In his book, Achieve Sales Excellence, author Howard Stevens set forth “The Seven Rules of the Customer.” These seven rules emerged from comments recorded in over 80,000 interviews his company conducted as part of a fourteen-year study of 7,500 sales reps from 2,500 companies. One of the things study participants - all of whom were business customers - were asked to share was what qualities they believed a world-class sales organization must possess.
The participants were asked to list and weight the main criteria they use when making a buying decision and selecting a vendor. Overwhelmingly, customers reported the same four factors and assigned similar levels of importance to them related to how much of the buying decision rests on each:
|Sales rep's competence||39 % of the buying decision|
Since the competence of the sales rep surpasses all other criteria, it is imperative that anyone in sales understands the rules customers expect them to follow.
Rule #1: “You must be personally accountable for our results.
"Sales people who understand Customer Aligned Selling™ take personal responsibility for the customer’s results. Their foremost concern is that the customer achieves the best solutions; the results that they expected and paid for.
These reps act as business agents or outsourced managers who are responsible for all aspects of the relationship with the buyer. They serve as the single point of contact within their organization to ensure the buyer receives the right resources and communication.
They may delegate some activities, but not responsibility. They alone are responsible for the client’s outcome, and the client knows it. This is known as “outcome ownership,” and there is no way to make your customers raving fans without it.
Rule #2: “You must understand our business.”
To manage the relationship effectively, a sales rep must truly understand the customer’s business in the same way their CEO understands it. This means not only understanding the customer, their organization, culture, competencies, and business strategy, but also their industry, current trends, financial and economic pressures, and even competition.
Rule # 3: “You must be on our side.”
To truly serve your customer, you must see things from their perspective, and then represent your customer’s point of view back to your company. Your job is to make sure that your customer’s perspective is not forgotten in the quest for profit and efficiency. Your advocacy for your customer is most valid when your customer is not present; you must represent them at all times.
You must be aware that their perspective is the only one that matters to them. You must also be aware of vested interests in your company that do not benefit the customer, and work around them.
Rule #4: “You must bring us applications.”
Customers want substantiated value at every step of the sales process. This does not mean presenting features and benefits and hoping the buyer understands how they will help them. Bringing applications means the sales rep can discuss the product’s usage, outcomes, or results of using that product.
Your customer wants to know how your offering applies to their unique needs and how it can be implemented to produce the results they want. The sales rep must use his skill to create a match between his offerings and the buyer’s situation, thus bringing them applications.
Rule #5: “You must be easily accessible.”
The average sales person spends a surprisingly small amount of time in actual contact with customers. In several studies, direct time with customers was less than 25% of the sales cycle, and that included problem-solving.
In today’s world, every company should have a defined process for keeping in touch with the customer, from automated email responses and 24-hour call back rule, to problem escalation and communication rules, even texting. The key for the customer is the level and quality of response. Poor communication gives the customer a sense of not being in control that causes stress. And sales reps who stress their customers out have no chance of closing a sale.
Rule #6: “You must solve our problems.”
What makes great sales people is their anticipation of problems and their solutions. These problems can be caused by their company, by the customer, or by some other factor. Great sales reps have the mindset of a troubleshooter. They equip themselves to deal with problems in advance. They see problem-solving as a positive challenge and a valuable opportunity.
Again, the sales person remains personally responsible for the resolution; they do not delegate the final responsibility to someone else.
Rule #7: “You must be innovative in responding to our needs.”
Customers want their suppliers and service providers to be continuously improving the offering throughout the relationship. Executives want salespeople who can keep them up to date on innovative new solutions that addresses strategic challenges and provide new opportunities for improving their company’s sales, reducing costs, or growing profits.
Great sales reps ensure there is added value in a relationship as it progresses, and not just what the sales rep’s company offers at time of sale. This requires reps to understand the industry and the competition, to be subject matter experts, and to search for innovative ideas in other industries. This kind of skill comes from extensive reading and from having a broad network of contacts in different industries.
Mastering the 7 rules
The last section of Achieve Sales Excellence lists eight questions for identifying world class sales organizations. These questions are direct and tough, but they that should be addressed, especially if you are a senior leader. Your analysis will help you assess whether you are in the 20th or 21st century in terms of your sales strategy and processes.
To truly learn and gain the full impact of these rules, I highly recommend studying the book, not just reading it. If you learn and apply these seven rules in your sales processes, you will succeed.