How to approach sales with a customer-centric methodology

Sales is all about establishing a working relationship with a new customer. It’s about establishing trust, getting to know one another, and ultimately starting to work together.

Being successful at this means approaching every prospect with a customer-centric mindset.

In this article, we look at what being customer-centric means, and how you can implement that in the sales process.

What does it mean to be customer-centric?

Academic research into this (Habel et al (2019)) defines customer centricity as “the degree to which a customer perceives a firm to put customers’ interests at the center of all of its actions.” This research found that the characteristics of customer centricity, from a customers perceptions are:

  • Marketing, which is outward focused: How tailored to the customers is this?
  • Internal processes: Are they tailored around the needs of customers?
  • How aligned the sales team is around the needs of customers?

Each factor has several contributing sub-factors but we will focus on sales teams, and how well (or not) salespeople are aligned around the needs of customers. The characteristics of a customer-oriented salespeople are:

  • Understand customers’ needs.
  • Influences with information rather than pressure.
  • Focuses the pitch on the product or service and its benefits.
  • Focus on benefits that are in particular relevant for the customer (which should include a qualification process and asking smart questions to assess what a potential client really needs and how the product/service can achieve these aims).

Next, we look at how sales teams can adopt a customer-centric approach.

How to adopt a customer-centric approach to sales

Not every company is customer-centric.

That might sound counter intuitive, but it’s true . Even though customers ensure companies exist. Without customers, you don’t have a business. Customers pay the bills, ensure everyone gets paid on-time, keep the lights on, and produce a profit for owners and shareholders.

And yet, some companies gradually adopt a mindset whereby they think inwards. Often this happens over time, and many may not even realise that has become part of the culture. Internal issues, policies and procedures matter more than keeping customers happy. This is especially evident as businesses get larger. They lose sight of what made growth possible in the first place: customers.

When you’ve got happy customers, you can keep growing. Customers naturally refer others to you, and that growth happens independent of sales and marketing activities. It’s the sort of natural progressive growth every company wants to achieve.

In a sales capacity, putting the customer first (being customer-centric) means focusing on what they need. But that isn’t always easy, and here’s why:

As a salesperson, you need the sale. You’ve got targets to hit every month. Your boss has targets he needs to hit. Sales always involves time-sensitive pressures. So naturally, some of that pressure might flow through to the interaction with prospects, especially if they’re taking time making a decision.

That’s how salespeople lose sight of the customer, and even try and sell a product/service to a customer who might not be the best fit. It’s no longer about the customers. What they need isn’t seen as important anymore. It’s about hitting targets, almost at any cost.

In the short-term, that might help you hit targets. But in the long-run, it’s damaging for client relations, could force you to over-promise but under-deliver, could cost money if customers go elsewhere, and might generate negative feedback and reviews.

If any of these problems sound familiar, switching to a customer-centric methodology, mindset and culture in sales is essential.

How do you make the sales process customer-centric?

Start with a process known as SPIN Selling.

SPIN Selling is a concept popularized by Neil Rackham in his 1988 best-selling book (founder of the global sales training agency, Huthwaite), SPIN Selling, which stands for Situation, Problem, Implication, and Need-Payoff.

One of the reasons the SPIN approach is so popular is it puts customers at the heart of every sales interaction. It also makes it easier to qualify sales leads, as you are asking the right questions for the qualifying process, which ensures you aren’t wasting time on prospects that aren’t interested in buying.

Here’s how you can implement SPIN selling in every sales call/demo.

  • Ask the Situation question: This is often done before a call, trying to understand the current situation of a potential client.
  • Get to understand the Problem: Find out what the main challenges the customers are facing, and therefore what sort of solutions they need?
  • Encourage the prospect to think about the Implication of not solving the problem(s), or not doing so in a timely fashion. Not only for themselves, but the business as a whole.
  • Finally, the Need-Payoff question is a way of introducing the upsides of solving the problem(s).

Another approach worth taking is known as MEDDIC.

This stands for: Metrics, Economic buyer, Decision criteria, Decision process, Identify pain, Champion. It’s especially useful when trying to land larger clients, where the sales process can and often does take more time as it involves numerous stakeholders.

Here is how you can go about implementing this:

  • Metrics: Especially when it comes to financial, what is the cost of not finding a solution to the problem(s) a company is having? Equally, it could be about assessing what sort of ROI a company wants?
  • Economic buyer: Also known as a budget holder. Who controls the budget, or how can a decision maker secure a budget to go ahead with this, and how can you convince them?
  • Decision Criteria: What criteria is a company using to assess whether to go-ahead? Is this formal, or is there an informal set of criteria being used?
  • Decision Process: Is there a process, and if so, what sort of timescale are we talking about? Although asking for your own reasons, knowing this and taking an interest shows you are putting the customers needs first.
  • Identify Pain: What was the trigger in the company that demonstrated that a solution to a problem needed to be found? Also known as identifying pain points.
  • Champion: Who’s going to sell/pitch this internally, who will champion it?

Whether you use the SPIN approach, MEDDIC, or search for other ways to tackle this problem, most salespeople would agree that if you don’t put the customer first, you’ll struggle to win them. Or keep them. When companies stop putting customers first, that’s when problems start. Thankfully, there are ways to correct that and put customers first in the sales process.

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