How to build a customer-centric selling process in 7 easy steps

How to build a customer-centric selling process in 7 easy steps

Sales reps: how focused are you on your prospects?

Are you more concerned with closing the deal, or with solving your prospects’ problems and helping them achieve their goals?

If you chose the latter, you’ve probably already been introduced to customer-centric selling.

But, what does customer-centric selling mean? Does it still work in 2021 and beyond? What kind of results will you see from this model?

You don’t have to wonder — we’ve got the answers here. Keep reading to find out:

  • What is customer-centric selling?
  • 6 key benefits of a customer-centric sales approach
  • Customer-centric selling stages: how to build a customer-centric sales process
  • 4 customer-centric selling training resources to help you master this approach
  • Building a customer-centric model that revolves around your customers

What is customer-centric selling?

In the most basic terms, customer-centric selling means putting your customers’ needs ahead of your own agenda. This sales model is fully focused on the needs and priorities of the customer, allowing the salesperson to consult, offer advice, and ultimately empower their customers to solve problems and reach goals.

Back in 2002, three sales experts decided to launch a sales consulting business called CustomerCentric Selling. Michael Bosworth, John Holland, and Frank Visgatis used their own unique framework to train sales professionals, and they even wrote the book on Customer-Centric Selling (literally).

When the seller is focused on the customer, not on the sale, they’re in a better position to understand what their prospects need. They open a two-way dialogue rather than a sales monologue and enable their prospects throughout the purchase process.

6 key benefits of a customer-centric sales approach

The idea of customer-centric selling isn’t new. So, why should you consider this sales model for your team?

  1. Brings in better-qualified leads: Since customer-focused reps spend more time understanding the needs and wants of their prospects, they’re less likely to encounter surprise obstacles down the road. More time on qualifying conversations leads to better-quality leads.
  2. Better aligns your sales process to customer needs: Your customers’ needs and buying process are constantly changing. A customer-centric sales approach allows you to change and adapt with them, making your sales process more efficient.
  3. Creates more fulfilling interactions for customers: Nobody likes to be sold to, but we all love feeling appreciated and valued. Customer-centric selling is a way of telling your customers how much you value them.
  4. Gives your team a strong competitive advantage in a diluted market: For many SaaS companies, it’s very difficult to stand out based on features alone. By delivering higher-quality interactions with your prospects, your sales team can help your brand stand out amongst the competition.
  5. Builds stronger, longer-lasting relationships: As you help prospects solve their problems, overcome obstacles, and reach their goals, they’ll see you (and your brand) as a helpful ally, not just another piece of their tool stack.
  6. Increases revenue: Higher quality leads, shorter sales cycles, longer customer lifetime—all of this leads to increased revenue for your company.

Customer-centric selling stages: how to build a customer-centric sales process

Ready to start using the customer-centric selling model in your own sales process? Let’s take a look at how this works step-by-step inside the process from prospecting to closed/won.

Stage 1. Prospect to target decision-makers

Customer-centric selling focuses on bringing real solutions to the right prospects (not just any prospects). That’s why this model starts with advanced prospecting to find decision-makers and stakeholders in the company.

Generally, this approach doesn’t encourage lots of interaction with end-users. Instead, sales teams using customer-centric selling focus on getting straight to the main decision-maker, and building a relationship with that person.

Stage 2. Qualify with deeper questions

This model focuses on empathy. Instead of giving opinions, customer-centric sellers take plenty of time in the qualifying stage to listen to their prospects and ask the right questions.

Targeted, open-ended questions will help sellers in this stage. For example:

  • What’s your current process for dealing with [challenge]?
  • What solution are you currently using to do that?
  • What were the deciding factors that made you choose that particular solution?
  • What’s working/not working with that solution?
  • Why is this a priority for you?
  • How is this issue affecting the rest of your team?
  • What would success look like to you with a new solution?
  • Which aspects of a solution are the most important factors in deciding which product is right for you?
  • Who will be responsible for implementing or overseeing this service or product?

When asking these sales qualifying questions, customer-centric sellers also need to be willing to stop the sales process if they see it’s not a good fit. This sales model is focused on providing the right solution to the customer, not just closing the deal.

So, when you see red flags that this isn’t the right fit, it’s better to speak up at this stage than go through a lengthy sales process that won’t end up benefiting either side.

At Close, we've been doing this since day one. Many times we'd talk to prospects that wanted to buy, but determined during our qualification process that another sales CRM would be better suited for their team. We'd straight-out tell them: "Based on what you've told me about your sales process, I don't think Close is the right tool for your team. I recommend you check out [competing vendor that we'd believe to be a better fit]."

Prospects would be astonished by this. Most have never experienced a sales rep telling them to not buy. In the short-run, we lost quite a few deals we could have otherwise closed this way, but in the long run, it earned us a lot of trust and high-quality referrals.

Stage 3. Build an open, two-way dialogue about possible solutions

In customer-centric selling, there are fewer presentations and more conversations between the seller and the prospect.

Using the information gathered during qualification, customer-centric sellers build a two-way discussion about what prospects actually need to solve problems or reach their goals and the types of solutions that could accomplish what they’re looking for.

