Customer-Focused Selling Really Work–for Your Business and the Customer


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Expectations were high for the new direct sales center that Timeless Insurance, Inc. (not the real company name) had created. TV and print ads were running, supplemented by a new web site and Internet campaign. The center was well-equipped with telecommunications technology, and the staff had been carefully recruited and oriented to its mission. The center was prepared to manage a high volume of inquiries from consumers, with a goal of converting calls to applications for individual health insurance.

Despite all of these elements, however, results from the center were disappointing. The number of calls resulting in applications was well below expectations. With fewer applications, sales naturally lagged far behind.

Executive management commissioned a review of the operation to get at the root causes of the underperformance. Executives wanted to know why the center was not meeting its goals and how it could be improved.

An assessment team began an intense review, interviewing members of call center management as well as employees. The assessment included monitoring incoming calls and conducting interviews with sales agents, management, product groups and marketing.

The review team discovered a major disconnection between how the sales center was trying to sell and how prospective customers wanted to buy. Whenever a call came into the center, the caller was subjected to a series of questions to gather basic data, including name, address and other demographics. This process could take 15 to 20 minutes before any information was shared on health plans.

Callers, on the other hand, were anxious to discuss their healthcare needs and determine if any of the plans that Timeless offered would be appropriate for their families. For many callers, healthcare insurance was an emotional topic, and they were deeply concerned over the well-being of their families. Many callers did not see the value or purpose of completing an application and, when frustrated by the lengthy process,
refused to complete an application or just hung up.

To address the problem, the assessment team recommended creation of a new sales process closely aligned with the needs of callers. Key elements of the new process included telephone scripts with probing questions that encouraged callers to open up and discuss their needs with sales agents.

Questions such as, "What are you looking for in a healthcare plan?" allowed agents to determine how much the caller knew about health insurance, whether he or she would be a good prospect and the type of plan most appropriate. Most importantly, by allowing callers to speak freely early in the process, sales agents created a personal connection that encouraged callers to continue through the entire process, which was clearly outlined early in the call.

The new sales process, including phone scripts, was tested, monitored and adjusted before it was piloted with half of the center’s staff. Positive results were dramatic and immediate. Sales agents using the new process doubled their application rate from 15 percent of calls received to 30 percent and more. The center’s lowest performing agents were the most enthusiastic adopters of the approach, with one agent moving overnight from a 9 percent application rate to 21 percent.

The sales approach was reinforced through a new employee assessment system that created performance measures and compensation directly linked to each stage of the sales process. Training, monitoring and mentoring were critical, with the center’s management group receiving guidance in how to work with the staff.

Employees were so excited that they created a buzz throughout the call center, reinforced by a newsletter. Because of this enthusiasm, executives decided to accelerate the implementation process, with the entire 100-member sales center staff working under the new process two months ahead of schedule.

These are the principles Timeless followed and good ones for you to adopt to make your sales more customer focused.

  • Align with your customers. Align the way you sell with the way your customers want to buy.
  • Discover your customers’ problems. Learn your customers’ problems and provide solutions—not just products or services—that meet their needs.
  • Reinforce. Reinforce the customer focused sales process with your employees through training, mentoring and, most importantly, compensation and performance review tied directly to the sales process.
  • Communicate. Encourage two-way communications throughout the team to create excitement and encourage adoption by everyone.

Does selling focused on customer needs really work? You bet it does. Just make sure that your selling process truly addresses the key points above and you cannot go wrong.

Mary Ann Kennedy
Sales Performance International
Mary Ann Kennedy is a consultant with Sales Performance International. Kennedy has more than eight years of consulting, sales and project management experience. Before joining SPI, she held a sales and management position in an outbound call center and was responsible for consumer sales in the retail banking industry for Bank of America. Kennedy holds a bachelor of science in marketing from Clemson University.


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