Marketing must integrate promotional strategies through the normal flow of the sales process.
In this age of e-commerce and customer relationship management (CRM), the term relationship marketing is nothing new. Even for sales professionals, the term "relationship marketing" is cliché. Salespeople have been practising one-to-one relationship marketing since the beginning of time. They may be calling it by any other name. Most often I have heard of this name: face-to-face marketing. Salespeople depend on relationships to build their sales territories and both rupee and volume growth.
In the past, many young sales representatives from manufacturers had approached me to seek guidance on selling generic products such as bulk drugs and sulphuric acid when branding is absent and segmentation seems not to work. I have been advocating most of them with the simple mantras of relationship marketing. Of course, the corporate image is important, but then the corporate image is built through efforts involving relationships as well.
Relationship marketing is commonly described as customer-driven marketing programmes. A customer-driven marketing programme is described as listening to customers and providing them with the product or service benefits they ask for. To listen, collect information from customers by surveys, telephone or written; toll-free response phone numbers; customer satisfaction programmes; and the sales force.
If businesses truly want to use the sales force to collect customer information, marketers have to specifically instruct them on what information they want. Marketing departments should build programmes that fit into the sales process. If they try to build a programme that works independently of the sales process, the sales force will view it as busywork. Marketing will not receive the information they need and what they will get is lip service from the sales force. If marketers want to collect meaningful customer information, they need to evaluate the current sales process and how it is implemented. Marketing must integrate promotional strategies through the normal flow of the sales process. The salesforce also must accept responsibility for finding a way to leverage the resources of the marketing department.
Marketers must rethink the sales process and study the customer buying process. Terms such as "relationship marketing" or "customer-driven marketing" will be discarded as jargon or fad unless these are backed by a realistic understanding of the customer buying process. All too often marketers forget to consider this process, which involves a search for potential suppliers, an evaluation of suppliers, a request for proposals or solutions with specific benefits, a comparison of competitive proposals based on cost-benefit analysis, and the purchase decision.
If salespeople consider the process, the chances for success will be much greater. I would recommend a sales process that includes the following:
> Prospecting for potential customers. Gather a list of prospects from your target market, and then compare a developed customer profile to see if the prospect criteria are a match to your solution. There must be a systematic way of prospecting for any business to succeed. This could include daily formats and weekly consolidated formats for monitoring and control purposes. Sales must remember that prospecting is a daily task and it can never end. One can never say: “I have enough prospects, now I can rest.”
> Qualification of prospects. Ask questions to determine the customers' problem areas and uncover the negative impact of problems to the customer's bottom line. This is very critical in order to prioritise your objectives. Unless the prospect is going to be profitable for you, you need not waste a lot of time on that one.
> Request for an appointment. This is the salesperson's opportunity to not only develop a relationship but also learn more about the decision-maker and the buying process. This is the second step towards planning a company-wide CRM strategy. And, again, the process of personal calls should be systematic and could be included as part of the result area for the salesperson.
> Presentation of the solution based on your competitive strengths, which magnifies the benefits of the customer-supplier relationship. Remember, the substance is just as important as style. A standardised presentation must be prepared with ample inputs from the marketing team in order to build corporate or brand equity. However, appropriate modifications should be made to suit individual client requirements. One-size-fits all strategy is detrimental
> Handling objections. Salespeople should inform marketing of customer doubts and concerns. Marketing must use this information to modify its strategy and enhance relationships within the marketplace. This is a critical point in the process because the customer must prefer your solution to the competitors.
> Closing the sale. If salespeople can demonstrate that they can solve customer problems, asking for the order is easy because the customer will be ready to buy.