INTERNAL SELLING FOR SUCCESS
Typically, when companies roll out new products or services, the main focus is external
– that is, on the customer. This makes sense, since the customer is where your revenue
comes from. But have you sufficiently sold this product or service internally? Are the
people in your company as excited about this new product or service, as you want your
customers to be? Is everyone singing the same lyrics to the same tune? If not, you
might want to delay that launch. You’ve got some internal selling to do.
Non-existent or ineffective internal selling can have a drastic effect on the selling
equation. Here are some examples:
Back in the early 1990’s (practically the dawn of the modern information age), a
successful data research firm decided to launch a new product. They had a long,
successful history, first providing custom research reports to their customers, then
adding a pre-Internet dial-up online searchable database. These two products were
happily complementary, and the sales force was comfortable in their understanding of
them. Product Development team then launched a new product – a CD-ROM set,
containing the company’s research databases. The intent was to provide a more cost
effective solution for the customer – they could pay one fee, and have unlimited access
to the data, and receive regular updates. Unfortunately, the sales force didn’t see it as a
great idea for them and made little effort to sell it. This product was going to negatively
impact their sales commission, as the cost of the CD-ROM set with updates was
considerably less than many high-usage customers spent in online fees and for custom
reports. The fatal flaw here was launching a product that was good for the client,
before working out a compensation plan that was good for the sales people.
More recently, a web-based search engine and pay-per-view content provider was
trying various promotions in order to increase their name recognition, and to enlist
more subscribers. One senior executive had a passion for a major professional sport,
and so a lot of marketing promotions were aimed at that audience. The only problem
was, promotions were periodically launched at a given sporting event without notifying
the customer support department. As a consequence, when the sport fans started
contacting customer support to claim their complimentary document, the support reps
had no idea what they were talking about, and turned away the initial
requests. Imagine how the company looked in the eyes of those customers!
A major IT company launched a new partnership program to support sales of a new
product solution. The success of this product launch was highly dependent on selling
with partners in order to bring a total solution to the customer. Mid-year, it became
clear that the sales force was not clear on why they should sell with a partner rather
than just sell the product themselves. What was the joint value proposition for the sales
person to work with a partner sales person and visa versa? It was also clear that there
was an uneven understanding of what the joint product offerings really were all about,
and what specific benefits and differentiators needed to be communicated to the
ultimate customer. It was necessary to develop a communications tool to help the sale
people better understand what was in it for them, for their partner counterpart, AND
what was in it for the customer.
So, to whom do you need to sell, internally, before you can effectively sell to your
external customers? Practically everyone in your organization!
- SALES – The obvious starting point. If your sales force does not understand or
believe in your product, they will not sell it effectively. Salespeople are human
beings. They want to make a good impression, and they want to be confident in what
they are saying to customers and prospects. Therefore, the better they are schooled in
the uses of your product/service, and the advantages that they bring to the customer,
the more likely they are to conduct an effective sales pitch to that customer. Taking it
another step further, the better they are compensated for selling a particular product or
service, the more effective their sales pitch will be. And the easier you make it for them
to communicate and sell a product, the more successful that product will be.
- MARKETING – In order to position the new product/service so that it reaches its
intended audience, the marketing team has to have a street-level understanding of your
customer’s needs, and be able to articulate exactly how your product/service can
provide value to the customer. It’s not enough to know the features on the widget;
they’ve got to know what problem needs solving, and how this widget can help solve
it. Only then can they effectively and accurately position the widget to the proper
audience. Where do they get that street level view? Spending quality time with
customers and with their own sales people.
- CUSTOMER SERVICE – The minute that a new product/service is launched,
customers are certain to have questions, concerns, and comments. The customer will
reach out to the service department, and will expect them to be experts on this
product/service. Customer service representatives should know their company’s
products, especially their newest ones, from top to bottom – before the product is
launched in the market place. Customers count on that, and when they deal with a
service rep who is unsure of a product, it shakes their confidence in the entire business.
- TECHNICAL SUPPORT – It’s not enough to know how something works, or
should work. Tech support has got to understand how your customer wants it to work
for him. Tech support needs to understand what the customer is trying to accomplish
with your product or service, and then be able to explain how to utilize that
product/service in order to achieve those goals. Nothing is more frustrating to a
customer than hearing that this doesn’t do that, or that can’t be done with this.
- PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT – The people who develop new products need to
be involved in the sale of those products, to ensure that everyone internally knows what
the product/service will and will not do, so that realistic expectations are set with
customers. At the same time, they need to hear how the customer wants to use this
product/service, and figure out ways to make it easier or more productive.
- FINANCE – It is crucial for those people who handle the money that these
products and services generate to understand their value to the customer. If someone is
refusing to pay, finance must understand the nature of the customer’s disappointment
with the product/service. And they need to know who to work with internally to get
the customer’s issues resolved. Similarly, if someone wants a credit or a refund, the
finance department needs to understand what the customer was trying to do, and what
exactly did not work, in order to warrant the refund.
- EXECUTIVES – It is imperative that all of the top brass in your company be
familiar with your products and services, and have a solid understanding of customer
requirements and desires. Before a new product is launched, make sure that every
executive, regardless of department or division, knows of its existence, and its
competitive advantage. Your leaders do not have to be experts in the minutia of the
product or service, but they should have a keen grasp of how it works, and why
customers use it.
- ADMINISTRATIVE STAFF – Few things are more frustrating to a customer with
a problem, than to try to leave an important technical or complicated message for a
manager, only to have that message be misunderstood by the administrative person
recording it. Administrative staff should have a basic understanding of the company’s
business, and its products, services, and customers. A knowledgeable assistant is as
valuable to the customer as he/she is to the boss.
These are all people in your company that need to be successfully sold to before you can
launch a successful external sales campaign. To sum it up, this means anyone working
in a customer-facing position. When we talk about selling, we’re talking about getting
buy-in. The reason is, the customer views everyone that they speak to in your company
as a representative of the company. It is crucial to sell the strengths of new products
and services throughout all areas of the company, so that regardless of who the
customer speaks with, the same message will be delivered. If you want to sell
effectively externally, you better be selling effectively internally.
Obviously, there is much more to successful selling than simply presenting to a
customer or prospect. In order for your business to build the long-term customer
relationships you desire, you need to ensure that everyone in your business has been
sold on the product, the service, and the business. Once everyone is singing from the
same songbook, your company will make beautiful music for your customers.
— Lisa D. Dennis and Charles E. Dennis
© Knowledgence Associates, 2002 / All Rights Reserved