Have you ever noticed how once you know something, it is difficult to have patience with or empathy for people who don’t know what you know?
This can be a curse for salespeople, and experienced salespeople can be most cursed. They’ve seen it all before. When they see a solution to the buyer’s need, they get enthusiastic and impatient, and start projecting their solution onto the buyer. (More on solutions below.) They forget their own learning curve, stop asking questions, and start telling: “What you need is. . . .”
In the late 1970s, the Xerox Corporation hired Neil Rackham to study the behavioral habits of their best salespeople. Rackham discovered that newly hired Xerox salespeople went through a quite predictable performance curve over time. Their sales performance steadily improved from their date of hire through about their 18th month—and then, inexplicably, suddenly declined.
Why? Eventually, he concluded that it took these sellers 18 months to become “experts.” After a year and a half, they understood every goal, problem, or need that their product set would address, in every combination and permutation. Given that expertise—plus, of course, the sincere desire to help their buyers and make a sale—they began going too fast for their buyers, like clockwork in about their 19th month. A buyer would begin explaining his or her situation, and the overeager seller would see a perfect fit for the Xerox solution, and start telling the prospect why he or she needed this product.
It’s a paradox. Of course your clients want expert salespeople. (That’s what this resource is all about.) At the same time, if your salesperson is tempted to use his or her expertise as a club on the buyer, a lack of expertise can make for a better sales call. Without expertise, your seller’s only course of action is to ask questions. As a buyer, do you prefer salespeople who ask or who tell?