The way your firm treats salespeople may reflect the way it treats customers.
Posted Nov 1, 2007
A great deal of ink has been spilled about the onset and arrival of the "experience economy." Tell me if you've heard this before:
Your experience is your brand.
A differentiated customer experience is the only way to gain a sustainable competitive advantage.
You've heard it all before because someone like me has written it and you've read it. And it all makes sense and is quite logical, and many companies are engaging outside consultants or creating cross-departmental internal teams to gauge their readiness for the experience economy and fill the gaps where they are clearly leaking goodwill.
On the flip side, many aren't. The financially blessed may be too preoccupied making money hand over fist to take an inward glance at their customer experience. The strategically myopic may not have committed the resources -- political or financial -- to shine a light on their business from the customer's point of view. For whatever the reason, if you find yourself and your company in either of these two groups, you are clearly behind in the race to win the hearts and minds of the "experience economy" consumer.
So what should you do?
Relax. Don't do anything rash like blowing up departmental silos, empowering your staff, integrating your technology or any other number of cliched customer experience remedies. Do you want a window into the soul of your customer experience without hiring outside counsel to analyze it for you? Here's a quick-and-dirty internal diagnostic that you can conduct just by observing your colleagues and asking one simple question:
How does your organization treat the salespeople that call on you, day in and day out?
Are they treated like pariahs or like potential customers? Are they ignored, given the runaround and routed into voicemail purgatory or do they receive a prompt, courteous call back because...well, everyone does? If you recognize your company in one category or the other, then you've successfully completed the diagnostic. If you identify with the latter scenario, then congratulations are in order.
Chances are, the respect and responsiveness you show the salesperson is reflective of the values of your organization and how those values are put into practice. Typically, this positive manifestation of your corporate DNA can't help but leach into the external interactions you have with your customers...and the customer relationships that you strengthen at each of these interactions.
If your organization fits the other scenario, however, then your customer relationships are suffering and you've got some work to do.
But they're just salespeople, you say. Bottom-feeders in the corporate food chain, impervious to insult and years of biological evolution. They almost expect to run the gantlet of disregard and disrespect.
While the last statement may be true (what good salesperson doesn't relish a good "how-I-slew-the-evil-gatekeeper" fairy tale), it's no excuse for the way this treatment represents your brand internally and almost certainly compromises it externally. Though you may think organizationally you can "turn on" a customer-centric approach when faced with an actual customer, your treatment of the salesperson is likely more reflective of your natural state of being. A leopard doesn't change its spots, and a company willing to brush one "nuisance" under the rug...doesn't change its spots either.
Please don't mistake this for an unequivocal "be nice to salespeople" paean, as you are actually doing a service by ignoring those who call on you without an offering that may benefit your company. Nor should you confuse it for a comprehensive measure of the customer experience your company is prepared to deliver. Think of it as a home pregnancy test for the customer experience -- it's not foolproof, but it is a pretty good indicator that your company is internally wired to provide a positive customer experience.
Full disclosure time: I am employed by a consultancy that works with clients on their "customer experience," from initial assessment to the full design and implementation of the "optimal" customer experience, whatever that may be. (People shouldn't take this whole "quick internal diagnostic" thing toooo seriously, or my CEO might have issues with this article!) Take it from me -- there is no greater death knell in the sales process than when a company promptly returns a phone call or replies to an email. Chances are, they don't need our help.
The companies that have returned my phone calls immediately -- and have never become clients -- reads like the Dean's List from Customer is King University: Disney. Enterprise Rent-A-Car. Southwest Airlines. Need I go on? And those responses were to a call from a no-name representative from a no-name consulting firm in suburban Philadelphia - not Bill Deloitte or Jimmy McKinsey.
There's an old joke that gets a workout on the rubber-chicken banquet circuit about the general low esteem in which the sales profession is held. The general premise is that a salesman walks uninvited into an office, only to be confronted with a sign that reads "We shoot every third salesman...and the second just left." Amusing, to be sure, and (hopefully) an exaggeration of the literal treatment of salespeople in corporate America.
Unfortunately, however, it probably is reflective of a prevailing attitude in the C-suite, and one which can't help but undermine all of the time, energy, thought, and resources being poured into the "experience economy." Don't think you can line up salesman in the cross-hairs -- and in the same motion give your customers a hug. Your customers and prospects will sense the presence of unfriendly fire -- and seek their big, warm customer experience hug elsewhere.
About the Author
Zach Conen is Vice President of Marketing of LRA Worldwide, a Horsham, Pa.-based consulting firm specializing in Customer Experience Management. Clients include Starwood Hotels & Resorts, First Niagara Financial Group, the National Basketball Association, and Hard Rock Hotels & Casinos. He can be reached at 215-449-0304 or firstname.lastname@example.org.