Posted: 11:15 a.m. Monday, Sept. 30, 2013
By M. Jeffrey Hoffman
Thanks to the Internet, customers know nearly everything about you before you've even met. So skip the hard sell and learn something about them instead
Most salespeople believe that what they are selling is unique. As a result, we think of ourselves not just as salespeople, but also as educators, charged with teaching customers about our the value of our products.
But most customers I meet today have zero interest in being taught. They already know.
When I go out on calls these days, I typically hear something like this: “Before you get started, I have a few questions. I know what you do, and I completely understand your offering. But you should know that I just spoke with one of your competitors, and they are significantly cheaper than you. Plus, there are several features that we want, but according to what I have read on your website, these features aren’t available with your product.”
And why wouldn’t they say this? Buyers today have access to a seemingly endless supply of information. That enables them to form opinions about us long before we even meet. The days of the salesperson being the sole source of product information are probably gone forever.
How to respond? Stop being the smarty-pants teacher. Instead, be a curious student.
With that in mind, here’s how you might respond to the above prospect: “I look forward to satisfying as many of your pricing and product questions as I can on this call. But in order for me to answer your questions with confidence, I have few short questions myself about your business, your organization, and how you would use our product. Once I begin to understand, I can then provide the answers that are specific to you and your environment. This generally takes about 10 minutes. Do you have 10 minutes right now?”
This short setup accomplishes several things. First, it slows everybody down so that you aren’t racing into the weeds too soon. It also shifts the paradigm. Now, it is the customer who must act as “teacher,” while you take on the role as “student.” Finally, it presents the customer with a definite finish line: just 10 minutes or so of questions.
You can learn a lot in 10 minutes. Explore how your prospect views his marketplace, and his company’s role within it. Don’t be afraid to get personal: Why did this customer select this particular industry in which to build a career? Why this company? Not only is this an invitation for him to brag about his company’s expertise, it also lets him explain how and why he makes certain decisions.
His answer will help you determine two very important things. First, how much decision-making authority does he actually have? Also, should you be selling to the customers “pain” (that is, how your product can solve a problem) or “pleasure” (how your service can help this organization get to the next level.)
I also like to ask questions about organization. Why did it select its current location? Is this where their talent resides? Why is it structured the way it is? To better exploit market opportunities? Once you know more about the organization, you can truly start to understand what the company really wants and needs. You’ll also know whether or not you’re talking to the right person.
Bottom line: With just 10 minutes of behaving like a student, you can turn an entire meeting around.