by Guy Broadhurst

My truck is 7 years old and I am reluctantly looking around to see what I want next. Like a lot of my own prospects I went to the first line of information, the internet, where I had nailed it down to two or three vehicles. Then I went to see them. This meant I needed to connect with the dreaded car salesman. Or least that’s what I thought. My first experience was not exactly stellar. I quickly found out I knew more about the vehicle and its options than he did and he was unable to give me any good reasons why I should buy from him and not another dealership. And he favored the old, “come into my office and we can see what you can afford" approach which is truly insulting and even demeaning to some customers. I left and went to the next vehicle on my list. The next two dealerships were actually fun, the salesmen told me things I didn't know about the vehicle and more importantly, asked me about my driving habits my family, and how far I drive every day. He was learning about me, his prospect, with a goal of meeting my needs.

This experience made me think about our own first touchpoints with prospects and customers--the internet and the sales person--and how those grow into relationships and create a mutual commitment. Over the years Océ has grown both organically and through acquisitions that have added a breadth of products from software to hardware. As our offerings have expanded, our sales reps (we actually call them account managers) have had to become familiar with the new equipment and software and how the new technology can benefit a wide range of customer applications. Just like the salesman who asked about my driving habits and how I would use my truck, our account managers ask in great detail about a customer or prospect's print volumes, applications, work processes, skills of the production staff, SLAs with their customers, and much, much more.

One of the most important parts of that conversation is learning about current and future applications, what a customer or prospect wants to do, and how they think they want to do it. We provide our account managers with the technical knowledge they need to properly define a customer's objectives and support them with visits from technical and product management executives to the customer's or prospect's facilities. This all strives to foster a relationship that helps ensure that an equipment or software investment is the best one for a specific environment.  It also builds an environment of trust between the sales person and the customer.

The rapport account managers have with customers and prospects is one of the most important we as a company can have. On a day-to-day basis, contact with the account manager continues to be the key conduit for communications and problem solving, building a connection that, in many cases makes the customer commit to buy from us. It often becomes an enduring one, spanning years and even companies as a customer changes jobs and still seeks out the counsel of a trusted account manager. In such ongoing relationships, account managers' knowledge of our products is as vital as it is on the very first contact. Familiarity with 15 products or more, not including finishing equipment, enables them to maintain a dialogue that can address customer needs as they change over time. The relationship is further nurtured through contacts with the service and support team.

I guess the moral of the story is that before we “sell” anything it's essential to understand a customer's needs, make sure the product is the right fit, and use our account team as conduits to software or hardware experts to provide the supportive relationship customers require, after all its about the team that supports you the customer that fosters a happy customer.

As for my quest for a  new truck, my relationship is now established with the dealership I plan to  buy from and all I have to do is commit. But that commitment is based on the relationship I developed with the sales person and what the dealership is promising to deliver.