MARKETING STRATEGIES: Maintaining the customer relationship after the sale

feature-after-sale-200Many sales people think their job is done as soon as the agreement is signed, but without a proper handover to the post-sale activity, serious problems can occur in the customer relationship.

Throughout the sale process, the salesperson will be creating expectations in the mind of the customer. These will greatly influence the customer experience when delivery and use occurs.

Part of the handover process from sales to post-sales is a detailed understanding of what has been purchased by the customer but, especially, what else has been promised or can be expected based on representations from sales and pre-sales activities.

Often the salesperson will embellish the product or services purchased to get the sale. This then creates a serious problem for post-sales who somehow have to live with unrealistic expectations or reset the customer’s expectations. Either way, the result is not going to be a happy one for the vendor and the customer.

Since this is not uncommon, part of the sale process needs to be documentation of what the customer has purchased and what they expect. This needs to be checked by sales management and, perhaps, by post-sales management to ensure that expectations can be met.

Once the sale moves into post-sale, a system also needs to track the sale or project through its various stages to ensure that expectations are fully met. In many cases this will be a process of product delivery and receipt confirmation. At other times, there could be an extensive services and product delivery project with multiple stages.

The key to customer satisfaction is for all parties to understand what is expected and how and when delivery will occur. The project needs to be tracked through its various stages to ensure that each stage is properly managed and signed off by the customer.

Problems which occur in the post-sales period that can be tracked back to failures of the sales process should be used to refine the lead conversion process as well as provide data to evaluate individual sales and pre-sales staff performance.

Unless the customer can be taken through the entire customer experience with a reasonable level of satisfaction, the objective of achieving a subsequent sale or positive referral is unlikely to occur.

Who owns the prospect?

One of the biggest mistakes vendors make is to allow the salesperson to fully control the prospect relationship. While it is important for the prospect to have an identified point of contact with the vendor, this should not be at the expense of the on-going relationship.

What we always have to keep in mind is that salespeople move on or are sometimes unavailable to progress a sale through events over which they have no control or due to normal vacation and corporate events.

We often hear of salespeople leaving one vendor to go to a competitor and taking all the good prospects which them. This is a danger to any vendor but is made much worse when the vendor has done nothing to prevent the loss of contact. If a succession plan is not in place and the information on the status of the sale is not documented and available to the sales management, one can only blame the vendor for mismanagement.

Apart from proper tracking of a prospect interaction, one of the major benefits of a customer relationship management system (CRM) is to provide a documented history of the prospect so that another person can pick up the pieces and continue with the sales process.

It is critical in a sales process that it is understood that the vendor owns the prospect and not the salesperson. That is, prospects are assigned to salespersons, even if the lead is initiated by the salesperson. The relationship is documented with sufficient information for someone to follow up the lead if the assigned salesperson has left the vendor’s employment or is unavailable to progress the sale or to follow up on a request from the prospect.

The vendor should also endeavour to add additional contacts to the relationship as it progresses. A pre-sales consultant might be included in the relationship or a sales demonstrator. At some point, a sales manager might arrange to meet the prospect if the sale is a significant one. While the salesperson would manage these interactions, they do give the vendor a method of picking up the relationship if they need to move it to another salesperson.

Also remember that a similar problem can occur with organisational prospects where the lead contact is moved internally or leaves the organisation. As soon as possible, the vendor should establish other contacts within the prospect organisation so that the sales process can progress in the absence of the initial contact.

Tom McKaskill is a successful global serial entrepreneur, educator and author who is a world acknowledged authority on exit strategies and the former Richard Pratt Professor of Entrepreneurship, Australian Graduate School of Entrepreneurship, Swinburne University of Technology, Melbourne, Australia. A series of free eBooks for entrepreneurs and angel and VC investors can be found at his site here.

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