Consign all selling to the past – how?
Those of you who have read my newsletters this year will have noticed I have written about why selling is inappropriate in today’s society, and about the new ABC of Sales. If you follow my blog posts you may also have seen me writing about the death of the sales force. Putting ‘Up’ or ‘Cross’ in front of ‘Sell’ doesn’t change my argument one jot; and I decided to highlight the wrong-headed approach of the Post Office in the transformation programme they are currently implementing, focusing on a strategy heavily reliant on ‘Up Sell and Cross Sell’.
I think there is a far better strategy, not only for the Post Office, but for all organisations aiming to survive, even thrive, nowadays. The articles that can be reached from the hyperlinks above advance the case that selling is inappropriate nowadays. Recent social science research has identified that there is a far better approach to growing the revenues (and thus the profits) of businesses than the traditional tools, techniques and tricks of the classic sales approach. The aim of the ‘Up Sell and Cross Sell’ strategy is to capture a bigger share of the spend of the customers, to leverage the relationship between buyer and seller such that the seller takes a larger slice of the buyer’s spend. On the face of it, it makes sense that a company who has invested in acquiring a customer reaps the relatively easier additional revenue and profit streams. After all, it typically costs somewhere between five and ten times more to acquire a new customer than it takes to sell to an existing one. The problem with the ‘Up Sell and Cross Sell’ strategy of any business, whether or not it is a British institution, is that it doesn’t really address the issue of acquiring new customers.
I am all for building deep and meaningful relationships with customers. Businesses, especially those involved in providing services, which successfully deploy a strategy of attracting and retaining an army of ardent advocates are on the right track. However the way to foster such fervent fans is not through up-selling and cross-selling – far better to focus on finding ways to ‘max-serve’ customers. In their transformation programme, Post Office staff are being trained to routinely offer additional products and services from the portfolio that they were taught about in an extensive training programme. Staff are being helped to understand where the most profitable products are in their portfolio and to then find ways of offering them to those who stray into their bazaars. Many companies have employed this strategy for years. I too was trained to Up Sell and Cross Sell; it was one of the sales mantras in the nineties and noughties in the ICT companies I was then working for. Times have moved on, even if the venerable British institution is still trying to drag itself into the nineteen nineties, so new strategies are needed.
Here’s my alternative – start with the customer. Find a way of identifying what the customer places most value on, what would be the best service for them right now? Have no pre-formed idea of what service you want to provide to them. Instead stay in a very simple question for as long as possible – ‘can I provide the best solution for this customer right now?’ There is very interesting social sciences research that shows how surprisingly effective this approach is. The Post Office has a major, strategic challenge deriving from the demographic of its customer base and adopting my alternative strategy can better position the Post Office with newer, younger, time-poor potential customers.
Many sales trainers teach people tools, techniques and methodologies that purport to improve sales effectiveness. Included amongst these approaches is often the application of ‘Positive Mental Attitude’ as an approach. It is far more effective to tell yourself you can successfully sell to the person in front of you than it is to have doubts about your ability to do so. I had years in this sales environment of P.M.A. and A.B.C. (Always Be Closing) and have no doubt that the attitude of this positive group is more effective than a second group which constantly has doubts and insecurities regarding their abilities.
However, the social science research indicates that there is a third group who are even more effective than those who use P.M.A. as the bed-rock of their success. This third group have been shown to be 50% more effective than the P.M.A. group who use assertive self-talk when in the sales process (‘I can do this!’) Instead the third group stay in ‘interrogative self-talk’ (‘Can I do this?) for as long as possible. I think it would be far more effective for the Post Office, along with other service organisations, to train people how to use this interrogative approach when interacting with customers and potential customers. The resultant jointly-crafted solution is far more attractive, and valuable, to those whose needs have truly been listened to and honoured.
Adopting this strategy would enable them to grow their businesses without selling but with a strategy of using ‘max-serve’ to provide the best solution to their customers. If they cannot provide the best solution it is better to let the prospective customer walk on by. The ‘max-serve’ strategy recognises that only delighted customers will join the army of ardent advocates that recommend your business to others. If you merely satisfy a customer they are very unlikely to stick their head above the parapet and recommend your business to friends and loved ones. Disappoint them and they will tell many people. Delight them and they will tell those they love and trust – the people they have high standings with who are more likely to change their behaviours as a result of a recommendation from them. I will be writing more about the ‘max-serve’ strategy in the near future.
In my business, I use the ALIGNED framework as a way of ensuring I deploy the ‘max-serve’ strategy in every customer interaction. I also teach others how to use the ALIGNED framework to shift the focus of their customer interactions. The ALIGNED framework, concentrating so much as it does on understanding the situation of the prospective buyer, constantly asking the question ‘can I find the perfect solution?’, and avoiding premature searches for possible solutions, greatly improves the alignment between seller and prospective buyer. By staying as long as possible in the question, using interrogative self-talk instead of assertive, the potential seller creates the opportunity to identify the resources needed to provide the perfect solution and crafts internal, intrinsic motivations over externally referenced drivers. Keeping alive the possibility that the answer that may emerge could be ‘No, I cannot provide the perfect solution’ multiplies the effect of the interrogative approach.
There is still hope for the Post Office, but only if they can revive their moribund customer base and can attract new customers to establish a squadron of sincere supporters to supplement and replace their dying customer base. It was once widely held to be a much-loved and revered British institution. I hope Chief Executive Paula Vennells moves quickly enough to move it into this century, realising last century isn’t good enough.
I hope you consider carefully the growth (or survival) strategy for your business. Which of the three groups above are you in currently? If you are not in the third group – the one that is most effective – what are you going to do? If you want to get into the third group, how will you do it? A goal without a plan is just a dream. Don’t just dream, do.