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Using Voice of the Customer to Improve Your Sales Process

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What is the common element in the following business
challenges?

  • A $100 million dollar medical equipment company has no data to explain their growth, so they don't know what to do to keep growing.
  • An information products company can think of dozens of things to change on their website, but doesn't know which ones will increase sales conversion.
  • A scientific instrument company knows a great deal about their technologies, but has trouble knowing what will get traction with salespeople and customers.

The common element is a lack of knowledge: What would create sufficient value to cause customers to buy more?

What would happen if you could get this kind of information
whenever you needed it?

Here is some good news: You can get this kind of information and easily. In fact the people who have it are more than willing to give it to you!

The people I'm talking about, of course, are your customers. Most customers lament that their suppliers don't seem to care what they want. However, you can change that if you simply use Voice of the Customer (VOC) techniques to learn what your customers experience before, during, and after they have been in the market for products and services like yours.

Gather VOC on the Customer's Journey

A recent client asked me to attend their industry's biggest tradeshow. They operated a massive booth, with salespeople and customers streaming in from all corners of the world.
I asked my client to set up interviews with some of these customers, where I was able to ask them questions like these:

  • How do you first begin to realize you might have a problem serious enough to take action on (pertaining to my client's products and services)?
  • What did the problem look like at first?
  • How were other people in your organization affected by this issue?
  • At what point did you have to apply for funding approval? Why?
  • What kind of information would have helped make that task easier, do you think?

The patterns that emerged from the answers to these and other questions provided fabulous insight into their struggles to
solve their problems. This process is also known as the "Customer's Journey."

Clarifying the stages these customers went through revealed common patterns regarding how they had to gain support within their organization, what they had to do to secure funding, and what was most important to their product evaluations.

Quotes from these customers enabled me to test these patterns with my client's salespeople, who almost uniformly confirmed the findings. This agreement was profoundly important to helping my client define a common sales process. The stages of their Buyer's Journey provided the organizing principle for everything they did in marketing, selling, and servicing. What's more, it made those activities and their results easurable, and the data began revealing useful market insights almost immediately.

Using VOC to Help People Buy

It is interesting that salespeople often have a good sense for what is going on, but no way to convey or leverage that information to their own company. Most companies do not use VOC techniques in this way, and thus ignore strategically important sources of information.

In Chapter 4 of "Sales and Marketing the Six Sigma Way," I wrote about an information products company that needed to increase sales conversion on its website. A VOC survey provided statistically valid data about the kinds of information customers wanted to know before they bought. When that information was added by means of a "Frequently Asked Questions" section, the conversion rate increased by 94%!

Figuring out how to make selling easier is the same thing as studying how to make it easier for customers to buy. Who is responsible for doing this in your company? If the answer is no one, you've just discovered a major blind spot that could double your business growth.

VOC Improves Marketing by Revealing Value Propositions. The scientific instrument manufacturer realized that as their company grew, product developers and marketers had started to lose touch with their customers. After all, it is much easier (and cheaper) to stay in the office than to go in search of the unknown. Unfortunately for them, VOC had taken on a narrow orientation toward detailed product features. Further, it was often initiated to justify decisions already made rather than discover what customers really wanted.

One software product manager visited a customer and observed that the customer had to click through a complex repetitive sequence each time a sample was tested. Customers had taken this for granted, and never ever mentioned how nice it would be to automate the sequence. Gradually, the product manager realized that one of the customer's goals wasn't to test the samples; it was to get home in time to attend his kid's soccer game!

VOC provides the answers to the types of questions you ask. If you ask questions about a customer's objectives, strategies, and challenges, you can complete Customer Value Maps based on what you learn. If you ask them about the steps they go through trying to achieve their goals and solve their problems, you'll learn about their Buyer's Journey.

This is everything you need to devise ways of finding prospects by attracting their attention, winning customers by providing helpful nformation, services, and products to solve their problems, and keeping them by ensuring you have delivered the value they wanted.

In other words, VOC is all you need to improve your sales process and increase your sales.

Michael J. Webb

June 26, 2007

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