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Issue Date: August 2004

Insight into sales best practice

August 2004

Over the last several years through the new millennium, companies have had their focus sharpened by an external force... that of the customer. Customers are seeing their marketplaces change, driven by rapidly advancing technology, global competition, shifting demographics, and the consequences of mature markets. To address these changes, they are seeking support from their suppliers as never before.

What the customer wants
In its World Class Sales Benchmarking Study report, HR Chally SA, has identified major trends and provided insight into sales best practice. Three themes continue to be evident as customers define their major needs and expectations of suppliers:
* Customers wish to focus on their core competencies and outsource the balance of their business needs.

* Suppliers are sought that understand the customer's business well enough to provide solutions in addition to the products and services they sell.

* Suppliers must substantiate the presence of the added value they provide.
In addition to these major themes, there are some not so subtle twists; customers have raised both the level of expectations and the speed at which these desires must be met.
There are several other trends emerging that are worthy of note...
Customers seeking vendors that 'add value' or 'provide total solutions', coupled with the downsizing of customer organisations are driving line and technical executives into action, becoming involved in purchasing decisions directly if the salesperson lacks the authority to make critical decisions.
Significant customer issues have emerged and deserve supplier top management attention:
1. Salesperson effectiveness was cited as more important to the customer's business than the features and quality of the products purchased.
2. The salesperson's failure to understand the customer's business continues to be a major criticism.
Customers asked to evaluate their needs of the sales forces that call on them identified 10 criteria. These are ranked in descending order of the frequency of mention by the respondents:
1. Responsive to needs, problems; provides service.
2. Knowledge of products and customer applications.
3. Customer advocacy; partnership development.
4. Ability to keep customer up-to-date.
5. Provides a quality product/service.
6. Offers technical support.
7. Offers local or easily accessible representation.
8. Ability to provide a total solution.
9. In depth understanding of customer's business.
10. Competitive price/value.
Suppliers who could meet these qualifications were well on their way to meeting or exceeding customer expectations. Despite rising customer expectations, there is evidence that many sales organisations are responding well... some in World Class fashion.
How the sellers are responding
Top executives of these World Class sales organisations all recognise the key ingredient to their success - the customer drives their business.
Acknowledging the customer as the major thrust in their business, these executives have repositioned the role of the sales force in their companies. The salespeople are the suppliers' vital link to the customer, but more importantly, they are the voice of the customer.
Another common thread shared by these World Class sales organisations is very focused leadership. While overall strategies and tactics may be altered occasionally in response to marketplace changes, the focus on those issues directly linked to their objectives never wavers. These World Class sales organisations are not distracted by extraneous issues nor do they veer from the mission at hand. This sharpened focus then cascades throughout the organisation and ultimately benefits the customer.
The rapid advancement of technology makes it a challenge simply to realise the minimum of productivity enhancements for many companies. These World Class organisations have come close to 'harnessing' information technology. The information they gather, store, and dispense so efficiently is the lifeblood of all they do.
Investments in information technology and system improvements are ongoing activities with these organisations.
Customer expectations that suppliers understand their business; respond more rapidly to critical issues; and add value to their relationship, necessitate moving the decision-making points closer to the customer.
The World Class organisations have responded by redeploying their resources closer to the customer and empowering them with the appropriate decision-making authority, thus changing the role of the sales force.
In an effort to meet customer expectations and respond to the 10 factors the customers use to evaluate the sales forces that call on them, the seller must first recognise the seven critical behaviours required of salespeople by their customers.
1. Personally manages customer satisfaction.
2. Really understands customer's business.
3. Acts as a customer advocate.
4. Is knowledgeable of applications as well as products/services.
5. Is located locally or, at least, easily accessible.
6. Solves problems.
7. Is innovative in responding to customer needs.
This World Class sales excellence research identified eight 'best practice' areas applied by the World Class sales organisations. While the five companies benchmarked admit they are not expert in all areas, they continually apply improvement techniques to these eight practices, striving to be better tomorrow than they are today.
The eight best practices identified are:
1. Establishing a customer-driven culture.
2. Market segmentation.
3. Market adaptability.
4. Information technology.
5. Customer feedback and measuring customer satisfaction.
6. Sales, service, and technical support systems.
7. Recruiting and selecting genuinely talented salespeople.
8. Training, coaching and development.
For a free copy of the full World Class Sales Benchmarking Study report, contact Peter Gilbert of HR Chally SA, on e-mail:

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