In the past couple of months, I have had the opportunity to interact with sales leaders in India, China, Singapore and Australia. One thing that everyone agrees is that selling, and more importantly, B2B selling is getting more and more challenging.
Buyers are getting more and more intelligent as they are able to do all the research even before inviting any sales teams in for discussion. This also means that most of the interaction tend to lean towards order fulfilment or what I call “Selling to Specs”. This is a zero sum game with no clear winners at all.
- The customers tend to believe that they know what they are doing due to all the research they did before connecting with the sales teams.
- The sales teams are hard pressed to show value in every interaction with their customers despite not knowing the real challenge that they are trying to help with.
- Train ourselves to be curious and inquisitive, ie, re-learn to be child like.
- Learn and practice the art of observation. We need to learn to observe not only our customer in action, but their customers in action, their competitors, their substitutes, try and delve deeper to understand the reason behind the specs that the customers have given us.
- Learn the difference between information and insight and keep looking until he/she uncovers new insights.
There are different techniques that employ the same process albeit in a little more polished way. One such methodology is “Challenger Selling” or applying the principles of “Design Thinking” in the sales process.
One approach that i have found very useful in this scenario is to look at our customers business and their interaction with their ecosystem (including customers, employees, partners, suppliers,etc). If I am able to understand their interaction with their ecosystem and some of the challenges that these members of the ecosystem have with our customer, it provides a very interesting perspective and has immense possibilities for new insights to emerge, which potentially could provide a good discussion point and create a totally different discussion than the one that the customer intended in the first place.
This is exactly what you want as a sales executive. This again puts you in the driving seat and instead of matching specs, you are now in a position to define the challenges along with your customer and pitch in how you could play a part in solving these challenges.
In most cases, some of these challenges can be addressed by your product/services. The other part of the challenge that you are unable to solve, you could either suggest someone who could be of help or allow your customer to figure this out.
Irrespective of which methodology you use, the ultimate aim should be for the sales teams to learn to uncover insights that their customers are unaware of about their own business/process/challenge and use these insights to drive their sales process and continue to remain relevant and in control.
Do you agree with my views. Share your views and opinions as comments and we can continue our conversation.
Selling has a lot in common with performing arts than visible at first glance.
One of the most important goal of a performing artist is to take their audience on a journey with them, the more immersive the experience, the more successful is the performance.
The same is with selling. The goal of a sales executive should also be to take the customer on a journey with them. The more immersive this experience, the more successful will be the sales executive.
Some lessons that sales executives can learn from performing artists who are very successful are:
- Weave a story: There is always a story that flows through any performance. The more interesting the story, the more interesting the story-telling, the more likely that you have a hit performance. So it is with selling. Every sales executive should lead his interaction with his customer with a story and hone is story telling skills.
- Create and manage emotions: The artists know exactly what they want their audience to feel at any given point of the performance. Emotions are a very integral part of every successful performance. No performance is deemed successful until the audience did not feel about the performance. Selling is not just about logic, value and RoI. It is also about managing the emotions of the buyers. More often than not, it is the emotions that decide the final outcome irrespective of the logic, value or RoI. So, do not ignore this important facet of selling. More important than empathizing with the customer is to take him/her on an emotional journey knowing fully well, what you want them to feel at every stage.
- Continuous Experiment & learning: The artists continually experiment with their approach to learn what works best for them and then try to keep improving. So should sales executives. What works with a customer might not work with a different customer. It is always good for the sales executive to know his and his organizations strength and to continue to explore different approaches within these areas to have a repertoire that he can dig into in any given customer scenario.
- Hidden planning & activity: There is a lot of planning and behind the scenes activity (frenetic) that goes on to enable the performance that is hidden from the audience. All the audience sees is what it needs to see and feel what they need to feel. So should the sales executive manage the performance. He needs to manage the entire show without the customer needing to know about the frenetic activity behind the scene. He/She does not need to know the kind of madness (controlled or otherwise) going on within your organizations.
