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Marketing: Treat Your Sales Staff Like Customers

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In many organizations, people claim that marketing and sales are ''joined at the hip.'' Have you ever thought about your sales staff as customers? Henry Ford thought of his employees as customers for his cars. He wanted to pay them enough and charge the buyers so little that his employees could afford to buy the cars that they made. However, what I am suggesting here is that we should go even farther with the sales staff — we should literally treat them as customers of their company's management.

Many sales people are incented to sell. They often make a percentage of their income based upon how well they do in sales. There was a recent Dilbert cartoon strip which focused on strategies for selling without a sales staff. The pointy-haired boss thought he could reduce headcount by eliminating sales but needed marketing to find a way to get customers to select their products, pay for them, and pick them up at the warehouse. Obviously, a sales staff is needed to meet customers’ needs.

Some companies have taken the idea of treating sales staff like customers to heart. As you may recall from the ''Voice of the Customer'' article I wrote for CRM in 2004, there are benefits to following a robust process for developing customer-centric products and services (see the figure below). What we have done in these companies is to follow the same process for developing ideas to improve the performance of sales staff.

For example, one company that makes high-tech hardware products followed this system. We followed this model for their sales staff. First, we conducted a detailed ''Voice of the Sales Person'' study. Management had assumed that the sales people would want more perks, more money, and more time off. In fact, most of the wants, needs, and pains that were described had to do with reducing roadblocks that get in the way of doing a good job: excess paperwork and reports, travel restrictions, and a lack of up-to-date sales tools. Twenty sales people from around the world were interviewed one-on-one, as is commonly recommended in ''Voice of the Customer'' studies. After we had generated a list of 75 specific wants and needs from these interviews, in the language of the sales people, we had a focus group of sales people organize and categorize the needs. They created 16 categories of wants and needs. These represented their major ideas for describing the ideal sales person experience in the company.

A team of sales managers and sales people met to construct a set of internal metrics to predict success with the 16 categories. For example, the ''amount of time required to generate reports'' back to the home office was seen as a metric linked to sales employee satisfaction. The sales people wanted this metric to be reduced so that they could spend more time and effort selling. Another example was the ability to link information between different sales tools. Some of the tools required the sales person to enter customer information multiple times in different tracking tools. It was felt that this was wasted time and effort that had nothing to do with sales success. The metric used was a subset of the previous metric, namely ''time required to enter customer identification and sales data in sales tools.''

Twenty metrics were generated to link to the categories of sales person wants and needs. These twenty metrics were used to generate a sales person employee satisfaction survey. In a very real sense, the sales employees wrote the employee satisfaction survey, as the questions were derived from the categories that they had created. In this way, the survey was telling managers what sales employees wanted to say, rather than what management might have asked. The sales staff worldwide were surveyed to determine how well they felt they were supported by the company. Nearly everyone responded as they recognized that the issues in the survey were their issues, phrased in their language.

The employee team then related the internal predictive metrics and survey data to the categories of wants and needs via a process known as Quality Function Deployment (the most powerful metrics are those than can affect several needs rather than just one).

The internal predictive metrics and survey results were used to generate strategies for improving sales success and evaluated. The survey was implemented again, several months later. In this company, several key strategies emerged which lead to a tremendous reduction in the time required to track and report sales progress. The sales tools were integrated and updated. The result was a 25% increase in sales without hiring additional sales people! A robust system of metrics, surveys, and analysis had been created which could be perpetuated. Employee satisfaction improved significantly, as the sales staff felt that management was listening to them and being responsive.

This company had learned how to treat their sales force as customers of management and management decisions. The management saw that treating sales people like customers resulted in better service to the customers and higher customer satisfaction scores as well.

Treating their sales staff as customers of management and management systems resulted in increased revenues and profits for the company as well, and that is the mission of the sales staff, isn’t it?

About the Author

Chris Stiehl is an author (co-author of the soon-to-be-released Pain Killer Marketing), teacher (at several prominent universities), and consultant for Fortune 500 companies. Chris has expertise in growing business, customer, and employee satisfaction as well as developing predictive internal metrics. He was a member of the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award team at Cadillac in 1990 and served on one of the Three Mile Island commissions in 1979. He can be reached at
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Popular tags:

 CRM  management systems  customers  Three Mile Island  sales managers  hips  organizations  high tech  Pain Killer Marketing  Chris Stiehl

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