Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

The importance of taking ownership in your work and your business 2: thinking like a salesperson owner

Posted in strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on October 26, 2013

This is my second posting to a series on taking ownership responsibility for the business you work at and regardless of your position or title there, or your financial ownership status (see Part 1: representing your business at its very best.) This is at least in principle an easy and obvious goal for a business’ legal owners of record but this should also be a goal instilled in every employee at a business, that they follow through on what they do as if they had that level of personal stake in their business.

This is perhaps particularly important, across the board for employees who directly interact with their business’ customers or their products’ or services’ end-users, where that includes members of Sales but also Help Desk and Customer Support, and a range of other personnel as well. But this can include people from Maintenance if they find themselves dealing directly with customers; essentially anyone at a business can at least occasionally find themselves facing this type of responsibility and even if it is not a part of their official job description.

I begin parsing this maze of potential relationships with customers and this business’ marketplace with members of Sales, as everyone who approaches this store, and certainly through a physical bricks and mortar storefront sees and in many cases deals with people from that service. I will add cashiers and sales managers and others to this discussion later, rounding out the group that customers might with frequency deal with when actually considering and making a purchase, but for now my focus is on Sales staff and their best practices. And I begin by raising a sometimes acute point of conflict:

• Should a salesperson seek to make a sale as their primary and even only goal, and with an up-sale to a higher priced option if at all possible, or should this salesperson seek to make a best sale for the customer, and for helping them meet their needs?

This is definitely a question that holds meaning from the customer perspective, but it just as telling and important from the business perspective. If the former of these two approaches is pursued, that salesperson may very well make sales but if they simply focus on that and not on customer need or on building a relationship with them, these might be primarily one-off sales with at most reduced likelihood of leading to repeat business. And at least as importantly, and particularly given crowdsourced consumer review sites such as Yelp, this first approach is much less likely to lead to positive viral marketing.

A customer that you face as a salesperson might not be looking to make new friends; they might be there in your store on a tight schedule and running late and want to make a specific purchase Now! So pursuing the second path of the above bullet point is not necessarily about entering into a long conversation and even just about a product under immediate consideration. But this is about hearing and really listening, and asking brief and focused clarifying questions if needed. And this is about offering product selections and certainly if asked, and ones that mesh with what this customer is saying, rather than just with a higher sales price in mind. The goal is to offer value, and not just from the product item sold to this customer but from their buying it from this, your business and from you.

And the goal for a good, effective salesperson is to actively be there when they are there, and with a focus on the customers around them and on how they can meet their needs. I have walked into businesses where I have seen signs directed to employees that state that cell phones are not allowed in the sales area, or at least not allowed to be used for making or receiving calls there. One such sign that I saw in a take-out restaurant literally said that cell phoning and texting were not allowed on the business’ time and that they were not paying their employees to chat with their friends. Distracting temptations from being there and really listening and connecting are only becoming more pervasive and even ubiquitous but good sales staff are there, and more than just physically. They hear and they really listen, and they seek to connect and offer value.

And I am going to round out this installment by noting a closely related point:

• When you are at work, and certainly when you are facing your employer’s – your business’ customers, this is about them and their needs and not just about you.

No employee deserves to be spoken to or treated abusively, ever. But if a customer has a problem and is trying to express their frustration, and certainly with a request for help, take that business ownership position and approach them with a goal of helping them.

• Approach any customer, and especially the ones who come to you upset or angry as representing your business and not your ego. Let them be emotional if they have to be; your responding in kind would simply escalate and expand whatever problems they bring to you. And if you cannot resolve their problem tell them so. If someone else there could – your manager, for example where they have more decision making authority, tell this customer that too, and bring them and their issues to those specific others who can help.
• Then take a deep breath and try and relax and particularly if this has been a stressful interaction so you do not just carry it over to your dealings with your next customer too.

I am going to expand out this discussion as hinted above and started here in my next series installment, bringing cashiers and sales managers and others directly involved in the overall sales transaction process into it. And as a part of that, and as a foretaste of Part 3 to come, I add that I will discuss aligning job descriptions and titles and management oversight with the business’ actual ongoing processes and with the customer experience. Meanwhile, you can find this posting at Business Strategy and Operations – 3 and related material at Page 1 and Page 2 of that directory.

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