Commercial excellence is knowing your customers so well that you fully understand them as well as their surroundings. This allows your company to anticipate their needs and expectations via sales and marketing communication by telling the right thing at the right time and showing them the impact and value of what you have to offer.

Promoting your company or merely listening and asking questions no longer suffices to achieve commercial success. Buyers increasingly expect the right information at the right time. A number of elements are important in this regard.

Really know your customer

This includes aligning your activities to your customer’s expectations. Any contact with your company, personal or online, needs to contain the right message aligned to their willingness to buy. You can accelerate the sales process considerably by meeting their expectations with every contact.

In terms of results

It’s not about what your service or product can do, but about its value to your customer. How does it impact their organisation, what specific results can they expect?

Highest market price

A customer-oriented organisation strives for the highest market price for its products and services, but at the lowest cost from the customer’s perspective. This has a positive impact on your cost of sales and enables you to get results twice as fast.

How can you achieve this? You may ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do your product developers and officers have a good understanding of the importance of your products and services to the customer?
  • Do they know how the customer will work differently and what improvements will be accomplished?
  • Are all persons involved aware of how your strengths will contribute to a better result?
  • Can you say whether your products or services will give a better result than those of your competitors?
  • Do your customers recognise the link between your strengths and their accomplishments?

Becoming a customer-oriented organisation

Not every industry has noticed crucial changes in customer behaviour yet. Determine to what extent your customer target groups are already part of the experience economy. To what extent do they also use the Internet and social media to inform themselves? If this is the case, follow these four steps to achieve a more customer-oriented approach:

  • Ensure that your market is segmented on the basis of equal needs and reasons for purchase so that your sales messages can be used on a wider scale and are at the same time aligned in detail to each segment’s unique character. Take into account the possibly progressive character when doing so.
  • Map the obstacles preventing your employees from embracing new ways of working as well as possible motivating factors to change work patterns.
  • What current processes and KPIs obstruct a more customer-oriented approach?
  • Develop and implement a change project taking into account all of the aboveTake special care to implement the required changes on a human scale and to clearly communicate the benefits for each person involved so as to stimulate willingness to change.

Watch video: Filip Goos, Managing Director at Cheops, explains how they implemented Commercial Excellence (in Dutch)

 


Every day we’re being confronted with increasing sales costs and margins under greater and greater pressure. In this blog, we explain why this is happening and look at the solution in detail.

Increasing sales costs and greater pressure on margins are usually the result of inadequate or non-existent internal sales training and supervision. There are also a few die-hard habits that many companies and sales reps cling on to which can cause even bigger problems for sales performance.

Directors will already be familiar with the changed buying behaviour and understand the impact it has on their sales and marketing organisation. The fact that up to 75% of decision-making criteria are influenced online means it’s important for us to allow sales to start a dialogue with customers at different times and with different messages.

If sales is forced to wait until customers are ‘ready-to-buy’ or in the quotation stage before they spring into action, it’s impossible to sell customer value, so:

  • Margins continue to fall
  • Products and services are experienced as commodities

This habit comes from:

  • Managers being mainly interested in the time frame that deals are agreed in
  • Sales who think it’s a waste of time to enter into a buying process early, and prefer to wait for ready-to-buy leads from marketing
  • Sales who are willing to start the buying process early and influence the customer, but don’t have the necessary skills and messages to appeal to customers in this early stage

The solution: do the right thing at the right time with the right person
Management behaviour and how to direct sales teams is crucial here, although that’s a separate topic just in itself. But how can we arm sales to face these new challenges?

  • Train sales to detect and facilitate the entire buying process
  • Implement a sales process that allows your team to document opportunities based on the customer’s willingness to buy (buying process) – and embed this in the CRM
  • Document messages for each product-market combination, and teach sales to use these messages at the right time in their comfort zone using ‘how to sell’ training with role plays

The buying process in figure 1 shows the complete customer journey. Whether it’s for existing or new customers determines how sales deals with it.

For existing customers, sales mainly need to convey ‘why customers need to stay’ – combined with behaviour that we label as ‘account development’ rather than ‘account management’. With existing relationships, detailed knowledge of the customer and their environment provides a great opportunity for increasing the value perception, and so embedding the relationship more deeply.

