Keeping Customers Reliably Satisfied


Is selling an art or a science? The skills to connect, communicate, and close the deal are mostly art. However, the scientific aspect of selling shouldn't be overlooked. Here are some lessons on the science of selling from Jack, Georgia, and Jane.

I heard Jack Welch speak recently when he came to town to promote his new book, Winning. The former CEO of General Electric (GE) said something I've been chewing on all week. He told us that customers prefer a consistent experience, vs. an occasionally great one. Frankly, I had never given this idea much thought before.

Welch gave the example of a company shipping parts to a customer. Their packages arrived on Day 5, Day 10, and Day 15. Logically, you could say that the parts arrived in an average of 10 days. In reality, after 15 days, the customer is furious, regardless of the previous quicker deliveries. The pleasure from Day 5's arrival did not cancel out the anger of Day 15's.

THE EUREKA MOMENT. His point is that customers don't care about your averages. They want less variation and more reliability. Variation, Welch says, leads to "unpleasant surprises and broken promises."

The same week I heard Welch speak, my friend Georgia Patrick called. She has been an ace marketing consultant for more than 30 years. When I asked her what was new, she laughed as she said, "In your presentations, you talk about the importance of selling as a system. In your conversations with me, you have emphasized that you don't have a lot of things to remember, but you do need to have a system. You've pounded it into me that it's the 'sticking to the system' that works, 100% of the time." She was so excited about this "eureka" that I took note of it -- systems.

Jane Sandlar is a longtime friend who told me something years ago that I have never forgotten. She said a key to success for her award-winning technical-writing company was the power of duplication. That is, she did one thing well and repeated it, vs. doing 50 things one time each. She developed a standard system for selling, creating, and producing the deliverables, and then duplicated it so all customers received a consistent experience and product.

SIXTY-PERCENT SOLUTION. Consistency. Systems. Duplication. There's a common denominator from these three experts. If you develop selling and business systems and duplicate what works, you will produce a consistent, reliable customer experience. The result is you'll have happier customers, more sales, and more referrals. Voila, The payoff from the science of selling!

Now let's look a little more deeply at consistency. Welch is a huge fan of Six Sigma, the well-respected quality-improvement program. However, he frankly admits just the mention of it makes eyes glaze over, and he even titled a chapter in his book, "Six Sigma: Better than a Trip to the Dentist."

Welch calls the process "an extremely powerful way to boost a company's competitiveness." I'll spare you the details -- he said you're 60% of the way to becoming a Six Sigma expert if you just understand that "variation is evil."

WORD OF MOUTH. Getting 60% of the way there by keeping three words in mind works for me. To see the power of this phrase, just look at how variation is evil in your own buying experiences. When you're told by the airlines that your flight should arrive at 10:14 a.m. but instead you arrive at 10:44, you may be hopping mad -- and you wouldn't be consoled one bit to hear that last week, this same flight came in a half-hour earlier than scheduled.

Your flight was on time on average, but that's benefit to you. The next time you're booking a trip, you'll probably be more inclined to fly a different airline because of the inconsistent experience you had on the previous flight.

The benefit of consistency shows up very clearly when you consider one of the most profitable sources of sales -- referral business. How would you like to have one of your customers recommend you and your outfit and then add: "I've bought several of them from Carl, and once I got one that was the best I'd ever experienced. Of course, I also had one from him that was a real dud, and it cost me a lot of downtime and frustration."

GETTING STICKY. Or would you rather have her recommend you and say: "I've bought several of them from Carl, and every one has worked exactly as I expected. I don't need any surprises from my vendors. Life has enough surprises. I'll probably always buy them from Carl." Just imagine the impact on your sales volume if all your customers spoke this highly of buying from you. That's the power of consistency on your selling results.

Welch calls this benefit customer stickiness. That is, you want them to stick with you as a vendor and buy from you again and again -- and tell their friends about you too. This is much more likely to happen if they can have a reliable, predictable customer experience.

Selling really is part science. Jack taught us the importance of consistent customer experiences. Georgia reminded us to create and follow systems. Jane shared her secret about the power of duplication.

Becoming more consistent, using systems and duplication in all aspects of your selling and business is a good goal. Better yet, as you repeat and improve your systems, you'll have more customers who are more satisfied, resulting in more sales. Then you'll blow right through your sales goals and quotas. Happy selling!


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