Good reviews



Customer business reviews are an important part of sales, yet some salespeople don’t know what goes into a successful review. Consequently, many business reviews are watered down versions of a valuable tool.
I met a salesman, Al, who said he does business reviews with all of his customers, but after further discussion I learned (and so did he) that he had never actually done a true business review. He met with his customers quarterly, but the meetings never included other members of the company, never included industry news, never included company awards or community recognition, and never even included an agenda. Al told me that his business reviews were a recap of customer purchases and an overview of savings.
The first mistake Al made was trying to prepare a business review for every customer. Salespeople should follow up with every customer, but business reviews should target only key customers that have increased sales potential. Most reviews happen once a year, but some larger accounts require them on a more frequent basis. In fact, many dealers hold a formal customer business review once a year and follow up with quarterly or even monthly small-scale reviews.
The standard sales follow-up procedure will suffice for smaller customers. Your time is valuable, and the time required to create and conduct a business review is too valuable to be spent on low-volume, low-growth customers.
Our goal in sales is to build relationships with customers. The best sales relationships are those in which you (the supplier) welcomes your customers into your business by introducing them to other people in your company. A business review meeting is a perfect opportunity for you to align people in your company with their counterparts at your customer’s company. For example, bring someone from customer service, finance, production, distribution, and senior management to the business review. Ask your customer to do the same. Facilitating company-wide relationships between your company and your customer’s company will pay dividends.
A great business review is much more than a recap of customer purchases. Since they are geared toward key customers, chances are that the customer cares about your company, and a business review is a great time to give the customer some ‘inside’ information about your company – information that a prospect or one-time customer would not be privy to, such as your company’s history and philosophy or mission statement.
Include a brief synopsis, written or verbal, that outlines your company’s history. Also, share your company’s mission statement with your customers to show them that you value the ideals of your organisation. What is your customer’s mission statement? Perhaps your company and your customer’s company have similar goals and philosophies. If so, you can add another link to the bond you are creating with your customer. If not, you have a basis for understanding the decisions that your customer makes regarding your products and services.
Customer input is perhaps the best way to ensure a successful business review. Ask all customers, well in advance, to be prepared to share information about their company and industry news during the meeting. This is a good chance for you to educate yourself about your best customers and learn about developments in different markets. Plus, it is an effective way to keep them interested by shifting the focus from your company’s achievements and products to those of your customers’.
Encourage feedback about the quality of your products or services, and ask for input about how you might better serve your customer. Make sure to take care of any service issues well before the meeting. Unaddressed problems can spoil an entire business review. Although I ask customers to give input during the business review, I always make sure I know what they are going to suggest in advance so that there are no surprises during the meeting.
Prepare a report of customer purchases and savings, which includes product categories and purchase methods (ie web, phone, etc.). Show your customers figures that illustrate the number of orders they placed during the time period that you are highlighting.
Present various service and quality measures such as your company’s percentage of orders filled and delivery response. Include the number of orders your customer placed, average lines per order, average order size in dollars, and return percentage. Suggest alternate products that are more value oriented to show that you respect your customer’s budget limitations.
Introduce new product categories that the customer isn’t currently purchasing from you.
One dealer that I work with gives gift baskets at customer business reviews as a way to introduce new products. The baskets are filled with samples of products that the customer does not currently purchase.
Position your company as being able to fulfill the needs in multiple product categories, which will help to reduce the number of vendors that your customer deals with. Many business reviews actually include a procurement presentation that describes the "soft costs" of purchasing from multiple suppliers.
You probably provide a lot of special services to your best accounts. A business review is the time for you to remind your customers that you offer much more than office supplies at competitive prices. Remind them of the emergency deliveries. Remind them of extra furniture design work. Remind them of the onsite product problems that you quickly rectified. Remind them of the hard-to-find items that you located and shipped.
Did you do any ergonomic assessments to improve worker productivity? Did you hold onsite product seminars with vendors such as lunch-and-learns? Did you organise a new product show? Whenever possible, try to translate your special services into a hard dollar amount because it will help the customer to see the value of what you provide rather than only judging you on prices alone.
Normally, business reviews are held at the customer’s facility. However, the first time that you do a review with any customer, I recommend that you invite the customer to your facility for a tour. Conducting the review at your site will also give you the opportunity to introduce your customer to service personnel.
The most important thing you can do at a business review is thank your customer for his business. It is a simple, common courtesy and should go without saying, but it sometimes gets lost during the planning process. Thank every customer!
The second most important thing you can do is set an agenda for the review. You know how frustrating it is when a meeting runs long and cuts into your selling time, so type a detailed agenda for the meeting and email, mail or fax it to your customers before the meeting so they can set aside a reasonable amount of time to meet with you. Send multiple copies if your customers plan on bringing other people to the meeting, and bring extra copies to the meeting in case there are last minute attendants.
As I mentioned, business reviews require a lot of preparation, which means time away from selling. I would never recommend spending a large amount of time on something that would not pay dividends in the end, which is why I am telling you to step up your sales by doing regular business reviews for your key accounts. Your customers will appreciate the extra effort and you, in turn, will grow your sales and improve your sales effectiveness.