To fully succeed at sales, we must think and act with a client-centric mindset at all times. To do that, we need to first gather accurate information from our prospect, and to get that information, we must have trust.
We can’t have trust until we earn trust.
What happens if at our first meeting, we ask, “what were the three biggest failures of your department last year?” Count yourself lucky if instead of a door in the face, you only get a blank stare followed by a variation of, “our department has had no major issues over the past fiscal year.” Either way, you are shut out, possibly for good. But you read “Chapter 6: Partnering with your Prospect,” and you understand the need to ask those tough questions. Why are our prospects afraid to answer those questions? Don’t they want to help their company by doing a better job?
People are people, and whether it is due to personal ego, petty internal politics, the inability to get to useful information, or just because there has been so little trust built with past salespeople, most prospects have built up wide moats and massive walls to protect their world from people like you. Don’t take it personally – it is just part of the dysfunctional sales dynamic that was built long before you were born.
How do you ask 100 MPH hardball questions when your prospect is used to underhand slow pitched softballs? Or maybe even even used to hitting off the Tee?
(A note to my international friends: sorry for the baseball sports analogy. While I understand your puzzlement with an American sport that has an event called the World Series but negates to invite teams from outside North America, my shameful lack of cricket or rugby analogies forces my hand here. Client-Centric Sales will endeavor to keep sports metaphors to a minimum.)
If you haven’t already, read Chapter 3: Becoming an Expert in Order to Qualify Successfully. When you become an expert on your prospect’s industry, company, and problems, you are taking down the first set of barriers that prospects usually put up. They will open the door quite a bit wider for you if they have “discovered” you through your previous industry networking on LinkedIn, through trade associations, or by referral. If you managed to invite yourself for a meeting to discuss industry best practices and how upcoming regulations may impact their business, they may drop their defenses even further. If you keep your corporate brochures and PowerPoints under lock and key (believe it or not, they don’t want to see your 12 slides of org charts), you have the possibility of opening up a real dialog. And if during that initial dialog, which may take place over several meetings, you can keep your mind off your quota and instead focus on your prospects issues, you may become successful at avoiding the salesperson’s biggest offense: Listening With Intent To Sell.
We’ve all done that. We get a great dialog going and then 20% into the discussion, we start to tune out and figure out how we are going to sell the prospect the new POS-2150 GlurpMaster 2.0 with an extended warranty agreement.
Keep listening. Don’t think solutions yet – that’s a ways off. Listen some more. Ask questions that help you both discover the deep sources of the problem instead of the more easily recognized topical symptoms. Your competitors have already tried to sell bandaids; you, my friend, are going to do surgery. So listen. When the prospect comes to what he or she believes is the end of the answer, keep digging. Your prospect may declare that he or she has reached a conclusion, and that you are ready to discuss a solution. Don’t take the easy way out and stop there. If you are working on what appears to be a promising line of questioning, keep going. It is often as easy as taking a short pause, and asking, “what else?”
Asking “what else?” is an amazingly powerful question. A local Fortune 500 company turned into a long term client due mainly to the fact that I kept asking that question. When the prospect got to the point that he thought he was done, I would ask “what else?” It was only after asking “what else?” 14 more times that we finally drilled down far enough for us both to understand the problem. Reaching that understanding allowed us to zero in on a solution which saved the client almost $1M.
I didn’t sell anything that day. I helped someone understand his business, identify a problem, and enact a solution. The solution was simple and had nothing to do with my company or what I had to sell. But you can bet the next time I met with this company, I was treated as a trusted advisor, not a salesman. At that point, I was in a position to ask the really tough questions, discuss the elephants in the room, and mutually engage with this company to look at other issues that I could directly help them resolve.