How Traditional Selling Actually Inhibits Sales
By Ian Chamandy
If you are like most companies, your sales conversation starts in one of two ways: a detailed PowerPoint laundry list of your features and benefits or you look at them and ask “What keeps you awake at night?”
In either case, you are putting yourself behind the eight ball right from the start. In the first instance, you are likely overwhelming your prospect with information on a subject that they know and care little about – your product or service – and, as a result, you are making their eyes glaze over.
When you ask them “What keeps you awake at night?”, you are making them feel uncomfortable because they don’t want to tell you. You don’t know them well enough yet so they don’t trust you yet. You have not yet earned the permission to ask such a personal question.
Asking what keeps them awake at night combined with doing a ton of research on your target and its key players is an effort to understand your prospects so well that you can shape your pitch and your offering to their specific needs. While this is honorable, it is actually impossible to achieve without your prospect’s open and enthusiastic participation.
While you can get a general understanding of any company’s need as it relates to your offering, the psychology of each key individual and the sociology of how they interact (including office politics) are so complex, you can never truly know what’s going on in their minds, individually and collectively, unless they tell you.
And they will tell you as long as you don’t conduct your sales conversation in the traditional manner described above, which actually shuts them down.
Try a different sales meeting agenda
Here is a simple agenda for a highly effective and proven sales conversation:
- Inspire them with what you do and what is in it for them (this is not accomplished through a recitation of your features and benefits). The magic of inspiring them right at the beginning is it is like dangling a steak in front of a ravenous lion: you make them hunger for what you do, and their desire for your product or service transforms them into open and enthusiastic providers of critical sales information.
- Once they are engaged and hooked, sit back and let them ask questions about what you do and how you do it. They will have many! They are telling you two really important things by asking you these questions: what they need to know to get to yes (not what you think they need to know), and what the hidden factors and hidden agendas are that are driving their purchase decision (the ones you could never discover through research or by asking them what keeps them from sleeping).
- Once they have asked all of their questions, you can mop up the meeting by probing for any information that you still need to know in order to deliver your product or service to them more effectively. By this point in the conversation you have earned their trust and you have permission to ask “personal” questions.
Items two and three on the agenda are easy. In number two, you just sit back and go along for the ride. And in number three, they’ve already given you most of the information you need, so you just ask questions that give you what’s missing.
The critical difference between what you are selling and what customers are buying
As for agenda item #1, you need to understand the difference between what you are selling and what your customers are buying in order to inspire them about your offering. Let’s start with an example of a company that knows the difference between what it is selling and what its customers are buying.
DG Ltd. installs retail shelving for big box stores. Once the store is built, a DG team moves in and erects the retail shelving. Once it is finished, the store opens. DG used to pitch itself by saying things like:
- We have the best people
- We do the best training
- We have the best project management
- We have the best client service
Sound familiar…and generic? That’s because it is the backbone of the generic pitch used by most service companies. DG’s CEO knew there was a magic to his company but was frustrated by his inability to identify and articulate its secret sauce. We led he and his executive team through a deep dive to understand – in 7 words or less – what makes his company uniquely remarkable at its core.
The conversation was driven by the most essential emotional need of DG’s customers: the VPs of Construction at the big box stores. These people care about only two things at the end of the day, staying on time and staying on budget. The VP Construction is accountable to the CEO and the CFO for staying on budget.
But for staying on time, he or she is accountable to the CEO, CFO, COO, CMO, CTO, store manager and all of the suppliers who have project management timelines going into that opening day. If that opening day gets pushed back, it affects EVERYONE who has an interest in that opening day. In other words, if the opening day is delayed, the VP Construction’s reputation is mud in the eyes of all of those people. So it is arguable that the VP Construction is more stressed about staying on time than on budget.
The deep emotional need of the VP Construction around staying on time is what drove the conversation about what the customer is buying verses what DG is selling. DG has been in business for three generations, whereas its competitors are mostly 5-10 years old. As a result of its longevity, DG developed techniques and processes and systems and procedures that enabled it to get finished significantly faster than its competitors.
You can imagine if DG gets a store done a week or two faster than anyone else, the store opens a week or two sooner and that is a week or two of retail sales the store wouldn’t otherwise generate. So even though the store isn’t even open when it does its work, DG can have a significant impact on sales, which is a huge weekly number for a big box store.
For a VP Construction that is overwhelmed by the thought of not getting finished on time, DG is making the promise that it will not only get finished faster than anyone else, it will get finished so fast that the store can move its opening day closer (let anyone try to complain to the CEO or CFO about the “inconvenience” of generating revenue earlier!). You can imagine the enormous relief a VP Construction feels knowing that a supplier that is critical to achieving the opening date on time is committing to be finished well ahead of schedule.
It was out of this conversation about getting finished faster that one of the senior executives at DG said “You know on our signs where it says opening soon? I want ours to say ‘opening sooner’”. Opening Sooner became the 7 words or less that defined what made DG uniquely remarkable. More importantly, it expresses what the customer – the VP Construction – is buying, not what DG is selling.
Earlier in this article we said that step #1 in a better sales process is to inspire your prospect. By beginning the sales story with the promise of opening sooner, DG creates a context for the rest of the meeting by talking into the buyer’s deep emotional need. The inspired buyer “wears” opening sooner like a listening filter, judging everything DG says from that point on by how it relates to making the VP Construction a hero by being able to move the opening day up. When DG talks about how it trains its staff, and manages projects and clients service, each of these points is elevated in the VP Construction’s mind by understanding how it relates to getting finished faster.
If you are just selling with features and benefits, which is what 95% of companies do, you are selling short your company and the value of what it does. If you know what your customer is buying – in 7 words or less – and present your features and benefits within that context, you have a much more powerful and differentiated sales story that inspires, rather than just convinces, your prospects to buy.