Customer-centric selling is the practice of doing business with your customer in a way that provides a positive customer experience before and after the sale in order to drive repeat business. The world of B2B sales is filled with plenty of redundant concepts and misnomers. Think: "scalable", "artificial intelligence", and my personal favorite, "data-driven". However, “customer-centric selling" is one that stands out as particularly dubious.
In reality, every business in the world includes elements of customer-centric selling to some extent, because every business that has ever existed is dependent on customers. What companies are trying to evoke by plastering this concept all over their website and marketing channels is the idea that clients’ priorities are their main consideration.
However, actually listening to your buyers with intention to make their lives easier and better isn’t a redundant concept, it’s an admirable goal. Nowhere is this goal more important than sales departments at B2B companies. The extent to which you can accurately identify and effectively respond to prospects’ needs will determine your sales success.
Here’s a litmus test to figure out if your sales team is actually practicing customer-centric selling. If your answer to any of the following questions is “yes”, your sales team is probably far off from being “customer-centric”.
For both buyers and sellers, this sequence of events probably sounds familiar: a prospect visits a website and requests a meeting. About 10 minutes later an SDR calls and asks, “When would you like to see the demo?”
However, a demo is rarely the first step to take in a sales cycle. A typical demo showcases the features and differentiators about the software platform or consulting service. Starting with a demo is essentially telling the prospect, “Your outcomes and what you are looking to accomplish is less important than all the cool features in our solution."
The features need to be considered, but that’s usually not the first step a customer wants to take when making a complex buying decision. In order to be truly customer-centric, sellers need to help buyers get clarity on what they are trying to accomplish, and THEN determine if they can help the potential buyer with a demo.
On your initial sales calls with prospects, is the “discovery” a mutual experience? Far too often, sales people prioritize questions such as:
While these questions help sellers forecast the likelihood that the deal will close, they don’t create value for the buyer. The buyer never wants to be an answer machine. They want an opportunity to reflect on their circumstances and be educated.
To be truly customer centric, sellers need to ask questions that make buyers think about ideal outcomes, examine their status quo and look at solutions with a new perspective.
“Well, I gave them the demo and sent out a proposal. It should close!” How many sales leaders love hearing this logic from their team members? I’m guessing zero.
The reality is that this is how most salespeople go about their jobs. They show the customer the features of the product, qualify based on BANT or a similar model, and then send out a proposal and cross their fingers.
News flash: the hopes, wishes, and misguided efforts of sales people have no impact on how fast a deal moves forward; momentum is created by the buyer. The buyer has to walk through whether or not a solution is the best fit for their needs, and it’s the sales person’s job to guide them. A discovery call, followed by a demo, then proposal is a pushy workflow—NOT a customer-centric sales process.
Similar to the notion of “customer-centric”, many sales teams claim to take a consultative approach to sales interactions. Again, this is a commendable goal, but if you want to be consultative, then sometimes, just consult and don’t ask for anything in return. A common mantra I’ve heard in sales is, “never give anything away for free.”
Meaning that if a prospect asks you for something, you double down and make sure you’re getting something in return, i.e. a calendar commitment, or follow-up request. When’s the last time you shared a blog or eBook with a prospect simply because you felt like it would be pertinent information for their business, and asked for nothing in return?
Sales people have a reputation of being deceptive, and unfortunately, it’s a reputation that’s been earned over time. Perception of sales as a profession, as well as seller performance, would improve significantly if more sellers approached prospects in an altruistic and sincere fashion.
The “customer-centric selling” concept is a perfect example of the sort of disconnect that modern sales professionals have an obligation to address. By focusing on guiding the customer through a decision journey that benefits both the seller and the buyer, rather than our own revenue goals, sellers everywhere can be truly “customer-centric selling”.