Don't Stop at the Close: Selling Across the Full Customer Lifecycle
Closing a sale doesn't guarantee a happy customer
By Sujan Patel
Sujan Patel is the author of 100 Days of Growth , a growth hacking book that sold over 40,000 copies, and the co-founder of growth marketing agency, Web Profits . A marketing veteran, he’s led the digital marketing strategy for companies like Sales Force, Mint, Intuit and many other top companies. Patel’s goal is to help entrepreneurs and marketers scale their businesses.
Co-founder, Web Profits @ sujanpatel
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Recently, I went through the process of choosing a new SaaS product for my agency (out of respect for all involved, I'm keeping the name of the company and the kind of product they sell confidential).
I researched several providers and talked to sales reps from each - this was a big-ticket purchase, so I wanted to be sure I had as much information as possible. After a few weeks, I thought I'd made the right decision.
The problems started shortly after. My support tickets took an average of 3-5 days to get a response. I couldn't get emails back from my "dedicated" account rep (who then bailed on one of our two hour-long onboarding calls and never responded to my requests for an update).
I felt let down. The product itself may have been the right solution for our needs, but the poor onboarding support I received left me with so much post-purchase regret that I wound up cancelling the contract and moving to a different provider.
The sale was lost, and it had nothing to do with the salespeople involved.
Why Selling Shouldn't Stop at the Close
To be clear, I'm not talking about the trap of overselling - of continuing to pitch your product's features and benefits after your prospect has agreed to buy. As Nick Kane of the Janek Performance Group notes on overselling :
"What this tells your customer is that you don't 'get' them. Not only is this sales mentality out of date, it's also one of the easiest ways to turn off your customer - and worse yet - risk losing any future sales opportunities."
Instead, what I'm arguing is that, after the close, customer relationships shouldn't be thought of as "done." Closing a sale doesn't guarantee a happy customer - let alone one who's going to go on to refer your company to others.
A full lifecycle program of sales needs to take two factors into consideration: proper onboarding, and the conversion of customers into advocates.
Onboarding As Sales
I'd argue that onboarding - the activities taken after a purchase to get new customers up to speed - should be treated as part of the sales process.
Too many salespeople "pass the buck" after the deal is done, assuming that account reps, customer service or other pre-established funnels will help customers get from the point of purchase to the initial "aha moment."
This ignores the fact that, during the post-purchase period, new customers are - consciously and subconsciously - evaluating whether or not they made the right choice. Research by Seung Hwan Lee and June Cotte of the University of Western Ontario, Canada, published by the Association for Consumer Research , suggests that there are actually four distinct types of post-purchase consumer regret:
- Regret due to foregone alternatives (e.g. regret that one alternative was chosen over another)
- Regret due to a change in significance (e.g. regret that the impact of the chosen solution isn't as significant as expected)
- Regret due to under-consideration (e.g. regret that too little time was invested in choosing between alternatives)
- Regret due to over-consideration (e.g. regret that too much time was put into the decision-making process)
A poor onboarding experience can contribute to the first two types of post-purchase regret, which Lee and Cotte describe as "outcome regret" (versus "process regret").
- If customers aren't trained appropriately or brought up to speed quickly, they may believe that a different alternative would have led to better results.
- Similarly, if they aren't shown how to quickly get value from their purchase, they may view its overall significance as being less than its actual potential.
If post-purchase regret is left unaddressed, both of these scenarios can lead to cancellations and refund requests (as in the case of the SaaS purchase I described earlier). Even if money isn't lost as the result of poor onboarding, it's missed indirectly when would-be happy customers aren't converted into advocates for your company.
Selling the Referral
Brian Williams Ph.D. of The Brevet Group shares the following two statistics :
- Salespeople who actively seek out and exploit referrals earn 4 to 5 times more than those who don't.
- 91% of customers say they'd give referrals. Only 11% of salespeople ask for referrals.
Basically, salespeople and the companies they work for benefit financially from referrals. But while most people are willing to give them, they're rarely asked to. That's an even bigger problem when you consider that Nielsen research has found that "people are 4 times more likely to buy when referred by a friend."
"Referrals" can take a number of different forms, including everything from asking satisfied customers for referrals to others who would benefit, to a formally-structured peer-to-peer referral program like RewardStream or ReferralSaaSquatch .
The specifics of the program you put in place will vary based on your company's needs, but at a minimum should include:
- Sufficient onboarding to ensure new customers are happy with their purchases
- A mechanism for separating out happy customers from those who aren't likely to make referrals (this can be done with a simple NPS survey )
- An incentive for customers to initiate a referral, which can be altruistic (as in, "If you know anybody else we could help...") or benefits-driven (for example, "Refer a customer and save 20% off your next purchase...") in nature
- A process baked into sales to ensure referrals are asked for, and the specific elements of the referral process are evaluated often
Simply put, sales can't be hands-off after the deal is done. Without attention paid to customers' needs in the post-purchase phase of their lifecycle, the financial risk of returns, cancellations and missed referrals can be significant. Treating onboarding as part of the sales process and implementing a referral-driving workflow leads to happier customers and better results for your company.
Does your sales process stop at the close? If so, share your ideas for extending sales throughout the full customer lifecycle by leaving me a note below:
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.
Published on: Jan 13, 2018