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BizTrends 2018

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Manufacturing Indaba 2018

Turning up the volume of the customer's voice

In the 1980s, America wrested the America's Cup from New Zealand by resorting to radical change, and competing with a catamaran which comprehensively outperformed New Zealand's conventional monohull in the prevailing light winds off California. Much the same situation prevails in selling in recessionary markets.
Many will recall the halcyon days of Dimension Data when it sold networking systems at breathtaking pace. The sales approach could be described as “Run and Gun.” It was necessary to hire as fast as you could, ramping up new salespeople as quickly as possible to a level of basic competence, and then driving sales activity to achieve market coverage.

The “Light Winds” in a recessionary market require a different approach - perhaps even a radically changed sales force.


Successful sales organisations (as opposed to sales forces) are characterised by an intense focus on, and intense engagement with, a defined group of key customers.

If you are not engaging adequately with your primary sources of revenue and profit, now is the time to do it - BIG TIME and FAST. Now is the time to turn customer volume up - FULL BLAST. And, contrary to popular opinion, this cannot be accomplished by conducting a customer satisfaction survey once every year or two - doesn't come close.

Burn the bridges and get cracking now. The end game is to develop a corporate culture of listening and learning, limiting problems and hassles for customers, increasing responsiveness, unearthing fresh opportunities to deliver and earn value over time, while increasing market share.

Some suggestions

Here are some suggestions:
  1. Make the development and implementation of a customer sensing strategy an organisational priority. Appoint somebody with clout and credibility to lead the charge.

  2. Draw a customer map, highlighting all the key touch points between customers and your organisation. Highlight points of friction.

  3. Train up teams of people - especially those who interface with customers - to go into the field to engage the appropriate customers in a structured process of dialogue and data gathering. Many of your staff will be profoundly moved by this experience, and the structured approach allows useful data to be gathered in an orderly way.

  4. Workshop the results and define problems, opportunities and actions. Share the results with customers.

  5. Follow up with an email or web-enabled questionnaire, which is user-friendly and quite short. Question selection is key, but the most important one is: “Would you refer our company to friends or business associates?”
Do all of this, and you will be off to a good start, but remember the objective is to create a standardised and continuous programme for measuring the customers' experience beyond periodic and often inaccurate satisfaction surveys, including a measure of loyalty and advocacy with ongoing analyses of the customer experience at all touch points' impact that measure.

About Peter Gilbert

A sales veteran with over 30 years of experience, Peter Gilbert is MD of HR Chally SA (, an international sales consulting company specialising in talent management and recruitment. He is passionate about sales as a profession and the identification of real sales talent who can really sell! Email him at