What is this customer-focused behavior? It has seven basic tenets. These are summarized in Figure 1-1, and are explained in sequence in the balance of this first chapter. As you read these descriptions, we invite you to imagine a spectrum of selling behavior ranging from traditional on one end to customer-focused on the other, and to locate yourself on that spectrum. Are you where you want to be, to be as successful as you can be?
If not, what needs to change?
Traditional salespeople rely on making presentations, often using applications like PowerPoint. Why? Because they believe that this approach gives them the opportunity to add excitement, in the form of highly polished graphics, animation, and so on. It gives them the opportunity to turn down the lights and increase the dramatic effect of their presentation.
In selling, we find that conversations are far more powerful than presentations. And yes, it is possible to converse with audiences using Power Point—as opposed to presenting to them—but it is far more difficult. Have you ever had a conversation with a friend or a colleague that was based on a prescripted slide show? Of course not. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that when senior executives see salespeople enter their offices with a laptop under their arm, many roll their eyes and sneak a peek at their watches.
Here is the issue: In order to be effective, a salesperson must be able to relate his or her offering to the buyer in a way that will allow the buyer to visualize using it to achieve a goal, solve a problem, or satisfy a need. This, in turn, requires a conversation. For a variety of reasons, though, only a small percentage of salespeople are able to converse effectively with decision makers. And presentation software—slick and eye-catching as it can be—can undermine even those talented few.
Customer-Focused Selling has been designed to help you engage in relevant, situation-specific conversations with decision makers, without having to depend on canned slide presentations. In short, we can help you become more effective.
Traditional salespeople tend to offer their opinions to their buyers, while customer-focused salespeople tend to ask relevant questions.
What’s the basic issue here? Most sellers come to a vision of a solution to their buyer’s problem before their prospective buyer does. When a traditional seller sees the solution, he or she tends to project that vision onto the buyer. He or she says things like, “In order to deal with that problem, you will need our seamlessly integrated software solution.”
But meanwhile, what’s happening on the other side of the table? Very often, the prospective buyer is thinking something along the lines of, “Oh, yeah? Do we now? Says who?”
This is simply human nature at work. Most people don’t even like their loved ones telling them what they need, much less a salesperson. Most people, when in the role of a buyer, resent having a seller try to control or pressure them.
People love to buy, but hate feeling sold. We have found that top- performing salespeople use their expertise to frame interesting and helpful questions, rather than to deliver opinions. Asking questions shows respect for the buyer. When buyers come to grips with a series of intelligent questions—questions that are on point, which can be answered, and the answers to which build toward a useful solution—they do not feel that they are being sold.
If the seller does not understand how the buyer will use his or her offering to achieve a goal, solve a problem, or satisfy a need, he or she really has no choice but to fall back on relationships. Why does this happen? In many cases, the answer lies in the training that the salesperson receives. Most sales organizations commission their product marketing department to teach salespeople about their products.
Not surprisingly, the result is a sales force that can tell you all about the esoteric features of their products, but can’t tell you how the products are used. And the rare product marketers who do understand the uses of the products tend to have that understanding at the day-to-day user level, not the decision-maker level.
Salespeople who are not trained to converse with decision makers about product usage gravitate toward focusing on their relationship with their buyers. Many traditional salespeople have convinced themselves, over the years, that the seller with the strongest relationship will win. And in situations where the seller is selling a commodity product to a repeat buyer—where there are no differentiators other than relationships—we agree. But in situations where the buyer is attempting to achieve a goal, solve a problem, or satisfy a need, we disagree. Under those circumstances, the successful seller has to do far more than simply cultivate relationships. Given a choice of having a buyer like us or respect us, we’d opt for the latter. Certainly the two are not mutually exclusive, and after you earn a buyer’s respect, there is a high probability that a strong relationship can be established.
The strength of traditional salespeople lies in talking about their offerings, and users are the group most likely to be interested in or tolerate this approach. Note that talking to the users is not the same as talking to a decision maker in a way that will allow that individual to visualize the usage of the product to achieve a goal, solve a problem, or satisfy a need. In order for salespeople to have the confidence to engage in a conversation with business people, they must be prepared to engage in business conversations. A business conversation should be usage- and results-oriented, rather than feature-oriented. It focuses on why the product is needed; how it can be used to achieve a goal, solve a problem or satisfy a need; and how much it costs to use versus the benefits it presents.
Most selling organizations give their salespeople “noun-oriented” product training—that is, a great deal about the product’s features but very little about how it is used in day-to-day applications. Not surprisingly, when these organizations hire salespeople, they tend to gravitate toward people who are able to understand the product on that level—that is, as trained users—and then reinforce that perspective. In other words, it’s a vicious cycle: a suboptimal selling structure perpetuating itself.
This cycle can be broken. As you will see throughout this resource, Customer-Focused Selling maps out how marketing departments can make the transition from product training to product-usage training by creating Sales-Ready Messaging for targeted conversations. This training enables and empowers traditional sellers to target business people and engage in customer-focused conversations.
Customer-centric conversations take place when sellers are able to relate conversationally with their buyers about product usage. Traditional salespeople—working for traditional organizations and using traditional product marketing approaches—have no choice but to rely on their product to create interest. They educate their buyers about the product, assuming that the buyers can figure out for themselves how they would use the product.
In some special circumstances, this strategy works—but only for a while. Here’s a scenario you may recognize: A technology company introduces a hot new product. It finds a guru to endorse the technology, writes a “white paper” full of snap and sizzle, hires a good PR firm, and wows a couple of technology trade shows. Sales take off.
