How CRM Supports Critical Levels of Relatedness

Do you like the people who sell to you?

What can you learn about selling by thinking about your feelings of being at the receiving end of the sales process?

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

Little Black Book CRM

Many years ago, shortly after beginning my career in business 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 smart-phones, tablets and 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 like an ordinary 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 and holiday experiences and sport.” I said, “Why?” He said it helped when visiting a customer to ask how the family was or to ask how the kids were or how one of the young ones was doing at the new school.

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 placing 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.”

What is ‘Relatedness’ Anyway?

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

“It takes a little while to learn how to use reminders and do it honestly and authentically; it’s a relatedness builder, but it’s not dishonest. It has to become part of who you are, seamless, you know? You also need to remember that there is a business purpose to your relationship, and you don’t have all day. When it’s time to get the order, you need a seamless transition to a closing proposition. For top sales people it’s natural; some people never get it.” 

This was my introduction to CRM in selling. Looking back on this encounter with many years of sales force consultancy work and CRM projects behind me, I see greater meaning than was evident on that train journey; and our modern business language and professional 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.

Be Likeable!…. But Surely It’s Not That Simple

I recall feeling an inclination to find him likeable but also feeling some unease about his diligent approach to being likeable. I was also aware of my own aversion to being ‘sold at’. 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 learn to be comfortable with a sales person. I want a sales person to be a resource to help me understand the product options and costs and choices and specifications that support my prudent buying choice.

No Close………  No Sale!

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!’. Over the years in sales team development assignments, it has been instructive to note that the most friendly, likeable people are not the most successful. ‘Nice’ personalities seem to lack the slightly more aggressive elements needed to close. The lesson needs to be re-worded. ‘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 artificial ‘friends’; he was building necessary relatedness. He was doing this with a business purpose. It was adequate, appropriate, fit-for-purpose relatedness which gave an unashamed integrity to the way he managed his relationships with his customers, and the way he used his CRM system.

Everybody Needs CRM!

I conclude that every person who is successfully 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 CRM design chosen by senior management and customised by business analysts who don’t seem to understand how relatedness works;……. But that’s another story!!!

…………..Wait, did you even read this? Congrats, you’re among the 20%.