I used to believe that it was impossible to sell unless there was a willing customer on the other side who agrees to pay. I am no longer convinced that this is true. As we observe the state of relationships many companies have developed with their customers, it seems that it is possible. Many companies make sales, despite their customers’ lack of cooperation in this pursuit.
“How can it be?” you may wonder. After all, if the customers do not want the product or service, they are not forced to buy it. This is true. However, deceitful practices manage to overcome this obvious conviction. By engaging in this duplicity, companies have been able to achieve their quarterly results while contaminating their customer database with unsatisfied, sometimes cheated, customers.
As I work with clients around the world, a new reason for becoming customer centric has emerged over the past 18 months. I have heard statements such as, “We have been a sales-driven organization and we now need to become customer centric.” Common sense might indicate that if you are selling to customers, you better be customer centric, or the customer will not buy from you. Well, that is not necessarily true.
Sales-centric organization is just another name for product-centric organization. A sales-centric organization is focused on two objectives: meeting sales numbers and increasing market share. These two objectives take priority over any other consideration and provide permission to do whatever it takes to achieve them. Sales-centric organizations often celebrate their sales heroes who “beat the quota and squeeze more from their customers.” These employees are often described as “rainmakers.” By virtue of this title, they are attributed with a supernatural talent to make the impossible possible. I would submit to you that in achieving the impossible, “the rainmakers” are selling to customers against their will or without their knowledge.
Sales-centric organizations put all their emphasis on the sales process and provide sales people with explicit or implicit permission to do “whatever it takes” to make a sale. This attitude is what leads sales people to treat customers as wallets or human ATM and leads to behaviors that will hurt the company in the long run. Examples include:
- Depicting the product or service in a brighter light and exaggerating the features and capabilities
- Eliminating necessary internal knowledge, such as performance tracking records and product quality issues
- Pricing trickery that creates unfair treatment of customers
- Using a bait-and-switch mechanism which replaces the promised product with a less desirable alternative
This partial list should not surprise you at all. You have heard it before. The ultimate mistake behind the sales-centric organization is a lack of resources to service the customer beyond the initial sale. Sales-centric organizations deliberately place their emphasis and resources on the upfront interaction, while maintaining minimal resources to actually deliver on the promise. Sales-centric organizations treat their call center as a cost center and try to minimize its resources. They also treat social media as a necessary evil and assign a formal PR agency to respond to their customers instead of conducting a real dialogue with them. Sales-centric organizations conduct customer surveys, but usually do not act on the insight gleaned from them. These organizations believe that sales personnel will compensate for all issues identified in the surveys; however, they do not touch upon the problem which caused the customer to leave in the first place. They compensate by finding new customers who are willing to pay. Some organizations may lack the knowledge to properly staff and budget for handling customer needs. Others may deliberately try save on costs. Isn’t it ironic how quickly customers become costs?
This economy has been a wake-up call to sales-centric organizations. The era of treating the customer as an ATM and ignoring their needs is over. Organizations have discovered that their customers are reluctant and are not willing to play games anymore. Many organizations have placed greater importance on discounts as a way to reciprocate for the bad service. Customers have resorted to distributing their business to ensure keeping their vendors in place. The price of being a sales-centric organization is significant as margins erode faster.
The first rule of customer experience is “delight or sell.” If you delight your customers enough, they will have no reason to go elsewhere. They will also share the great news with others. If you do not satisfy your customers, but instead deliver a “good enough” alternative, you will need to continuously increase your cost of new customer acquisition. This cost will continue to climb as you disappoint more customers. The choice is yours.
Lior Arussy is the president of Strativity Group a global customer experience research and consulting firm. Arussy is the author of five books including Customer Experience Strategy – The Complete Guide From Innovation to Execution (2010), Exceptionalize It (2015), and Next is Now (2018).
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