But how much actual selling took place, in this scenario? Were the salespeople helping potential customers visualize how they could achieve a goal, solve a problem, or satisfy a need by using the new technology? Or was this a case where the early-market buyers were sufficiently smart and innovative to figure out their own product usage, through (or even despite) having a traditional product presentation?
So sales take off, and the people at the technology company come to believe that they are superior sellers and marketers. Then, mysteriously, sales plummet. What’s happening here? Geoffrey Moore’s insightful book Crossing the Chasm (2002) highlighted the difficulty technology companies face when they run out of Innovators and Early Adopters. The self-sufficient buyers—those who didn’t need effective selling—have come and gone, and there is no one in line behind them.
We frequently are hired by companies that have fallen into this chasm. They have exhausted the supply of Innovators and Early Adopters, and now they have to figure out how to find a new kind of prospect—that is, targeted buyers who don’t know that they need the offering and don’t have a vision of how they would use it.
This is where sellers who are customer-focused succeed. This resource will help you and your organization become customer-focused. It will give you a framework for creating Sales-Ready Messaging (that is, product-usage messaging) that will enable your traditional salespeople to evolve to Customer-Focused Selling.
We believe that most traditional salespeople need to be managed mainly because they work for traditional sales managers. What do we mean by this? Traditional sales managers monitor activity rather than progress. Most of them don’t have progress defined in their sales process. Most don’t have a way to assess and grade opportunities across multiple people and offices—in other words, to compare apples to apples. Most don’t even have a defined sales process.
Why is this? Most sales managers are promoted to that position not because of their superior management ability or potential, but because they have sold the most. And, statistically speaking, the chances are very good that they have sold the most because they are intuitive, naturally talented salespeople. If they did have a selling process, the odds are they are unable to articulate it.
When they find themselves in their new management position, they attempt to manage the only things they believe they can control. They manage activity. They track and assess things like the volume of cold calls, letters, demonstrations, and proposals. They monitor quantity of activity, which gives them limited ability to influence the quality of activity. They monitor energy level, rather than progress.
When newly promoted managers were salespeople, their quality measurement was intuitive. Their ability to sense when a buyer starts to feel pressured, to establish trust and competence, to help the buyer visualize solving his or her problem, to walk away from situations they didn’t think they could win—all were intuitive. And as a new sales manager, how do you transfer your intuitive selling skills to your less talented team? With great difficulty. Thus, new sales managers tend to manage the only thing they believe they can control—activity.
There is a better way. customer-focused salespeople are able to converse situationally and ask relevant questions to empower business decision makers to understand how they can achieve their goals, solve their problems, and satisfy their needs. Their managers simply need to monitor their progress and help them succeed. customer-focused salespeople tend to call on their managers when they need company resources to help them make a sale. For example, they might need an executive sales call, a headquarters visit, a presales technical consultant, or extra administrative support. And in our experience, customer- centric salespeople get the support they need when they need it, because they are able to demonstrate to their managers that they have earned the right to command finite company resources. Before they ask for resources, they can document a decision maker’s goal, current situation, and vision of using their offering to achieve a goal, solve a problem, or satisfy a need.
In our workshops for salespeople, we frequently conduct an interesting exercise. We ask participants to take out a blank sheet of paper and to pretend that they are the authors of their own dictionaries. Then we ask them to define selling.
We’re always astounded at the perceptions that professional salespeople have of their own profession. They define selling as, for example, convincing, persuading, getting someone else to do what you want, handling or overcoming objections, taking at least five no’s before giving up, negotiating to get what you want, and—of course—the big one: closing. ABC—always be closing. Close early! Close often!
We also work with buyers. When asked to describe salespeople, most buyers use terms like aggressive, insincere, pushy, manipulative, overfamiliar, prone to exaggerate, poor listeners, and so on. When asked to net these negatives down to one word, the number one response we get from buyers is pressure. When buyers deal with sellers, they feel pushed, manipulated, pressured into doing things that they end up wishing they hadn’t done.
These preconceptions are traps. If sellers are going to escape from them, they will have to learn to sell differently. Their concept of selling will have to be reframed so that it becomes customer-focused (again, empowering buyers to achieve their goals, solve their problems, or satisfy their needs). This is not all that difficult to accomplish. Why do we say that? Because we have taught thousands of self-declared “nonsalespeople” how to sell. By nonsalespeople, we mean people who do not want to think of themselves as salespeople in the traditional sense—engineers, accountants, lawyers, consultants, scientists—people whose worst nightmare is calling home and telling their mothers they have decided to become a salesperson!
Think about the engineer nonsalesperson, for example. Engineers love to help people solve problems. By and large, engineers do not want to behave like traditional salespeople, but when the concept of selling is reframed, they are very happy serving as customer-focused salespeople. By no means can all engineers be taught to sell, but there are a number of them who have a positive mindset, have few preconceived notions, and are open to the challenge.
We believe a seller’s objective, going into a new relationship with a buyer, should be to help the buyer achieve a goal, solve a problem, or satisfy a need—and then be prepared to leave if the seller doesn’t believe the prospect can be empowered to accomplish one of those goals. This may sound like only a small shift away from a traditional sales approach, but in fact, it’s fundamentally different. Imagine yourself as a buyer. Wouldn’t you rather have a meeting with someone who had that attitude, rather than the mindset of a traditional salesperson?