Why are some sales people less successful than others? They create customer relationships that should lead to a sale, but it doesn’t. Does CRM make a difference? What can they learn from successful sales people?

In my youth, shortly after beginning my career in business (which was a long time ago), I got to talking with a salesman on a long train journey. He was making notes in a black book. (This was in the days before Blackberry and PDA’s and IT-supported CRM.)  He noticed my curiosity; didn’t seem to mind my rudeness. I asked what he was doing. “These are my customers”, he said. I said, “It doesn’t look much like an address book to me; you seem to be writing a lot about each one. He said, “I write in the names of spouses and kids and birthdays and anniversaries.” I said, “Why?” He said it helped when visiting a customer to ask how his wife was or to ask how the kids were or if one of his kids had some critical exam at school; how did he get on?

I don’t remember what he was selling, but he had to keep in touch with over 500 customers. “Remembering something personal establishes some common ground”, he said, “which helps a lot. It helps re-construct some relatedness from previous calls and visits before we talk about new products and getting an order. I might not have had an opportunity to visit for 1-2 years so I can’t remember things like I would with personal friends.”

I was a recently graduated engineer and was working in a team at Dupont, where remembering personal things about colleagues was an unconscious part of working together. I had difficulty feeling comfortable with this ‘black book’ kind of relationship-support way of relating to people.  I said, “This sounds a little bit phony to me;  don’t people find it offensive?”   He said not. “If you ask about someone’s son Arnold and how was their skiing holiday, they take it as a compliment. Get his son’s name wrong and it’s an insult.”

“It takes a little while to learn how to do it sincerely; it’s a different kind of relatedness builder, but it’s not dishonest. It has to become part of who you are, seamless, you know? You just need to remember that there is a business purpose to your relationship, and you don’t have all day, and you need to close the deal; and that’s who you are.”

This was my introduction to CRM systems (though the label and the TLA came much later). Looking back on this encounter with many years of sales force consultancy work and CRM projects behind me (JI Management Consultants), I see greater meaning than was evident on that train journey; and our modern business language and professional/consulting  constructs about the customer interface give new tools to understand the wisdom of his sales process. With all our new IT/CRM stuff, do we do any better than he did? There are lots of people who would say that we don’t.

I recall feeling an inclination to find him likeable but also feeling some unease about his highly competent approach to being likeable. As a ‘technical’ man I was also averse to being ‘sold’ to. I like to feel that as a buyer I am in control of buying what I want/need, rather than being ‘sold’ something I have been influenced to want. I have to accept however that for complex purchases I need the help of a sales person to become educated enough to buy what I really need. (Who else knows enough to answer my questions?) So thinking back to my first encounter with the sales process, I would have to admit that I do need to be comfortable with a sales person, but we don’t need to be ‘best of friends’.

As one learns the journeyman skills of selling; there will be someone who says, ‘People buy from people they like’. So the lesson appears to be: be likeable. In many sales team development assignments it has been instructive to note that the most friendly, likeable people are not the most successful. Nice.. Nice.. personalities seem to lack the elements needed to close. The lesson needs to be reworded. ‘People don’t buy from people they don’t like.’ There is a world of difference there. I believe that my traveling companion with his black ‘CRM system’ notebook was not trying to use his notes to become ‘best friends’; he was building necessary relatedness. He was doing this with a business purpose. It was adequate, appropriate, fit-for-purpose relatedness which in my mind of today gives an unashamed integrity to the way he managed his relationships with his customers, and the way he used his CRM system.

I conclude that every person who is successful working at the customer interface needs a CRM system, and if the truth be told they all have one (of a sort). Unfortunately it is often not the one carefully selected for their benefit by the organisation.

So come on. Be Likeable… and Use your CRM System.

So if you want help implementing some simply successful CRM, contact JI Software and we’ll help you use the most comprehensive business growth solution on the market today.