Execs' Top Priorities This Year:
Acquiring & Retaining Customers

by Jacques Werth, Founder of High Probability Selling.  © 2004

Accenture recently published the results of their global study of Executive Priorities for 2004.  Selling - acquiring new customers - is Priority 1, and Selling - Retaining Customers - is Priority #4.  Selling is clearly a major concern among company executives.

Acquiring and retaining customers is usually a major priority - that isn't news.  Top salespeople are in great demand - that isn't news, either.  What would qualify as real news?  If more CEO's succeeded in developing a highly competent sales force.

Most CEO's have no idea what it takes to sell in today's marketplaces, and their Sales Managers only think they know.  Most sales managers have been placing their hopes in getting salespeople to work “smarter and harder.” They've been hoping that streamlining sales procedures will produce the results they need - more sales.  Has it worked?  No.  Will it ever work?  No.

As long as sales managers stay grounded in the past, new Contact Management systems and Customer Relationship Management systems will merely automate obsolete selling practices.  Huge cultural and economic changes over the past ten years have forced almost every business function to adapt and innovate.  But not sales; most sales organizations are still being managed as if it's still 1990.

Most sales managers and their salespeople are stuck in the old “Needs Selling” paradigm.  However, their prospects and customers are now in the “Wants Selling” paradigm.  Sales managers and their salespeople need to substantially change the way they think and operate, if they're going to span the differences between the Old and New Sales Paradigms.

The traditional Needs Selling paradigm is briefly:
Find prospects who are interested in your products and services.  Do whatever it takes to get an appointment.  Then, do whatever it takes to get them to buy from your company.  Let the service department handle customer satisfaction.

The new Wants Selling paradigm is briefly:
Only make appointments with prospects when they are ready to buy your products and services.  Treat your customers with respect, and insist they do the same.  Make mutual agreements and mutual commitments with your prospects and customers, honor those agreements and commitments, and insist they do the same.  Base your business relationships on mutual trust and respect, and use that as the foundation for cross-selling throughout the company.  Take personal responsibility for customer satisfaction and get plenty of referral business.

There is a world of difference between the Traditional and New Selling paradigms.  Sales forces must learn new selling strategies and practices.  Only then will company executives succeed in fulfilling their top goals - to acquire new customers and to retain their current customers.