Setting Sale

Increasing Market Share & Customer Loyalty

Sales Challenge No. 2:

Increasing Market Share
Expanding a customer base is getting harder: Fifty-three percent of sales leaders in the Miller Heiman study believe their companies will grow this year by increasing share in existing markets, but more than half admitted that selling new products and services remains a significant challenge.

Blame it on complexity and competition. Roughly 70 percent of firms in the CSO Insights study say competitive activity is increasing, and nearly two-thirds say products are getting more complex and harder to sell.

To spur market-share growth, companies are reinvesting in sales and product training. They're increasing salespeople's access to product experts. And there's new emphasis on understanding the core of a product or a service's value proposition to retain current customers and lure business away from the competition. "Don't debug your product," Trailer says. "Debug your sales process."

ATA Services aims for 3 to 5 percent of a bank's annual ATM budget. "We think we've hit a home run if we get that," Robson says. "Most [banks] have a slush fund, and our job is to get that slush fund." At press time, ATA Services was closing in on a $5 million contract with a large bank, and it hopes to break into the Canadian bank market.

Increasing market share comes down to solving a problem instead of hawking a product, and that means finding out what's not working for prospects. "Look for areas of pain, and try to sell against those," says Robson. It also requires staying focused on a specific market segment. "We do ATM-related [work]," Robson says. "We don't do windows, and we don't change their oil. This specialization has allowed us to get deeper into our customers' budgets than some of our competitors."

Communispace is spending more time trying to build relationships with existing accounts than trying to sell new business, Hessan says. The company's salespeople point to very specific examples of how the company's software has helped clients accelerate their product development process. "We've invested more in understanding prospects before we make the call, and we're really getting educated," says Hessan.

Companies are putting more emphasis on upselling, cross-selling and building strong referral programs; and they're giving good salespeople more discretion to determine which clients and prospects are best suited to such opportunities. "There's a place for the cross-sell and the upsell, and I think it's smart to do it. But you have to know when to do it," says Denis Pombriant, CRM industry analyst and founder and managing principal of Stoughton, Massachusetts-based research and consulting firm Beagle Research Group, which specializes in the CRM and Internet infrastructure markets. "Companies simply need to get into the mind-set of the customer."

Sales Challenge No. 3:

Increasing Customer Loyalty
Product life cycles are getting shorter, making it tougher to differentiate one product or service from another. Customer loyalty is harder to come by as a result: Sixty-four percent of sales leaders in the Miller Heiman study believe buyers treat their specific industry as a commodity-driven market.

Salespeople find they have to create a layer of value around their offering through added service, best practices and superior industry knowledge. This is what keeps products and services from becoming just another commodity in the eyes of the prospect, says Dave Stein, founder of Mahopac, New York, sales consulting firm The Stein Advantage and author of How Winners Sell: 21 Proven Strategies to Outsell Your Competition and Win the Big Sale. "Customers aren't playing golf these days; they're playing hardball," he says. "A product or service is just a medium to deliver value to the customer."

To maintain loyalty, G2 Safety's sales team is selling a program where customers accumulate points toward new purchases for each dollar they spend. "We want to reward companies for buying from us," says Johnson.

Reese believes entrepreneurial firms should break their business into three "loyalty buckets": the business they're getting from existing customers, the business they're getting from new customers, and the customers that are defecting. Understanding what drives each group is key to selling. "Always have a road map of their issues," Reese says. "Clearly communicate [how] you'll improve your offering to their company."

"Going vertical"-separating sales territories by industry rather than geography so each salesperson truly understands the threats, challenges, risks and opportunities facing a particular market segment-is another way smart companies are generating loyalty. "Initially, it seems to be more cost-effective if you have a geographical orientation," Stein says. "But if [salespeople] are taught to leverage industry knowledge, the net result is a much higher increase in profit per customer, a high level of credibility, and less reliance on discounts and special deals."

In Closing...
What does it take to make a sale right now? We asked these experts and entrepreneurs.
  • Diane Hessan, CEO of Communispace, a software company in Watertown, Massachusetts: "Selling is all about earning the right to do business with someone. Put yourself in their shoes, and understand what their issues are. In today's business environment, the most critical element of any sale is trust. Ultimately, when someone says yes to you, they're saying 'I'm betting on what this person is telling me.'"
  • Denis Pombriant, CRM industry analyst and founder and managing principal of Stoughton, Massachusetts-based research and consulting firm Beagle Research Group, which specializes in the CRM and Internet infrastructure markets: "I don't think things are [any] different than they've ever been. Selling is hard work. It requires preparation and diligence. It's simply getting to know the customer and understanding the customer's needs. You can't pin it down to saying three Hail Marys."
  • Steve Johnson, founder and president of G2 Safety, a distributor of gear designed to protect against workplace hazards, in Anaheim, California: "I want our people to feel comfortable discussing price. You don't want to ignore it; you want to be confident about it. I'm training our guys to have a discussion [about price] right upfront."
  • Sam Reese, CEO and president of sales consulting firm Miller Heiman in Reno, Nevada: "To close a deal today, it ultimately takes a clear understanding of how your solution clearly impacts what the customer is trying to fix, accomplish or avoid. It's all about the customer's concept. If you can satisfy their concept of what they're trying to fix, accomplish or avoid, then you can close business."
  • Joe Galvin, vice president and research director of CRM Strategies for technology and consulting firm Gartner Inc. in Stamford, Connecticut: "It's being knowledgeable about your product, knowledgeable about the industries and markets into which you're selling. It's being aware of your competitive products and how to position yourself."
  • Mike Robson, founder and CEO of ATA Services, a Salt Lake City-based firm that services and refurbishes existing ATM machines: "It's back to the basics. It's having a good value proposition, being in the right place at the right time, and not looking like a putz. The follow-up is very important. You have to chase the sale now. They're not asking me for business; I'm asking them for business."

Chris Penttila is a Washington, DC-based freelance journalist who covers workplace issues on her blog, Workplacediva.blogspot.com.

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This article was originally published in the August 2004 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Setting Sale.

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