by Kevin Guy
People buy emotionally but justify their decisions intellectually. Do you believe too much information shared too early can end a call prematurely? Salespeople and other professionals take many approaches to demonstrating their expertise while attempting to build trust with their clients. What is the right approach for you?
I remember speaking with a very skilled and tenured doctor about a relative who was very ill. This doctor was a “specialist.” He was not shy about providing us a list of his credentials, accomplishments and professional opinions. Although we were impressed by his background we found ourselves dealing with someone that took a negative view on all their initial health assessment and was not open to others ideas if he didn’t view them as an “equal.”
My family found ourselves at odds with this doctor one day when he ignored our input about our relative’s health history (someone we had known our entire adult life). He told us unequivocally that our relative had a very serious internal condition. He based his diagnosis solely on his initial visual assessment (no tests were ordered) and “20 years of experience.” After that speech, we requested a second opinion and tests to be run. The tests came back negative and Dr. Dark Cloud (a pet name the nurses shared with us) put “family can be difficult” in our relative’s health record. A badge we were proud to earn.
The purpose of this story is expertise matters, but too often professionals have been taught to “wow” clients/prospects with their extensive knowledge of products or services too early. Let’s shift to salespeople as an example. Their goal is not to impress or entertain the client – it is to close sales. Our value as sales professionals is determined more by the amount of information we gather than by the amount of information we dispense.
So why do salespeople fall into the trap of presenting too early? Maybe it is because the first day on the job we load them up with marketing material, brochures, technical bulletins, etc. Or, how many of us can remember growing up and being told when we were children to “stop asking so many questions” or “only speak when spoken to”? Salespeople who need approval or acceptance get it by willingly giving up their information before they are asked for it.
Buyers have a hand in this as well. They are actively looking for a salesperson to give them all their information before the salesperson has their questions answered. This is called “free consulting.” Salespeople have time and information. If they are giving both away, before qualifying the prospective client, it is tough to make a living.
What does this all mean? It means the more we know the more we must learn when and how to share information with prospects.
I remember my first draw/commission sales job. I was scared to death that I would not make enough money to cover the draw or make a living. So, I ran around town making cold calls. I knew very little about my company’s products and services and found myself faced with all kinds of customer questions that I didn’t know the answers to. The conversations would go something like this: “When can you ship the product to us?” “I don’t know, what were you hoping for?” By not knowing and asking a lot of qualifying questions I ended up allowing the client to be comfortable during our conversations, only presented to the needs they outlined for me and crushed my sales goals.
Fast forward three or four years, and I couldn’t wait to tell my prospects what I had learned the last few years. I was now an “expert.” Those conversations sounded something like this “when can you ship the product?” “We can ship in two days, shall I place the order today or Thursday?”
My “expert” phase as a salesperson was not nearly as successful or lucrative as my “dummy/amateur” phase. Today, I now know that this dummy technique is a good one. So, my conversation today may sound something like this: “When can you ship the product to us?” “I am not 100 percent sure, what were you hoping to accomplish?” I don’t lack the expertise to answer the question. I want to make sure that I spend enough time validating and further understanding the client’s business and personal reasons for requesting information before I present.
A great time to use this technique is when a salesperson hears prospect comments such as, “Your price is too high,” “When can we start?” or “I hate the current setup.” Instead of going into presentation mode, try saying, “Tell me more about that,” “I don’t understand,” “Did we discuss?” “I don’t remember.” Dummy phrases help the prospect further define their needs while together you uncover and discover the right solution.
A conversation may sound like this: “Is your MPS software going to become outdated with 24 months?” A professional salesperson may say, “I don’t understand what you mean by ‘outdated,’” or “Can you help me understand what you mean by “outdated?” or “Can you help me understand by giving me a specific example of something you are concerned about?”
The good news is this technique can be learned to help us ensure we keep the customer feeling emotionally OK during our sales conversations, only present to their specific needs or we disqualify the prospect before giving away our information for free. So how will your next conversation go when a customer says “We are happy with our current supplier”? Hopefully it sounds more like “I don’t understand, why did you call the meeting today?” versus a presentation on your company’s features and benefits.
What are some of the common questions you hear from your prospects? Write them down. Write down a “dummy phrase” for those questions and give it a try during your next call on a prospect. Remember, we can’t lose what we don’t have in sales – so go for it!
Kevin Guy is managing partner of Lift Consulting and a seasoned, hands-on sales and operations professional with 20 years of cross functional experience in manufacturing, distribution and professional service companies. He has worked for Fortune 100 and privately held firms while helping organizations realize hundreds of millions of dollars in top line growth and bottom line savings.