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Sales? Corporate Culture Drives Results

30 May, 2014 By: Mr. Gregg Mader

On a weekly basis, I read various trade-related publications with articles on the many different approaches as to how to improve sales with existing accounts. In many of these, the direction given is a focus to take every opportunity to “sell something.”  What is interesting is that the direction to sell something, as opposed to understanding what your client needs, can ultimately result in a dramatically smaller sales opportunity.  Why? Because you have predetermined what you want to sell - which might be a fraction of what the opportunity could be had you listened to and built an intentional plan with your client. 

The model with a “focus on growth” (instead of a “focus on the client”) will have you wondering why you are not seeing top line growth. Much like the hamster on a walking wheel running in circles every day, oblivious to the fact that all that effort is lacking in results, you basically will see little to nothing accomplished.

The unfortunate reality is that many struggling or mediocre organizations think that this tactic of “keep selling more stuff” is the way to go. But I believe this is the wrong approach.

For reference on my work experience that has helped shape my perspective, I have been in the print/multifunction device and Managed Services industry since 1987, and was fortunate to have initially started out on the “client’s” side of the equation as I worked my way up. As Director of Document Services at a major university, I managed a large team of employees, and at IKON Office Solutions, had senior executive roles in sales, operations, and marketing. I also worked for a division of Xerox’s Global Imaging Systems, and later worked with major rechargers to help resellers implement a managed print and/or managed services practice, in addition to a small consulting firm that supported a range of clients. Regardless that I am not actively pursuing business at this time, I recognize that my perspective is contrary to what some consultants convey today.

I am a firm believer that what truly breeds success and growth is not spending every moment trying to sell your “stuff.”  What will absolutely drive growth is investing your time in truly understanding the needs of each of your clients. I’m not talking about some esoteric “consultative” sales motion but rather, really establishing an open, trust-based relationship with them. 

How does your financial advisor treat you?

In trying to correlate how you should treat a client, I think about my interactions with my own personal financial advisor who I have trusted to manage my retirement investments and ongoing financial planning.  On a regular basis, my advisor requests a meeting to discuss progress and performance.  He is prepared with reporting of benchmarks against the broader market so that we can see, in no uncertain terms, if he is truly providing a valuable service, if the allocations are proper and, as importantly, if anything has changed in my status or will in the foreseeable future, so that he is prepared to develop a new plan.

He does not attempt to “sell” me something. What he does do is listen. He wants to understand my needs, if they have changed, and if so, how he’ll create a new road map, with my end goals in mind.  The net of this is that I have not chosen to shop around for any other organization who would happily take management of my portfolio. Why? Because I trust my financial advisor and have built a mutual business relationship that works well. Even if I could save a small amount on another’s management fee, I’m not willing to risk the unknown at the expense of my now developed, complete trust in his services. 

This model is applicable to how I see an MPS account managed, or for that matter, any account that you want to cultivate for a solid business relationship. When holding business reviews with a client, the approach should never be to walk in with the intent to sell first, but to learn.

How do you interact with clients?

You should have many occasions to engage your client but the most important recurring event is the business review meeting that should take place two to four times a year.  A business review should always be just that, a look back at how you have performed for the client since the last business review; a thorough discussion surrounding your clients business and a review of any/all actions you can commit to that are supportive of your client’s strategic initiatives.  Be prepared with very specific reporting on performance versus the contractual service level agreement.  It may be that you have missed the mark on one or two of the benchmarks but you have to be fully transparent and be prepared with a “get well plan” to ensure you hit the client driven targets, complete with specific dates for implementation of corrective action and a request for concurrence from the client that your plan is acceptable. 

If a sales professional doesn’t follow this path, but rather, walks in with the intent to pressure the client to buy more and/or extend their contract, the meeting is totally devalued from the client’s perspective. The net result of this will be a lack of trust, and equally important, a lack of loyalty. That lack of trust and loyalty ultimately is witnessed by way of continued margin erosion and commoditization of “product” because, as in many cases, the client pool sees virtually no differentiation from one provider to another, so they go to bid and let the low bid win. This is a mistake for the client as they ultimately get what they pay for.

Servant leadership

The cultivation of trust and loyalty is the responsibility of every individual in your organization.  The team, regardless of business unit, has to have the freedom to make intentional business decisions, which may be out of the normal scope of business but, if they make sound business sense, every associate should feel a sense of empowerment, creativity and accountability to satisfy the client’s business needs. This approach is achieved through what is known as servant leadership. The best way I can describe this is, if you were to pull out your org chart, take that and turn it upside down. Got the visual?  The servant leadership model is designed such that at every level of support behind front line personnel, whether its sales, service, operations or finance, the management team, executive team and ultimately, the CEO, are responsible for the removal of any/all hurdles that prevent the people who report to them from delivery of the highest standards of customer service.  If this culture is adopted, the impact to the client is far reaching regarding trust at every level, and with every single interaction the client has with your company. 

What is the net result?

What will happen with the cultivation of performance excellence, servant leadership and transparent performance reviews is…exponential growth.  This happens through margin protection, due to client retention through trust in your organization and associated loyalty.  You will also realize net new growth through your professional business reviews; resulting new needs analysis, as well as net new clients due to market reputation. You can actually see this methodology represented by the high quality organizations that exist around the country. They are privately held, highly successful companies with $2.5M to $100M in revenues, with a corporate culture of performance excellence. You know who they are…they are never the least expensive... yet their clients are typically impossible to lure away as these organizations’ provide optimum service at every level of staff and management, instilling trust. 

I had the distinct pleasure of working with one organization’s leader who’d invested a tremendous amount of time, money and effort to have his entire staff trained on performance excellence and servant leadership.  One thing that stuck with me was his great analogy on how best to support the customer, which was that we should look at our client(s) as a kind of savings account. Meaning we should continuously make small deposits into the “account” by going to extra lengths to support our client, to avoid ever having to consider a withdrawal. 

Gregg Mader is former Director of Document Services at SMU; Strategic Account Manager at IKON; General Manager for a division of Global Imaging Systems; SVP Sales, TCS Corporate Services; SVP Sales & Marketing, Printer Essentials; and Owner of Managed Services Implementation Support. Email him at: Gregg.Mader@gmail.com

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