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Sales managers, you have to visit customers. In fact, GMs, presidents, quality managers, and even owners need to visit customers whenever they get the opportunity. Why are we happy to just sit back and have salespeople do customer translations for us? Why are we happy (or often unhappy) with the information that our salespeople bring back from our customers? Why are we settling for communicating through our salespeople?
Now don’t get me wrong. Salespeople are very important; they are the face of your company, the front line if you will, and it is vital that they act as the messenger between the customer and the management team. But that is not enough.
It’s not that salespeople don’t tell the truth about their customers because I believe that 99.9% of the time they do represent the customer in a clear and honest light. But often, when their honest message is not to our liking, we tend to shoot them—they are, after all, the proverbial messenger. We tend to want to blame the salesperson if he tells us that his customer is not happy or if he delivers bad news. And by the way, the biggest problem is that if the salesperson is the only one to visit and talk to customers, they become exactly that: his customers. However, as we all know they are not his customers; they are our customers and it is our duty as managers to have a good face-to-face relationship with our customers.
It is just too easy for a general manager to rant about how unreasonable a customer is for complaining that the boards arrived a day late. It is just too easy for a quality manager to berate a salesperson, saying that if they could sell, they could get their customer to buy these perfectly usable boards even if they don’t exactly look great. It is just too easy for a company president to push his salespeople into telling the customer that he is going to raise the price even if the salesperson tries to tell him that he will lose the business at this new price. It is just too easy for all of these non-salespeople to live in a vacuum of customer ignorance and push salespeople to get impossible things done.
But the most important reason for company leaders to get out and visit customers is to get to know them on a personal, first-name basis. I love it when I talk to a company owner who has just come from visiting a customer for the first time; I am always amused to hear him suddenly become such a stalwart customer advocate. He comes away from that meeting enlightened and with a much better understanding of what that customer is like, and what their specific needs are. He goes back to the rest of his management team and uses his authority (authority that the front line salespeople don’t have) to make sure that the customer gets treated right.
The same applies to a GM or a quality manager. After just one customer visit, the customer goes from being a hypothetical to a real-life human being. Managers learn what the customer actually needs and, most importantly, why he needs it that way. Once they have a better understanding of one another, the relationship thickens and broadens, and a long-term customer relationship is established.
All it takes is a little effort, a little time, and a little patience for managers to develop a good understanding of customers and establish a customer-vendor partnership that will last a lifetime.
So Mr. President, Mr. GM, and Mr. QA Manager, get out there. Hop in the car with your salespeople and visit your largest customer. Ask them what they need from your company and from you specifically. You’ll be amazed how that simple little act will improve everything between you and your customers.
And you know what? You’ll also have more respect for your salespeople and the issues they face out there on a regular basis. You get to know first-hand what your customers really think about your company: the good, the bad and the ugly. Remember what Bill Gates said? “You can learn a lot more from an unhappy customer than you can from a happy one.”
By visiting a customer, you will also show him that you care about him enough to meet face-to-face. It will show that you took time out of your busy day to come to his office, sit down with him and ask him how you can help him. That is a very big deal. You’ll also be showing your salesperson that you support and respect him, and that in the future you will have a better understanding of the support he needs from you and from the company. And that’s a good thing. It’s only common sense.