Disengaged (according to Dictionary.com): not involved or concerned; aloof
It was the mid-1990s; I was a young sales rep working for a now-defunct company that sold printed products and commodities to a cross-section of industries. At that time, the path to success was to grow your territory through a new business development, account penetration and, as time passed, assume accounts from departing representatives. As luck would have it, a senior representative from my company was retiring and his accounts were being reassigned to reps in the division and I was “lucky” enough to inherit the biggest and most profitable account. This account ordered like clockwork, had manageable receivables and was not very demanding of the company’s time or mine. It was a dream that quickly turned into a nightmare. The retiring representative graciously brought me to the client and introduced me in glowing terms saying they were in good hands and the company and I would continue to be responsive to their needs. Three weeks later their orders abruptly stopped and all daily communication from them ceased. The customer, I later learned, had been preparing for the previous representative to depart and had plans already in place to move their business to another supplier. I was devastated – this account was responsible for nearly 70% of my annual budget and it was only March. My year was over. To make matters worse, I found out by voice mail.
How could we not see this coming? The simple answer was the relationship between the previous rep and the company was the only reason the business existed. My company did all of the things to “satisfy” the customer. Orders were placed, shipped on time, billed correctly and routine problems were handled. Apparently, that was not enough. There was a detachment between the company and customer that is common in business then and now. They were indifferent to my company and we lost the business.
According to a recent Gallup poll, 71% of all B2B customers are either indifferent or actively disengaged. This is a staggering number considering the amount of time and effort it takes both the sales team and company to prospect, pitch and close a new customer. However, once the customer is on-board, is the company doing enough to manage and “exceed” the expectations of their customer to limit the chances of losing the customer to competition. Earning more business from existing customers, also known as organic growth, is the most cost-effective way to top-line growth. If only 29% of your customers are fully engaged, this is a tall order.
Organic growth can be achieved through different approaches:
Approach 1 - Accelerate Market Penetration (Sell More to the Same Market Segment): Researching and defining market segments helps guide your products, services and proposition so they better meet customer needs and result in accelerated market penetration thereby creating hockey stick growth.
Approach 2 - New Market Development (Sell What You Sell to a New Market): New markets, whether in or outside your core industry, may have different motivations, ways to communicate and overall goals that your products, proposition and approach will need to reflect in order to gain interest from these prospects.
Approach 3 - New Product Development (Sell Something New to Your Market Segment): Account reviews at a leadership level will create the insight to develop new product and service ideas expanding the relationship. This results in a ‘win win’ situation for both parties.
Approach 4 - Diversification (Selling Something New to a New Market Segment): Understanding the maturity of your products and markets is key. Moreover, it is important to have a pulse on where your customer is now and how their needs are evolving, so you and your products can keep pace before your competition leaves you behind.
It is critical that the sales representative and company work in tandem to exceed the expectations of the customer. As I wrote in previous articles, the sales representative cannot be the only face of the company especially if account penetration / organic growth are a part of the overall company growth strategy. Companies must be actively engaged with all customers and relationships must be forged from senior –level on down. If not, your sales rep may get a stinging voice mail message one of these days too.