Many sales professionals start their sales career at new companies with training. Training is typically a mix of both skills development and product/services training. While this is not all that bad, it does set up the mindset for the sales person to lead with products and services when they call on customers and prospects. And why not? That’s what their comfortable with! Today selling is tougher than ever. There’s more supply than demand, more competition, longer sales cycles and most importantly customers are more knowledgeable than ever before thanks to the internet and the abundance of information.
As Michael Bosworth says in Customer Centric Selling- “The traditional view of selling lays the foundation for confrontation, rather than collaboration when buyers and sellers interact.” I couldn’t agree more. We both believe that traditional sales training reinforces the sellers approach to manipulate buyers. The old mantra for sales professionals is “the selling begins when the buyer says no” and “every buyer objection is a selling opportunity”. Is this really true?
Many sales training programs miss the mark since it’s all about the company, their products and services and cookie cutter sales methodologies are taught without considering the specific sales environment. Is it a long sales cycle or short? Multiple decision makers or one? Complex solutions that span across the entire company or point solutions? How does this impact what our approach should be?
You can’t convey your value until you understand the real needs of the customer. When sales people lead with their solution all they can convey is product features. Features will lead to the same customer response every time “how much does it cost”? When opportunities are lost from the sales person’s pipeline, they’ll repeatedly hear the same reason – either wrong product or wrong price. Or as Michael Bosworth says, “Warning! Objects in the forecast may be further away and smaller than they appear.” This is what’s called being product or solution focused. Leading from our perspective and what the company has trained us to do. The close dates in the forecast have nothing to do with the buyers’ agenda, but correspond to the sellers’ agenda. There is a better way- being customer centric.
Let’s look at 3 key points that will help you be customer centric. The 1st is to understand the customer from their point of view. We all get excited about how unique our solutions are in the industry and we immediately want to get into presentation mode. Hold off! It should be the last thing we do. First ask the customer to share their goals and objectives. Once you understand those you can eventually ask what challenges they have. It’s easier for the customer to share their goals than to admit their problems. Now you can better understand if there’s a fit (our solutions that can meet their goals) so that you can convey what they value.
The 2nd point is to ask relevant questions. Qualifying is the easy stuff, but getting to the heart of the matter takes great listening skills and going deep instead of wide. Good questions will even help the customer discover their own reasons for not being able to achieve their goals. If you want better answers from the customer, ask better questions. The goal of the sales person is to guide the customer to what they think the solution should be-hopefully yours!
The 3rd point is to meet the decision maker(s). You cannot sell anything to someone who can’t buy. Many years ago I was building a relationship with the Chief Technology Officer of a large firm. We met each week and when it was time to present our proposal, he said he would not be the one making the decision. Shame on me! I’m supposed to be the sales professional. I guess you can say I was more of a “professional visitor”. Being customer centric means understanding who will make the decision to buy. The higher up in the chain of command that you call; the chances are your sales cycle will be shorter than starting at the bottom of the totem pole.
Remember that being customer centric defines the buyer’s cycle, while being solution centric defines the sales cycle. Customers don’t follow the sales person’s cycle!