Customer centric selling focuses on serving your customer’s needs at every step of the sales process. This is something that needs to be ingrained in your company’s culture, in order for it to be successful.
A Salesforce State of the Connected Customer Report found that 80% of customers say that the experience a company provides is just as important as the products and services it sells. This experience extends throughout the entire selling and buying experience.
Brands that use customer-centric sales processes enjoy higher levels of customer loyalty, retention, and increased revenue.
In this guide, we’ll show you several brands that are using customer-centricity to their advantage, demonstrate its elements and benefits, and explain how to integrate it into your company’s sales culture.
What is Customer Centric Selling?
Customer centric selling has a deep focus on the customer and empathizes their needs at every step of the sales process. It was created by Michael Bosworth, a sales trainer and best-selling author of CustomerCentric Selling.
Companies adapt the sales process to fit specific customer needs. There is an emphasis on identifying the decision makers, and then creating an open discussion to better understand pain points, goals, purchase authority and timeline.
8 elements of customer centric selling
In CustomerCentric Selling, Bosworth provides an outline of what makes this kind of selling a success:
- Having conversations about topics that are important to your customer. Don’t talk at them; listen to what they have to say and help solve their problems.
- Not giving opinions, but asking relevant questions. Opinions can be off-putting for your customers, especially if they didn’t ask for them. Instead, ask them what’s on their mind.
- Building relationships to help solve problems. Let customers know you’ll be with them every step of the way. This will help you to win their trust.
- Not targeting end-users, but decision-makers. Even though the end-user might be the one who will use your product and has questions about it, they won’t have the authority to make a final purchase decision. But the decision-maker will.
- Showing how products can be used, not their technical features and benefits. Don’t bore your customer with jargon they may not understand. Show them how the product works and how it can help them solve their problems.
- Developing relationships for quality sales, instead of focusing on sales numbers. If you try and please everyone, you’ll please nobody. Focus on pleasing the people who matter.
- Planning your sales cycle around the buyer’s timeline. When was the last time a customer cared about your sales targets? This isn’t relevant to them so don’t bring it up. Plan your conversations around their timeline instead.
- Not convincing them to buy your product or service. Instead, show them how it suits their particular needs and will help them to achieve their goals.
Examples of Customer Centric Selling
How are brands using customer-centricity, and what benefits are they getting from it? The answer is increased revenue, retention rates and customer loyalty. Let’s take a look at Nike, Amazon and Starbucks, and the strategies they’re using.
Nike used a customer-centric approach to improve it’s audience segmentation. The company focused its products around 3 key demographics: women, runners and young athletes.
In 2015, sales in Nike’s women’s sportswear department doubled over the course of 6 months. And thanks to this approach, they dominate the sportswear market with total revenues of $28 billion (€25 billion) per year. This represents 48% of the athletic footwear market in the United States.
“The most important single thing is to focus obsessively on the customer,” Amazon founder Jeff Bezos once said.
Amazon’s company culture is founded on customer-centricity. This is evident in it’s instant delivery and digital service, Amazon Prime, to its acquisition of the Whole Foods brand and its own grocery store chain, Amazon Go.
And because of this, they enjoy an annual retention rate of over 90%. The more time a company spends with its customers and shows its listening to them, the more likely they are to feel they’re being heard and buy the products that are recommended to them.
Here are a few steps Amazon takes to ensure a customer-centric sales process:
- Get out of the building and actually talk to customers to understand their needs, wants and pain points.
- Do at least two days of call center training each year to better understand the customer, no matter what your role is in the company.
- Offer lower prices so customers always feel like they are getting a deal.
- Create a frictionless buying experience by way of unbiased reviews, one-click orders, fast delivery and honest refund policies.
Everything Starbucks does can be traced to customer centricity. Even how its stores are designed. The in-house design team adjusts each one so it appears to naturally fit-in with its location’s surroundings. The end result? Each Starbucks store has its own sense of character and identity.
Source: Starbucks / Joshua Trujillo
There’s no such thing as just another Starbucks, because each store is unique to its location. A store in New York City’s Times Square might have a theatrical feel, while stores nearer to beaches may feature colours inspired by lapping ocean waves. And a store in the South could have a blues feel to it.
Why is Customer Centricity Important for Any Business?
Customers now have more power than ever before. They have more choices and more information at their fingertips than ever before. To stand out from competitors, everything you do must resonate with your customer’s needs, challenges and goals. And you need to use the sales process as a way of showing your customers how you can help them.
According to Salesforce’s State of the Connected Customer Report, 95% of customers stated that they’re more likely to be loyal to a company that they feel they can trust. To gain that trust, you need to focus on what you can do for your customers, not what you can sell to them.
Alongside the Salesforce survey, a Deloitte & Touche study revealed that brands that use a customer centric strategy end up being 60% more profitable than their competitors.
Benefits of Customer Centric Selling
When your selling becomes customer centric, your business can experience benefits such as increased customer loyalty, retention, customer lifetime value (CLV) and revenue, while seeing a reduction in running costs. Let’s explore each of these wins in more detail.
Increased customer loyalty
You can establish deeper, more meaningful connections with your customers by tailoring your messages and offers to what they need. This will help to keep them coming back long after their first purchase or interaction. Focus on the journey, not on the touchpoint. In turn, you’ll focus on the relationship and not the financial transaction.
