Originally posted on LinkedIn.
The customer is always right, right? The overwhelming temptation to appease your customer is something we can easily find ourselves unwittingly falling into. But we need to ask ourselves, what the cost is; firstly to our personal brand, and secondly, the commercial cost to our business.
Hopefully the following story will give you some inspiration to stop and think when your customer asks for something unrealistic that you feel you can’t provide, but to start thinking creatively and look at things from a different angle, to create mutual gain.
Just recently I had the good fortune to meet with a truly insightful and inspirational sales director, who gave me some wonderful personal examples of how asking the right questions can uncover and identify sources of power, and shift a commercial relationship from being simply transactional, to truly collaborative.
Just for the sake of the story, let’s call this person Mary. Mary told me that early in her career she worked for a market leading consumer goods business where she had the responsibility for managing state based customers, including wholesalers. One particular wholesaler in her portfolio represented 70% of gross sales, and was heavily relied on to drive volume.
At one point, this customer demanded that Mary pay additional terms to avoid deletion of certain products from the range. Marketing and trade spend were already stretched, and Mary felt limited in her options. She needed to come up with a plan, fast!
After much reflection on her customers needs, challenges and business goals, Mary came up with a proposal that she felt benefited both businesses based on information provided by her customer throughout the time that they had been dealing with each other. Mary knew that this customer had an inefficient and underperforming sales team, and sales were inconsistent, which made growth difficult.
- Mary’s business had their own sales trainer, so she arranged to have her customers sales team trained for free.
- Once trained, she offered to coach the team on an ongoing basis.
The proposal was accepted in lieu of increasing trade spend. Why did it hit the mark? It was low cost to Mary’s business, but high value to her customers business. Further, the ongoing benefits to both businesses were evident.
What was the outcome?
- Mary’s business grew from $7 million to $10 million in just 3 years.
- Competitor market share was diminished.
- The relationship she had with her customer transformed into a collaborative effort, and was no longer strained.
What’s the moral of the story?
- Don’t be afraid to ask lots of open ended questions with the aim of uncovering true needs and objectives.
- Listen for the clues, subtext and language that identify flexibility and opportunity – only then will you uncover the sweet spot – giving you the ammunition and information to help create the perfect proposal.
* Names and identifying information changed to protect privacy and confidentiality.