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Why Selling More, And More Often, Can Cause Sales To Fall Short.

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Eventually, every business grapples with trying to sell more to existing customers. A staple topic at marketing or sales seminars, more has been written on the subject than perhaps any other business development topic.

Selling more to current customers gets so much attention because it is important, yet few companies do it well. Approaches range from the very casual, where a sales person handling one product line asks to be introduced to another’s customer, to the very formal with structured meetings of sales staffs gathering to exchange ideas about possible opportunities.

Yet nothing seems to be terribly effective, which is why articles like this one keep appearing. Since customers say repeatedly they want to know about other products or services offered by the suppliers that they use, what is the problem?

Stop Cross-Selling

There’s actually a simple answer: Stop what you’re probably doing.

To much selling involves too many sales people doing a lot of talking but not very much listening. Too often, what happens is that three or four people take turns approaching a customer or client, sometimes with a dizzying parade of PowerPoint slides flashing behind them, as each says how they can meet a customer’s needs, solve a problem, or help them grab an opportunity. Most of these extravaganza’s – which probably took hours to prepare – are too long, detailed or boring.

Not surprising, most companies commit the same original sin before the first sales person ever steps forward with an insincere flight attendant smile that is always brought out of the drawer for these events and enthuses, “We’re delighted to be here!”

But customers say they wonder why the sales people are so delighted because no one first took the time to speak with them about their company’s goals, objectives or problems might be so they could tailor the presentation. As a result, they hear what amounts to a canned new business pitch that addresses real needs only by accident – if at all. Invariable, these non-stop talk sessions usually end with “… and if you have any questions, we’ll be happy to answer them.”

A Different Approach

Clearly, a different approach is needed.

Instead of telling a client what additional products or services the supplier can offer, firms should be asking the client to spend the same amount of time talking about their business plan.

Both formal studies and empirical research makes it clear that many sales people are oblivious to what their customers think and say about them. Despite a lot of lip-flapping providing “quality,” the fact is that quality occurs when a company meets its customer’s expectations, not just when they deliver on time and without defects.

The most effective way to meet a customer’s expectation is to ask them what they want.

Rather than talking for an hour or more about the many wonderful things the company could do for the existing customer, savvy businesses flip the process. They invite the customer to spend an hour telling the sales people their business plan for the next two-to-three years.

Three things happen when this approach is adopted. First, the customer sees that you truly are interested in their business and in helping it grow. Second, once someone begins discussing their plans, concerns, issues or opportunities, you have the opening to explain how something you offer helped another customer address a similar or parallel issue. Third, an opening to create a new service or product may emerge because if one customer has a need that’s not being met, chances are others have the same need. Instead of an ineffective presentation, a sales organisation turns the meeting into a working discussion, and from discussions comes new orders.

The secret is selecting the right targets for cross-selling.

The Right Target

Many companies hone in on their best customers, in part because a strong relationship already exists. But the best customer may not be the best candidate for getting more sales. In fact, they may be giving you as many orders as they can or want to.

So they may not be the best target. The secret lies in creating a template, tailored to your firm using our proprietary matrix, to reveal those customers most likely to be receptive to giving you more orders. Chances are there will be several dozen – or more – customers on the list. So once this initial list is created, it must be narrowed down to four or five of the most-high potential targets to receive the initial thrust of the cross-selling programme.

Once the first five have been covered, move on to the next five high potential targets. But before meeting the first group, do your homework. Learn as much as you can about the company, not just looking at what you’re currently selling to them. Go through their website. Search the web for news articles about the company and its industry. If it is publicly traded, read OSC and SEC filings. Be selective about who is invited to the session from your company, and have a briefing session with them before meeting with the client to share information and ideas.

An old marketing adage says that the best customer is the one you already have. It much less costly and far more productive to get additional work from a current customer than it is to find a new one. When we’ve helped organisations change their approach to cross-selling, new work from current customers – along with new revenue – has resulted every single time it has been employed.
Published: 2008-03-18
Author: Charley James

About the author or the publisher
A former assistant editor of "Business Week" magazine, and a television news producer and reporter before that, Charley James began writing when he was about eight and hasn't stopped.

Now, he covers and writes news articles including his own independent investigative reporting, writes articles, websites and newsletters for clients, drafts speeches, creates and writes ad copy, and crafts humorous essays about things people encounter every day.

Charley has been published in many magazines.

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