by Tom Woodcock
Webster defines “culture” as: “a set of shared attitudes, values, goals and practices that characterizes an institution or organization.” Most interesting is the concept of shared values.
Every company develops a sales culture. Whether by plan or accident, a culture will be established. This culture directly relates to the way customers are treated and approached. Some companies mistreat customers and don’t even realize it. This is because they’ve developed their culture without regard for the effect their choices will have on customers. That type of culture can stunt a company’s growth and profitability. Others companies bend over backwards to please their customer base. They go the extra mile and do whatever it takes to serve them. That breeds both customer loyalty and increased profitability.
How do you establish a positive, progressive sale culture?
It starts at the top. Ownership sets the rudder in regards to the value they place on their client base. They establish the priority level of customer needs and the parameters of service. They get involved with the client base and assist in the sales effort. The more detached ownership is, the more opportunity for customer abuse or neglect. Owners that are absent from the sales effort cannot expect staff to place a proper prioritization on clients. If it’s not important to ownership to be involved, why would you expect the employees to place proper value on them? The good thing is that the weight of ownership helps minimize the time commitment the owner needs to make to sales. A little attention from the president of the company can go a long way towards making the clients feel appreciated.
Next up, upper and mid-level management. Direct supervisors must reinforce a customer-first focus to their staff. They must encourage staff to freely communicate issues that develop with clients. A belief that management isn’t as concerned with customers as internal issues causes staff to focus more on paperwork than customer retention. Management also must have contact with the client base and be willing to support sales staff in servicing them. The thought that insulating management from the customer base may make a manager’s life a bit easier is understandable, until numbers drop!
Adjacent to management is the sales and business development personnel. Those individuals become the immediate face and personality of the company. This is why strong people skills are so critical to a company’s sales efforts. Internal relationships with management and support staff also are integral to a successful sales culture. That means this group actually has three customers: the true customer, management, and internal support staff. Failing to adequately invest in any of those relationships can inspire negative impressions that filter down to the buying customer. You’ve probably seen it in the common tension between sales and administration. Business development people feel the support staff is there to “make it happen” for them, while the admin folks believe the sales personnel are out there just “playing around”. I see it all over the country within GCs, subs and vendor firms. It’s a poison that kills customer trust.
Finally there’s the support staff. This can be everyone from the person doing invoicing to field personnel. A great sales effort can be completely dismantled by unhelpful, arrogant staff. The pleasantness of a good sales relationship is fast forgotten when dealing with a short-tempered collections person, a cocky driver, or a belligerent field worker. Often those individuals have more regular contact with the customer base than the sales personnel! It’s remarkable how when invoices are fought over and change orders questioned repeat business dissipates due to issues created by support personnel. Often those issues go unknown or unreported to management.
To practically begin developing a profitable sales culture you must enact a few basic steps:
- Determine the company sales philosophy, which is set by ownership.
- Set regular corporate sales meetings to reinforce the philosophy.
- Monitor staff implementation of the philosophy.
- Create an environment of free customer information exchange.
- Set a central CRM program to capture customer information
- Survey a sample of customers to verify how the philosophy is being experienced.
- Adjust, account, correct, and replace if necessary.
The vast majority of companies will never invest the time or effort into consciously developing their sales culture. They will continue to go with the flow and watch their profits shrink as they race to the bottom to be low. They will blame the customer for their profitability issues and blame suppliers for high material pricing.
Customer loyalty is not a thing of the past. There are companies with strong profit percentages. The reason? A sales culture that looks at the customer first permeates through the entire company and has the correct corporate priority. How did your company’s sales culture come into being? I’d love to know, wouldn’t you?
Tom Woodcock, president, seal the deal, is a speaker and trainer to the construction industry nationwide and author of “You’re Not Sellin’, They’re Buyin’!” He can be reached at his website: www.tomwoodcocksealthedeal.com or at 314-775-9217.