Winning sales through customer engagement

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In the old days, it was all about the sale. But recession bit and business-to-business buying changed, and the time executives spend on buying products and services has diminished. Today, it is estimated that the buying process takes up less than 5% of executives' time.

Sales strategies have changed to work in this new ambit. Making the sale is no longer at the centre; now, ongoing relationships are core, according to authors of ‘Beyond the Sales Process’ Steve Anderson and Dave Stein. Stein, a coach on the ‘International Selling Programme’ and the ‘Excel at Export Selling’ series, will be well known to many Enterprise Ireland clients.

Co-author and fellow sales guru Steve Anderson quotes a sales manager who said, "I do my best selling when the customer isn't buying… When they're buying, the walls are up, there's pressure, there's stress. But outside the time of the actual sale, I can take steps to distinguish myself and my organisation, and they're much more open with me."

The Andersen and Stein method – 'Engage, Win and Grow' – is a deliberate strategy of engagement that starts with research about your customer, moves on to the relationship and first sale, then consolidates by growing that relationship so that your company is differentiated from other business relationships, and your teams are aligned with your customer's.

The best time to become a student of your customer, the authors say, is before the sale, when the opportunity is a mere flicker on the horizon. This is the time to do your research: and the best source of information on your customer is the customer – in person, and through the company website, social media – all the places where the customer is revealed and available.

Sound advice for businesses looking to expand their operations into other markets. It pays to conduct grass roots research and analyse typical activity in your sector; this will help your business position itself at the forefront, distinct from other potential competitors. 

Case studies in ‘Beyond the Sales Process’ include Siemens, Zurich, Hilton, BNY Mellon and MSD. The study of MSD (Merck Sharp and Dohme), for instance, focuses on this healthcare company trading in a market changing through insurance company acquisitions and hospital consolidations, in which individual doctors have less autonomy in how they treat patients. 

For MSD, these changes offer an opportunity: instead of concentrating on products, the company is moving to a longer-term perspective and more global implementation. For instance, one of MSD's customers, Premier Inc, involves an alliance of 3,400 US hospitals and 110,000 other providers. The study quotes MSD's Denise Juliano, who has brought the relationship between MSD and Premier from a point when "they couldn't pick Merck out of a line-up" to MSD being one of its top three suppliers, through, she says, a trusted and transparent relationship.