No doubt technology has changed the way we sell today. We’ve now loaded down our reps with mobile devices, presentation apps, and sophisticated CRM systems. But the most effective sales person we’ve ever seen was a guy named Allen who was a little behind the times when it came to technology.
Our friend Allen would literally carry in a large flip chart and stand into every sales call. He would then fumble his way through setting up the chart in the office or conference room, apologizing to the prospect for his clumsiness. But things would then become a little stranger. Allen would look at the prospect and say, “Thanks for seeing me today. Here is my X-ray machine.”
Allen would go on: “I would like to use this machine today to see if we can pinpoint some pain in your organization and then work together to find a cure.” Then, Allen would methodically start to ask the customer a series of questions about their business, documenting the answers on his flip chart: What are your needs? What are your goals? What are your objectives? He'd often come prepared with insight about industry trends and issues that he’d use to draw out the prospect's opportunities.
Over time, Allen became so good at this that many prospects would actually get up from behind their desk and come over to document alongside Allen some of the things they were discussing. Completing the flip chart became a joint exercise. When Allen was done, he would tear the flip chart page off, fold it up and he say, “Great conversation. We’re going to use this x-ray to better understand and address your pain. Just as a doctor keeps a medical file, I’m going to keep a file on you. From time-to-time we’ll refer back to our x-ray to see how we’re doing on clearing up these issues for you.” Allen would then fold the page up and put inside his folder.
Now of course we’re not saying this approach would work for everyone. In fact, Allen was one of the few that could probably pull it off. But the point is Allen was very good at a concept that we call selling slowly.
What do we mean by selling slowly? Well let’s think back to what a good doctor does. A great doctor doesn’t have all the miracle treatments in their bag. They’re very good at diagnosing, making sure that the assessment of the situation is accurate from the start. In this way, they’re always focused on the right problem, and not some guess about the patient needs. As fans of the Fox television series House know well, the difference between a great doctor and an ordinary one is the ability to make a great diagnosis.
Think about it. Say your friend Joe walks in to see his doctor and the doctor says, “So what brings you in today, Joe?” Your friend then replies, “Well doc my chest hurts.” I think you would be a little skeptical of that doctor if upon hearing about Joe’s chest pain, the doctor immediately wheeled him into surgery for a heart bypass operation. That would never happen because the doctor takes the time to understand the patient’s situation. What it is that Joe is really feeling? Is the pain in his chest or is it on his skin? Has Joe eaten something that has caused heartburn? What exactly is Joe’s pain when he says his chest hurts?
A great sales rep does the exact same thing that a great doctor does. Great sales professionals take time to understand the prospect’s needs. We guarantee that someone in your organization, maybe even you, have had a sales call in the last few days where the prospect mentioned one small issue and you jumped straight into something that you thought you could help with.
For example, maybe the customer mentioned they’re having a few delivery issues from their current supplier, and so you launched into a discussion about how your company is one of the best in terms of delivery rates and customer satisfaction on delivery and logistics. Or maybe the prospect just mentioned a product that they had seen on the Internet recently, to which you started into a long-winded speech about all of the bells and whistles of your product that was similar to the one that the customer mentioned. One of the things that we have to do as effective sales professionals is slow down our selling.
What's the number one complaint about reps by buyers?
Don’t take our word for it, listen to your customers. Brevet has conducted research with thousands of buyers across many different industries, products ranging from airplane engines to janitorial supplies to software. Our findings reveal the number one complaint about reps by buyers is they appear to know everything there is to know about their product, but don’t take the time to understand their prospect’s actual needs and objectives. This isn’t research from 1980, but survey results from the last six months! Despite all the pronouncements over the virtues of taking a customer orientation to selling, old habits are hard to break. Even today, we live in a world full of product experts, but too few customer experts.
At Brevet, we’re obsessed with helping clients move past the platitudes to build real issues-based, customer-centered selling capabilities in their sales teams. To start this process, get your teams trained in a slower sales approach that helps reps uncover customer needs and wants in much the same way that a doctor diagnoses a patient.
Next time you’re planning for your own sales call or coaching your teams around a deal, think back to our friend Allen. Where’s your flip chart and pen? Do you have your questions prepared to understand your prospect’s business? What insights do you have to share?
About The Author
Researcher, consultant, and sales leader, Brian uses a data-driven approach to drive sales effectiveness. His clients include leading sales organizations in financial services, technology, healthcare, and professional services. Using insight from academics and change management, Brian helps senior leaders and sales enablement teams understand and succeed in today’s more demanding market. His research has been published in Harvard Business Review and other outlets.