Your Sales Team: Market Researchers Extraordinaire

By Heather Baldwin

What if there was a single, powerful tool that could boost customer satisfaction, increase customer retention, improve employee morale and help you develop products and services that are exactly what your customers need without any extra cost to your organization? There is, and it’s already in your company, says Kristina Susac, founder of Strategic Training International (www.strategictraining.net) and author of Master Selling, Maximize Success (Chronicle Books, 2005). “There’s no more useful tool in the company than your front line sales and service people,” says Susac. “They’re constantly getting feedback from customers about what is good, what is bad and what the competition is doing.” Want to get ahead? Learn to leverage this feedback by treating your salespeople as a key resource.

Here’s an example: In the 1980s one long-distance phone company, in an effort to reduce fraud, increased the number of digits on its phone cards from 8 to 15. Customers quickly wearied of entering so many numbers and big clients began complaining about all the time their traveling sales reps were spending dialing the extra digits. The phone company’s reps heard these complaints, reported them back and management listened. As In response the phone company created a voice-activated phone card that couldn’t be copied or stolen and enabled the caller to place a call almost instantly. Think their most important clients were satisfied and stuck around? You bet.

It would have been easy to dismiss those customer complaints as unfounded griping. Management easily could have said – as they did at first – that customers needed to get used to those 15 digits because it ultimately protected them from fraud. But by registering the complaints and creating a solution to address them, the phone company accomplished several things: it boosted customer loyalty, leaped ahead of the competition and it improved morale for those sales reps who had taken the time to report the complaints and then saw those reports acted on. “By using feedback from the sales team to better develop products and services, reps don’t feel pounced on all the time about numbers and quotas and calls; they feel important,” says Susac.

To begin collecting this front-line feedback, sales managers must first sensitize their teams to be attuned to the needs of the marketplace, says Susac. Then they must put in place a system for collecting, channeling and addressing customer feedback. “Whenever reps hear requests from clients that they are not able to fulfill, they need to say something such as: As your representative it is my duty to communicate your changing needs to my organization. Would you mind putting your request in writing so I can gather this data to better enable us to meet your needs?” says Susac. “The beauty of this technique is that even if you are not able to immediately fulfill customers’ needs, they still view you as their partner and perceive your efforts as good and caring. This enriches the customer bond.”

Think this sounds like just another administrative burden for your reps? No way, says Susac. “It’s five times easier to keep a customer you have than it is to go out and get a new one. Doing right by the customer creates less administrative work rather than more,” she points out. “Also, once sales reps understand that action will be taken on their feedback, they’ll feel compelled to gather this information.” Moreover, in today’s competitive marketplace, if you’re not collecting customer feedback through your reps and acting on it, your customers will quickly find someone else who will.