These are probably the 8 worst words a sales professional can ask to win the customer’s business. It’s almost like asking, what would it take for you to marry me? If you have to ask this question, you haven’t set the right expectations or developed a trusting relationship with the customer. You don’t yet know what’s really important to the customer, what they’re looking for or what they are trying to achieve. When they’re ready to decide who gets the business, if you are hoping you win, you’ve already lost! Vendor selection should not be viewed as winning the lottery.
At Competitive Excellence, we believe there are 3 proactive actions sales professionals can take to avoid getting so desperate that you ask the question, what will it take for my company to win the business?
To earn the customer’s business, you first need to be proactive – the opposite of reactive. Yet many novice sales professionals let the customer set the tone and drive the agenda, lay out the request for proposal, the specs, time-frames and requirements to be selected. Customers tell the seller the issues that need to be solved and if you’re like most sellers, you immediately address what the customer wants without digging deeper. When you don’t go beyond the offered customer needs, you never differentiate yourself from the competition. You also limit the level of customer insight that you gain. When you are proactive you have the opportunity to explore alternatives that the customer might not have thought of. The best way to be proactive is to develop questions that go deeper into the customer’s situation. Why is this an issue? How has it been addressed in the past?
That brings us to the second point which is to probe. Asking questions can be superficial or just going through the motions of qualifying without truly understanding what the customer is really facing. When are you planning to make a decision? Who else are you considering (our competition)? What are the issues you are trying to solve? While these questions are fine, they don’t help us to understand the root cause of their problem. For example, if the customer says they’re having problems with their inventory control system, you need to dig deeper and ask what they mean by that. What are the problems, what might have caused them and how does it impact their overall business operation? Probing 3 to 4 levels down puts you in a consultative problem solving role which is what customers look for in a sales professional.
The third point is to be patient. For many sales professionals, this is the hardest. The problem and reality in the world of sales is that you all have a quota to achieve and it usually comes in quarterly increments. Therefore, you try to force fit your customer solution into a certain time-frame and behold – you miss your forecast to sales management anyway. Not only that, you’re forced into asking your prospect, what will it take to earn your business? You become desperate, the customer sees it, and they lick their chops and set you up for the good ole “Hail Mary” discount. You then sprint back to management believing you actually have a shot of winning the business by slashing your price (and profit margin). The customer then goes to their vendor of choice and gets them to beat your price. Being patient means you take the time to understand all the issues and avoid getting into the “product pitch” pushing what you think the customer needs. Being patient helps you understand that it’s all about the customer and not about your offerings. Put another way, it’s all about giving value that builds trust and relationships that will, in turn, lead you to more business.