The majority of senior management believes that their product or service is fundamentally easy for their clients or customers to buy. Unfortunately, in many cases, this is not the reality. But wait, you’ll protest, this is NOT our case. But the question is, how do you really know? When was the last time you experienced your organization as your customer does? When was the last time you actually tried to buy from yourself?
If the answer is “not recently” or “actually, never”, you may be well served to test the buying waters as a potential client would. Their perspective is often radically different. In my experience, a customer’s perception of how easy a company is to buy from has little to do with how good their products or services are, but on how well prospective customers feel their needs are discovered and known by your frontline sales staff, and how well they are responded to. In other words, ‘How much do you know about me, the customer’? This is real customer experience, the real sales proficiency, and the frontline reality is often very different from senior management’s perception.
In a recent mystery shop for a financial services client, for instance, management was shocked to discover that while frontline sales staff were very effective and inviting in their greeting of potential customers, very little was done to ascertain needs, and that subsequent product presentations were almost entirely feature-driven, with mention of benefits consequently on target only by accident. The result? A fall-back sales argument centered on price, that when successful (which wasn’t often, because there was little attempt at closing the sale) served only to lower margins. This is hardly a path to growth, or profitability.
So what do you look for in assessing your potential customers’ buying experience? In a retail setting, for example, the following are important elements:
-Are the premises orderly, clutter-free, inviting?
-Does one feel confident in the organization’s competence and professionalism, based solely on first visual impressions?
-Is one acknowledged and greeted immediately after entering premises?
-Is one engaged in conversation in a manner that feels natural and comfortable, yet professional and business-like?
-Are attempts made to discover potential needs and/or reason for visit?
-Is this probing appropriate and engaging without being “pushy”?
-Does this “discovery” continue to the point where one feels understood, without taking too long or feeling like one is being interrogated?
-Is a product/service presented, which corresponded to the needs uncovered?
-Is the presentation clear, precise, compelling, relevant, and professional?
-Are one’s objections dealt with in an appropriate manner?
-Are they overcome?
-Is a close attempted?
-Is one thanked for the visit/business?
-Is a follow-up promised, that was relevant to the needs uncovered and/or business generated?
-Is that follow-up actually conducted?
-Does one feel like this is generally a positive experience that delivers concrete value?
In my experience very few organizations will consistently achieve high marks on all these elements. As a result many sales opportunities walk into their business every day, and then walk right on through to the competition without being captured. It’s the stuff heartburn is made of.
So do yourself a favor. Try and buy from yourself. See how well you do. See where you fall short. After all, the only sales experience that counts in the end is the customer’s.
The purpose of these mystery shops is to gain a preliminary understanding of the overall sales approach and capability of your frontline staff, to render concrete and informed findings that you can use to improve your customers experience within your organization. In each case, the mystery shopper must enter your business as a potential customer, interested in purchasing your product or service. None of your staff or administrative personnel should be aware that these mystery shops are taking place; this ensures that the sales approach experienced can not be influenced by advance knowledge. Once the mystery shop has been completed I recommend documenting your findings and sharing them with all staff in your organization. This is a necessary first step to create the customer experience you want, and provide a road map to increased sales and customer loyalty.
You can do it yourself, hire an outside consultant or enroll a colleague, friend or family member to mystery shop on your behalf. The key is, the person or persons doing the mystery shopping, must have a set of criteria establish in order to score the buying process of your organization. The data gathered is always enlightening, sometimes surprising, and often shocking to business owners. Let’s face it, we all live in our own ‘fantasy’ of how well we take care of a prospective customer or client.