When Customer-Centric Selling Isn’t Enough

Dan Smaida – Wednesday, November 23, 2016

It’s been real popular over the years for sellers to define themselves as “customer-centric.” A search for the term on Amazon yields 3,042 book results! There’s everything from customer-centric selling to marketing to service culture…and I think it’s wrong.

What’s wrong with all the focus on customer-centricity? Being focused on customers is a good thing, right? Well, right – to a point. And beyond that point, customer-centric selling runs into the same problems that the current generation of parents is creating for themselves with the “child-centered” approach to parenting.

Customer-Centric is Good, But…
Sellers often want to make it “as easy as possible” for the customer to buy. So we go out of our way to be “full-service,” and to give customers the “white glove” treatment.

It’s just like in parenting: It’s tempting to try and remove every obstacle, to make life as easy as possible, to prevent harm, etc. And just like in parenting, there’s an unintended consequence lurking.

Customer-Centric = Spoiled Customers
Have you noticed the sense of entitlement coming from some corners of society today? Often, that entitlement is found in people who were raised to believe they are the center of the universe. Plenty has been written about “helicopter parenting,” participation trophies, and spoiling of our youth. In America in particular, the “Veruca Salt” complex is alive and well. (Look it up, kids.)

In selling it’s the same thing: When customers don’t have to do any work, they won’t. If they don’t have to commit to action, they won’t. If you’re offering to do all the work, they’ll let you. And when that gets to be pervasive, you don’t have a business relationship – you have a vendor relationship. And in vendor relationships, sellers do all the work, make all the concessions, do all the flexing to make the situation work.

I don’t believe that’s enough, either in selling or in parenting! Instead, think about focusing on what’s best for the long-term health of the relationship, not the immediate demands of an individual party.

Relationship-Centered Selling is the Answer
Relationship-centered selling is simple: Strategy and actions focused on the overall health of the business relationship between buyer and seller.
Think of this as the assertive path in selling. Sellers who focus on their own needs at the expense of the seller fall into the “aggressive” category – pushy, cheesy, etc. On the other hand, sellers who coddle their customers end up in the “passive” camp – too much discounting and special treatment, and not enough negotiating and closing.

The middle way is the ASSERTIVE way: Selling in ways that meet everyone’s needs, but not at the expense of another’s. It means making commitments to customers, but also requiring reciprocal commitment. It means negotiating based on mutual interest, not giving all our power away.

Adopting the Relationship-Centric Mindset
Ask yourself these questions to examine where you can develop a more assertive approach to selling:

What is the minimum level of commitment that customers MUST demonstrate to be worth my selling effort?
What reciprocal commitments am I requiring of customers at the end of my calls?
When’s the last time I asked a customer to help me? And when’s my next opportunity?
What are my negotiating limits, beyond which I will not go?
What kind of precedent do I want to set with my actions today?
How do I ultimately want our partnership to look, and am I moving toward it?
Do I feel good about my relationships with customers, like I’m recognized for the value I bring?
What will be best for our relationship in the long-term, and is what they’re asking for now good for it?
Relationship-centric selling isn’t new, just like assertiveness or good parenting isn’t new. It’s just so easy to get away from when you care – we fall into the trap of over-serving, and ultimately spoiling, our customers in an unhealthy way. Use these questions to examine your approach and move toward a more assertive, and ultimately more fulfilling, approach to developing customer relationships.