Existing company documents often provide a wealth of customer information from which rich and meaningful customer insight data can be extracted. However, like most documents and systems that require individual inputs by multiple individuals and departments that interact with the end customer… it is often the case of “garbage in, garbage out”.
THE SALES FORCE FACOR
First and foremost, a company’s sale force is the prime source for information about their customers. You’ve got people there that are talking to customers every single day – hearing their complaints, their needs and even revealing possible future opportunities for increasing a supplier’s market share.
Unfortunately, in most cases, that steady stream of valuable knowledge is left untapped. Simple facts that could strongly impact a supplier’s future strategy aren’t communicated to the necessary decision-makers.
The plain truth is that anybody who’s serious about gaining an understanding of their company’s customers needs to utilize the sales force. And an easy way to do that is to simply upgrade the comprehensiveness of the sales call reports that pretty much any salesperson has to file after calling on a customer.
Generally, call reports just provide the basics to management – the company they met with, the specific representatives involved, the time and date of the meeting, the purpose and the outcome. The meat of them will provide the following kind of minimal summary:
“Met with Bill Williams, head of purchasing for ABC Company. He said ABC would need to buy by the end of the year and would like us to re-bid on 7,000 units instead of 2,000. I informed him we would get him the new numbers by Thursday. Left him a pen and pencil set.”
Read that over again – and then look at the following long list of important questions left unanswered by the Call Report:
- Why was the order increased?
- Who is the salesperson’s company competing against for the order?
- Which person at the customer company will make the call as to who gets the order?
- How likely is ABC Company to buy from the salesperson’s company?
- Is the salesperson doing anything beyond providing revised numbers to close the deal?
- Why is the order being delayed to the end of the year?
These are all very, very big questions that are important to the supplier – and the answers would probably initiate some significant action, or, at the very least, some vital account planning. But the answers are probably not going to come unless internal systems are changed to solicit them.
That’s because the real purpose of these call reports is not to gather customer insight, but to keep an eye on the salesperson and make sure she is doing her job. If everything that was indicated on the call report represented the sole content of that sales meeting, it should have lasted about thirty seconds. You may get the “Who, What and Where” – but you’ll rarely if ever get the “Why” or the “How,” which brings about the deeper insight into the customer’s current and future plans that’s essential to know.
SAMPLE SALES CALL REPORT
And there’s no question that this kind of information gets exchanged. During the traditional small talk that accompanies all these kinds of sales appointments, the customer may have talked about a new product line they’re looking to launch down the line. Or perhaps a new plant they’re about to build. These crucial bits of news, however, never get on the sales report, because they don’t directly affect the salespeople and their jobs – and their compensation. They don’t care and nobody ever gets the customer information that could be beneficial – or detrimental – to the supplier’s future. The salespeople simply assume – and rightly so – that management uses these reports to keep their eye on them. Many just make up appointments to pad out their schedule and look busier than they actually are.
But it’s not just the fault of the sales force. Only thoughtful companies look at call reports as a pro-active tool to help bolster the supplier’s future sales. What usually happens is that management scans the call reports and then, if the number of appointments doesn’t add up to what they expect to see, they scold the salesperson and tell her she needs to make more calls – which, of course, is why the salespeople feel obligated to make more up as a pre-emptive strike. More substantial information isn’t encouraged and, therefore, isn’t given.
The way to solve this crucial problem is to give the salespeople an incentive to report this kind of information. It doesn’t have to be financial; it could be that, if a need for a new product is flagged by the salesperson, he gets the sale, recognition at a company event, and perhaps an assistant or new iPad to help out with the new business. It’s also vital to have someone in place who’s responsible for compiling this information and putting it into the company’s development report.
A call report template should call for more specific information – to ensure that it goes beyond the Dragnet “Just the facts, ma’am” mentality into a relevant analysis of what’s going on, such as:
- Who are the decision-makers on any upcoming sales?
- What issues have to be dealt with to close the sale?
- Who is competing for the order in question?
- When will the sale actually be concluded?
- What steps must the salesperson – and the supplier – take to make sure they get the order?
In addition, competitive intelligence can be made part of the equation, if it isn’t already. In many cases, a supplier’s salespeople are signing in at a customer’s office right after the competition’s rep has been in to make a pitch. The customer may even comment to the salesperson about what the competing rep had to offer. The salesperson should report back on that kind of basic information, so management knows what other suppliers are in the mix on a bid, and how seriously they’re being taken. When this kind of critical information is made a part of the call report, it can help the sales force close more deals and the help the company make more money. Isn’t that what everyone wants?