I attended a great sales workshop where the attendees were asked to make a list the factors that set them apart from their competitors. As you are probably doing as you read this, most people listed Quality and Service high amongst the main reasons. In effect this means that Quality and Service is the core of their Unique Value Proposition (UVP).
The scenario was then put forward that the owner of the company had won the lottery and decided to retire with immediate effect, leaving the company in the hands of his only son, who never really liked you – so you find yourself looking for alternative employment with immediate effect. The competition recognizes and appreciates your talents and within a matter of days, you find yourself on the other side of the fence.
As someone who feels you have built a loyal customer base, you find yourself approaching your old customers wearing a different hat, selling the same exact stuff. So the question is now how are you going to sell your competitors products and services? Quality and Service – Right… it’s just that they seem to have heard that somewhere before. But you do manage to get a few of them to cross the floor and life goes on!
So the question was then posed what was the real basis for the sales and how is it possible to compete since everyone felt that customers bought from them based on the same criteria – nothing unique there?
So that brings us to the question of what customers really “buy”? Many sales people feel the answer then must be – them! Perhaps, but this is probably a little arrogant and definitely more complex than it first appears. I believe the correct answer is – your promises.
That might seem to be the same thing but in reality there is a lot going on in the background. This is where we break out the TQM argument:
Let’s ask a few leading questions to frame the context:
- If you have a Geo Metro and a Cadillac in front of you – which one is better quality?
- Pick one and explain why?
- OK so now you are on a reality show undercover as the lead Quality Inspector for GM on the Metro line. Would you sign off on a Metro rolling off the production line as good quality?
- Why or why not?
OK so I am betting 99% of you answered Q1 by saying the Cadillac is better quality. Q2’s answer would then essentially be – because it is more luxurious. Having answered Q1 and Q2 the way most people do, Q3 is a really tough one. The answer I generally get to Q3 is that you would sign off on the Metro. And Q4 is you would have to sign because it has been properly manufactured according to the Geo Metro specifications.
So if I was in the Market for a Geo, and your company delivered a Cadillac, would I be happy? Quite possibly not because I was looking for a Metro for a reason – I may not be able to afford the insurance, the gas or the maintenance? And if I wanted a Cadillac and a Metro was delivered, would I be happy?
These are extreme examples to demonstrate a point, but the answer to the burning question is really customers buy what they are expecting to get. The order is fulfilled based on the expectations you set (or possibly do not dispel) and the specifications you relayed to your company. If anything does not line up with the picture your customer has of what they are getting and how and when it will be received and how it will perform, then the game is on.
So back to TQM or Total Quality Management, this says that anything that does not meet the customer’s expectation is a quality problem. In reality under this definition, a rude phone call can be a quality problem as can any number of operations and production errors. For this reason, most sales people feel that quality is someone else’s problem: production, operations or service.
Most sales people fail to understand that quality is principally a sales problem!
Why do I say this? As we saw from the questions, the traditional concept of quality is conformance to specifications.
The customer’s definition of quality is conformance to expectations!
As I pointed out, expectations are squarely in the realm of sales. So do you have SEP sales people? Time for some more questions to find out:
- How many sales people do you know that only get paid only when the company gets paid and then only based on the final margin?
- Do your sales people use discounting as their prime tactic to overcoming resistance in the sales process?
- Would the bulk of your sales people have a huge problem operating on this basis?
- Do most of your sales people not get involved in the fulfillment process, keep the customer informed and iron out bumps in the road?
- Do most of your sales people feel that they are paid to sell and it is not a good use of their time to collect checks or payment?
- Do your sales people have a problem with taking a significant cut in commission when they discount your product by 5%?
If the answer to any of the questions 2 through 6, you have SEP sales people! SEP stands for “Someone Else’s Problem”.
As the first and probably prime point of contact with the customer, the salesperson sets, sells and should actively manage the expectations. A good sales person does this, where a poor salesman does the usual act of show up, throw up and run like hell to collect the commission check. Question 2 is my personal hot button because it shows a very specific disregard for their actual job or worse still fundamental lack of understanding of the product costs and margins as well as the commercial imperatives.
The bottom line is that having a bumpy road in fulfilling the order and getting paid makes everyone look bad and makes the sales person look especially bad since they are the face of the company and it was their promises that were broken – TQM.