Ensure your customer's success through effective customer support

Salespeople often view customer support as the responsibility of colleagues in the customer service department. After all, it’s the sales team’s job to get the account and the customer service team’s job to keep the account happy. However, this philosophy is misguided and counterproductive.

The salesperson’s job isn’t finished when the deal closes. It’s finished when the customer has achieved the project goals identified during the sales process. Dwell with this for a moment because it is a fundamentally different way of thinking about sales. It means that salespeople have to be committed to ensuring the success of each project or they haven’t done their job.

When the end game is defined as the successful completion of project goals, a completely different mindset governs the sales process. The perspective shifts from “what can I do to close this deal?” to “what do I need to do to ensure the success of this implementation?” The first perspective often leads to unwise, short-sighted strategies such as discounting prices and overpromising on timetables or deliverables. The second leads to thoughtful and realistic proposals that reflect the requirements of a successful implementation.

Apply a customer service orientation to the sales process

While it may not seem intuitive at first, it benefits salespeople to take the long view when pitching a prospect.

First, it ensures that the proposal is carefully prepared and reflects the time and resources required to ensure successful implementation. For salespeople, this is a blessing. If it can be honestly stated that all of the resources identified in the proposal are required for the implementation to be a success, it is much less likely that the customer will ask for – or that the salesperson will yield to - price concessions during negotiations. If long-term success is the goal, discounting for the sake of making the sale no longer makes sense.

Second, the sales process will be collegial rather than adversarial. The customer will perceive and appreciate the commitment that is brought to the process. And the relationship will develop as a partnership to solve a problem rather than a contest of wills in which one side feels victorious and the other suspicious that they gave too much away.

Of course for this approach to be successful it must be genuine. It’s not enough to talk a good game about commitment then leave the customer standing in the dust as you peel off to pursue the next prospect. Follow-through is critical. Setting aside the moral issue of making promises that go undelivered, the world’s simply too small a place to engage in this sort of behavior. Make empty promises a few times and your reputation will precede you – and not in a good way.

Another, more positive way to think about the issue is this: The customer's success paves the path to your success. In other words, each successful implementation is proof of the credibility of the sales claim. "Do x,y,z as detailed in this proposal and your company will experience the same success as was achieved for this other customer. And we can prove it!"

Follow through

To ensure success, be ready to roll up your sleeves and work with the customer. (After all, this is what was promised during the sales process.) Before the ink is dry on the contract, schedule a follow-up meeting to monitor progress of the implementation and address issues that have arisen. Undoubtedly there will be some. This is the time to prove your commitment to the customer’s success. Set the tone for how you will work together by taking responsibility for the issues that fall on your company. Identify problems and determine how they will be resolved.

Hold the customer responsible as well. Remember, this is a partnership. Each side has to step up to the plate for the implementation to be successful. Together, you need to ensure that all impediments are accurately identified and appropriately addressed. It’s important to set the right tone at this first meeting because it will establish the tone for subsequent meetings. The goal is to create an atmosphere that is collaborative not combative or defensive.

This may sound like a lot of work to a salesperson who is accustomed to handing over customer service responsibilities to another department once the sale is made. But none of this time is given away. It should have all been accounted for in the proposal. The time and resources needed to ensure success should have been identified and an appropriate budget allocated. Further, it’s this level of support that enables the salesperson to hold their ground on price.

While this approach requires salespeople to change the way they think about their jobs, it provides three critical benefits:

  • A customer who receives the level of support discussed in this article will be a long-term customer
  • The customer’s success will prove the sales proposition to other prospects
  • Each deal’s sales price will increase as a result of the value added

These reasons should be enough to convince any salesperson that this approach is worth the time.

"This article was originally published in SOLD magazine, a monthly digital sales magazine for sales professionals."