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.


Since last month, the Dutch Nyenrode Business Universiteit organises a modular master class of seven days spread over two months. The ‘Customer Experience Strategy & Execution’ master class focuses on the processes and technologies each company needs to master in order to change along with the continually evolving customers in this digital age. As I take care of part of the master class, I gladly give you a teaser of what is to come.

Until recently, things were very simple: your marketing department was responsible for product support and your salespeople took care of the sales. In the meantime, the interaction between both departments has intensified in order to increase your brand awareness and the demand for your services, for example by generating more leads, in particular through inbound marketing. How do you approach this?

Attach sufficient importance to the buyer’s journey and demand creation

Brand awareness is no longer sufficient as the buyer has more control over his purchasing process than ever before. So you can abandon your outdated sales strategies. Focus on customer-based segmentation so that you know which segments offer the most sales opportunities, provide supporting content in all stages of the buyer’s journey and develop lead scoring. This way you can quickly adapt your follow-up to the willingness to buy.

Align your sales and marketing processes and go digital

Your marketing and sales processes need to be perfectly aligned. To implement and support this, you have to go more digital. Complement CRM with marketing automation, online content marketing and sales enablement. Technology does not suffice in itself; give sufficient time and attention to the user friendliness and quality of the data in your CRM system so that your employees are more productive and especially like using the tools because of personal advantages.

Develop a tailored sales performance strategy

Selling involves an optimal cooperation between the marketing and sales divisions. It is important that each department is capable of approaching the right person at the right moment in his purchasing process (buyer’s journey) and performs the right activities with the right persons at the right time. Keep the common goal in mind: maximising revenue with the largest possible margin and at the lowest possible sales costs.

Join the digitisation trend

The digitisation trend continues. The focus of the marketing department shifts from creative processes to analytical processes. It comes down to filtering the right elements and presenting an inspiring story to the customer.

Make the difference with your content

Ensure that your customers find the information they are looking for. Information that inspires them, convinces them or teaches them something. This enables you to make the difference at the crucial contact moment. Content marketing guarantees a better defined brand awareness, generates more qualified leads and results in a stronger relationship with the customer. Through the development of a content portfolio, content marketing becomes a tactic that works across teams and allows to support the customer in his entire buying journey.

No sales process but a purchasing process

An increasing number of people are involved in a B2B purchasing decision. In addition, an increasingly larger part of the decision-making process is already over when sales comes into contact with the customer. As a result, the sales department needs to be able to easily map each contact’s willingness to buy. This makes it much easier to determine a win strategy and to ensure that the most effective action is carried out at the right moment.

This method is called Buyer-Aligned Selling and demonstrates how, when and with which messages and tools you can reach your contacts in the best manner, facilitate their purchasing process and convert leads into customers with significantly greater predictability.


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.