If you had no need for money, but still wanted to work for your company, how would you treat your customers? With no need to hit a quota, earn a commission, or impress a boss, would you interact in the same way as you do now? Let’s assume that you wouldn’t. Let’s assume that you would only spend your time with clients who had problems you could solve, that you would work hard to put together the right solution to solve those problems, and that the client had the resources to enact your solution.
Now wouldn’t that be an enjoyable working relationship?
What if you are like most of us, and you need to hit your quota, earn your commission, and impress your boss? You can have it all – great relationships with your clients, happy customers, and a great income, but you and your clients will have to change how you interact. It means that in order to be an effective salesperson, you will have to greatly increase your knowledge of your prospects and their industries. It means that you will have to earn the trust of the key people within those prospects. And it means that you will need to push your prospects to dig for information that they don’t even know exists.
Joseph Stiglitz won a Nobel Prize for his work in economics. One popular phrase to come out of that work is that “There is no such thing as perfect information.” It has always surprised me that when I quizzed salespeople about a prospect that they were working on almost no information. Often, all they knew was that there was an RFQ on the street. Salespeople would work hours and hours responding to these projects. A handful of competitors would do the same, with nobody (often including the company who issued the RFQ) really understood the problems that the prospect was trying to solve.
How do you get this information? It starts by increasing your knowledge of your prospects industry and the challenges that companies within it face. For example, if you sell to the healthcare industry, do you know about HIPAA requirements and how they affect your prospect’s business? While your product or service may not directly affect a hospital’s HIPAA requirements, this is something that greatly affects many aspects of a hospital’s business, and the more you understand the business drivers of your prospect, the better chance you have of becoming a trusted expert with integrity.
Those who only sell products become commoditized; those who provide wisdom and guidance become trusted experts who can’t be displaced by a competitor with a lower price.
There is no secret to learning a prospect’s industry. The internet is an obvious place to start, and we won’t spend time discussing such basic things. Learning about the major problems faced by the prospect’s industry in general is also straight forward, and just requires a commitment to spend the time learning about those problems. Learning about the problems and key business drivers of a particular prospect is more difficult. But this work is essential, and is part of the qualifying process that we discussed in Chapter 2.
One way to start this process is to join industry groups on LinkedIn or industry trade sites and respond to the postings there with comments or advice. Join online groups associated with the problems and solutions that companies in your prospect’s industry are experiencing. An important note: LinkedIn groups should be used to establish competence – this is not a place to give even a hint of a sales pitch.
You can use LinkedIn to determine who are the important people at your prospect’s company. Join the groups that they have joined, comment on posts that they may be reading, and get introductions to them through your other connections. With a bit of diligence, you can become an expert who is sought after instead of a salesperson to be avoided. By doing this prep work up front before first contact with your prospect, you will be way ahead of your competitors.