- Practice, Rehearse & more practice: It takes enormous amount of practice, rehearsals and fine-tuning to bring to life a good performance. So it should be with sales executives. The sales executives should also put in a lot of practice, rehearsals and fine-tuning before they go in front of their customers. They should also keep fine-tuning their pitch as they get feedback from their interactions with the customers.
These are some lessons that I have taken from being a performing artist & a sales executive myself and they have served me really well so far.
Everything mentioned above for sales executives can also be held true for Customer service executives. They can take similar lessons from the world of performing arts to create a stunning experience for their customers.
What do you think? Do you agree with my observation or do you have a different experience? Do let me know by commenting below or tweeting your thoughts to me at @rmukeshgupta.
I just came across the article “66 Things You Should Know About Your Customer” in the Inc.com website written by Harvey Mackay. He talks about the importance of knowing your customer in selling to them.
He also stresses the fact that, even though you may be selling to a business or an organization, the real buyer is still an individual and it is important to know about the individual as much as you know about his company, if not more.
He also has developed Mackay 66, a 66-question customer profile that includes absolutely no information about the envelopes a company buys, but rather focuses on the person who does the buying.
I would like to contradict here a it with Harvey. Though I agree with him about knowing the person behind the decisions is very important, one must not get carried away with this facet of the selling. Successful sales people always care about the person making the buying decision or involved in the decision making process, but always make sure that they demonstrate clear value proposition for the customer organization as well. If one forgets this part and sells solely based on the relationship that they develop with the decision makers, they will not do any good for themselves in the long term as the buyers will understand sooner than later that they got manipulated to buy stuff that did not bring in value to their organizations.
So, it is important to know the 66 things about your real customer, but one needs to do a lot more than just knowing these things.
Successful sales people will not sell to a customer unless there is no demonstrable value for the customer organization in buying their product/services.
- Belief in himself
- Belief that his product or service is beneficial to his customer
All other skills that a sales person needs can be acquired by attending trainings. You can not teach someone to believe. Belief comes from within. It brings along so much energy, passion and enthusiasm along. All these in combination add up to a lot.
- Listen to your prospect or customers.
- Ask them some probing questions around what is troubling them now or could trouble them in the near future
- Listen to what they tell you. In my experience, customers usually start by telling you that everything is great and there is nothing troubling them. Once this is finisher and still you do not interrupt them, then they will come along and tell you their troubles. This could be their cash situation or a supplier situation they are facing or some internal employee situation.
- Think how you can help the prospect overcome this issue/problem. Even if it does not end in a sale for you. The sale can come later. If your product or service can solve their problem, show how it can do so.
- Do not start talking about all the features/functionalities/specialties of your product or service. Only show them how you can solve their problem. There have been numerous occasions when I have been able to close a deal just by offering a different payment term than the standard terms we offer to all customers.
- Get out of the way. I have always been a fanatic when it comes to the actual transaction with a customer. It has to be COMPLETELY hassle-free. No un-necessary steps for the customers.
- Make it easier for your customers to do business with you. This is most often ignored resulting in lots of lost opportunity for repeat business.
- Never talk about your internal policies or processes to your customers. It is none of their problem.
- NO long drawn contract negotiations (definitely not between legal teams)
- Do not ask for information that you do not intend to use right away for this transaction. You can go back to the customer post the deal to request for more information, if you need some. Collect this only if you can use the information to make it easier for the customer to do business with you again. This also gives you an opportunity to re-initiate a dialogue with your customer.
- Do not ask your customers to fill-in a feedback form. Instead encourage & make it easy for the customers to give their feedback to you directly. It is very rare that someone provides an honest feedback in a survey and even harder to know which feedback needs to be acted on.
- NEVER lie to your customer about your product or services. They will find out and then you have lost them forever and also any references from them at all in the future.
- ALWAYS thank your customer for his/her business and ask for references and introductions to other prospects that they know. Reach out to these prospects and start the process all over again.