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Sell Solutions at the Highest Level

Table 1 illustrates another way of looking at how to solve customer problems. Sales take place at different levels. Some sales require what I call the clerk approach. If I'm buying a toothbrush and the store clerk started asking about how often and how long I brush, I'd run. I just need a toothbrush. Some sales require the salesperson approach. If I'm buying a computer, I need to buy one that will help me with the kind of work I do. Knowing the number of gigahertz and gigabytes doesn't help me much, except to assure me that it's big and fast. If I am making strategic decisions about my business, I want someone who understands it in their area of expertise better than I do—someone who takes a consultant approach. Unfortunately, too many salespeople take the clerk approach when they should be taking the salesperson approach. Just think about your own experience in buying cars, computers, or other moderately priced equipment. When business issues are involved and you want to establish a longer-term relationship with the customer, a consultant approach will help you accomplish that.

Table 1: Three Ways to Sell

Clerk

Salesperson

Consultant

Sells features

Sells needs/benefits

Sells system solutions

Takes the order

Asks for the order

Creates the order

Wants to make the sale

Wants the next sale

Wants the relationship

Contact is purchasing department

Contact is department head

Contact is executive

Customer concern is price

Customer concern is performance

Customer concern is profit

A Wall Street Journal report on a survey of people shopping for consumer electronics showed that shoppers don't rely heavily on store employees for information. Of those who were asked where they got information about shopping for consumer electronics, many more said they got information from friends or relatives or ads than from the store staff.

Generally, the higher the level of sales contact, the less concern there is with price. The higher up the sale is made, the greater is the authority in making the decision. A purchasing agent who has limited authority may see a $40,000 purchase as a big risk that requires research and the involvement of others and will be less concerned about how long it takes to make a decision. An executive who has broad budget authority and who can move money from one budget item to another or change the budget, if necessary, may not see a $40,000 investment as a big deal when viewed against the payoff from that investment and will want to move as quickly as possible once convinced about the return on investment.

Keep this in mind: each level has its own point of concern. Depending on which level you are selling to, you are going to see that concern reflected by the person you are dealing with.

  • For the purchasing agent, it tends to be price.

  • For the user, it tends to be performance.

  • For the executive, it tends to be profit.

Your best course of action is to be prepared to sell at all three levels: show how your solution will produce profits at the level of performance the users require at a competitive price.

At what level in your customer's organization are you selling now? At what level do you want to be selling, and why? What will help you sell to that level?


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