A day spent with salespeople: Ride-along lessons

This week I have the privilege of spending an entire week with just one client.  It’s one of the best parts of my job–the opportunity to work with one client for an uninterrupted period of time.  We get a ton accomplished and build a foundation for sustainable improvement.  And it normally starts with the sales team.  Observing sales professionals in action gives us a benchmark to build from and gives me invaluable insight in to consumer priorities and decision making.  Today I learned that solid salesmanship, even for veterans, still involves ‘block and tackle’ basics.

Let me be very clear: The salesmen that I rode with today are good.  Both of the gentlemen are already 1mm+ professionals and are closing at 45-50% on a regular basis and across all lead sources.  They’ve got all the bells and whistles: awesome vehicles with super cool wraps, crisp attire, and some of the most professional sales literature that I’ve seen in a long time.  They’re well-equipped to communicate value and professionalism.  They have a steady stream of leads.  And today I learned: Even with all the right tools there’s tremendous opportunity for growth and that the basics still matter.

1.  Ask the right questions and listen.  A great salesman asks the right questions: open-ended questions that are thought-provoking and create future opportunities to build a strong value proposition.  In sales your words are your tools.  Used correctly and they’re extremely effective at uncovering buy signs, specific concerns, important wants and needs, and potential objections.  Closed-ended questions amputate opportunities.  They limit the scope of discussion (“Do you want to save money on your electric bill?”  Who says “No?”)  The function of a needs analysis is to create a baseline for future value building.  Without a solid, customer-centric needs analysis it’s nearly impossible to create any type of persuasive differentiation.

2.  Customers don’t care about what a product is, they care about why they should care.  “Why” is a matter of self-interest–why should I buy this?  Why should I buy this from you?  Why is your company better than the next guy?  Why are you going to give me more peace-of-mind than anyone else?  At the heart of any sale is a clear “Why.”  An average salesperson speaks to “What they do” or “How they do it.”  An exceptional salesperson builds a value proposition around the “Why.”  Time and again I find that top-performers–the folks that really blow the doors off of their numbers–spend more time speaking to the “Why” than anything else.  “Why” has purpose.  “Why” has meaning.  “Why” is the leverage for positive persuasion.  

3.  People want a customized value proposition.  Given the terrific number of choices a customer has the one that counts is the one that speaks specifically to their priorities.  Too many salespeople, through the sheer number of calls they run, become accustomed to delivering a generalized value proposition.  It goes something like this: “We’ve been in business for this many years.  We’ll keep your house clean.  We’ll do a great job.  24/7 service…and on and on and on.”  The supposition is that at some point the customer will connect with something along this spectrum and conclude that the salesperson is right on track and that they will buy based on the catalog of information.  But information and influence are two very different things.  Information is value-neutral.  Influence is value-positive and can result in action.  Designing a unique, highly individualized response to a customer’s needs is the best way to create real differentiation.

4.  Brand matters less than service.  Loud and clear.  If you hang your hat on product brand you’ll lose.  Other people sell your brand.  Lots of other people.  The value lies in the ways in which your product, your company, and your service have a positive impact on the customer’s quality of life.  Extend your product message to lifestyle improvement and you’ll be hitting at the topic that matters most.

5.  Customer’s are risk-averse.  Nobody wants to make a bad decision.  I’m increasingly convinced that “buyer’s remorse” is a primary driver for most objections.  Customers say to themselves “If I talk to other people” or “If I sit on this and think about it.”  What they’re really saying is: “I don’t want to overspend” or “I don’t want to underspend” or “I don’t know if this is the right thing to do” or something along those lines.  The question a great salesperson must ask himself is “Am I simultaneously the least risky choice and the most valuable?”  In other words: “Does my proposition represent the greatest level of value and the lowest level of risk?”  

6.  Ask for the order as soon as possible.  Even with their overwhelming level of professionalism I don’t often see salespeople asking for the order with respectfully assertive frequency.  What’s the worst that can happen?  The customer says “No?”  The most elementary aspect of selling is closing, which is also the most fearful moment for many salespeople.  Oddly, that’s when the most bizarre rationalizations start: “I don’t want to push the customer” or “I can read people” or “I’ll get the sale because the competition won’t do what I did.”  It’s a lie.  Plain and simple.  The competition will take the sale from you.  You will be eliminated.  You’re not as clever as you think you are.  Even the best salespeople I work with go through this.  Let me be clear: A salesperson is not supposed to be a jerk or a white-shoe guy.  No reason to live the stereotype.  But is there anything wrong with respectfully asking for the business?  Me thinks not.  I can only wonder how many 2mm dollar salesmen are sitting on sub 1mm incomes because they don’t try harder to close the deal.

7.  Avoiding objections is a form of self-deception.  I mean that.  If a salesman doesn’t deal with objections or create a situation in which an objection can come to the surface is lying to himself.  If you fabricate a situation that does not allow a respectful objection then you’ve done just that: fabricated a situation.  An objection brings the truth to the surface.  It’s ok.  Nothing to be afraid of.  Without any type of objection you don’t know what you’re up against.  You have to go back to your office and lie to your boss about the meeting: “It was ok” or “They want to think about it.”  Wrong answer.  The truth is that you didn’t create enough tension to flush out the truth.  

Selling is a practiced craft.  Selling is about tactfully creating a mutually beneficial outcome for you and the customer.  There’s nothing hard-sell about it.  Nobody is screaming “Always Be Closing” in your face.  Today’s customer won’t tolerate that.  It is, however, the process of carefully designing a value proposition that results in a sale, about removing risk, about customization, and about executing an experience.  These days we have plenty of bells and whistles to gild the lily: tablets, computers, fancy cars and smart devices.  These, however, don’t replace proven sales fundamentals that–with a bit of refinement–will accelerate results and deliver incredible results for all parties involved.

 

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