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by Alberto Aleo

Internal and external customerWelcome back! Since one of the major difficulties on returning to work after the holidays is getting used once again to your working environment and your “internal customer“, that is to say your colleagues, today’s article tackles this issue. We salespeople are accustomed to think of customers as people who live and work outside our company while there may sometimes be an underlying conflict in our relationship with colleagues (and company procedures). This could be because we are used to being “out and about” and find deskwork stifling, or it might be that our direct contact with the market means we really know “what they want out there”. The fact is that we poorly tolerate anyone and anything that comes between us, our goals, and the way we have decided to achieve them.

Is selling all about the external customer?

Sales serviceActually, the work of selling involves creating connections. Salespeople must not only find, develop and retain customers, but also translate their needs into information, procedures and inputs that can be “digested” by the company and then transformed into an output for the market. Companies without salespeople would be like tourists without an interpreter, grappling with the language of a foreign country. Seen from this point of view, our work is strategic, isn’t it?

The art of translation

Customers know and appreciate the skills that salespeople wield when they manage to translate “customer talk” into “company talk” and vice versa. In fact, customers need to perceive the salesperson as their ally, someone who can plead their case against the company, who can make information simple and friendly by organizing and summarizing all the elements of the offer system for them in a customised mix that is designed to provide real advantages. Personally, I find it very sad when certain colleagues complain about the role we play as a dual interface between the customer and the company.

Salespeople sell twice: firstly to the customer and then to their company by negotiating conditions and organizing and overseeing the various procedures and steps that make it possible to deliver the “sales service”.

The customer’s journey

If you want to grasp the importance of what I am saying, I suggest you take a pen and paper, sit down and make a note of all the stages through which customers pass in their relationship with your company. These will doubtless include the following:

  • A search for information about the company
  • The first contact
  • The first visit
  • The selection and negotiation
  • The purchase
  • The order management and delivery
  • The after-sales
  • The payment
  • Complaints
  • Additional purchases

Time management

Now ask yourself which of these stages generate the greatest value for you and your customer, which are the most strategic in ensuring the success of the sales relationship and for which of these are you directly responsible. I’m certain that you will discover that some of the most decisive stages, on which much of the fate of the sales hangs, do not actually come directly under your control but depend on other departments. The delivery, which includes availability of the materials and speed of transport, for example, in many markets qualifies and defines the perceived value of the service. How then can we think that the involvement of the staff performing this important function falls outside our duties? All too frequently we salespeople find ourselves in conflict with the people inside the company on whom our success will depend, forgetting that – as experts in negotiation and relationships – we should use part of our professional skills to gain optimum collaboration from our colleagues. These people are our “internal customer” and we need to work as well with them as we do with our external customers. To do that we need information, data and arguments that will be very similar to those we use when selling externally, but we are likely to use even more specific negotiating tools with the more technical “internal customer”.

Indeed, we need to use skills that go beyond the ability to communicate and relate well, using our competence in the analysis and interpretation of objective data: I’m talking about reports and all those other activities that generate shared know-how and that we salespeople frequently consider a waste of time.

So, we’ve come back to a point that is dear to us: selling requires a combination of professional competences and human skills, especially when we fully assume the responsibility to play our proper role in the company, deciding to look after both external customer and internal customer and make them both protagonists in our success.

Treat your colleagues well and strive to improve your working environment: success and personal satisfaction depend on this too.

| partem claram semper aspice |

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Alberto Aleo

An unconventional academic career combined with a managerial career lasting over a decade in the role of marketing manager and sales manager for different well-known Italian companies, have transformed me into an "architect" of market strategies. In 2011 I founded the and training company Passodue together with my wife Alice. This now permits me to put a wealth of experience and knowledge of various types, ranging from economics and marketing to commercial network management, at the disposal of my clients.

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