Three Big Mistakes Companies Make with Their Customer-Facing Employees When you need a sleek, compelling way to attract customers, your marketing team can deliver. But if they aren't factoring in the customer feedback they receive from your sales team, it could all be for naught. Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey explain why pigeonholing your salespeople is a big mistake.
Forestville, CA (March 2015)—Your marketing people have done a fine job of planning, strategizing, and packaging. They've considered the market, the competition, and the delivery systems. They've honed the message; dialed in the positioning; and developed the compelling logo, catch phrase, and merchandising materials.
What they didn't do (and it's a biggie) is ask your salespeople for feedback.
And if the sales department's direct connection to customers is being neglected, say Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey, that great marketing plan could fall on deaf ears. Oh, and the same goes for your customer service team. "In some companies, marketing and production have a higher status than sales and customer care," says Houlihan, coauthor along with Harvey of The Entrepreneurial Culture: 23 Ways to Engage and Empower Your People.
Not just 'execution' and 'resolution'
"Sales is viewed simply as 'sales execution,' and customer care is viewed as 'complaint resolution.' Not only is this attitude unfair, it can restrict the flow of valuable information from the consumer to production and marketing." Houlihan and Harvey say far too often companies pigeonhole their sales teams into these specific roles. In doing so, the companies miss out on a great opportunity to improve their customers' experiences.
"Think about it for a minute and you'll see why," says Harvey. "Who are the people who intimately know what's right and wrong with products and services? Who knows first about the changes in the marketplace, attacks by the competition, and the nuances needed to keep that experience excellent? Who are the pilots of the customer experience? Your sales and customer care people, that's who!"
Specifically, here are the big mistakes too many companies make:
- MISTAKE #1: Not soliciting the street smarts of your sales team
Your products must remain relevant and leading edge in a market filled with alternatives, creative initiatives by your competitors, and constantly changing circumstances on the ground, and no one knows about these shifting conditions and challenges before your sales team. "Salespeople shouldn't just execute sales," says Houlihan. "They are your best source of timely tactical and practical feedback. They may not volunteer this feedback, so it's up to you to draw it out of them and share what they have to say with the marketing team."
- MISTAKE #2: Letting complaints stop at the customer service desk
Your customer care people are in touch with your end users daily. They know more than anyone in your organization about what's going on with your customer experience. (That being the case, you might want to think of their function as "customer intel" as well as "customer service"!) Only one in a thousand complainers actually takes the time to call and talk with your company about their concerns. The others just walk. But the complainers really want to improve their experience with your products and services—and if no one else ever hears about them, they're wasting their breath. "Sure, they want resolution, but they also want your production people to hear their concerns," explains Harvey. "You should want that too—it's what will keep your reputation positive and your brand relevant. Do your customer care people have a clear channel to your production people? Better yet, do your production people respect their input as extremely valuable? Or do they see it as a threat to their job security coming from a lower level in the company?"
- MISTAKE #3: Thinking in terms of tiers, not teams
Problems arise when company cultures dictate that there are separate divisions that are higher or lower than each other. When the salespeople are considered "outside," the customer care people are in a call center, and everyone else is "inside," there can be a disconnect, says Houlihan. "The other departments have direct access to top management on a daily basis and can easily outnumber sales and customer care," he points out. "Making sales and customer service people feel isolated and even 'less than' not only hurts them, it hurts you. So, be honest, at a C-suite level, do you allow a misguided view of structural status to block sincere and valuable feedback coming from your end user?"
"Ironically, from a status standpoint, if you really do put the customer on top, you must realize that sales and customer care come next on the totem pole," says Harvey. "That's how you stay relevant, practical, and excellent. Everybody says they want to give exceptional customer experience, but they must be willing to hardwire their companies to get sales and customer feedback to marketing and production. Stay informed and stay relevant!"
About the Authors
Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey are coauthors of The Entrepreneurial Culture: 23 Ways to Engage and Empower Your People (Footnotes Press, 2014, ISBN: 978-0-990-79370-0, $9.95, www.TheBarefootSpirit.com), the companion to the New York Times best-selling business book The Barefoot Spirit: How Hardship, Hustle, and Heart Built America's #1 Wine Brand. The Barefoot Spirit was selected as recommended reading in the CEO Library for CEO Forum and the C-Suite Book Club. It chronicles Barefoot's journey from its humble beginnings in the laundry room of a rented Sonoma County farmhouse to the board room of E&J Gallo, where the brand was successfully sold. Barefoot is now the largest bottled wine brand in the world. From the start, with virtually no money and no wine industry experience, they employed innovative ideas to overcome obstacles and create new markets and strategic alliances, while also pioneering worthy cause marketing and performance-based compensation.
Since selling the brand to E&J Gallo, they consult with Fortune 500s and other companies, helping them establish and strengthen entrepreneurial company cultures through seminars, webinars, and onsite training, and travel the world speaking to corporations, conferences, symposiums, and universities. They are regular media guests and contributors to international publications and professional journals, along with being regular guests on Bloomberg and FOX News Radio Network's Workplace Culture Experts. Widely used as a case study in schools of entrepreneurship, Houlihan and Harvey were the keynote speakers at the 2014 World Conference on Entrepreneurship in Dublin, Ireland, and recipients of the 2014 Distinguished Entrepreneurship Speaker Award from the Turner School of Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Bradley University. The Entrepreneurial Culture: 23 Ways to Engage and Empower Your People is a companion to The Barefoot Spirit, written specifically for the C-Suite.
Both books were featured in the premiere and network launch of Jeff Hayzlett's C-Suite TV and C-Suite Book Club in September 2014. Michael and Bonnie coauthor weekly no-nonsense business blogs at www.TheBarefootSpirit.com and www.TheBrandAuthority.net. For more information, contact Info@TheBarefootSpirit.com. Follow them on Facebook and Twitter. About the Books: The Entrepreneurial Culture: 23 Ways to Engage and Empower Your People (Footnotes Press, 2014, ISBN: 978-0-990-79370-0, $9.95, www.TheBarefootSpirit.com) is available from www.TheBarefootSpirit.com. The Barefoot Spirit: How Hardship, Hustle, and Heart Built America's #1 Wine Brand (Evolve Publishing, 2013, ISBN: 978-0-988-22454-4, $15.95) is available at bookstores nationwide and from major online booksellers.