“This was a necessity years ago when customers relied on salespeople for product information and industry trends,” says Jim Dunn, expert sales trainer with the Whetstone Group. “Back then, salespeople and the businesses they represented held all the cards. They controlled information their prospects needed and, through their salespeople, shared it a little bit at a time, softening up prospects for the eventual sale.”
The landscape has changed. Today, long before your sales team has made contact, buyers have often accumulated much of the general information they need. They’ve gone online, compared one business with other, read reviews, etc. They’re no longer obliged to sit through sales presentations to find out what your company has to offer.
As a result, the tables have turned, though many salespeople—even the veterans—fail to see it.
Ask the right questions
The typical interaction between buyers and sellers has been the same for so long that everyone expects the salesperson to do a lot of talking. But this approach is dysfunctional for both parties. The seller doesn’t get to understand what the buyer really needs (the buyer doesn’t always have the answer in a complex sale), and as a result the options offered by the seller don’t solve the buyer’s business challenges.
“Salespeople must get over their never-ending proclivity to talk,” Dunn says. “They should ditch the sales pitch and start asking good questions. Prescription before diagnosis is malpractice and salespeople commit malpractice all the time.”
What are “good questions” to ask? The salesperson’s objective should be learning more about the problems your prospects face. Instead of instructing the sales team to offer a litany of your product’s many wonderful features—even considerable time and money has gone into teaching them how to rattle off this information—guide salespeople toward focusing on what benefits the prospect is looking for.
“Asking the right questions helps build trust in your salesperson’s expertise and his or her willingness to learn more about the prospect’s unique challenges,” Dunn notes. “Customers are more likely to buy from a business that understands what they need, rather than from someone with a generic, one-size-fits-all sales presentation.”
A meeting agreement
The entire buyer-seller interaction needs to be re-framed from being a “product dump” to a thorough investigation of the buyer’s needs.
“This can be accomplished with a simple meeting agreement,” Dunn says. “The seller explains that he or she is not there to make a presentation or sell anything, but to ask questions and get a solid understanding of the buyer’s business challenges as they relate to the seller’s products or services.”
The ultimate objective is determining whether or not there might be a fit between the two companies. “And if there isn’t a fit, both parties should be comfortable with agreeing that it makes little sense to pursue a business relationship. This takes all the pressure out of the sales call and encourages the buyer to open up and discuss his or her issues without the fear of being ‘sold’.”
Although this approach flies in the face of what traditional selling is all about, Dunn concludes, it makes good business sense. And it works.