seedlings and cultivate them until they are ripe for harvest. They rotate the crops and make the soil richer year after year.
The hunters and the farmers can be equally valuable and effective for their community - and your company - but their methods and philosophies are fundamentally different.
The hunters and the farmers can be equally valuable and effective for their community - and your company - but their methods and philosophies are fundamentally different. And you have to know how to manage and nurture both types. Also, bear in mind both types will be attracted to different types of customers.
Now let's look at the multiple priorities sales people are balancing today.
- They must understand their customers' market and business
- They must create a more informed customer profile and customer acquisition - and retention - strategy
- They must be aware of their own company's evolving strategies, products and services
- They must invest in the satisfaction of those customers by expanding their own offerings and investing in more long-term relationships and accounts
And all of this has to occur concurrently with meeting sales goals!
This is where the value of account plans and strategies and a well defined sales process can help, but that's the subject of another post.
If a transactional sales organization wants to transition to becoming more consultative and relationship-focused, then talent retention, compensation, training, recruiting and management support will also be impacted.
Sales managers need to be a part of this process, creating this culture change, and if they are not, the efforts will likely be doomed.
Here are a few things sales managers can do to help:
- Be clear about targets, strategies and priorities
- Help their sales force think more strategically about the customer
- Spend time with their sales people to help them prioritize and balance
- Be mindful about the different personality types in their sales teams
- Identify a few key customers you would like to invest some time in
Studies have shown that ROI rates for companies that use relationship-based selling tend to increase as compared to the rates of transactional sales organization. However, building a strong relationship is relatively more costly compared to the transaction-based sales model.
Each approach is a legitimate sales strategy, and in both cases, selling is the obvious desired result. Each approach merely reflects a strategy for enabling the sale. See the following table as an example.
|Short term||Lifetime or at least long-term|
|Once off transaction||Multiple interactions over time|
|Appropriate for commoditized products||Appropriate for more complex solutions|
|Product push – focus on product features||Focus on client goals and values|
|Emphasis on sales||Emphasis on providing solutions|
|Emphasis on enabling the transaction||Emphasis on reason for transaction|
|Limited consequences for client||Significant consequences for client|
Have you ever taken your organization through this migration, or experienced it yourself? We would love to hear from some Staffing Talk readers who have gone through this and can offer some best practices and lesson learned.