New dynamics require a different set of skills across the organization
John Geraci and Mel Cary, Managing Partners and Founders of CI Squared, LLC
Selling technology and related services to other businesses depend on a broad cross-section of employees to attract new customers and manage ongoing relationships with them. These relationships typically involve complex sales and service interactions, ongoing customer relationships vs. transactional business, and an increasing focus on renewals and upsell. Sales, Professional Services, and Customer Experience including Customer Success, Support, and Account Management likely all play a role.
Today, however, poor engagement and communication by customer-facing teams plague many tech businesses — resulting in inefficient sales efforts, poor customer satisfaction, lost deals, delayed projects, internal friction, and increased service costs. The cause and effect can be seen at every level:
- New Channels/Forms of Communication – Buyers today are more informed than ever, and are used to engaging via different communication channels, in more abbreviated conversations. Customer-facing teams must adapt to deliver their messages effectively in this new environment.
- Failure to understand customers – Customer-facing teams often make too many assumptions about customer needs and requirements. They don’t listen actively and instead ask leading questions resulting in inadequate solutions, poor service responses, and frustrated customers.
- Too much focus on company and product – These same teams often spend too much time talking about products and features. Customers feel “pitched to” instead of listened to, resulting in missed revenue opportunities and customer dissatisfaction.
- Struggling with difficult conversations – In any high-value business relationship, there are critical points where requirements must be clearly defined, expectations managed, objections handled, or disagreements hashed out. Sometimes, customers need to be ‘saved from themselves,’ preventing them from making bad decisions that will not lead to their desired outcome. If customer-facing teams are not trained to properly address these difficult conversations, problems fester and escalate; this hurts productivity, customer relationships, and business.
- A lack of coordination across the business – Customer relationships depend increasingly on multiple points of engagement – Sales, Services, Customer Success, Support, etc. Too often, each group has a different understanding of the customer’s needs and articulates different messages about how the company addresses those needs. This inconsistency creates all kinds of issues related to SLAs, cycle time, customer satisfaction, and renewals.
- A lack of sales skills in Services and Customer Success – As businesses move to more on-demand business models and ‘land and expand and renew’ sales strategies, Services and Customer Success teams have a huge impact on new revenue. These teams need to have the ability to present the business value, engage with senior executives, and inspire customers to take action.
- Inability to communicate effectively with executives – Many customer-facing team members are uncomfortable and unprepared to have conversations with business decision makers and connect their company’s solutions to business outcomes. This makes it difficult to gain executive sponsorship, limiting expansion opportunities and increasing competitive risk.
- Difficulty building trust and long-term relationships – Strong business relationships are always personal at some level. The ability to connect with and understand customers is critical. This is even more difficult today as more and more communications happen through digital channels.
In my experience, what differentiates top performers is not product knowledge, technical skills or sales methodology. It is their ability to connect with customers and build trust, to truly understand the customer’s goals and needs, and to navigate the most important and difficult conversations that are critical to the customer’s success. These skills facilitate more sales, successful projects, and satisfied customers who are happy to renew.