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When customers become costs: How to tell if you're a sales-centric organisation

3rd Nov 2011
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Lior Arussy explains why sales-centric organisations are selling, despite the customers...

I used to believe that it is impossible to sell unless there is a willing customer on the other side who agrees to pay. I am no longer convinced that this is true. As we observe the state of relationships many companies have developed with their customers, it seems that it is possible. Many companies have sold despite their customers’ lack of cooperation in this pursuit.
“How can it be?” You may wonder. After all, if the customer does not want the product or service they are not forced to buy it. This is true. However, selling trickery manages to overcome this obvious conviction. By engaging in these practices, companies have been able to achieve their quarterly results while contaminating their customer database with unsatisfied, sometimes cheated, customers.
As I work with clients around the world, a new reason for becoming customer centric has emerged over the past 18 months. I have heard statements such as, “we have been a sales driven organisation and we now need to become customer-centric.” Common sense might indicate that if you are selling to customers you better be customer-centric, or the customer will not buy from you. Well that is not necessarily true.
Sales-centric organisations are just another name for product-centric organisations. A sales-centric organisation is focused on two objectives:
  1. meeting sales numbers
  2. increasing market share
These two objectives take priority over any other consideration and provide a permission to do whatever it takes to achieve them. Sales-centric organisations often celebrate their heroes who “beat the quota and squeeze more from their customers”. These sales heroes are often described as “rainmakers”. By virtue of this title, they are attributed with a supernatural talent to make the impossible possible. I would submit to you that in achieving the impossible, “the rainmakers” were selling to customers against their will or knowledge.
Sales-centric organisations put all their emphasis on the sales process and provide sales people with explicit or implicit permission to do whatever it takes. This “whatever it takes” attitude is what leads sales people to treat customers as wallets or human ATM machines and leads to behaviours that will hurt the company in the long run. Some examples include:
  • Depicting the product or service in a brighter light and exaggerating the features and capabilities
  • Eliminating necessary internal knowledge, such as performance tracking records and product quality issues
  • Pricing trickery that creates unfair treatment of customers
  • Bait and switch mechanism which replaces the promised product with a less desirable alternative
This partial list should not surprise you at all. You have heard it before. The ultimate mistake behind the sales-centric organisation is a lack of resources to service the customer beyond the initial sale. Sales-centric organisations deliberately place their emphasis and resources on the upfront interaction while maintaining minimal resources to actually deliver on the promise. 
Sales-oriented organisations treat their call centre as a cost centre and try to minimise its resources. They also treat social media as a necessary evil and assign a formal PR agency too respond to their customers instead of conducting a real dialogue with them. Sales-centric organisations conduct customers surveys, well everyone does, but usually do not act on the insight gleaned from them. These organisations believe that sales personnel will compensate for all issues identified in the surveys but which caused customer to leave by finding new customers willing to pay. Some organisations may lack the knowledge to properly staff and budget for handling customer needs. Others may deliberately try save on costs. Isn’t it ironic how quickly customers become costs?
This economy has been a wake up call to sales-centric organisations. The era of treating the customer as an ATM machine and ignoring their needs is over. Organisations have discovered that their customers are reluctant and are not willing to play games anymore. Many organisations have placed greater importance on discounts as a way to reciprocate for the bad service. Customers have resorting to distributing their business to ensure keeping their vendors in place. The price of being a sales-centric organisation is significant as margins erode faster.
The first rule of customer experience is “delight or sell.” If you delight your customers enough they will have no reason to go elsewhere. They will also share the great news with others. If you do not delight customers, but instead deliver a “good enough” alternative, you will need to continuously increase your cost of new customer acquisition. This cost will continue to climb as you disappoint more customers. The choice is yours.
Lior Arussy is the president of Strativity Group a global customer experience research and consulting firm. Arussy is the author of five books including Customer Experience Strategy – The Complete Guide From Innovation o Execution (4i, 2010). Follow Lior on Twitter @LiorStrativity

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