Kevin Reader, Senior Vice President

50% – 60% of Sales People Don’t Listen?

front page, Perry & Banks, Sales on March 21st, 2010 Comments Off on 50% – 60% of Sales People Don’t Listen?

That’s right; 50% -60% of material handling industry salespeople aren’t listening to their customers! And if you aren’t listening to your customers . . . you’re probably not meeting their needs, or earning their business. But if you think that it’s just a material handling segment problem….guess again!

As a result of a recent strategic engagement in the material handling industry, we had the opportunity to speak with a group of around 30 C-level executives. These were folks that were responsible for sophisticated operations at the nation’s largest retailers, multi-channel merchants and 3PL logistics firms.

Now our qualitative research methodologies are pretty good. I’ve personally done a number of these interviews, and they often result in “ah hah” insights for our clients.  In fact I’ve never completed this type of qualitative research that didn’t expose real problems and real opportunities that were heretofore not on the radar.

Our process is flexible enough that we’re often able to probe deeply into the thoughts, preferences and experiences of these key decision makers. And we’re often treated to some pretty funny examples. At a high level we always seem to have an open and often brutally honest conversation with our interviewees about:

  • Industry needs and trends
  • Challenges and opportunities
  • Specific feedback about various brands and competition
  • Supplier and competitor value propositions
  • Features that are an “ante” (must have) versus a “driver” (differentiating).
  • Product and service quality
  • Do suppliers “do what they say they are going to do”?
  • Perspectives about industry and supplier loyalty and drivers of satisfaction
  • Supplier strategies and messaging – and whether their actions are aligned with their messaging and  mission, vision and values

But one of OUR “ah hah” moments came in one of my first interviews of that recent material handling industry engagement. A large merchant, responsible for buying millions in new supply chain automation products and services, said to me, “our first criteria in evaluating a new partner is whether we can work with them. Do they walk through the door and pitch themselves, their products and services, or do they listen to our needs?  And if they don’t listen to our needs, they won’t be a good partner.”

So I asked the next logical question: “What percentage of supplier salespeople don’t listen?” I was floored. He went on to explain that at least 50% did not listen, and the rant continued until he was closer to 60%.

Now I know what you are going to say: “That’s only one point of reference,” or “Well it’s qualitative research, and that’s only one perspective,” and perhaps “Maybe it’s just the material handling industry where many of the sales are complicated, highly technical and involve cross-functional buying teams.”

But it started our research team asking the question across the board.  Sure it began with material handling. But then we were retained to do a logistics study.  We did several more in the direct response industry. And it tracked with other segments. Across the board, there is a consistent thread.

So how do you identify and resolve the problem? And do you have the same problem in other areas of your company? More on that on my next post!

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