Stop me if you’ve heard this before: “We know what our customers want because our sales reps are in close touch with them.” Sales reps are valuable sources of information. They understand your clients. They know what motivates them and what they might be able to offer them from your arsenal or products or services. They drive your business! But companies sometimes rely on them too much when it comes to customer engagement and experience. Let’s unpack this a little and talk about how to get the best from your sales reps and your research.
Sales Reps Can Gather Good Anecdotal Information
No one is closer to your customers than your sales reps. Customer support is a close second, but your sales reps deal with clients one-on-one. Reps are (hopefully) solving problems for them on a regular basis. Reps are invested in knowing their customer's business. They make things better. Because of this, they hear things directly about your product/service or your internal processes that work or don’t work. Your sales reps are in prime position to learn what your customers think. The problem is that anecdotal information, no matter how insightful, is only the feedback from a small group of customers, and specifically, it only addresses what they want you to hear.
Anecdotal Information Can Be Biased
Now, I’m not saying that hearing directly from your customers is not a good idea. Direct feedback can be very valuable toward understanding how your business impacts your customers, and, ultimately, how likely they are to keep coming back. The problem is that your customers are really only in it for themselves. Let’s be honest here – they care about your company only in that they care what your company can do them.
For example: we use Confirmit, an international, professional survey platform, because of its flexibility and ability to be customized. But I only care about Confirmit in regard to what they allow us to do for our customers. If their business were to suddenly tank, or if their product no longer provided an advantage, I may feel bad, but mostly I would feel annoyed that I would then need to find another solution.
The same thing is true of your customers. They care about you as long as your success benefits them. This means that the information they share with your sales reps may be geared toward making the sales rep look good, which increases the chance the rep will go to bat for them in pricing or additional services at a reduced (or free) cost. Why would I say potentially negative things that would not benefit my company? You catch more flies with honey, right?
Anecdotal Information is Like a Comment Card
On the other side of the discussion, sales reps may only hear the negative. This sentiment reminds me of the comment cards from restaurants (I wrote about this previously). Comments cards are good for understanding when things have not gone right, but are not good at helping you understand your customer base as a whole. Customers who don't like to complain might not give you a heads up until they are gone. Those who do like to complain might make it look like you are in rougher shape than you are in reality. In other words, only listening to your customers through your sales reps may mean you are missing most of the story.
You Need a Disinterested Third Party
Any time you rely on your customers to provide data for a customer experience initiative funneled through your sales reps, you are not getting the real story. A disinterested third party, such as your research partner, is an ideal choice to gather information. Researchers are not emotionally tied to the responses you get – we just want to hear what is actually going on. In addition to being at arm's length from your customers, a good researcher will suggest areas to probe that you and your sales reps may not have thought about. Lastly, your researcher may suggest talking to your customers directly before conducting a survey. This may sound counter-intuitive, but sometimes you need to hear from customers to find new areas to probe with a larger group. You can learn quite a bit from anecdotal information, as long as the person receiving it is not a part of your company and, therefore, more likely to hear the truth.
We Want to be Your Disinterested Third Party
Actionable Research knows what is important and what to ignore. We are also good at gathering the truth and reporting it back to you – no matter what the truth says. If you are interested in hearing more about what we can do for you, contact us today to schedule time with a researcher.