March 23, 2017: When you fall in a hole there are many salespeople who will want to sell you a ladder, but the one you need to do business with is the seller who will help you to stop falling in holes. This famous saying by Neil Rackham, the sales guru who is patron of the Association of Professional Sales, encapsulates the salesperson who knows how to add real value to their customer’s business.
Adding value to a customer is win:win selling. It is intelligent, ethical and sustainable. The customer gets what they need; the seller doesn’t just make a sale, but also wins trust and often long-term business.
As this is the style of sales that the APS exists to support, and indeed to promote to the level of a chartered profession, we asked Guy Lloyd – a trustee of the APS and until recently sales director at Microsoft – to unpack the implications of Rackham’s anecdote.
How does Lloyd advise his sales leaders and his sales teams to act, in order to add value and drive customer retention? Here he gives ten excellent pieces of advice:
1. Start with the hiring process, Lloyd advises. Search out sales people who have inquiring minds and a real curiosity about their customers. They need to be able to see past the immediate, obvious problem – how to get out of a hole – and diagnose underlying problems, like the tendency to keep falling in holes.
“I don’t see enough of that curiosity or interest. If salespeople don’t have that curiosity, how can they gain the insight to identify ways to help the customer?” says Lloyd.
2. Do your homework. Read the annual report – what are this company’s priorities right now? Research the person you’re meeting – how much influence do they have on decision-making? Become a customer, and see how the company works. By the time you arrive for the initial meeting, you should already have ideas about how to add value.
3. Don’t waste their time. Show respect to your C-level prospects by not asking them a lot of questions whose answers you could find on the internet or by talking to their teams. Do not bombard them with reams of information. The first meeting has two objectives: one, to demonstrate credibility, by showing you understand their concerns and have ideas how to help; and two, to create enough interest to get the second meeting.
4. Don’t accept their RFP as a correct or complete statement of the problem. The customer is not always the expert on what’s best for their business.
“Too many sellers rely on the customer diagnosing what their problem is. This is like saying, once they’re in a hole, ‘I’ll sell you a ladder’. They don’t understand that’s not actually the issue,” comments Lloyd.
“The job of the high value sales guy is to bring new ideas and insights to help the customer improve their situation.”
5. Send a gift: an insight or a piece of information that is relevant and of interest to them, whenever you see such things, to demonstrate you take an active interest in your customer.
6. Initiate the sales process. Corporate Visions Inc has done extensive neurological research on sales, and come up with the insight that it is a powerful technique to lead with the unconsidered need.
“You need to be saying: ‘I think this is something that can help you’,” says Lloyd.
“When you really understand the customer, you can bring relevant ideas to them of how to do things better.”
7. Explain the value you can add. Don’t expect the customer to join the dots themselves. Go the extra mile and do the job of understanding their situation and explaining the solution for them – in simple terms, using their language. Present your proposals using the customer’s point of view, not the cold generic logic of your ROI case.
“Presenting your proposal in your customer’s terms has enormous value for them, because they haven’t got the time,” says Lloyd.
“You’re aiming for the lightbulb moment, when you’ve reimagined their problem in a way that makes sense to them and showed what a better solution might be.”
8. Compare and contrast. Show them the benefits of the proposed outcome compared with the risks of their current situation. Explain why sticking with the status quo is the risky option.
Beware: do not waste time comparing your solution with your rivals’.
“You don’t need to have the best product to win the business; you need to make the best connection between their core issues and how what you have addresses them,” says Lloyd.
9. Make change feel easy. Invest lots of selling effort in showing that the risk of change is relatively small and well understood. Break it down into clear, manageable steps. The most common reason why sales fail is due to the customer’s (often not expressed) worries about the impact of the change required. Do everything you can to reassure the customer: offer support with persuading other stakeholders, and with implementing the change.
10. Don’t waste your time. You can do all the right things but still not make a sale. If you can tell that things are going against you, then look for reasons to disengage rather than reasons to “stick with it” – coming second is the worst result. Your time is precious, and spending less time losing means more time winning, and more value added for your and your customers’ businesses.
At the same time as you are assessing them, they will be assessing you. The questions they are likely to be asking themselves include: Does this seller understand my business? Have they helped me to see an issue from a different, more impactful perspective than the rest of the ladder sellers? Does the proposed solution have enough value to justify the risk of making the changes needed to achieve it? In conclusion, people buy from who they trust – and there is no better way of earning trust than by adding real value.
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