May 15, 2008

The Only Opinion That Matters

In sales, the only opinion that really matters is the customer’s. We may love our proposal, our boss may think it’s terrific, but if the customer doesn’t find it clear, compelling, and persuasive, it’s a loser.

But there’s another customer opinion which is even more important and more fundamental than their opinion about our proposal. That’s our topic this time.

Nearly 50 years ago, Joe Girard discovered a fundamental truth: every customer he sold had the potential to recommend him to 250 other people. If he could convert each customer into an enthusiastic, raving fan, his business would grow exponentially.

Girard outlined his approach in his book How to Sell Anything to Anybody, calling it his Law of 250. Girard’s insight is so important that I included it as one of the four key ideas that lie at the foundation of modern professional sales.

Fred Reichheld had the same insight. He concluded that the only opinion that matters is the opinion of the customer, and the only question on which their opinion matters is this: “How likely is it that you would recommend this company to a friend or colleague?” Reichheld recommends that you ask your customers to answer this question on a scale of 0 to10, with 0 being “not in this lifetime” to 10 being “absolutely and enthusiastically!” Customers who rate your company in the 0 to 6 range are implicitly detractors—they are either actively negative about you or are so lukewarm as to damn you with faint praise. A score of 7 or 8 is considered neutral. A score of 9 or 10 means the customer is a promoter. Take the percentage of your customers who are “promoters” and subtract the percentage who are “detractors.” This is what Reichheld calls your “Net Promoter Score” or “NPS,” a metric that he claims is a reliable indicator of how well your business is doing. If you have a high NPS, you have a significant and sustainable competitive advantage.

What Girard and Reichheld are both pointing out is that no form of evidence is as convincing to a prospective new customer as the enthusiastic endorsement of an existing customer. In our sales activities and in our proposals, we need to remember the power of customer endorsements and include them at every opportunity. We can use references, testimonial letters, quotes from clients, and case studies to demonstrate that we have customers who are enthusiastic about our products or service. Because these embody the customer’s strong, positive opinion, they are convincing forms of evidence.

David Sroka, CEO of Point of Reference, recommends creating audio recordings of clients being interviewed about their experience of working with us and putting those files on a private Web page. We can then provide our prospects with the URLs to Web pages we want them to see.

To make customer endorsements work, regardless of the format in which they’re presented, we need to make sure that the customer’s experience clearly communicates a compelling value proposition. Prospects are faintly interested to hear that our current customers love working with us. They will be much more impressed if our current customers tell them that our efforts have resulted in bottom-line improvements to key performance indicators.

We’re pleased to report that a recent survey of our customers indicated that the vast majority of them are strong supporters of the Sant Suite solution. In our annual customer survey, we achieved a customer satisfaction rating of 88% from all customers and a rating of 95% from customers who use all four Sant Suite applications. There’s a score even Fred Reichheld would find impressive!

No comments: