Forbes Communication Council
Communications, PR, public affairs and media relations execs share tips
WRITTEN BY Kenneth Adams
Results-driven marketing leader, known for innovation and a unique mix of strategic, creative, operational and technical abilities.
Is your sales team failing to hit your company’s monthly and annual sales goals despite carefully planned forecasts and team-building exercises? Are you thinking it’s time for a shakeup? Pause for a moment. Perhaps the lack of success isn’t due to poor motivation or work ethic. In fact, it might be a result of a one-size-fits-all attitude toward approaching your customers.
Consider this: Your customers vary by size, revenue, needs and abilities. Lumping them together will only show them that you do not really understand their business and what they are trying to accomplish. You don’t want your company to come across like this to current or prospective customers.
While selling is exactly why you hired a salesperson, they need more than a directive to be successful. Rather, your entire sales team needs to have an in-depth understanding of your customers’ business, needs and plans for future growth. This might entail a lot of work for you, but here is an action plan you can employ to set your team up for sales wins.
Segment and score customers.
How can you logically approach understanding and engaging customers? A good first step is to segment them. This is the widespread practice of dividing your customer base into groups of individuals/companies that share similar traits and variables. Here are some sample criteria that are often used to define segments:
• Value of contract
• Geographic location
• Customer size
• Length of business relationship
• Customer engagement/lead score
There are many attributes you can use to segment your customers. Be sure not to over-complicate this, as you will need to explain your results to the rest of your company. Limit your customer segments to an easy-to-manage number.
Customer engagement score is an excellent method of segmentation. Group your customers into predetermined score ranges that reflect their likelihood of responding to your business development activities. This will enable you to choose the right engagement tactics for the right customers as part of a coherent and logical overall sales strategy.
Once you have decided on your segment attributes and the number of segments, you can score your customers based on those attributes and place them in the proper segment group. If you place your customers in a conventional pyramid, you might have three segment groups:
• High value: top of the pyramid
• Medium value: middle of the pyramid
• Lowest value: bottom of the pyramid
Let’s look at the high-value segment as an example. If you work at a software company like mine and are only using contract value to define a segment, your high-value customers might make up more than 50% of your yearly revenue. Nonetheless, the total number of customers in this category is likely to be significantly lower than those in either the medium or lowest value segments. For effective sales results, this customer segment will need specific engagement strategies different than those required by the other segments. In this way, your segmentation process will inform your engagement model.
Define your engagement model.
Your engagement model defines how often and how many touch points you will have with your customer. For high-value, top-of-pyramid customers, here are some examples of touch points that you should consider adding into your engagement model.
• On-site visits: Don't shy away from the road trips. Face time goes a long way.
• QBRs: Quarterly business reviews can help you find out the pain points and challenges your customers need to solve and what goals they have for the next quarter.
• Annual checkups: Recap the previous year and ask your customers to grade your business. Make sure to demonstrate action on any items that arise as areas for improvement. It always helps your sales team to show that you take customer feedback seriously.
• Best practices meetings: Discuss industry best practices and share insights on where the industry is going. This, of course, means doing some research on your customers’ industries. However, customers are one of your most important stakeholder groups and we all know that reputation matters. Simply broadcasting your products and services is no longer enough. Turn your customers into de facto brand ambassadors by putting in the effort to engage with them in a truly helpful fashion.
Get after it.
Now, it is time to prioritize how and when to engage with your customers.
You have three types of engagement to choose from: preplanned proactive engagement, ad-hoc engagement and reactive engagement. Preplanned proactive engagement includes activities such as on-site visits and quarterly business reviews. Ad-hoc engagement involves calls to customers based on data-driven outreach. You will need a valid data set on your customer to know what you will be calling them about. Finally, reactive engagement involves addressing customer issues and lending your industry expertise to drive challenges to the appropriate resolution.
Choosing the type of engagement is important because many customers reside in each segment, especially if you keep the number of segments minimal. Through customer engagement scoring and an understanding of each segment’s proportion of your annual revenue, you can determine which group of customers is most likely to impact your bottom line negatively if left out of touch for an extended period. It’s a well-worn adage that it is impossible to please everyone at the same time. However, through prioritization, you can make sure to please the right group of customers at the right time.
Every customer is unique and there is no universal approach to engagement that will yield consistently successful results. The best practices discussed in this article can help you develop a sound strategy that uses different tactics and approaches for different types of customers. So, before you go ahead and start blaming your sales team, make sure that each member is properly prepared with the information they need to create great pitches and smart followups. Good luck!