Customer engagement – moving from rhetoric to action

Customer engagement

If you have been in sales for any length of time, you will have encountered many people – talking a lot – in a wide variety of forums about customer engagement or customer-centric or customer alignment.  Different words – fundamentally same idea.  Unfortunately for far too many, it is a lot about talking and very little about doing.  Let’s take a look at changing that formula.

If one is to get serious about upping the bar on customer engagement, and there is a great case to be made that one should, then changes need to occur at both the organizational and sales person levels.

McKinsey published a great article entitled Five No Regret Moves for Superior Customer Engagement looking at the challenge from an organizational level.  The authors noted that customers are demanding different kind of relationships with suppliers and point out several ways for achieving a higher level of customer engagement.  One of the particularly important ideas was to revisit the budget committed to activities specially directed to improving customer engagement – how much and how is it spent.

But what about the sales person level?  Let’s frame this part of the discussion in terms of key account sales people with existing customers and explore what can be done about upping customer engagement.  Three jump start ideas are:

  • Up the commitment. As the McKinsey authors noted customers are looking for a different kind of relationship with their suppliers.  So, what does that look like?  What is their vision of their future and what kind of help do they need to get there.  No one is in a better position to orchestrate finding that out then sales people.  But it means committing time and effort engaged in those types of discussions, as opposed to, just conducting meetings that are all about how to make that next sale.
  • Emphasize feedback. Achieving superior customer engagement requires more and better feedback from the customer.  Most major customers live in very dynamic business environments.  So you need to find out how you are doing using a different clock than yesterday.  The idea of an annual customer review meeting just does not carry the day – that is an ingredient in the recipe for the status quo.
  • Elicit help from the team. In most key account business there is a substantial team of engineering, technical and/or service support people on site implementing the work.  They are constantly interacting with customer staff many of whom the sales person may not naturally contact. The question is – are all members of the sales team marching to the same tune when it comes to achieving superior customer engagement?  When they are, you can learn more about how to make a difference.

Some time ago a couple of colleagues and I did some research and wrote a book about Getting Partnering Right.We interviewed a lot of customers and suppliers who were in the midst of executing innovative and imaginative ideas driven by the power of collaboration.  A take away from that work was customers and suppliers can overcome all the classic barriers and engage in a different manner.  And when you actually see it at work, cynicism tends to fade away – replaced by portraits of the possible.

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About Richard Ruff

For more than 30 years Dr. Richard Ruff and Dr. Janet Spirer - the founders of Sales Horizons - have worked with the Fortune 1000 - such as UPS, Canon USA, Smith & Nephew, Boston Scientific, Owens & Minor, Textron - to design and develop sales training programs. During his career Dick has authored numerous articles related to sales effectiveness and co-authored "Managing Major Sales", a book about sales management, "Parlez-Vous Business" which helps sales people integrate the language of business into the sales process, and "Getting Partnering Right" – a research based work on the best practices for forming strategic selling alliances. Dr. Ruff received his Ph.D. in Organizational Psychology from the University of Tennessee and a B.S. from Rennsselaer Polytechnic Institute.
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