I still remember the conversation as if it happened just this week. It was the second day of a three-day workshop when one of my students came in early. I was setting up the classroom when Mary (not her real name) asked if she could speak with me.
“Of course, what’s up?” I said, expecting to hear her ask to be excused early for a customer meeting since that is the most common reason students ask to speak with me before class begins.
“I want you to know that I was going to quit my job yesterday,” Mary said.
“Really, why is that?”
“Well, I am really struggling right now. I am only at about 65% of my quota and honestly, based on what I had seen and heard about selling, I had decided that in order to succeed, I would have to become a person that I don’t want to be.”
Mary went on, “But yesterday, you showed me that being a good person AND being successful in sales are not conflicting goals. You showed me that if I use this process, I can help my customers and sell significantly more! I have decided to apply what you are teaching us and stick it out.”
I understand that Mary finished the year well over 100% of her plan – I hope she is continuing with her sales career because she is the type of person we need to develop and support – the type of person that elevates our entire profession by her commitment to her customers and her professionalism.
Bad Sales Training, Not Bad People
Mary’s story illustrates one of the fundamental challenges we have in our profession – the idea that our sales people are in competition with our customers with the prize being the customer’s money. Nothing could be further from the truth or more damaging to our long-term success. Too often the selling techniques we provide our people put them at odds with our customers. We do damage to our relationships and alienate customers and prospects by teaching them to “tie down” the customer or “ignore their objection until we hear it three times” or by using closing techniques designed to manipulate people into buying what they don’t want. Unfortunately, for many sales people and their managers the pressure to perform is so overwhelming that they feel they must do WHATEVER IS NECESSARY to close business.
There is a better alternative. By helping sales people develop the skills to bring value to customers throughout their engagement, we can elevate the perception prospects and customers have of our company AND sell significantly more. Conceptually this may make perfectly good sense, but let’s face it, we don’t operate on the conceptual plan, we work in the real world where real competitors are vying for the same business. How do we differentiate ourselves by virtue of the conversations we have with our customers? Four simple steps will provide the framework for more productive conversations and a dramatically better relationship:
Make certain to explain the purpose of our discussion.
Our job is NOT to sell them something; it is to help our prospects achieve THEIR objectives. We need to let them know from the very beginning of the conversation that this is our MUTUAL objective and how we expect to accomplish it. A customer focused objective and agenda will help set the stage for an productive discussion and keep us working FOR the customer, not against them.
Learn about them.
This isn’t idle conversation about the weather or local traffic. If we are going to show a customer how our product helps them achieve their goals and objectives we must know what those goals and objectives are, we need to understand what obstacles are getting in the way of their success. In a B2B selling environment, this means we learn about their strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, their business processes and how they are organized – just to name a couple of the key topics we must cover. It also means we dig deeply enough to understand how these various business issues are impacting their success in terms of things like revenue, expenses, productivity and the image they project to their customers. Retail sales people aren’t exempt from this requirement; we need to understand how our customers live and work and what they do for recreation in order to understand the value our products and services can bring to them.
Help them develop differentiated decision criteria.
I won’t spend a ton of time on this topic here, we have other blogs and webinars that address this topic more fully but suffice to say that uncovering the buyer’s basic needs is not sufficient to differentiate us and bring real value to the customer. Today’s buyers face more choices than ever before and what they really need is help developing criteria that will enable them to determine which alternative is really best for them. When sales people have the skills to help buyers with this, they build relationships that allow them to become trusted advisors and uncover tremendous opportunities to differentiate their products/services in a more meaningful way.
Present our solutions based on the impact they deliver.
Buyers don’t care how enthusiastic sales people are about their solutions – they expect that. What they want to understand is how the solution will meet their criteria and help them achieve their objectives. If we have done an effective job of gathering this information, let’s not forget to use it properly when we present our recommendation. We should never show any capability or feature of our product unless/until we can link it back to meaningful impact based on the buyer’s criteria and their goals and objectives. Moreover, it is our obligation to show them everything that will impact them and/or their business so that they can make the most informed buying decision possible.
- How is your team doing in these areas?
- Do they always begin meetings with clearly defined, customer focused objectives and agendas?
- Can they tell you about their customer and their goals and objectives?
- Do they know exactly how the customer will determine which alternative is best for them?
- And are they prepared to address the customer’s criteria and demonstrate how their recommendation will delver the best value to the customer based on the customer’s criteria?
If not, there is opportunity for improvement!
Having worked with thousands of sales professionals over the past two decades, we know that when people like Mary dedicate themselves to helping their customer’s make better decisions and achieve their goals and objectives, better relationships and dramatically better sales results ensue.