Foster Strong Customer Relationships with these Sales Management Tactics

Team of four colleagues communicating in office

Establishing strong relationships with customers is the cornerstone of sales management. Industrial Distribution highlights four keys to developing great relationships and securing future business.

1) Give Customers Your Full Attention

Put away any distractions during meetings to make the customer feel like you’re really present. Literally put away your telephone, close your laptop (unless it is for note taking), do not ask for the customers wireless password (avoid temptations) and if you are in a room where you can avoid facing an interesting view – then sit accordingly!

2) Make Sure to Meet Face-to-Face

There are many ways to connect with customers, but nothing compares to sitting down in person to have a conversation. There is an old saying “the eyes are the windows to the soul”! This is very true with respect to sales.

3) Be Considerate

If you’re courteous to the customer, they will usually reciprocate that behavior. Be open to other views and avoid comments that could be viewed as demeaning. Perception is extremely important.

4) Go Above and Beyond

Take into consideration the additional needs of the customer, even when they don’t address them directly. A true partner understands the customer’s business situation. In many instances understanding these situations – not directly related to the reason for your being there – can help the customer chose you for the solution. Become a Trusted Business Advisor.

One of the things I like about CRM systems is that they help sales reps to better organize their “time and territory,” which hopefully results in more time in front of customers and prospects. On the other hand, CRM systems may be yet another temptation to play with the computer and not spend quality time in front of customers. Such tools can, unfortunately, work against your relationship-building objectives if you’re not careful.

For example, are sales reps late for meetings because they are in the car finishing up a call or computer task? Do they take phone calls or check their messages while meeting with a customer? Do your sales reps pay attention during company meetings, or are they reading emails and sending text messages? These are all signs that the sales rep is treating his or her time as more valuable than the customer’s.

Sales management must focus on the fundamentals of building strong customer relationships in order for distribution businesses to grow. “The success of any business comes from the ability to create and maintain meaningful relationships,” the article states. That connection can make you an invaluable resource to your customer.

Consider this: in a competitive environment were the various solutions are somewhat similar what will convince the customer to choose you? Relationship, trust, complete understanding of the customer environment and business, capability… These are all characteristics that can only be achieved by building strong relationships.

Collecting Customer Feedback

Understanding what customers truly want can be a major headache for any sales manager, but with some work, it’s possible to collect customer feedback.

Industrial Supply Magazine suggests giving customers a customized, company-specific survey. Such surveys can offer an inside look at buying expectations.

Surveys certainly can provide valuable information about customers, but the problem is that people are surveyed to death now. Every time you get on an airplane, you get a survey asking, “How was your flight?” Every time you check out of a hotel, you get a survey asking, “How was your stay?” There’s also the issue of surveys being mostly answered by solely unsatisfied customers.

I think it would be difficult for distributors to convince most of their customers to volunteer feedback via surveys. Plus, surveys raise many questions. Should distributors conduct the surveys or hire an outside company? If you want customers to take surveys, do you need to entice them with a reward? Are anonymous surveys better than those in which the customers are identified?

The overarching question is this: How do distributors obtain good, honest customer feedback in a world in which surveys have become overused? A good idea is to instruct your salespeople to ask questions when they are with customers.

Sales managers sometimes make sales calls with salespeople; they’re called collaborative sales calls. These meetings present a great opportunity to ask questions in person as opposed to via surveys. But don’t simply ask, “How are we doing?” or “How is business?” Instead, ask the customer for specific ways that you can improve in the future and be a more valuable resource to their company. That’s a great way to collect valuable customer feedback.

Solution: Matching Customers with the Right Sales Reps

Matching sales reps with the right customers is one way for sales team management leaders to assure that both sides end up happy. Industrial Supply Magazine encourages distribution salespeople to change their way of thinking when it comes to approaching customers and their needs.

For example, we used to call salespeople who were really great at finding new customers “hunters.” Then there were salespeople that rarely brought in attractive new business, but you could turn something over to them and they’d provide a lot of good service and take care of that customer. Those sales reps were called “farmers.” A third variation might be people who used to be hunters and became farmers, which we called “fat cats.” Once a hunter finds a lot of good customers, they stop hunting and just live on the commissions. That makes them a fat cat.

But I’d like to reject those old labels and think of it in a different way. I’d put distribution salespeople into three new categories.

  1. The first level of salesperson is a true sales consultant. They are able to provide valuable consulting services to help their customers make more money.
  2. The second level of salespeople includes those who provide strong technical support. As a customer, you might find a salesperson like this to be a very valuable asset because they know more about a particular product or product line than anybody else.
  3. The third level of salesperson is a service rep who really understands his or her company’s business well, but they’re not really adept at being a sales consultant. They’re also not technically proficient, but they’re very easy to do business with because they know the ins and outs of their company.

It’s more helpful to categorize the salespeople in these ways because you can match them up with different customers and different customers’ needs. After all, that’s one of the main challenges in sales team management.

Dominic Telaro

Article written by

As the Vice President, Industry Solutions and Sales, Dominic is an APICS Fellow and Certified in Integrated Resource Management. Dominic has spent half of his career in manufacturing and distribution from shop floor and warehousing positions to management. The second half of Dominic’s career has been in consulting, product management, product development and both consulting and software sales.

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