Getting to know your customers, no matter what you sell, is essential to successful selling. Every salesperson knows selling requires more than the right answers or a great relationship with the prospect; it requires teamwork. Successful selling, making and keeping customers, requires assistance from everyone who has contact with prospects. It requires a company focused on the needs of the customer.

Customer satisfaction is earned when you meet the needs and wants of customers. Everyone in a company should be aware of how any decision will affect customers. During the past few decades, the HVAC industry has gone from a customer-oriented business to a bottom-line oriented industry. While business profits are essential to growth, without customers there won't be the sales needed to create profits.

Years ago, it was a delicate balance between a company's sales arm and the financial department. It was a healthy check and balance between those groups seeking better profits and stronger sales. The disagreements that occurred always were resolved with the customer being considered. Today, those same problems are solely resolved based on how they affect the bottom line. Price has become the ultimate selling tool, with little concern for quality and the customers' demands. We have gone from a customer-service industry selling quality, to a price-conscious, short-term, bottom-line group. The result is an industry full of price merchants who wonder where the profits have gone.

‘Bean counters'

The "bean counters" are essential to a company's success, but they must be customer-oriented. One of the stories I like to relate is the time my accounts-receivable person called me into the office to talk about a delinquent account.

I was told what had to be done and how I was to conduct the meeting. After she was done, I suggested that she could help by being with me at the meeting. I scheduled the meeting and within a few days, we were sitting in the customer's office. The proposal made by our collections person was well thought out and offered in a friendly, but firm, way.

I was surprised when the customer quickly accepted it. The reason I mention this story is that just prior to entering the customer's office, we had a cup of coffee and she told me she felt uncomfortable seeing the customer in person, much less in their office. I reassured her I would be there to help where I could and described the customer so she would feel a little more comfortable. It was after that meeting that I realized financial people needed to be more involved in sales and customer service. We need to make sure our bookkeepers are invited to sales meetings and any customer-oriented events. They must become more aware of the customer and their importance in the future of the company.

Everyone in your organization must be aware of the importance of making and keeping customers. The quality-improvement movement in the United States has received much publicity in the past five years because we have seen our world markets erode because of our inability to react to the demands of the customer. This inability to sense the customer's needs is a problem that resulted when we decided to weigh everything that happened based on its value to the bottom line. That concept is changing, but we have to make sure that all our value-added services are what customers want and are willing to pay for. How do we find out about what our customers want? Ask them.

Ask them

Why do we have to ask our customers? The answer is that only 4 percent of unhappy customers will tell you they are dissatisfied with your performance. But these same people will tell up to 10 others about their bad experiences. Keep in mind that 91 percent of dissatisfied customers never return for any future service. A post-service or post-installation interview can reduce this percentage and at the same time increase your customer base.

Selling requires that you know what customers want and will make them buy. It requires a personal touch. To sell anything requires that the people selling like people and can convey a feeling of empathy towards the people they are interviewing.