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Focusing on needs breeds customer-centric sales cultures where everyone wins

In the wake of revelations about widespread illegal practices at Wells Fargo, Training Industry reached out to our CEO Mike Esterday to get his thoughts on what financial services organizations should be doing to ensure their sales cultures- and all employees- are following the highest ethical standards in their actions and behaviors.

In the article, Ethics and Sales Training in the Financial Services Industry, Mike shared that a big part of the problem—and often a key contributor to ethically questionable behavior—is sales cultures that promote selling as something that you do to a customer rather than for or with a customer. Most sales training then reinforces that position by emphasizing product knowledge and techniques for persuading (or sometimes manipulating) customers into buying, whether what they’re buying meets their needs or not.

This cultural view of selling can have a significant impact. It influences how the sales manager leads the team, what gets the most “air time,” how salespeople are developed and coached, and how salespeople themselves view selling.

Mike explains that a person’s view of selling is linked to their mindset, which could manifest in one of the following ways:

  1. Product mindset, where the emphasis is almost entirely on the product
  2. Transaction mindset, where the emphasis is on doing the same transaction over and over again
  3. Needs-focused mindset, where the emphasis is on uncovering and addressing customer needs

In other words, their mindset determines whether their goal is to push product—the more the better—or to create value and serve the customer’s needs.

With product and transaction mindsets, the door is open for misbehavior, especially when the environment created by the managers supports it, either subtly or overtly.

But when the salesperson is driven by a guiding belief that says, my role isn’t to push product but to uncover and fill customer needs, there’s an entirely different motivation, which leads to entirely different behavior.

A needs-focused mindset also releases a great deal of power within salespeople—an “x factor” that we call achievement drive. When people believe they’re doing right by the customer, they feel good about themselves. They have more confidence, more passion and more determination, and as a result, they’re able to build their own momentum.

A Quick Self-Audit for Evaluating Sales Cultures

Here are some questions you can ask to help determine whether or not your organization is at risk or on the right path:

  • How do our salespeople view selling? Do we need to shift mindsets?
  • Are our salespeople driven by the question, How can I help this customer with their problems and needs? Or is their primary focus, How can I sell this product today?
  • Do our salespeople have the skills to apply a needs-focused mindset, including knowing how to empathize with customers, ask the right questions and best serve their needs?
  • Are our sales managers effectively coaching their teams to help customers and identify unmet needs, or are they focused almost exclusively on driving numbers around product?
  • Through their words, behaviors and actions, do our sales managers encourage a positive view of selling and a customer-focused approach?

The difference is clear: Focusing on the product breeds a product culture, where selling the product—no matter how questionable the methods or how high the ethical costs—is all the matters.

Focusing on needs breeds customer-centric sales cultures where everyone wins—because when you teach people how to ask the right questions, they’ll uncover more needs, cross-sell more and build high-value, long-lasting customer relationships.

About the Author
Mike Esterday

Partner and CEO

Mike Esterday first discovered his talent for sales when he ranked number one out of 6,000 sales professionals in his...
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