“Customer-Focused Selling”

Last week, I was sitting in a conference workshop where the theme was a customer-focused selling program.

Now I’m all for customer focus in every aspect of business – from product design to branding to marketing to customer support and service. But something was sticking in my craw as I sat through this session (which had to do with a customer-focused selling methodology in the pharmaceutical industry).

Here’s what it boils down to: is this “customer-focused” approach an end in itself? Or is it just a means to an end?

Let me explain. A pharmaceutical sales representative succeeds by promoting the usage (hopefully, by promoting the properly defined usage) of his/her company’s products. Fair enough. But how is success actually MEASURED? Is it customer satisfaction?

Actually, a few of the key tangible measures of success by which a sales rep is held accountable are the following:

    1. Increased prescription business
    2. Number of calls made per day
    3. Promotional actions correctly taken (samples delivered, dinner meetings set up, etc., etc.)

These are company-centric, quota-centric, performance-centric measures. And, in fact, these more tangible, objective activities and outcomes are more easily measured than something such as customer satisfaction.

I’m not saying that any of these are unimportant, or shouldn’t be tracked. What makes me uncomfortable is that the real goal ends up being what is measured. Teachers “teach to the test.” And reps perform to the yardstick to which they are accountable.customer-focus.jpg

All of which makes a “customer-focused” selling program seem like a means to an end, not an end in itself. There is the whiff of hypocrisy that seems to hover over the whole thing; an undercurrent of manipulation. Are companies rolling out these programs because of a core belief in being customer-centered? Or because they “work” better toward the real end, which is better numbers?

Is it a core commitment? Or just another technique?

I should conclude this post by saying that I have been in sales – in one form or another – for 20+ years. The times when I have been most uncomfortable as a salesman are when I’ve seriously questioned, in my own heart and conscience, whether what I was offering was really the best choice for the customer. Does slathering a “customer-focused” technique over that cognitive dissonance make one a better salesperson? Or just another peddlar, trying to make a buck any way possible?

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2 Responses to “Customer-Focused Selling”

  1. I think it all comes to down to being genuine. Do you really want to be customer-focused, or do just want money? If you want more money, that’s fine. Being customer-focused will probably get you there. But only in the short-run.

    A customer-focused selling mindset can’t be talked about. It has to be done. And the overall attitude and approach has to be woven into the DNA of the company. This isn’t something you preach. It’s something you do. Something you care about. Something you believe in with every bone in your body.

    Being customer-focused must be the means and the end. Using it as a selling method is a shallow form of sugar-coating. We know better. But sometimes the dollar signs seem more important. Yes, it will lead to more sales. But only when it’s truly built into the heart and soul of the company will it lead to greater satisfaction for both the seller and the buyer.

  2. To me, a customer-focused selling approach has to do with really understanding the needs of the customer. Does what you have meet their needs/help them accomplish their task/make their life easier? As both you and Ryan mentioned, the end goal (money vs. satisfied customers) often drives the method.

    Customer focus is a popular buzz word these days with companies. Everyone wants to be seen as focusing on the customer and their needs. Too often, it is just smoke and mirrors, and the sales rep/customer service agent gets paid on how well they do their job of selling the product/getting customers off the phone.

    Customer focus has to be a pervasive strategy throughout the whole company, across every touchpoint. When that happens, we may actually find we make more sales, get more customer satisfaction, and meet the needs of our customers. That would be a win/win!

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