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Sell Don’t Tell

At a recent customer meeting I had forgotten to brief my technical side-kick on my planned approach to the discussion.  I had assumed, wrongly, that our long working relationship meant I didn’t need to re-iterate the plan.  Upon leaving the meeting he exuberantly told me how brilliant it was – one of the best meetings he had ever had!  Yet my head was hung low, despondent at the great opportunity we just threw away.

This chap is highly competent technically, and a great presenter to boot. However he has a tendency to drown the customer in information that he thinks is relevant to their business problem.  In fact he will tell them a great deal of useful information, describing our products and services in a massively coherent, erudite and entertaining way – using stories to illustrate his point (I taught him that).  He just  forgets to check its relevant, and doesn’t always notice they have stopped listening – or in some cases, fallen asleep.

The thing is, customers like to talk too – and I classify a meeting as “great” when I’ve been able to do a lot of listening, questioning and understanding, resulting in my ability to coherently replay their Demands together with a solution that satisfies them.

Unfortunately too many of the people judge a great meeting to be one where they have done all the talking and the customer has done all the listening…or should I say hearing.

This is telling, not selling.

So here is some simple things that everyone who helps sales people sell should think about in customer meetings:

  1. Before the meeting, remind the sales person you need to be briefed.  Even if they have not thought about the meeting, this allows you to help them help themselves.
  2. If they have not got a coherent brief, give them one.  But be prepared to change your views to be in line with the salesman’s approach he will create based on yours.  Remember that you don’t get fired for failing to bring in revenue – he does, but you will get a bad reputation if you consistently veer from the planned approach.
  3. Before the meeting prepare some really insightful questions that will stimulate a conversation with the client.  This helps to ensure you are not the only one talking.
  4. If you notice you are doing a lot of talking – and its not a stand-up presentation – start asking questions instead.  Even meetings about concluding business should be interactive, not just you pitching your wares.
  5. Finally, check occasional that what you are saying is making sense to the client in their terms.  Just because you understand what you are saying does not mean everyone else does.  I will deal with this in another post soon.
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I watched “Hustle” on the BBC iPlayer yesterday.  The ‘mark’ was a greedy football agent who forced a small club into administration.  This agent was, in his own words, “the best salesman in the business”, and he proved this by repeating his favourite 1980’s sales training mantra: “Find the need, Sell the want!”…WHAT A LOAD OF RUBBISH.

This was never relevant, and it never will be – people rarely buy what the need, and they rarely buy what they want. Unfortunately the Need/Want language is engrained deeply in  sales culture and sales terminology.  The constant use of these terms fatally lulls the unsuspecting into false expectations of glory.  I am constantly reminded of this when speaking to my technical consultants who tell me what my customers NEED to do next, or when I speak to my customer directly and they tell me what they WANT.

I can illustrate this with a couple of examples:

To get to work everyday is a fairly short commute either to the office or a train station, and therefore all I need is a 15 year old ‘banger’ with a reliable engine –  any £1000 car will do.  What I want however is the new Maserati GranTurismo – the £80,000 auto will do just fine.  In reality neither is what I am going to buy.  I can afford a nicer car than the old banger, but because I’m not a footballer, I can’t afford the Masser.  So it doesn’t matter how great the car salesman is, they could not close the sale for what I ‘want’ or what I ‘need’.

And the Need/Want language works in reverse too.  My typical customer wants a software system that fulfils 100% of their business requirements, is very simple to install, configure and operate, and of course, costs less than a laptop.  What they need is a system that delivers 80% of their requirements, is massively complex to implement and costs slightly more than my annual quota.  Just like my car example, neither of these situations is going to closable.

So to bring the 1980’s sales training into the twenty-teens, I use the terminology Need/Want/Demand, where the ‘Demand’ represents the compromise between Need and Want.  I think of this in the same way as a ‘Demand Curve’ as used in economics to depict price v quantity, but in my sales, I substitute quantity with complexity of solution, or the percentage of business requirements addressed.

To many experienced sales people it is blatently obvious we need to sell the Demand – some use a different name for it and some don’t know they are doing it.  Yet in most organisations, especially those selling complex products or services, there are many  people involved in the sales process – the majority of whom are not professional sales people.  And I hear on a daily basis the Need/Want words from these people – but rarely about any kind of compromise.

The way to be successful is to ensure everyone involved in the sales process  – both on the customer and vendor sides – are aligned, and conscious that they are moving towards the demand together.