Monday, January 18, 2010

Feedback is critical to an improving sales or marketing process. Ask questions.

Disc brake on a motorcycle.
There are two basic ways to manage a sales process. One is to take the results from the output and change the process based on that. The other is to ignore the results and do the same process the same way. The feedback loop from using your own output as input for modifying your next process is a closed-loop control process. The other style is an open-loop control process where you don't let the results affect your next steps.

Open-loop vs. closed loop feedback

Open-loop processes change only when the inputs change. Maybe a customer has more money or less money. You still try to sell them the same product with the same approach. When things change too much, you don’t cope well. Maybe you know that smart guy, Al Einstein who said:
Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results
An open-loop process is more like a car braking system. The user has an intention whether good or bad to slow down the “driving system.” A foot steps on the brake, the car slows down, and the car doesn’t bother to do any feedback unless there is a closed-loop anti-lock braking system installed.

Closed-loop processes have a continual monitor like a thermostat that controls the heat in your house. It is based on a goal set by the user and then the process works without intervention. If you walk in the door after work every day in an open-loop system and turn up the heat, eventually it will be summer and your system isn’t working well.

Feedback questions for sales and marketing

The faster the feedback in your system the less performance swings there will be as your goal is kept in sight. You can use this concept by checking in with your clients at every stage you can where it seems appropriate. And having a set of expectations to guide your future tasks is even better. Each question that you ask has to be listened to and absorbed so you can use it in your future meetings.

Ask feedback questions like:
  • What has been the best benefit you have gotten so far?
  • How can I improve my service to you?
  • Is there anything I shouldn’t be doing?
  • Did I miss giving you something you wanted recently?
  • Did my company do something that I should be aware of?
  • Should I have spent more or less time for a particular task with you?
  • Am I doing the right thing for you right now?
  • What other ways would provide value for you that I can offer?
  • What would you like me to do more for you?
The list is not a complete list of questions but a start for keeping the conversation open and honest. It’s the trust that the client has with you that will provide them with an opportunity for you to improve your experience with them. The more you listen, the more you’ll get honest responses.

Feedback is not linear. It takes a good manager to recognize patterns in the feedback to initiate changes that keep the process on target. When you start receiving the feedback, it will be good to keep a log. That way you can search for patterns, keywords that keep popping up, or themes that should be addressed. Then you can plan an improvement plan to get those processes back on track.

The Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) talks quite a bit about how to manage your business by a systems approach using a closed-loop feedback system. It also talks quite a bit about how a sales or marketing professional can improve their performance even though those specific functions are not addressed.

Follow-up posts on the topic of system theory will look at structure and the consequences of not understanding systems.

Image via Wikipedia
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