5 Tools Sales Reps Must Have To Build Strategic Customer Relationships

Russ Chadinha

Building strong, strategic relationships with customers doesn’t just happen by chance. While customer retention is typically a good investment of a salesperson’s time and effort, make sure you arm them with the tools they need for success.

Here are five essential tools, ranging from software to training methods to formal customer retention programs:

1) Customer relationship management (CRM) software: This tool might seem obvious, but it’s not enough to just have the tool — your reps need to actually use it. A recent study by CSO Insights shows that 83 percent of sales teams are using some type of CRM system. But we’re also seeing a drop in the number of salespeople who actually use CRM in their daily work. That would suggest that many organizations have CRM systems, but aren’t using them effectively; their sales reps are probably only using a fraction of the tool’s true capabilities.

It’s important to drive CRM adoption and usage to make sure reps get the benefits of CRM. Many companies have also made CRM the hub for marketing activities as well as sales. This helps sales and marketing build strategic customer relationships, coordinating and organizing activities around the account for the duration of the engagement.

2) Configure, Price, Quote (CPQ) with pricing guidance: For many sales organizations — especially those with complex portfolios and/or configurable products — CRM alone is not enough. These organizations need to extend CRM with additional capabilities in order to drive revenue uplift, increase win rates, reduce the sales cycle and improve margins.

CPQ with pricing guidance is extremely helpful in building strategic relationships. CPQ allows you to increase speed, accuracy and responsiveness, helping your customers see you as vital to their success. Many customers would like to reduce the number of suppliers, and CPQ uses customer analytics to guide reps in creating sales offers that are comprehensive and complete based on customer analytics. CPQ turns analytical insights into an action plan for salespeople, helping them understand each sales opportunity and provide the right products and pricing, all while demonstrating speed, accuracy and responsiveness.

3) Formal sales training supported by ongoing coaching: Coaching is essential to reinforce the kinds of behaviors that build strategic customer relationships; when done right, coaching could produce a 700 percent return on investment. The key is for coaches to give timely feedback so corrections are made as soon as possible.

A variety of sales performance management and sales coaching tools are becoming available. These help managers capture their observations and give data-driven feedback in a timely fashion, rather than days or weeks after the fact. These coaching tools document the interactions between sales managers and reps, and help ensure that the desired activities are taking place.

4) Formal customer retention and executive sponsorship programs: A powerful way to build strategic relationships is to give customers access to your organization’s leadership and its internal engineering and technical people. Creating programs for customer retention and executive sponsorship helps forge relationships at the executive level and demonstrates commitment to your customers.

5) Strategic account management systems: These management systems help sales organizations create an action plan, pulling together a variety of internal resources to create playbooks, relationship maps and outflows. This gives sales reps helpful context and clear direction. It also provides a strong foundation for evaluating their sales effectiveness.

All five of these tools play a part in building strong strategic relationships with your customers, but not all may be necessary in your situation. Creating formal programs for customer retention is most likely to deliver an immediate return, and CRM is a must-have at this point for any sales team.

Whether or not you need to extend your CRM’s capabilities depends on your product portfolio. If you have a simple portfolio, don’t need sales configuration tools, and your quotes and other activities are simple, CRM might be enough for now. But if you have complex processes for pricing and generating quotes and sales offers, consider adding CPQ with pricing guidance to your CRM platform.

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