iST Connect Interview Series – Chris Sjogren, Sr. Program Manager  

With the complexities of today’s dynamic selling environment, iST constantly seeks insights, ideas, and best practices from high-achieving sales professionals.  Earlier this week we had the pleasure of interviewing one such sales professional, Chris Sjogren. Chris works for a staffing services company specializing in placing contract job seekers into Information Technology, Accounting and Finance, Engineering, and Government jobs.  It’s a fascinating field and, as many Fortune 1000 companies outsource their hiring processes and shift certain job responsibilities from full-time employees to temporary contract workers, one that has grown to over a $150 billion industry.  Chris’s company initially hired him as a recruiter. After several years of top-level performance, he moved over to the National Accounts team to support the staffing performance of the company’s large Financial clients. Following sustained successful performance, he then moved into their Managed Service Division to assist with the deliverable management of several Fortune 15 companies, including some of the largest programs within the company. Throughout his professional career, Chris has been a true practitioner in forging, retaining, and growing critical customer relationships.  Below are some of Chris’s key insights that we’re excited to share with iST’s network:

Key Takeaways

“Why should I use you?”  Oftentimes in our sales processes, we attempt to unseat an incumbent solution provider, typically one of our main competitors.  The oversimplified way of achieving this objective is to make clear to your potential customer that you can create a future state that yields greater impact than their current state.  When Chris prepares for customer meetings and presentations, he poses this question to himself and his team – “If I’m the decision-maker in our customer’s organization, why should I use you?”  As his team brainstorms and develops answers to this question, Chris begins to storyboard his upcoming sales meeting. From there he’s able to develop his business fit statements, value proposition, and effective discovery questions – all necessary elements of a successful first customer meeting.  

How this applies to other sales professionals:  It is now common practice to tie your company’s offerings to your customers stated financial goals and objectives, and Chris’s insightful question takes this one step further by allowing himself to step into his customers’ shoes before crafting his presentation/proposal.  And best of all, this practice of role playing doesn’t have to be limited only to customer meetings.  Consider utilizing role playing for other events such as job interviews, delivering bad news, cold calling, or negotiating a proposal.   

Commit to a “phone-atic” approach to conflict resolution.  Throughout the duration of customer relationships, and especially at the onset of new contracts, conflicts are bound to arise.  When faced with a customer conflict, Chris utilizes what he refers to as the “1/24” principle. Essentially, once he is made aware that a problem exists, he contacts his client within one hour to provide an update on the steps already taken to resolve the issue.  From there, he reaches back out every 24 hours until he’s able to convey a successful resolution. Furthermore, all of this takes place by phone, and not by text, email or any other communication medium.  Picking up the phone signals to the customer that Chris truly cares about solving their problem, while simultaneously allowing Chris to receive instantaneous feedback on his resolution plan.     

How this applies to other sales professionals:  The telephone often gets relegated to the backburner in favor of the other, less invasive forms of communication like text, email, and IM.  However, conflicts require quick resolution, otherwise they can negatively impact top-line revenue and customer retention. Like Chris, show your customer that you truly care about solving their problem quickly by picking up the phone. Furthermore, always ensure that you’re the one reaching out to your customer first, and not the other way around.  Don’t ever sit on information before making contact – if your customer reaches out to you first, you lose the ability to control the message.

Sales isn’t just about winning the deal.  Sales professionals in roles like Chris’s are charged with delivering the benefits of the contract, keeping the client happy, and winning future business with that client.  Superior customer service, of which quick problem resolution is a major component, is mission-critical to this objective.          

Set goals to improve your performance:  Chris takes a devoted approach to goal-setting.  At the beginning of each quarter, he sets six personal and professional goals designed to increase his efficiency, business acumen, and other skills required to manage large customer partnerships.  His goals are very straightforward – read a book on a new topic, participate in training to sharpen a skill, or watch a series of YouTube videos to learn about a new tool – easy to attain, and incredibly impactful to his sales performance.  But his process doesn’t end with just following through on his previously-established goals. His entire company promotes this goal-setting practice and holds each other accountable for developing the skills required to succeed in today’s selling environment.    

How this applies to other sales professionals:  Proactive goal setting is often forgotten in today’s rapid-paced sales landscape, but it shouldn’t be.  In fact, some make the argument that a goal-setting cadence is more important than ever, primarily because learning a new skill is easier and cheaper than ever before (and oftentimes free!).  We love Chris’s advice of searching for learning opportunities through YouTube videos. Consider making your goals both short-term (attainable within the next quarter) and long-term (attainable within the next 4-12 months or longer).  This helps us view the grander picture and prevents the urge to be shortsighted. 

Don’t just say thanks, write thanks!  The handwritten thank you card is becoming a lost art, but it really shouldn’t.  Chris sends thank you cards to after all important first meetings and has received positive feedback during future customer interactions.  Hint: Looking for an app to help with this?  iST really enjoys using Handwrytten.  Check them out at www.handwrytten.com.

Interested in hearing more insights like this?  Leading revenue-focused professionals from all over the country will be sharing their tips and strategies at the upcoming SalesLive Miami in November.  Click Here to Learn More

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