Customer-Centric Selling: How To Get Started
There’s not a salesman alive who hasn’t seen that look. Total indifference from the decision maker staring back at you on the other side of the table after that pitch you slaved over all week. A pitch you were pretty sure you had nailed. It’s deflating. It's exhausting.
But what if I told you that the problem isn’t your product, nor is it your pitch? The problem likely lies in the angle of approach.
People want their problems solved and their lives made easier. They like to buy, but they often don’t like being sold to. However, in a packed market, where global competition is never more than a mouse-click away, our instinct as salespeople can be to hammer out the USPs. Our value proposition. To tell them why they need not go near that mouse again, we got everything you need right here… That’s what we have been taught since day one, and it’s totally natural and indeed perfectly logical.
However, it doesn’t factor in the change in the sales landscape.
The ball has never been more in the court of the buyer, and personalization is now the name of the game in every stage of the sales process. With virtually 100% of customers wanting to self-serve all or part of the buyer’s timeline, this has changed the nature of the salesperson’s role.
Buyers now expect their sales reps to act more like trusted advisors, so it’s more important than ever to leverage sales techniques to make the customer feel heard and understood. Sellers need to ask new customers relevant questions about their needs, problems, aspirations, and goals to guide the deal.
Of course, it leads back to the product, but it starts with them; indeed, it keeps them front-and-centre throughout the process.
In this guide, we’re about to embark on a transformative journey. We'll shift from a product-focused approach to customer-centric selling. By the end, you’ll have a roadmap to make your sales pitch irresistible simply by making it all about the customer.
What is customer-centric selling?
At its core, customer-centric selling is a part sales methodology, part philosophy. It’s a shift in mindset from thinking, “What do I want to sell?” to asking, “What does the customer want or need to buy?” It sounds simple, but this shift in the selling process is profound. It means moving away from a one-size-fits-all sales pitch about the product usage or service to a dynamic and flexible approach tailored to each customer's unique needs and circumstances.
Imagine you’re at a networking event or mixer. There's always that one person who can’t stop talking about themselves, right? After a while, you just want to escape. Grab that tray of drinks from the waiter and tell them to “keep ‘em’ comin’!”
Now, think of another person who asks you thoughtful questions, listens to your answers, and crafts a conversation around your interests. (They even look genuinely interested in your long-winded Machu Pichu gap-year story.) Which person would you want to spend more time with?
That's the difference between traditional selling and customer-centric selling.
The former is that self-centered person at the party. At the same time, the latter is the captivating conversationalist who makes you feel valued and understood- tapping into that most primal of human needs. This skill offers a competitive advantage in the short term and breeds customer loyalty in the long run.
What are the key principles of customer-centric selling?
Customer-centric selling is an individual approach, not a cookie-cutter one. Imagine you're making a custom-tailored suit for someone. You wouldn’t size them up with your eyes, grab the scissors, and start cutting fabric immediately, would you? (Well, I hope not!)
Instead, you'd take measurements, understand the person’s preferences, and ensure every stitch aligns with their unique style and needs. That's how customer-centric selling works. Let’s unravel the fabric of this approach by laying down its core principles:
Understanding before selling.
Dive deep into the customer's world. Understand their challenges, desires, and aspirations. It's like learning about the preferences for that tailored suit—do they want it for a business event or a casual gathering? This knowledge shapes your pitch.
Empathy above all.
Place yourself in the customer's shoes. Feel what they feel. By connecting emotionally, you can craft solutions that resonate on a deeper level. It’s not just about selling a product; it’s about addressing a genuine need and emotion. For example, if your prospect is a VP of product and their goal is customer retention, think about how your solution can not only help them achieve their goals but also how good they’ll feel when they receive that promotion to COO!
Educate and empower.
Handing over a brochure and hoping for the best is old-school and best and career-ending at worst. Instead, enlighten and empower your customers to make the best decisions possible for them. Help them understand why a certain solution fits their needs, almost like explaining why a particular fabric or cut is perfect for their suit.
Have value-driven conversations.
Shift from feature-focused pitches to value-driven dialogues. Instead of merely listing out features, explain the value and benefits they offer. How does your product or service enhance their life or business? Help your prospects and customers connect the dots. Don’t just share the what; tell them why.
Focus on long-term relationship-building.
When you put the customer in the driver’s seat, you’re not just making a sale. Think beyond the immediate need and deal and aim to create a lasting bond. It’s like ensuring that the suit isn't just perfect for today but remains a favorite pick for years to come. Having a long term relationship means it’s more likely that a customer will come to you for help solving new challenges as they arise and that you’ll have the opportunity to grow your business relationship for many years.
Take customer feedback as gold.
Embrace feedback, both positive and negative. It's how customers tell you about the tweaks needed in that “tailored suit” of your offering. Adjust, refine, and enhance based on this invaluable input. And if your company has a customer success team, connect with them frequently to understand what customers are saying after the deal is done. You can use this information when crafting solutions for new customers and continue to improve your offering.
Be flexible and adaptable.
