Creating Internal Customer Advocates

By Lain Ehmann

When you’re trying to convince the marketing department to speed up the release of a new product or you’re going head-to-head with the CFO over payment terms for a new customer, it sometimes feels like the hardest part of sales is dealing with your own organization. Wouldn’t life be so much better if everyone in your company felt the same commitment towards the customer as you do?

“The salesperson’s job is a lot easier if there are other people in the organization that carry the same passion for the customer that the salesperson does,” says Jane Helsing, co-author of Impact Without Authority: How to Leverage Internal Resources to Create Customer Value (Strategic Account Management Association, 2003). The key to creating internal customer advocates is making the customer real, says Helsing. Here’s how she suggests doing just that.

1. Target your efforts. What current process or area within your organization is stymieing your attempts to get your customers what they need? Pinpoint which departments – and which individuals – need to get on board to create the change you desire. “The questions to start with are: What are you selling to the customer? Who is instrumental in getting that to the customer?” says Helsing.

2. Create face time. The sales team has the benefit of frequent interactions with customers, but to many departments within your company, the customer is little more than a name on a purchase order. It’s not surprising, then, that others don’t feel the same sense of urgency and importance in meeting customer requests as you do. The solution is simple. “Get these employees in front of the customer,” says Helsing. Let customers tell your manufacturing team why they need a longer battery life in a smaller footprint. When employees hear it first-hand rather than filtered through a salesperson, they’re more likely to go the extra mile.

3. Get busy. Sales managers have a multiple role when it comes to creating internal customer advocates. “They need to be a champion themselves,” says Helsing. This means putting in the time visiting customers and listening, listening, listening. Second, they must create a structure that allows cross-departmental peers access to key accounts. Finally, managers must be coaches for their teams, asking the pertinent questions and making suggestions to get reps thinking in the right terms. Ask reps questions such as: What would make it easier for XYZ to happen? Who do you need to be in your court to make that happen?

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