How to Sell in the New Era

As most good salespeople will attest, sales processes have evolved over the years.  Many years ago, although some still use it today, salespeople would sell using “features and benefits.”  In other words, you show the prospect the features of your product or service, then you relay the benefit of those features.  In the 70’s and 80’s that worked very well.  Times changed.  Prospects became more aware of the technique, even calling out the techniques.  I even witnessed, in the 90’s, some buyers trying to use these same techniques on me when negotiating!  

Then, came along a more customer-centric method of selling.  Companies like Spin Selling, Solution Selling and Sandler became more popular.  All of them used questioning techniques that worked well, and still do to a large degree even today.  They concentrated on asking questions and determining what issues a prospect might have that they want solved, rather than presenting.

As we look at sales today, customer-centric selling remains preferred, with a twist.  What’s changed is the way in which people get information and educate themselves.  A car dealership client put it to me recently this way: “Our customers walk in 80% knowledgeable about what they are already going to do.  Never before have our prospects been equipped with this much information.”

Therefore, as salespeople we need to qualify even stronger than we had in previous years.  It is imperative to differentiate quickly between those that are serious buyers, and those that are simply shopping.  Don’t be caught quoting without the prospect being fully qualified.  Here are a few techniques to help you do that:

  1. Make it a regular practice to ask your prospects what information they have gathered and where they obtained the information.  It is even important to find out whether or not they agree with the information.  You’d hate to suggest a solution that they have tried, discredited or disagree with, right?
  2. If the prospect has contacted you, find out not only how they found you, but what was it that caused them to pick up the phone and call YOU.  It doesn’t matter if they found you off of your website, came to you from a referral or simply drove by your location.  What was it that they saw or heard that caused them to think that you could help?
  3. Find their emotion.  Whether it is pleasure or pain, people buy on emotion.  We have to discover what emotion they have felt that has caused them to want to look into your product or service.  Frustration, anger, disappointment, concern and worry are all emotions that will cause someone to buy.  Sometimes the emotion is based on the issues they are having without your service and sometimes the emotion is what they are experiencing because of a product or service that they are not happy with.  We can find this emotion by asking good, open-ended questions that begin with words like, who, what, where, when, why and how.  Simple to understand, more difficult to do.
  4. Learn to ask questions about their questions and learn not to quickly reply to their statements.  If you think about it, when someone says, ‘Boy, that seems expensive”, they are not asking you to do anything!  You may want to wait to see how they follow up with that statement.  Weaker salespeople will defend their price, offer an explanation or even a discount when they hear such a statement.  We teach to wait or even ask what they mean by “expensive” before making any assumptions.
  5. If a prospect asks you a question, make it a practice to find out the meaning behind the question itself.  If they ask you, for example, how long you’ve been in the business, ask them, “Interesting question.  You’re probably asking me that for a reason?”  They will then tell you the real reason behind the question.

Sales evolves.  As we enter a new year, and with the uncertainty we are faced with in an election year, we need to be mindful that sales is likely to evolve again.  We live in a 2.0 world.  People have information at their fingertips like never before.  We can all learn as much as we want with a few clicks.  We can all go out and easily find multiple companies from which to collect bids.  We can all go on Facebook, Twitter, or even LinkedIn to get answers, pricing, and free advice.  

As salespeople, we have to assume that when the prospect is asking us questions, they probably already have informed themselves of the answer and formed their opinion.  Be diligent about qualifying and disqualifying, and you’ll have a head start going into 2017.  Stop trying to educate and get better at asking questions.   As the late Steven Covey said, author of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, “Seek to understand, rather than seeking to be understood.”  Old advice that still holds true today.