Just as trends in fashion change, so do customer needs and market dynamics. So it’s critical that when taking a customer-centric approach, you stay flexible and adapt where you need to. If a customer suggests a different style or cut, be ready to adapt your approach.
Remember, in the grand tapestry of sales, weaving your approach with these principles ensures you don’t just make a sale but create an experience. And trust me, customers remember experiences way longer than they remember products!
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What are the benefits of customer-centric selling?
Diving headfirst into the realm of customer-centric selling might seem like a bold move, but it comes packed with a host of benefits, making it well worth your effort. Here's how this approach can be a game-changer for your sales and overall business health:
Higher Sales Conversions
Addressing real and specific needs and then crafting solutions tailored to individual customers naturally leads to more conversions. You're addressing the heart of the matter, which means more of your pitches hit the mark.
Increased Customer Loyalty
Feeling understood and valued goes a long way. Customers won't just stop at a single purchase; they become regulars, coming back for more and solidifying their bond with your brand.
Happy customers become your unofficial marketers. They share their positive experiences, and soon enough, their peers become intrigued. It's the most organic and genuine form of marketing you can get.
Enhanced Brand Reputation
A positive reputation in today's digital age can make or break a brand. With customer-centric selling, you're more likely to receive glowing reviews and get referrals, establishing trust with prospective clients.
Reduced Sales Cycle
By aligning with genuine customer needs and providing the necessary education, you streamline their decision-making process. The result? Increased sales velocity.
Higher Lifetime Value
A loyal customer doesn't stop at one purchase. Their continued engagement over time amplifies the value they bring to your business.
By deeply understanding your customers, you get a clearer picture of market trends and evolving needs. This paves the way for innovative product developments or tweaks to your services.
Reduced Churn Rate
Customers, when they feel they're a priority, have fewer reasons to explore alternatives. Why would they?
In essence, customer-centric selling doesn't just enhance your sales figures; it strengthens the entire foundation of your business. When customers are at the core of your sales strategy, everything else naturally falls into place.
How to implement a customer-centric approach in your sales organization or business
So you’re convinced about the merits of a customer-centric approach, and you’re raring to go. But how do you transition from understanding the 'why' to mastering the 'how'? Here's a step-by-step guide to seamlessly shifting gears:
Deep Dive into Customer Profiles
- Research: Conduct surveys, interviews, and focus groups to gather insights.
- Segmentation: Divide your customers into specific groups based on demographics, behavior, and purchase history.
- Persona Creation: Develop detailed customer personas to provide a clearer picture of who you target and sell to.
Train Your Sales Team:
Training your team to sell in a new way is not a one and done activity. Sales leaders and business owners should create a training program for the team with a mix of activities to continue to practice and build the necessary skills. This might include
- Workshops and formal training sessions: Host regular training sessions emphasizing the value of customer-centricity and teaching skills like active listening and how to craft personalized solutions based on customer needs.
- Role-Playing: Have sales team members simulate sales scenarios to practice the new approach. Allow them to observe each other and give feedback. This may expose sellers to more ideas than working in isolation.
- Feedback Loops: Regularly review your sales interactions and metrics, providing constructive feedback to enhance the customer-centric approach. Ask sellers to record conversations and bring in proposals for review. Look at both deals that have been won and lost to see what’s working well and where there’s room to improve or try something new.
Enhance Active Listening
Active listening is critical to creating a customer-centric sales environment. So training on this skill is a must for your sales team! Use these techniques to build skill around active listening.
- Question Techniques: Encourage open-ended questions to understand customer needs.
- Reflect and Clarify: Teach your team to reflect back what they've heard to ensure understanding.
- Avoid Interruptions: Let the customer speak without jumping in, ensuring they feel heard.
Focus on your value proposition
- Benefits Over Features: Shift the sales conversation (and your collateral and proposals) from what a product is to how it can solve the customer's problem.
- Tailored Solutions: Use the insights from customer profiles to offer messaging and solutions specific to each persona.
- CRM Systems: Use customer relationship management tools to track interactions, preferences, and feedback.
- Data Analytics: Analyze sales data to identify patterns and insights that can guide your approach.
Foster relationship building:
- Post-Sale Engagement: Don't stop the relationship after the sale. Engage with follow-up calls, satisfaction surveys, operating reviews and loyalty or referral programs.
- Customer Communities: Create platforms where customers can share experiences, ask questions, and engage with your brand.
Iterate and improve:
- Feedback Collection: Regularly gather feedback from both customers and your sales team.
- Adjust Strategies: Based on the feedback, continually refine your approach.
- Stay Updated: The market and customer needs are always evolving. Keep an ear to the ground (customer communities and social media, like LinkedIn, can be useful here) and be ready to adapt.
- Acknowledge Wins: Recognize and reward the team for successfully implementing the customer-centric approach. Change is hard for everyone, so anytime you can find someone having success or something that’s working well, share it with the team so everyone can benefit.
- Customer Testimonials: Showcase positive customer feedback and testimonials to motivate the team and build trust externally.