For non-customers, the first question is: ‘Has the customer already decided to change?’ Has the customer not decided to change yet? Then it’s best to base your messages and interactions on breaking the status quo, and so increasing the willingness to change. Customers aren’t usually aware of what improvements are possible. Or the customer thinks the risks that come with the change look too big. Or they’re not familiar enough with exactly what’s required.

These ‘why change’ messages assume the customer’s point of view and are the best way of developing prospects. And this is where the biggest challenge is identified in terms of sales performance. Various studies and analyses of our customers show that up to 60% of opportunities simply disappear from the forecast without any decision being made by the customer. The biggest competitor isn’t another supplier, but the customers themselves simply not deciding to buy anything. So messages about how good your company and its solutions are, or the extra benefits that you can offer, won’t help stimulate the buying process.

Has the customer already decided to buy? Then the next question is of course: who should I buy what from, and how much for? Sales responds to this with messages that underline why the customer should choose them. These ‘why us’ messages are most effective at this point in time. Most companies and a large proportion of sales reps score quite to very highly in this area.

Figure 2 shows when these three types of messages are most effective from a sales perspective

In summary, we therefore need to enable sales to convey three different types of messages convincingly according to the situation and depending on the product-market combination:

  • Why change
  • Why choose us
  • Why stay with us

How much do your sales convey these three sets of messages? And to what extent can they discuss them with the customer at the right time? You can compare your sales performance and customer orientation with best in class companies in the Sales Performance Benchmark


Today we start with a motivational quote: “The customer is not an interruption in our work. He is the purpose of it. We are not doing him a favour by serving him. He is doing us a favour by giving us an opportunity to do so.” This quote is attributed to Gandhi, but the point is that customer focus is of all times.

However, a clear break can be noticed, which took place some five years ago. Josh Bernoff from market research company Forrester calls this the beginning of “the age of the customer”, which heralds the end of the previous age of information. Due to rapid technological evolutions including social media and mobile computing, customers seek information in different ways and their purchase behaviour is gradually changing as a result. Consequently, the role of sales and marketing is also changing profoundly.

All customer experiences

A study by SiriusDecisions from earlier this year indicated that 71% of purchase decisions are based on the sum of the experiences customers have with their supplier. All experiences, both digital and personal as well as with staff from any department, play a role in this. It proves Bernoff’s earlier proposition that “the only sustainable competitive advantage is the knowledge of and engagement with the customer”.

Meeting customers’ expectations in every interaction is therefore the real challenge in the age of the customer and the best way to stay one step ahead of the competition. The seller’s role in this is no longer to provide information and thus try to convince customers. The seller now has to ensure interactions which enrich the customer’s vision, help to demonstrate the positive impact of a purchase decision and facilitate the entire purchasing process in an optimum manner.


Are sales still the exclusive domain of the sales department? If so, you may have a problem, as customer interaction has changed dramatically. Customer contacts increasingly take place via other channels, such as the Internet, social media or relations. The preparation of purchases is also strongly influenced online.

Everybody has a commercial role

Your salespersons are not the only ones who bear responsibility for your company’s lasting commercial success. Within their role, each employee needs to be aware of the ultimate aim of their activities, namely the customer. This requires a serious mentality change with plenty of companies, and perhaps also with you.

More than ever, customers expect to play a central role in your processes. This demands a targeted approach: any interaction between you and the customer matters and has to meet the customer’s expectations. You need to be able to quickly and adequately answer any question from them. In most industries this is the fastest way to strengthen your competitive position.

Your processes from the perspective of your customer’s purchase cycle

Are you ready to take your organisation to a higher level and to increase your growth potential? Then you need to organise your processes from the perspective of your customer’s purchase cycle. You have to meet their expectations with every contact. This also impacts the competencies of your employees and the manner in which technology supports your customer processes.

