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Investing in relationships

Joseph DeRosa

Today’s sales executives are facing a growing challenge keeping their sales teams motivated. Between a struggling economy, corporate downsizings, budget cutbacks and plain old poor employee morale, keeping the troops engaged and motivated is harder than ever.

Sales professionals have a reputation for always seeing the glass as half full. No matter how many times a sales professional hears “no” or how many sales calls result in failure, they are still ready to go on that next appointment, make that next call, deliver that next sales pitch.

But cracks in this optimistic fa ade are beginning to show. There is not an industry on this planet not impacted by the current financial meltdown. The cost-cutting squeeze is on spending is down while sales people continue struggling to achieve aggressive sales numbers.

So what do the best sales people do during tough times like these? They go back to the basics. Let’s not forget that at its most basic level, “sales” means meeting people and providing solutions.

Now more than ever is the time to contact your current customers to ensure their needs are being met. This is a great time to step back, take inventory, and make sure you become aware of any new needs that your customers have developed. Perhaps one of the biggest risks or reasons customers are lost is that sales

professionals are unaware of changing business needs. During economic growth periods, securing a sales

call is relatively easy.

Consequently, there is a tendency to load up on new sales contacts while placing existing customers on the back burner. This strategy nearly always leads to failure. Why? Because our economy runs in cycles, with ups and downs, ebbs, flows, peaks and valleys. Unfortunately, people forget to plan for the valleys as they ride the peaks. Remember the saying, “Failing to plan is planning to fail”? Make today the day that you begin to plan.

Get started by going through your customer list. Place a call to each and schedule a time to meet and review their business. Make it clear that your call is not a sales call. The purpose of your call is simple: you want to meet with them to review how well your product or service has been meeting their needs. Many sales professionals call these types of meetings “customer or client reviews.”

Once in front of your customers, focus on them. How are they doing? How is business? How has it changed? How are their employees doing? What is their view of how their competition is faring? The responses to these questions can help provide insight into the strength of your relationship with your customer or the lack thereof.

In his book “What the Customer Wants to Know,” author Ram Charan talks about the importance of having a deep knowledge and relationship with your customer. He explains the concept of Value Creation Selling or VCS, which focuses on creating value in what you offer your customer that differentiates you from your competition. The ability to achieve VCS is based in large part on the relationship you have with your customer. Since this concept relies heavily upon the ability to gather detailed information about the customers’ business, a high degree of trust must exist. If it does not exist today, you must begin building it immediately. If you are not building trust with your customers, someone else is sure to do so.

Make it your business to understand your customers’ challenges as well as opportunities. Most sales training classes focus on identifying your customer’s pain points and then matching a solution that reduces or eliminates the pain. This is only part of your obligation to your customer. What if you were to reframe your role? What if you were to shift your position from problem-solver to opportunity-enhancer? After all, don’t you think they’d appreciate it if you could not only help them save money with your solution but make money as well?

By focusing on your customers’ needs as well as their success you indirectly ensure your own success. It is up to you to help shift your customers’ view of you as someone that is selling them something to someone who is there to help improve their situation. You will find that when things turn around, and they most certainly will turn around, that your customers will not only continue buying from you, but will increase what they buy from you as a direct result of what you invest in your customers during down times.

Joseph DeRosa is vice president of sales, strategic partnerships & alliances for the Reno-based workers’ compensation insurance company Employers. Contact him at jderosa@employers.com or 327-2652.