Beware of Your Sales Blind SpotsArticle by Colleen Francis, April 20, 2019
No one in sales has an unobstructed 360-degree view of their relationship with their customers. Nobody. Not even top-performers.
We are all prone to blind spots in sales: not seeing the very real vulnerabilities that can hinder work with even our very best customers. If left unchecked, that can cost you a fortune in lost business and revenue shortfalls.
That’s precisely what happen to a client of mine. After years of doing a considerable amount of business with one customer, it all came to a sudden halt one day when a management shakeup moved them from being an insider to an outsider. Their number-one customer became a former customer, and recovering from that was painful.
Sure, the circumstances that led to that management shuffle would have been hard to predict, but that misses the point. With better foresight, they would have understood how precarious their situation was in relying on one senior executive as the source of so much business. If they had a process and a plan in place, it would have helped prevent that customer from leaving.
You have to see it before you can solve it
You must know that you have a sales blind spot before you can anticipate its consequences. The quickest way to locate them is by asking for input from others. Not just anyone, of course, but someone who understands your work, your clients, and who shares your competitive passion for winning. In other words: other salespeople.
That’s why I say every sales team needs to conduct a black-ops exercise on itself on a regular basis. Gather as a team and talk about how you work with your best customer. Let others quiz you on that relationship. For example, how many products do they use? How often do they provide feedback after a sale is done? How many people do you connect with in their organization on a regular basis?
Next, ask this team to imagine that they worked for the competition: how would they go after that same customer and earn that business at your expense? They will expose your vulnerabilities so you can create an action plan on how to seal up those weak spots.
Here are four must-do steps in that action plan.
Build-out multiple contacts. One is the most dangerous number in sales. Never put yourself in a position where all of your business from a client hinges on one relationship—no matter how senior that person is. Learn their organization chart and work your way through it, getting to know all the people around your buyer who have an interest in your product. This needs to work both ways, too. Your customer needs to have access to more than one contact in your firm. That only happens if you make it happen.
Conduct a quarterly business review. Sit down with your client and review the work you’ve been doing together. Ask probing questions. Not only do these reviews expose pinch points to be solved, they also show you where your work together is making great things happen. And great news can always be profiled in a new case study! Note my recommended frequency of this exercise. Some sellers limit their business reviews to once a year. Huge mistake. Can you really afford to wait twelve months to find out you have a blind spot that might be harming your business relationship? Time is not on your side, here.
Measure success using their language, not yours. Learn what metrics your customer uses to measure your performance and success, and then only use those metrics to communicate successes and identify problem areas. For instance, if on-time deliveries matter to them and they expect you to deliver at 95%, use this metric as a target for your delivery KPI with them. While you might track your own performance internally using a different metric, it’s pointless to talk about that with your client—it’s akin to speaking another language. Stay focused on what’s meaningful to them. And remember: customers rarely communicate the performance of your products on the inside. That’s your job!
Ensure full deployment. You’d be shocked how often this comes up in my own reviews with clients. Too many sellers don’t bother to ask their customer how they are using the thing they sold to them. This flies in the face of reason, because we know the more we use something, the less likely we are to replace it with a competing product. There’s also a multiplier effect to consider. The more entrenched a product or service becomes, the greater the opportunity for cross-selling. That’s a strategy that boosts growth as well as retention rates. Again, that only happens if you take time to ask your clients if they’re using what you’re selling to the fullest extent possible—and take rectifying steps if they’re not.
So beware of your blind spots in sales! Identifying them teaches you to see where you are vulnerable in the future so you can anticipate problems before they become impossible to manage. Having said that, sometimes even the best preventive measures can’t troubleshoot fully in a business. That’s why in the next article, we will look at what you must do when your best customer starts heading for the door.