The Customer Must Be at the Heart of the Sales Loop


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Having spent a great many years selling, managing sales reps and managing sales vice presidents, I have seen that the attempt to solve “sales problems” (i.e. insufficient revenue and/or market share) frequently begins with the sales organization, itself. That is, too often the problem of ineffective sales reps or sales teams, especially in service businesses, centers on such things as the wrong individuals, not enough calls, poorly conceived presentations and poor bidding.

While all these factors are important, they reflect the tendency of sales organizations to attempt to solve the problems by looking internally, first and foremost, and only tangentially focusing on what is most important—the customer. This, very often, results in a lot of unproductive hand wringing about lost opportunities, underused sales talent and wasted resources.

Being the egocentric people we ask them to be, salespeople, and often sales managers, believe that they know the customer best and can best determine what the customer’s needs are. However, the problem is that, although it is true that good salespeople have significant knowledge about their customers, they often have tremendous blocks that prevent them from objectively understanding what their customers really want and, consequently, whether they are fulfilling these needs appropriately. They go by what appears to be instinct. The problem with sales managers who have been successful sales reps, themselves, is that they, too, operate by their “gut.”

One way companies have tried to get around this is by giving their marketing organizations the responsibility for knowing the customer and then developing appropriate strategies. Yet, while the methodologies and processes used by marketing can be excellent, very often these departments are either too academic or off target because of the reluctance of marketing leaders to actually spend much time with customers. In my 12 years in senior management in a service business for a Fortune 500 company, I could count on one hand the number of times (aside from an occasional focus group) the head of marketing met face-to-face with a customer.

I believe the only way companies will truly develop a solid understanding of customer requirements is if the leadership of the customer-facing organization takes the responsibility. That is, it is up to sales management. But sales management has three main obstacles. First there is the sales rep who views customers as “mine” and doesn’t want to share any information, much less introduce the manager to the treasure chest. Then there is the marketing organization, which believes the sales organization to be just a bunch of Neanderthals who would have no clue as to what processes and data even mean. Finally, there is the sales manager him- or herself with the conundrum of one “mental foot” in the sales rep camp and the other as a business leader driving profitable growth.

Ultimately, for sales management to be effective in a customer-centric world, it must have the tools that enable it to view what is going on with the customers. That is where CRM as a concept comes in. Note that I am not talking about a tool that provides just management with a picture of such elements as the sales pipeline, leads and revenue. While these are important, what is most critical is a tool that provides sales leadership with actual customer insight. Management that has access to what the customers are saying, what they like, what they dislike and what they need, as well as the direction the customers’ businesses are going will be much more effective in developing the strategies necessary to achieve successful results. Having technology tools in place is one thing. Ensuring that they are getting you the level of customer insight you need is most critical.

Elliot Eisenberg
Sales Management Consultant
Elliot R. Eisenberg has 12 years of experience as a senior sales leader for RR Donnelley, the largest printer in North America. In his last role, Eisenberg was senior vice president of sales and customer service for Donnelley's $250 million domestic Capital Markets business.


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