Your customer may not deliberately lie to you during the sales process, but it is quite possible that they are not telling the whole truth. This may be because they don’t know enough to give you the whole truth (Chapter 3), they think they are giving you the whole truth but are basing it on assumptions (Chapter 8 and Chapter 9), or believe that they cannot divulge all the information necessary to tell you the whole truth (we’ll cover this in future chapters).
How can you tell?
Experience from years in sales certainly helps you to develop a “sixth sense” about what is true and false when asking questions. There are plenty of books out there on how to read body english, decipher the tone of a prospect’s voice, and other soft sciences, but I have found a much simpler filter to apply when asking questions:
When words and actions conflict, believe the actions!
As an example, let’s say we are trying to sell our prospect a new security video management system for their headquarters and outlying offices. In this example, the old system is only five years old and serves the headquarters well, but it uses older technology and retrieving video footage from the remote offices is difficult. New advantages in IP-based security cameras and video management software would make it much easier and more reliable to retrieve video footage from those outlying buildings, but the people at the main office would have to learn (and fund) a new security system.
As you ask questions that will help you continue to qualify your prospect and identify the right system to sell them, you start to notice that their words and actions don’t line up. For instance:
- They say they want the system to do things that it cannot do
- You think their budget is too small, or not even defined (Chapter 10)
- Their current system is from a competitor (Chapter 13)
- You think they are using you as a price check
In any of these examples, the simplest way is to confront your suspicions tactfully, but directly. There are only three things to remember:
Show your concern
- “We may have a problem…”
- “I’m concerned that…”
- “Maybe I’m not understanding this…”
Tell them the specifics
- “Our security system can’t do ‘X’ and won’t be able to for 18 months…”
- “Upgrading the security system to a newer version will pay for itself in 24 months, but your budget is not large enough…”
- “Your existing system was installed by my competitor, and you seem happy with them…”
- “It seems like you’ve already made a decision…”
Ask them what the next step should be
- “What should we do about your request for the feature we don’t have?”
- “The ROI is solid; what should we do about the budget?”
- “If you’re happy with the current vendor, why change now?”
- “Am I just a price check, or are you really interested?”
In each of these examples, the prospect’s words and actions conflict. Believe the actions! It is important to slow down the conversation and address these conflicts directly and professionally. You may at first feel uncomfortable about being so direct. However, to be a truly effective sales executive, you need to push not only yourself to be accurate, but also your prospect (Chapter 9). If you dance around difficult issues, you are wasting your time and your client’s time.
What about less obvious warning signs? For example, what if a key stakeholder cancels the meeting, or part way through the sales process assigns the decision over to a subordinate? What if you get the feeling that even though you are following the Client Centric Sales process, you start to feel that you still aren’t getting anywhere with your prospect? How do you handle the prospect who keeps sneaking glances at her iPhone or watch? We’ll cover these next week in Chapter 15.