Transitioning to a customer-centric approach is like preparing a gourmet meal. It takes time, the right ingredients, and careful attention. But the result? It is a delightful experience that leaves everyone wanting more.
What are the common pitfalls of a customer-centric approach?
All this is not to say that the approach does not come with its some pitfalls. By being aware of them, you can navigate around and ensure your journey is smooth and successful. Here are some of the most common traps teams fall into:
- Assuming, not listening: It's tempting to believe we "know" our customers. However, resting on assumptions instead of actively listening can lead you astray. Remember, the marketplace- and customer preferences- are always evolving.
- Overpromising and underdelivering: In an attempt to woo customers, there’s a danger of overcommitting. Always ensure that what you promise aligns with what you can realistically deliver.
- Neglecting employee training: Your team is the frontline in implementing this approach. Without proper training and understanding, the whole strategy can fall flat.
- Lack of alignment across departments: It's not just the sales team that needs to be customer-centric. If company leadership, marketing, support, or product development aren't aligned, the experience becomes disjointed for the customer.
- Not using data effectively: While personal interactions are essential, ignoring the wealth of insights from data analytics can leave gaps in your strategy.
- Avoiding negative feedback: No one loves criticism. But to avoid reading (or dismissing) negative feedback means missing out on valuable opportunities to improve and adapt.
- Being inflexible: Sticking rigidly to a plan, even when it’s clear adjustments are needed, can be detrimental. The ability to pivot based on feedback and changing circumstances is crucial. Sales leaders should empower their teams to make adjustments in the strategy or offering whenever possible to increase flexibility and be able to better respond to customer demands.
- Taking a one-size-fits-all approach: Treating all customers the same without considering individual needs and preferences can dilute the effectiveness of a customer-centric strategy.
- Underestimating the importance of after-sales support: A customer-centric approach doesn't end once the sale is made. Post-purchase support and engagement are key to building lasting relationships.
Luckily, these pitfalls can all be swerved fairly easily when you know what to keep an eye out for. Forewarned is forearmed, right?
Companies that embody a customer-centric sales approach
Some companies don't just talk the customer-centric talk; they walk the walk. Their dedication to placing customers at the core of their business has not only earned them loyal followings but has also cemented their places as industry leaders. Here are a few shining examples of the customer-centric selling approach:
Renowned for its stellar customer service, Zappos has set the bar high. From free shipping to a generous 365-day return policy and employees empowered to make on-the-spot customer decisions, they've created an unmatched shopping experience.
Beyond their innovative products, Apple focuses heavily on the customer experience. Their seamless ecosystem, intuitive design, and top-notch customer support exemplify their commitment to their users. (Anyone who has needed to go to their stores to lean on the help of their ‘Wizards’ knows exactly what I am talking about!)
With features like Amazon Prime, one-click ordering, and a vast array of product reviews, Amazon consistently puts customers first in their buying process. Their obsession with customer satisfaction is evident in their continuous efforts to refine and enhance the shopping journey.
Netflix’s recommendation engine showcases its dedication to understanding and serving its users. By using viewing history and preferences, they curate content suggestions, making the viewing experience deeply personalized.
These companies haven’t just paid lip service to a customer-centric approach but used it as the foundation of their ethos. And they have reaped the rewards. What is stopping you from doing the same?
What’s the difference between being customer-focused and customer-centric?
While both terms emphasize the importance of the customer, being customer-focused generally refers to offering excellent service, whereas being customer-centric means aligning the entire business strategy around the customer's pain points, needs, and desires. It's the difference between a one-time gesture and a foundational approach.
How can small businesses adopt a customer-centric approach without big budgets?
Customer centricity isn't about the size of your budget but the depth of your commitment. Small businesses can foster close relationships, gather feedback, personalize interactions, and ensure every touchpoint prioritizes the buyer experience. Remember, genuine care and understanding don’t carry a hefty price tag!
Isn't a customer-centric approach just a current trend or buzzword?
While the terminology might be modern, the concept is timeless. Successful businesses have always understood the importance of their customers. What's changed is our ability to gather data, understand our audience, and tailor experiences at an unprecedented level. It's an evolution, not a fleeting trend.
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Taking a more customer-centric approach to sales in your organization
Venturing into the world of customer-centric selling is like embarking on an enlightening journey where customers are your compass, guiding your every step. As with any journey, there will be challenges and lessons along the way, but the rewards — loyal customers, improved sales, and a robust brand reputation — are well worth the effort.
By understanding the principles, recognizing the benefits, and sidestepping the pitfalls, your path becomes clearer. With these actionable steps at your fingertips, all that's left is for you to take that first step.
For sales collateral that delights your customers and shows your dedication to their experience and journey, try Qwilr. Sign up for free today and see for yourself the time it saves and the difference it makes.
About the author
Marissa Taffer|Founder & President of M. Taffer Consulting
Marissa Taffer is the Founder & President of M. Taffer Consulting. She brings over 15 years of sales and marketing experience across various industries to a broad range of clients.
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