Moving Up The Sales Ladder

by Robert Driscoll on September 10, 2009

world-imotive-group-sales-automotive-internet-consulting-ladderWe’ve all heard the saying of how it costs more to find a new customer than it does to keep one.  Every wonder why?  If you just made the first sale for your company to a new customer, think about how much time and effort you put in to your sale and how many meetings you had with your client.  Now think about the amount of effort required to make a sale to your existing customers, but more importantly, the ones that see you as a trusted partner.  Considerably less because your customers not only see your company’s products and services as a vital part of their business’ success, but your opinion as well, because you’ve taken care of past breakdowns for them and eliminated future ones.

Too often, we salespeople feel that once we make a sale to a customer, we’ve opened a space of possibilities for future sales.  This is partly true, but you need to understand what kind of relationship you have with your customers as well.  A white paper written by CSO Insights called, “Keeping Up With The Buyers: The Impact of a Great First Impression,” does a great job of defining the five levels of customer relationships that vendors have with their customers.  They are:

  1. Approved Vendor:  We are seen by the majority of our customers as a legitimate provider of the products or services we offer, but are not recognized for having any significant sustainable competitive edge over alternative offerings.
  2. Preferred Supplier:  Based on our marketplace reputation and past dealings with our customers, while competitors may offer alternatives, we are normally seen as the preferred vendor to do business with. 
  3. Solutions Consultant:  Based on a specific set of product-related, value-added knowledge or services we offer, our customers view us not only as a vendor, but also as a consulting resource on how to best use our product s or services.
  4. Strategic Contributor:  Above and beyond the products and services we offer, our customers view us as a source of strategic planning assistance for dealing with broader-based challenges they are currently facing.
  5. Trusted Partner:  At this highest level we are seen as a long-term partner whose contributions – products, insights, processes, etc…-are seen as critical to the client’s long-term success.

While many of us might think we are strategic contributors or even trusted partners, we might actually not be one even though the products or services you are providing to your customers are key or critical to their business.  You might just simply be the low-cost provider.  If your customers continue to tell you that it’s part of their company’s “business policy” to bid out the services to a minimum of 3 vendors, you’re either only an approved vendor or preferred supplier.  Until your customers start including you in meetings and asking for your advice on how to craft a solution while it’s still an idea or concept to them, you haven’t moved up the sales ladder. 

Becoming a strategic contributor or trusted partner to your customers takes time.  If you continue to offer them uncommon and powerful solutions that take care of their business concerns, they will start trusting you more and will think of you first as concerns arise.  As a relationship of trust is developed and continues to grow between you and your customers, you will find that the effort on making sales to them will diminish.  More importantly, your customers will seek you out as their trusted partner because the cost of doing business and the time for you to develop a meaningful offer that addresses their concerns has decreased.  This is when you’ve moved up the sales ladder.

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