Customers have long memories. Ask McDonald’s leaders why they stopped serving Heinz ketchup in their U.S. restaurants, opting for their own branded ketchup, and you will find out just how long those memories last. How you treat your customers in the normal course of business and at a moment of disruption will determine whether you will have a long-term relationship with your customer.
Having experienced first-hand how to successfully work through a very disruptive time with a customer, I’ve been asked to give advice to several peers on how they could achieve success through disruption. I came up with the five-step S.A.L.E.S. process — a service- and solution-based approach focused on providing customers what they want and in turn helping companies gain, guard and grow their business.
The S.A.L.E.S acronym stands for: Service mindset, Asking, Listening, Evaluating, Solutions. Let’s unpack each one by one.
1. Service mindset. Having a service mindset is about wanting to provide your customer with an experience that goes beyond just the product or service you want to sell them. It is being curious about your customers’ perspectives and caring about your customer. Many companies forget this and dive straight into rambling about their company, products and services before they even barely say hello to the customer or learn anything about them.
Think about a restaurant experience when the server came to your table, gave you the menu and only asked for your order. Now compare that to a restaurant experience when the server asked you what you were in the mood for, asked if you had preferences or food allergies, if you were celebrating anything special and if you were in a rush or out to enjoy the time and only then recommended food and drink options. Which of the two do you think is focused on serving you and ensuring you will have a good experience with your purchase?
2. Asking questions. Being curious and genuinely wanting to know about your customer will uncover things that will help you deliver a better experience.
A colleague once shared a moment when he realized he and his salesperson had not taken the time to have a service mindset and ask good probing questions. The two of them assumed a customer they were presenting to was like other customers they had met with and approached the meeting thinking, “We will show them what we have and see what they think.” After 45 minutes of cooking and presenting new food concepts to the customer, they asked him what he thought of their capabilities and the food he had just tasted.
The customer said it was the best food he had seen in a presentation but was also sad to say he could not buy any of it because his restaurants did not have the equipment needed to prepare any of the products shown.
You can imagine the silence in the room. Not taking the time to be curious about the customer led to a huge expense in time, money and energy, and most importantly led to losing customer trust.
3. Listening. This is probably the hardest step in this process because it is when you must be quiet, present and focused on what the customer is saying and not saying. This is your opportunity to discover what the customer tells you they want and ultimately what they really need. It is also an opportunity to return to step two and ask more questions to gain a better understanding and further home in on what you can offer to the customer that they will value. It is in how you listen and the type of questions you ask that you build trust with a customer.
At a sales meeting, a buyer started the meeting by telling the salesperson she only had 15 minutes, so she was just going to tell the salesperson what she needed and then she had to leave. At precisely 14 minutes, the buyer stopped talking, closed her notebook, pushed away from the desk and asked the salesperson if she had any questions. The salesperson had been listening intently and said yes, she had one. The probing question she asked demonstrated that she had been listening, and before she knew it the 15 minutes turned into an hour, and she eventually made the sale.
4. Evaluating. What can you offer your customer to satisfy the wants and needs they have shared with you? During the evaluation step, it’s important to consider all options you can bring to your customer, including deciding you do not have an option to meet their requirements. The evaluation step is also where you determine what additional value, beyond the product or service, you can provide. This can be sharing insights the customer does not have. It could be offering to introduce them to contacts that can help their business. And much more. This is the step where you put yourself in your customers’ chair and identify how you can service their needs.
5. Solutions. The solutions need to address what your customer told you they want, and if you were listening, you will likely have also uncovered what they need and provide those solutions too. In providing solutions, make sure you do so in a timely manner, and where possible deliver those solutions live and not just in an email. The human touch in service goes a long way.
Customers have long memories, so you want to make those memories good ones. Using the S.A.L.E.S process will help you gain new customers and guard and grow the ones you have.
Laura Bonich is the founder and CEO of The Leaders’ Lighthouse. Laura has over 20 years of restaurant and hospitality industry leadership and sales experience with brands including Burger King, H.J. Heinz, Campbell’s and more. Her areas of expertise are leadership development, solution-based sales and emotional intelligence. Laura also hosts the Nourishing Talk Podcast, published on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.