In my last column, I introduced the first of 12 truths in business. These truths are often the difference between engaged sales networks that drive performance and those that lack passion, resulting in poor sales. The next truth is, if you compete against an inferior brand, product or service, but their channel is fully engaged … you’re in for a battle. There have been debates on which is more important, the brand or the product, but even more important than either of these is the sales and after-sales channel. Those who believe in the product they’re selling, servicing and supporting are a powerful force that can propel even disadvantaged, inferior brands to the top of the market.
The sales world will never be the same. Seismic shifts in the way that customers choose and purchase products continue to rock the sales world. Inbound marketing has changed the way customers are drawn to products and services. The internet is now a preferred source of information for most people, further altering the traditional role of the salesperson. A study by Forrester revealed 68% of B2B buyers prefer doing business online instead of with a salesperson. Rather than being facilitators of commercial transactions, salespeople are now seen as consultants and problem-solvers.
Sales networks remain important. The significant change in sales doesn’t diminish the importance of maintaining an engaged sales channel. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Salespeople are essential to building and maintaining relationships that drive loyalty and brand confidence. With customers being more connected to each other through social media and online reviews, establishing these relationships is more important than ever.
Because sales networks are on the front lines with customers, they also have an important role in communicating customer needs, criticisms and feedback. In essence, they are customer advocates. They provide brands with information that research and development teams can use to build better products, helping anticipate and meet customer needs.
A highly engaged service team can be a brand’s secret weapon. Service departments are taking on an increasingly important role in generating sales and customer loyalty. They often have more interactions with customers throughout the ownership experience, resulting in greater opportunities to go beyond repairs and maintenance, and sell additional products and services.
Communicating the “why” is crucial. The most impactful sales and services departments build genuine relationships through trust. This requires staff to be fully engaged, understanding the “why,” believing in the product they’re selling and servicing, and recognizing how it helps solve customers’ challenges. As the old adage goes, seeing is believing. Giving sales and service departments time to experience products firsthand and supplement their knowledge with continued training opportunities helps them appreciate a product’s advantages and builds their belief in it. The result is a genuine, engaged sales and after-sales team that has confidence and credibility.
There are many examples of engaged sales and service networks that have propelled brands to the top. The Tesla brand began with several perceived disadvantages. Being a start-up, the company had no history in the automotive industry. It took its electric vehicles to market using a completely new sales model — one that replaced the traditional dealership model with stores. Initially, customers weren’t able to test-drive vehicles before ordering, which is still the case for those unable or unwilling to travel to a Tesla store. While much of maintenance on Tesla cars can be done virtually, physical Tesla Service Centers are still primarily in major markets only. Yet the brand continues to outsell nearly every luxury auto brand. How is this even possible? The company has deployed customer experience teams that can help facilitate transactions, but don’t work on commission like traditional salespeople. These teams, along with Tesla service professionals “sell” the customer by delivering experiences and sharing the brand’s differentiators — all because they believe and are engaged.
Another example is Chick-fil-A. In 2017, the average Chick-fil-A store earned more annual revenue, over $4 million, than the sales of a McDonalds’s, Starbucks and Subway store combined. Are there other chicken sandwiches better than Chick-fil-A? Possibly. So, why is it that the store is averaging much higher sales per store than other fast-food chains, including its closest competitor KFC, a well-established brand? How is this possible with Chick-fil-A locations being closed on Sundays? Many say it’s the customer service. The brand has built a culture of superior customer service. Employees believe in the culture and deliver experiences that keep customers returning.
While the strength of brands and products can certainly impact the bottom line, an engaged sales and service network makes all the difference between success and failure. A team that is all-in will win every time over one that is disengaged.
BARRY LABOV, a two-time Ernst & Young entrepreneur of the year and inductee into the Entrepreneur Hall of Fame, is founder, president and CEO of LABOV Marketing Communications and Training in Fort Wayne. He has written and co-authored more than a dozen business books and is a regular columnist in business publications.