The goal of meeting, maintaining and exceeding customer expectations isn’t unique to women entrepreneurs, but can often be a strong suit of woman leaders, thanks to their willingness to communicate, listen and collaborate.
However, for any entrepreneur, certain basic principles of understanding your market should first be applied:
- Identify who your target market today truly is. You may want to sell to the Fortune 100, but do you have all that it takes to sell into this market? Do you have the appropriate contacts and adequate financing to support their demands?
- What need/problem does your product/ service solve?
- What differentiates you from your competitors?
Once you are in the full sales mode, here are a few best practices to keep in mind:
Be a Catcher not a Pitcher
Here’s a softball analogy to live by —the best sales environment is one in which you are the catcher not the pitcher. The entire sales team needs to be in active listening, not selling, mode. That’s the only way to determine what a prospect’s real needs are.
Of course, you’ll eventually need to explain what you offer, but that’s well after a proper understanding of what their needs are. If your solution is not right for a prospect, communicate this to them and help them identify the right solution. This may not seem like a very effective sales technique — but if you are like me, you remember the people and companies who have helped you along the way. Such an act of kindness virtually guaranteed that if they became a viable solution for us, they were the first ones we called.
Step away from the PowerPoint and have a good old-fashioned conversation — and listen first.
The Female Factor
Here’s the good news: women typically possess the core attributes needed to align with their customer’s needs. We are natural communicators, listeners and collaborators. We have the natural instinct to create relationships and community and authentically want to engage at a personal level. These are all great qualities that serve our customers well.
Utilize and reinforce the importance of such skills throughout your organization. Create a culture where effective communication and collaboration is the norm and is recognized and rewarded.
Overpromising Can Mean Underdelivering
Many women leaders tend to be pleasers. We want to not only meet, but exceed, expectations – which is an admirable goal as long as it’s realistic. Being a pleaser can backfire, especially when a customer has unrealistic demands. It’s incumbent upon you to establish the line between customer satisfaction and your businesses’ ability to deliver profitability — and with your own and your team’s sanity intact.
Sales/marketing are usually eager to give the customers exactly what they want. However, do you know if your product development team can keep pace with the roadmap that the client may want to accelerate? Do your account managers have the bandwidth to handle all the salespeople are promising?
Remember that a salesperson is motivated and compensated by driving revenue, so they have a natural tendency to overpromise. The internal organization also wants to please the customer, but are subject to the realities of how your organization actually operates. Sales and operations need to work together and keep the limitations of the organization in mind.
Right Hand Needs to Know What the Left Hand is Doing
This may seem obvious, but you need good internal communications and surprisingly, frequently this isn’t the case. Be sure your sales protocols have clear and written information on what your company can deliver. For example, everyone needs to know the deadlines for deliverables. Don’t make a delivery commitment that is just not doable. If an exception is agreed to, be sure it is effectively communicated throughout your organization.
Can You Hear Me Now?
Of course, once you close a new account, it is just the beginning of the relationship. You must service the sale and treat it as an ongoing relationship — one that requires nurturing and never taken for granted.
Do you have an established quality control follow up process? You should implement customer surveys and/or follow-up calls as a means of circling back. As you think about launching new products or services, you should include your existing customers in that process. Perhaps hold live focus groups to ask, again, what they need and what could you be doing differently.
Customers need to know you hear them – regularly. Remember that as women, we’re good at this! Be sure to personally reach out to your customers, and don’t let the sales and customer service teams be the only line of communication. As the head of the organization, you should talk directly to your clients. You might be surprised about what you learn.
Janice DiPietro, Founder and CEO of Exceptional Leaders International, a Boston-based consulting firm. Driven by a passion for helping people and organizations succeed, Janice has successfully led and consulted to companies, with an emphasis on women-led and family-owned businesses, for over 25 years. Janice also has direct operating experience, having held a number of C-suite positions in the technology and business services sectors.