Certain clichés take root and become part of the tapestry without much if any re-examination of their current reality. Sometimes there is no harm in this, but other times simply accepting something just because it has been around a while, and is repeated by many who have not given it a second thought or spent effort validated it, can lead to issues. What you generally find is that those who take the time and effort to go beyond clichés , “mottos” or widely accepted wives tails, tend to do better over the long term.
Sales is no exception, there are saying and myths that are repeated and accepted despite the fact that their time and effectiveness may have passed. They may be part of the “common culture”, but have lost meaning over time; they looked good at first, but have worn thin over time. One such saying widely accepted but not always true is “People Buy From People”.
There is no doubt that there are elements of fact in the statement, but there is also potential risk in over relying on this statement. This is especially so if you are selling a service or a product where retention is key to your company realising a payback over time, or if retention and upselling is key. Basing your long-term sales success on it can cost you and your company a lot of money and clients.
Saying people buy from people is one of those feel good statement that sales professionals and pundits throw around with “religious conviction”, which allows them to brand anyone questioning it as a heretic. Cool, I’ll wear the label, and keep the commissions that go with it.
Let acknowledge upfront that personal rapport is important in sales, but not as important as the cliché would imply. While the individual sales person is important, a number of sources have shown that buyers do look at the overall organization when it comes to a buying decision. One source I read showed that people want to deal with those sales people who can demonstrate that they can marshal the full resources of their companies. While the sales person is important, it is the resources and access to them that drive decisions. Studies have also shown that buyers want to deal with those companies that are committed to research and development, have proven they are innovators over time, and are responsive to the clients’ needs not only in sales, but also in important things such as conflict resolution, i.e. resolving bad invoices.
One thing to consider is how few customers follow a rep when they leave a company who has proven they are responsive, innovative, demonstrate thought leadership and are customer focused. I worked with a company that had a high level of turnover in sales people; it was the nature of the trade as opposed to a company flaw. Knowing they had this issue, they focused a lot on their customers. Their surveys continued to show a higher than average level of retention when compared to the rest of the sector. One specific feedback was that despite the many reps clients had, they always had contact from the current rep, and other key people in the seller company; including product, service and the executive. The result, they always felt attended to and they never felt they were not being serviced.
One way to achieve this is to implement a program known as 4D, or Four Deep. This is a process of making sure that as soon as someone becomes your customer, or even before, you begin to have relationship on at least four levels with the customer organization. The first is obviously the sales person with the natural buyer; if you are selling sales training that would be the VP of Sales, IT related services, the CTO or CIO. Another we recommend is Finance to Finance, that is your CFO reaching out and striking a relationship with the customers CFO or VP finance. Price and money are always a big deal, so cover it directly.
At the service level, your service person directly with their service or user support person. We are not just talking about assigning a name to the account, and entering it in the account profile. We mean Harry picking up the phone and talking directly to the support person within the account, and developing a relationship with them that goes beyond service tickets or annual parties. The fourth depends on the nature of the product, but if you are selling anything that can be sold as a “solution”, I would suggest your CEO or President strike a one-on-one with their counterpart at the customer company.
Think of it as a four-legged stool, if one leg goes, it will remain standing. If you are relying on one or two relationships based on personalities not dependencies, what happens if one goes. We have all lost accounts when there was a change in a position within the client company. I know plenty of sales people who covered their “natural buyer”, only to be undermined by a new CFO or President. Had there been four relationships, this could have been managed and avoided, but with only one direct relation, the sale rep and IT Director or Regional Director of Sales, you are exposed.
4D goes beyond just having an “executive sponsor” or “executive angel” program that many companies have and benefit from. Many clients appreciate it, but see it for what it is. The 4D approach requires a very hands on effort by each of the four involved to not only cement each individual relationship, but also make sure that everyone is aware of the various relationships. This makes it more difficult for anyone to “just act” without input from the other three.
It is true that people buy from people, but they also stop buying for a bunch of reasons, one common one being price, how many times have you won an account, only to lose it next time around because you were undercut by a few points. Where are the people buying from people there? I had a rep work for me in Ottawa selling to the government. She came bouncing into my office one day telling me that she had landed a big department after a long cycle. She credited the win to her relationship with the head of IS. The following year, renewal time – we lost the account; one of our competitors offered another 5%. What happened to the great relationship, the “they love me”? Had I had deployed the 4D approach then, I am sure it would have turned different.
Yes, people buy from people, but they stay with the best provider, the best way to ensure that is to provide a great product and service, but also to have the broad relationships that will ensure everyone is aware of the quality of the service and has some interest invested in maintaining it.
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