Create a Buyer’s Journey roadmap in five steps

For the sake of brevity we will not discuss this in depth, but in general terms you build your roadmap in five steps:

  1. describe the purchase cycle for each type of customer
  2. inventory the contact moments (including those with third parties)
  3. describe all those moments, every touch point
  4. identify the most important decision criteria and decision points
  5. convert the schedule into ready-to-use guidelines

 


Customer satisfaction and customer experience are crucial elements to maintain or increase your competitiveness. This is a crucial issue today, but how does one go about it? How can it be measured and improved? Is it really that important? That’s what I thought about when I recently booked a hotel room via Booking and received an unpleasant surprise. But first a few words about the customer’s expectations.

The best way to find out how you are doing in this respect is by mapping all moments on which a customer has virtual or physical contact with your company. You can link the customer’s expectations to these moments and check whether you meet these expectations. Your competitiveness entirely depends on the extent to which your processes, your staff’s attitude, your software and your competencies are adjusted to the customer’s experience during the entire cycle.

This means that your marketing department must conduct research with customers from all your market segments. The right and relevant questions and an adequate processing method should result in the most efficient way to implement measures for improvement.

Let’s see what happens

My own customer experience was far from good this week, due to the “lowest price guarantee” offered by Booking.com. Probably out of professional habit, I decided to go through the entire process, just to see what would happen, and whether something would happen at all.

I was looking for a hotel situated as closely as possible to my client’s premises in order to optimise my use of time. Booking.com was the fastest way for me to find a room in a part of Paris I wasn’t familiar with.

In the morning, when checking out, I found I had to pay more than the standard price for a room, posted at the reception desk. When I asked the hotel staff to adjust the price on my invoice to that maximum price, my request was denied: “I’m sorry, but I’m just charging the price of your booking with booking.com. I can’t help you. You will have to claim the difference from them.”

The perfect procedure

So I sent an e-mail message to booking.com. The procedure they followed to deal with my complaint was perfect, very swift and specific. First I received a standard automatic reply, immediately followed, after a reaction, by a personal follow-up by e-mail. In spite of the fact that the procedure was very efficient, the contents of the reply was disappointing: “We can’t help you, as we work with the prices provided by us by the hotel managers. We also refer to our ‘lowest price guarantee’ description”.

Imagine what my customer experience would have been if Booking.com had suggested a discount, equalling the difference, with my next booking before a specific date. For them, it would have been an investment of only 15 euro to keep a customer satisfied.

The final blow

Finally, I don’t want to keep the hotel manager’s last statement from you: “I advise you to contact us directly next time, it’s cheaper.”

I am curious to learn about your experiences, which may help companies to improve their strategies to attract and retain customers.


The advent of social media has given consumers a more powerful voice. Even though we’ve already known this for some time, it’s difficult to lose old habits, as Telenet discovered with its iPad campaign. The Facebook group criticizing this campaign now has 150,000 likes, which is much greater than the number of new customers Telenet will attract with a free iPad mini.

It proves that marketing communication has, despite everything, not been adapted sufficiently to suit the better informed and more involved customer of today. Telenet must now lie in the bed it has made for itself, but it could have happened to many others too. What three mistakes were made here?

Firstly, working with temporary campaigns is becoming less and less effective. In a saturated market with subscribers for an indefinite period, it comes down to the fact that your customer will also look at what’s on offer from your competitors, who are also trying to win regular customers with even stronger promotions. This results in smaller margins and there are no winners, except for the occasional individual who is happy with a new iPad.

Secondly, it appears that Telenet has too many latent unsatisfied customers who don’t fully realize their service provider’s added value. This is remarkable, particularly because the launch of King and Kong was otherwise a masterful success. The technical specs of what Telenet is offering are certainly not inferior, but customers apparently prefer an iPad mini to the ‘Internet 120’ from Telenet (because it’s easy to imagine what you can do with an iPad mini, but not why you’d need 120 mbps).

Finally, the customer is not central to the external communication. Otherwise you wouldn’t run campaigns that give new customers a very nice gift and existing customers simply nothing. Perhaps Telenet has to consider building up a community of customers and communicating in a language that a standard customer can understand (translate ‘Internet 120’ into the number of users that can surf simultaneously without experiencing any delay). Members of the community could also be tempted with gifts, of course: find a new quad-play customer and you receive credits for buying music online, or get two new customers for a smartphone, or three new customers for a tablet, for example.