Increased retention and CLV
If you listen to your customers, help solve their problems and create value for them, they’ll want to keep coming back to you. And that’ll help you to be more profitable in the long-run. Customers are by far your most valuable asset. And your CLV can help you measure how much revenue each customer is bringing to your business for as long as they pay for your services. To figure this out:
Annual revenue from customer x duration of business relationship in years - on-boarding cost = CLV
Increased customer referrals
When a customer loves what you do, they’ll be more likely to tell their friends or colleagues about it. This can lead to a boost in sales for your business. According to Global Web Index, 71% of prospective customers are likely to check out a social media referral. When this happens, your loyal customers behave like an external marketing team without any extra operating costs. So make sure they never feel let down by your service.
When you listen to customers and use their feedback to make improvements to your services and processes, you’ll see positive changes in efficiency. And by keeping more customers, you’ll lower your churn rates. By holding onto loyal customers, you’ll spend less money on finding new ones, which is usually much more expensive.
When you increase loyalty, lifetime value and referrals, while reducing operating costs and customer churn, you’ll see this lead to a boost in your company’s revenue.
8 Ways to Improve Customer Centric Selling
From being more empathetic to preparing to walk away from the sale, here are 8 ways you can drive customer centric selling in your business.
Remember, it’s all about how you can help the customer. And that includes admitting when you can’t. It’s better to be honest about this, as it can lead to a return in sales later on.
Bake empathy into your onboarding process
Hire sales people that are highly empathetic. You’ll know this when you see it. The people you choose to hire will put the customer’s needs ahead of their own, and help others from within different parts of the company–including product, engineering and customer success–to be the most successful versions of themselves.
This could involve setting up a culture where all team members spend some time working through the support queue and talking to customers to hear their pain points, and to learn how your products and services are providing customers with the most value.
Don’t sell the benefits or features of your product. Show you understand the customer’s problem and demonstrate how your product can help solve it.
Engage with customers on their preferred channels
You need to interact with customers at the right time, on their preferred communication channel(s). You need to have the right message prepared for when they’re ready to talk to you. And be able to react to their changing needs and behaviours.
Omnichannel selling can be useful here. This is when you deliver a seamless experience across multiple channels, online and offline. Email, social media, phone calls and the in-store experience all come into play, as do many other platforms.
But unlike multichannel selling, where interactions are not carried over from one channel to another, you can use omnichannel selling to begin an interaction on one platform and continue it on another.
For example, JivoChat’s omnichannel business messenger enables customers to connect conversations from multiple channels - livechat, facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Apple Business Chat, email, chatbots and more - into a central dashboard where conversations can be transferred or synced directly to your CRM.
As modern buyers are in the research phase, you need to be available across many touchpoints, and always have a complete view of the customer record.
Target decision-makers instead of end-users
Make sure the people you’re interacting with are the ones that can actually buy the product, and are not just going to be the end-users. Although end-users may be the ones who use your product, and may have questions about how this works, the decision-maker is the one who’ll be using it to help them achieve their goals and overcome their challenges.
And they ultimately have the budget and authority to make the purchase. So focus on showing the decision-maker how your product can help them, and not the end-user.
Ask pain-based questions
Ask questions that get to the heart of what’s bothering your customers. This is something sales representatives at the company Sandler do very well.
They’ve developed a series of questions, called the Sandler Funnel, that their employees use during face-to-face calls and over the phone.
They’re designed to bring customers closer to sharing their pain points. They are:
- Tell me more about that…
- Could you be more specific please?
- How long has this been bothering you?
- What have you tried up to now?
- How did that go for you?
- What has that cost you so far?
- How does it make you feel?
- Have you ever given up dealing with the problem?
This approach shows you’re genuinely trying to understand your customer’s needs, and not just delivering a scripted presentation to them. The latter isn’t unique to their situation, so don’t bother using it. Learn what’s important to your customer and respond to them as an individual.
Earn your customer’s trust by letting them know you’ll be with them at all stages of their journey. Try and focus on solving their problems, rather than making a sale. This will help them to feel more comfortable in trusting you.
And if you can’t help them right now, be honest about that. It’s better than wasting their time, which could lead to frustration and resentment. Use the sales process as an opportunity to learn about what’s bothering your customers, and how you can help them. Not what you can sell to them.
Focus on the problem-solution fit
In CustomerCentric Selling, Michael Bosworth makes the case that most people are wary of sales conversations. There’s a lot of pressure here, and people hate the thought of talking to a salesperson who doesn’t prioritize or seem interested in their needs.
And that’s why sales teams benefit from helping prospects see a path for solving problems using expertise and openness. You can set a totally different tone by empowering a customer to overcome an issue, rather than trying to sell to them.
So don’t try too hard to conceive them to buy your product or service. Instead, empower them to make the right choice that solves their problem.
Be prepared to walk away from the sale
In the same book, Bosworth argues that customer centric salespeople should be willing to walk away if they don’t think they can empower a customer to make the change their situation requires. If you can’t help the customer to see how they can achieve a goal, how a problem will be solved or how a need will be satisfied, this is the time to leave the sale for now.
It might seem counterproductive and like a loss at the time. But walking away can help you to build a trusting relationship in the long-term. In the future, that customer may come back to you if their needs change, or if you have a new product that can help them deal with a new need.
Always Put Your Customer First
Customer centric selling requires you to put the customer, and their needs, at the heart of every interaction you have with them. You’ll also need to ensure serving and delighting your customers is what makes up your company culture.
By having a sales process that caters to their needs at every step, your business can enjoy a boost in revenue, customer loyalty and retention rates.