Sales files should be periodically culled; here’s what to keep and what to trash
By Marcia Gauger, for SBT
Question: I’m doing some spring cleaning and realize that I have accumulated quite a bit of paper in my customer files. Regarding customer files and records, what’s important to keep?
Answer: Spring cleaning is important. If you haven’t cleaned your files in a while, I think you’ll find it refreshing. You mentioned that you have accumulated quite a bit of paper, which leads me to believe that you are organizing customer information in a paper-based format.
The short answer is, keep only what you don’t have in an electronic format, such as customer brochures or handwritten notes.
Most important, ask yourself how you will use the information in the future. If you don’t have an answer to that question, pitch it.
If you haven’t worked with a particular account in more than two years, you may consider tossing the entire folder.
Whether in electronic or paper-based format, collecting customer information can be extremely useful if the information is purposeful.
One salesperson recently shared her frustration of transferring to a territory where the previous salesperson had not kept customer records. She spent the first three months interviewing customers to determine what had taken place to date, which was embarrassing and costly.
Storing files electronically has its advantages, mainly in terms of sorting and sharing. Most electronic files are easily merged with handheld devices, like the Palm Pilot, making customer information easily accessible. Beyond the obvious address, phone, etc., here are some categories that you may consider collecting:
History – Think of your customer records much like doctors’ records. After a brief glance, your doctor has a snapshot of what has taken place to date and what kind of condition you’re in. Individual customer interactions may seem insignificant.
Yet, married with other interactions, they reveal a total picture of your account’s personality. Jot a quick note immediately after each customer meeting including your objective and subsequent outcomes.
You may think you’ll remember the details without writing them down, but you’ll be surprised how much is forgotten within the first 24 hours after a meeting.
Contacts and influencers – It’s important to record information about your key contact. It is also important to keep information about influencers who may affect your sales outcomes.
When considering influencers, think of those who can release funds (usually referred to as economic influencers), those who use or supervise the use of your product or services (usually referred to as user buying influences), those who make recommendations and judgments (like gatekeepers) and coaches who can best guide you in the sale.
Behavioral style – Behavioral style refers to the logic that buyers use in making decisions. We typically refer to four main categories of behavior, including direct, outgoing, steady or easy-going and analytical.
Tracking information about customer behavioral styles can shed light on how to prepare for future meetings. Is the customer blunt and to the point, or analytical and detail-oriented?
Communication style – Communication style refers to the vehicle that customers prefer when sending and receiving information. Like behavioral styles, tracking this information will help you prepare for meetings and can even help you prioritize your sales calls.
Visual people need to see you more often than auditory or kinesthetic customers do. If you aren’t sure of your customer’s communication style, simply ask, "How do you prefer that I communicate the information to you? Would you prefer written communication, a phone call, or do you want me to stop by and walk you through it?"
Common objections – The old saying, "hindsight is 20-20" applies to customer likes and dislikes in particular. If history repeats itself, tracking this information can help salespeople avoid past mistakes.
Personal and business interests – Understanding each of your customers personally will increase your ability to build rapport and relationships.
Track information that customers reveal regarding hobbies, interests, family and anything else that they want you to know. Use this information to sincerely take interest in your customers.
Let customers know you think of them other than for the sale by inquiring about personal interests or jotting a note periodically.
Proposals and quotations – It’s important to keep accurate records or what was promised and what was acted upon. This is especially true in businesses where pricing is flexible and proposals are custom-designed.
The bottom line about customer information is that it’s only valuable to keep if you will use it in the future to either build sales or relationships.
If you decide that information is worthwhile keeping, the next question to ask yourself is, "where will I look for the information when I need it?" If you can answer that question, you’re in good shape!
Marcia Gauger is the president of Impact Sales, a performance improvement and training company with offices in Wisconsin, Florida and Arkansas. You can contact her at 262-642-9610 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Her column appears in every other issue of SBT.
May 2, 2003 Small Business Times, Milwaukee