Rather than giving long-winded, one-sided presentations about the product they’re selling, the rep will focus on working alongside the prospect to discover the right solution for their needs.

Step 4. Empower prospects to become successful customers with hands-on product demos

At this stage, especially for SaaS sales reps, it’s time for the product demo.

But a way to level up your demos and make them more customer-centric is to use this time to give prospects the resources they need to be successful customers in the future.

Here’s how our sales team here at Close does this:

If your prospects are able to set up a free trial account, use the product demo to set their account up with them, and put them in the right position to get the most out of your product from day 1.

This sets them up to be more successful customers once they convert, plus shows them exactly how valuable your product is to their individual process.

Step 5. Give prospects the right resources to close the deal

At this point, your main contact might be convinced this is the right purchase to solve their problems. But most likely they’re not the only ones who need to be convinced.

That’s why customer-centric sellers enable their internal champions to close the deal by giving them the resources they need.

For example, does their legal team need to look at privacy policies and other compliance documents? Then make sure those items are ready for them.

Does your main contact need to present the business case to higher-ups? Give them a business case template for your product that will help them present their arguments clearly, and with accurate information.

By enabling the prospect with these kinds of resources, you’ll also be moving the deal forward faster and shortening your sales cycle by anticipating their needs.

Step 6. Come to terms that allow your prospects to reach their goals

When prospects feel pressured to finish the deal quickly, that’s an immediate turn-off.

To move the deal forward, customer-centric sellers are flexible, willing to bend to what works best for their prospects. Negotiations are focused on bringing the right solution at the right price, at the right time. This may mean waiting for the right time to close the deal, rather than pushing to close when it’s not the right time for your prospect.

However, you want to differentiate between a prospect that's not buying because it's not the right time for them, and a prospect that's not buying because they can't make up their mind or are simply dragging their feet—and in the latter case, it's actually in their own best interest if you create sales urgency to help them come to a decision faster sooner rather than later.

Step 7. Continue enabling their success after the close

Reps using a customer-centric sales approach don’t abandon prospects after they convert to customers. Instead, they follow their progress, check in with them regularly, and help them be successful with the product after purchase.

Why does this work?

Because the more successful your customers are within the first few months after purchase, the more likely they are to stick with your product in the long term.

4 customer-centric selling training resources to help you master this approach

Ready to dig into the nitty-gritty of the customer-centric selling process? Here are four resources you’ll definitely want to check out:

1. CustomerCentric Selling, Second Edition

Resource Type: Book

Cost: $30

To really learn this approach, go back to where it all started. This is the original book written by Michael Bosworth, John Holland, and Frank Visgatis outlining their proprietary process for customer-centric sales.

You’ll learn how they developed their method, the reasons why this works for modern sellers, as well as the 8 specific strategies that make up this process:

  • Having conversations instead of making presentations
  • Asking relevant questions instead of offering opinions
  • Focusing on solutions and not only relationships
  • Targeting businesspeople instead of gravitating toward users
  • Relating product usage instead of relying on features
  • Competing to win―not just to stay busy
  • Closing on the buyer’s timeline (instead of yours)
  • Empowering buyers instead of trying to “sell” them

2. CustomerCentric Selling online sales training

Resource Type: Online course

Cost: $995

The sales training center developed by these same sales experts still operates today, and they offer an online, self-paced training program to help you not only learn the customer-centric sales skills but develop specific tactics that work inside your own sales process.

The 10 modules in this course include 68 video lessons led by CustomerCentric Selling CEO, Frank Visgatis, as well as downloadable PDFs, roleplay lessons, and lifetime access to any new materials added to the course in the future.

3. CustomerCentric Selling instructor-led virtual workshops

Resource Type: Virtual training

Cost: Contact for pricing

This is a great resource for sales managers looking to improve their whole team’s capabilities in customer-centric sales. This blended training includes both self-paced video lessons, virtual workshops, roleplay sessions, and on-the-job assignments to help train your whole sales team in this sales model in a practical way.

4. The GrowthMinded Podcast Episode #002: Customer Centric Selling with John Holland

Resource Type: Podcast episode

Cost: Free

Looking for a fast, free introduction to customer-centric selling in today’s world of sales? This 30-minute interview with John Holland digs into:

  • The origins of the customer-centric sales model
  • How buyers are evolving
  • Customer-centric vs solution selling
  • Why customer-centric selling is still a popular method
  • Building a customer profile for this sales model

Check out the interview for free here:

Building a customer-centric model that revolves around your customers

Putting customers first in your sales process leads to success. When a customer feels that you are genuinely interested in helping them succeed, they will be more willing to hear what you have to say.

This collaborative sales approach works because, instead of feeling pressured to buy, prospects feel like they’re working alongside an expert to solve their problems and achieve their goals.

While customer-centric selling doesn’t focus on building relationships first, this solution-focused approach builds relationships naturally and empowers prospects to become successful customers.

Of course, to truly understand and retain that information about all of your prospects, you need a CRM that is built for better communication. Enter Close: the CRM that enables inside sales teams to communicate more effectively with their prospects.

Want more actionable advice on building a customer-centric sales process? Grab your free copy of my book Talk To Your Customers!