As a senior partner in a regional business software firm, I spend a lot of my time trying to make sure we are providing high quality and good value services to our customers. Software quality and efficient and accurate consulting services will go a long way to increasing customer loyalty, but loyalty starts with the sales team. Below are 10 things I preach to our pre- and post-sales teams every chance I get:

1. Pick up the Phone!

I’ll just say it: Sales people are chickens! I am amazed how many people opt to send email over picking up the phone to engage the customer. Email is a wonderful tool for delivering requested information or providing follow up details, occasionally I see salespeople using email to try and develop a relationship with their customers or prospects. News Flash: It Doesn’t Work! The best way to engage a customer is to have direct, two way, live conversation. In person is best, but the phone works too.

2. Listen to What Your Customer is Saying

Too often a salesperson is more interested in getting through their presentation than listening and responding to what the customer is saying (or would like to say if the salesman would shut up!). In my role as a Sales Manager, I have sat through hundreds of presentations and software demonstrations. Most were incredibly painful, not because the salesperson wasn’t prepared, but rather because the salesperson didn’t stop to consider that the information being presented wasn’t what the customer wanted to talk about. Before attempting to solve a customer’s problems, it would be very helpful to understand what the problems are, don’t you think?

  1. Listen for pain points.
  2. Repeat what you heard to gain clarification.
  3. Make sure you address those critical issues in the sales presentation. (BTW, that may be all you have to show in a demonstration!).

3. Tell the Truth

As the old joke goes, “How do you know when a salesperson is lying? — Check to see if his lips are moving!” In reality, most salespeople aren’t crooks – they’re just afraid they’ll lose the sale if they are completely honest. One of my best sales resulted from my telling a prospect that I couldn’t sell him an ERP solution because their requirements didn’t match my company’s capabilities. He was so shocked to hear a salesman say “NO” that he rethought the requirements and begged me to take him on as customer. Charles Green, author of the book¬†Trust Based Selling points out that more often than not, people will buy from those they trust – even if the price is higher. Further, you will never create customer loyalty when the relationship is based on lies.

4. Give Your Customers Your Best Work

If you’ve ever hired a tradesman to do some work at your house, you understand what I’m talking about. You would never hire a person to re-tile your bathroom, for example, and be satisfied with shoddy workmanship. You expect the tiles to be installed straight and in the correct color pattern. You expect and deserve that your tile man bring his “A” game to work with him every day. Your customers deserve to get the same courtesy from you. Coming to a meeting unprepared is inexcusable. That doesn’t mean that you will have all the answers, but you should do the research in order to be as prepared as possible (when you don’t know the answer to a question, refer to Item 3, above).

5. Provide Value

Never have a conversation with a customer without providing information that is valuable to them. I hate it when a salesman calls me and says, “Hi Mr. Haley, I’m just calling to see if you’re doing ok?” My answer? “I’m Fine,” followed by the click of the phone hanging up! Before you call a customer, review the account notes, look at their past sales orders, and use the internet to scan for news about their business. When you pick up the phone to call, have a plan ready to discuss things that you will be of interest and value to your customer. “I saw this article on a company that was similar to yours and I thought you might enjoy…” or “The last time we talked, you said you wished you could get XX and I wanted to point out that the latest release of our software does that.”

6. Don’t Forget to Say “Please and “Thank You”

Customers want (and deserve) to be treated with respect. Always be professional and don’t ever forget to be polite. But don’t get icky about it either. I hate to take calls from salespeople that take polite beyond the level of normal conversation. Nobody likes an Eddie Haskell. Just be respectful and follow the Golden Rule. Your customers will respond positively.

7. Provide Your Customers a Way to Reach You Quickly When Needed

You don’t have to be on call 24 hours a day, but at the very least, your voice mail message should offer alternatives to leaving a voice mail. I have found that I can create a lot of good will by saying, “I normally don’t give out my cell number, but your issues are important, so I want you to write down my cell phone number and use it to call me if you need immediate attention…”

8. Be Proactive

If you know or suspect there is something going on with a customer that will require your attention in the near term, don’t wait for the customer to call you. Pick up the phone and call them first. It is ALWAYS better to make the first call.

9. Send a Hand Written Message

If you really want to stand out from the crowd, send a hand written note to your customer after a conversation or to request a meeting. It is amazing how quickly our society has abandoned the hand written letter. It is so unusual in business today that you are sure to stand out.

10. Be prompt

Never be late! It shows a lack of respect. I had a girlfriend in college that taught me to be on time. If I was 1 minute late for a date, she would leave without me. Today, I arrive early for meetings and wait in the car or lobby, timing my arrival at the front desk at or before the meeting time. Some of you are saying, “but what about traffic?” Traffic is RARELY an acceptable excuse. You know what traffic is like in your city — allow plenty of time for it! If you do find yourself in a position where you’re going to run late, don’t wait until 5 minutes after the meeting time to call. Call 15-20 minutes in advance of the meeting so customer can adjust schedules, if needed.