5 Ways To Avoid Getting Pigeonholed

Can a customer relationship be too good? Do your customers know you for doing one thing really well? How much energy and effort do your salespeople put into keeping even established customers informed of your full line of products?

There’s a risk that develops over time in customer relationships built on the value to the customer of a particular product. The flipside of such a relationship with a client—no matter how strong the connection is, is the danger of a great customer pigeonholing your company’s capabilities.

Unless you are actively selling your entire portfolio, your current customers may pigeonhole your company based on what you do for them/sell to them today.

In fact, your company may already be pigeonholed by an array of customers, and you haven’t even realized it.

Has This Ever Happened To You As A Sales Leader?

Your company offers a full array of products segmented for various needs, using a “good/better/best” positioning philosophy. Your salesperson virtually owns the “good” (i.e. value) segment at most of his key customers. After a couple years of riding the value wave, you find out that your competition has just been awarded a contract for an entire line of premium-priced products by one of your best customers.

Devastated by the loss of business, you inquire as to why your company was not included in the bidding process. The customer says to you, “I really think of your company as one that provides lower-tier quality products. I would have never dreamed of including you in the bidding process for this premium line.”

And so goes a number of missed opportunities. Your company has been pigeonholed as a low-quality provider with this customer, and likely, many customers.

Why Does This Happen?

Your current sales approach may result in your company being unwittingly cast as a niche player. There are many reasons this happens, including:

  • Salesperson is not familiar/lacks confidence/does not have expertise with all the company’s offerings and sells only a select line
  • Salesperson is not motivated to sell products/services outside of their comfort zone
  • Salesperson lacks account penetration skills, and does not know all of the decision makers at their accounts
  • Salesperson does not regularly seek out/present new concepts to position your company as being competent in multiple areas
  • Salesperson has become an order taker, not a solutions provider
  • Marketing does not provide adequate selling materials that allows the sales team to sell all product lines effectively
  • Sales Leadership has not set expectations or provided direction to sell across all product lines

Assess Your Current Situation

There are a few things you can do to understand your current status with customers and identify opportunities to cross-sell your portfolio of offerings.

Product & Customer Segmentation

Product and Customer Segmentation exercises will identify which products/services are “right” for which key customers/channels. It will tell you where you should be winning in the marketplace with your various product /service lines. It will also become a directional guide for your sales team on where to focus future selling activities.

Product/Service Void Analysis

Which products/services do you sell to which customers today? It is easier and more cost effective to sell current products to current customers than to seek out new customers. Often, a simple grid analysis to understand what products/services customers are NOT buying can be the starting point of a sales plan for cultivating new business.

Internal Sales Survey

Implement an internal survey of your sales team to understand their competencies and comfort selling the company’s full portfolio. This will provide insight as to additional training or tools that are needed to drive growth in the business.

How Can You Fix It?

Once you have identified that you are not selling your full portfolio broadly, there are a number of ways to take corrective action.

1. Build alignment.
As a sales leader, you owe it to your team to provide specific direction on where you expect sales and margin growth to come from, and what you expect the team to deliver. An OGSM exercise will align your team around the big ideas, and ensure everyone understands the important initiatives for the year.

2. Build skills.
The results of your internal sales survey should help uncover what type of training is needed to best position the team for cross-selling products/services. You will know whether they need product knowledge, selling skills enhancement or both.

Be sure your team has the knowledge and the tools to effectively discuss each of your product lines. Provide them with competitive analyses so they know how your company stacks up against the competition. Consider the benefits of skills enhancement, e.g. conceptual selling, account penetration and handling objections, etc. If your team is lacking in any of these areas, a sales development program may be a first step to building confidence in your team.

3. Build incentives.
Incentives drive behavior. If you want to generate sales across all of your product lines or want to encourage the sales team to seek new opportunities, direct your sales incentives accordingly. Look at the structure of your commission and bonus plans and get creative. Consider placing higher rates on select product lines. Link individual bonuses to MBOs designed to build volume in select product lines or evenly across all product lines. Establish quarterly initiatives that focus on select product lines. Direct sales focus where it needs to be.

4. Build plans.
An annual Customer Business Planning process will require that your sales people dig deep to develop their sales roadmap for the year by key customer. The process will help them identify the important cross-functional players at each key customer, understand customer goals and strategies, and proactively identify new solutions to meet the customer’s needs.

5. Build tools.
Ensure that your marketing and sales materials are sufficient across all product/service lines. Sales people are busy and as you would expect, will lean toward selling the products/services that are easiest for them to sell. Make sure they are all easy to sell.

Don’t Miss An Opportunity – Avoid Being Pigeonholed

Set up your team to compete at all levels. Start by identifying opportunities for your company’s diverse offerings and clearly establish expectations. Then arm your sales organization with the motivation, skills, knowledge and tools they need to adequately sell all lines. When you take good care of your current business and your team regularly presents your full array of products/services to your customers, you can be sure you’ll be first in line for all relevant opportunities.