By Brian Majeska
The art of sales is one of the most simple and, yet, complex processes in business. Much has been written about attitude, moxie, processes, and negotiation techniques in sales. I have been a student, participant, leader, and developer of sales capability throughout my professional life. My dad always told me that every job in the world requires some degree of salesmanship (Sorry, an eighty-five year old still calls people salesman.). This blog will give four simple tools to make industrial sales easy.
(As a reference, Diagram 1 is from last weeks blog is intended to remind where sales fit within the overall Commercialization Process of new products. And, then we will dive into the Sales Process)
Commercialization Process Relative to Sales
Sales is where success or failure in a product development, marketing strategy, and business leadership come together. I often envision the sales organization is the aviators flying off an aircraft carrier. The captain, the admiral, and the aeronautical engineers are all needed but the offensive or defensive success rests in the hands of the fighter pilots. It is similar with the sales team, they are the ones who are entrusted with taking all of the resources and effort in development, and creating a business relationship with a customer. And, great sales people, somehow make it look easy and fun. The great sales representatives are usually are thinking about two things: concentrating on the customers best interest and winning!
In later blogs we will cover sales territory strategies, sales leadership, and key account strategies. For today, let’s focus on the four keys to great industrial sales:
- The difference in a selling cycle and a buying cycle
- The triad of success
- Developing of a questioning plan
- Pre-call Planning
The Difference in a selling cycle and a buying cycle
As my dear friend and one of several great sales mentors of mine, Tony Narducci of Forum told many of us, “A customer never wakes up in the morning and wishes to have a terrible buying experience!” Let’s look at the cycles of buying and of selling in more detail.
The Customers Point of View on a Purchase
In order to make any purchase, but most certainly any industrial purchase, a person goes through five steps in the process. Incidentally, a sales account is comprised on numerous people, but a customer is an individual who has a number of cares, concerns, and biases.
As George John, another fine mentor of selling taught me, “people buy from people, companies have never bought anything.” Remember, if the focus is not on the individual customers and their needs to be successful in advancing their company’s needs, the product will never fit the need of the customer.
It is the purpose of the customer in his role as a purchasing manager, a technical leader, or a business leader to determine the correct products and services that his company needs. The role of sales is to facilitate the customer in that journey through education, decision making, and support.
Let’s analyze the customer point of view,
- Awareness of a Need. This is most often done when a customer is dissatisfied with the current state of practice with their business. The reasons for this dissatisfaction can be loss of business, or lack of growth, or the need to manage costs, or a vision of a better future. This is when the customers reticular activating system in the brain comes online and begins paying attention for solutions and options.
- Research. The customer need is now great enough that she is willing to take action and advance learning and comparing alternatives. This is when optionality versus the status quo is at work within the customers thought process.
- Determine Needs & Wants. The third step is now examining what is really needed versus what is desired in a purchase. It’s the “Chevy versus the Mercedes” issue, what may be needed is transportation to work, and what is wanted is a fantastic ride that turns heads. Marginal benefits beyond the needs will drive the ultimate decision along with status. This step can be an internal dialogue; the customer has researched alternatives and now wants to narrow the options down.
- Determine Price & Alternatives. This is basically the last stage in the buying process the customer is now doing the final check to ensure that the right purchase is going to take place at the right price. (Anyone who is selling value and does not realize that price is an input to the purchase decision is making an error on his part.).
- Make Purchase. Complete the transaction and receive the product or service.
Pretty straight forward and actually an enjoyable process – Now let’s look at the selling cycle, and then we can look for areas of potential friction.
The Selling Cycle
The selling cycle is the mindset that the customer has relative to entering into a negotiation or making a buying decision. The toughest part of the selling cycle for many sales representatives since it is oriented towards the customers mindset of buying, the customer does not give a damn about your forecast, or sales goals, or the last conversation management had with the sales representative. These five steps in the selling cycle is a means for a professional to understand where they are at relative to their customers needs.
Let’s look at the five components in greater depth,
- Uninterested. The customer is satisfied with his current state, and is not motivated to advance a commercial relationship. This is where developing a good relationship with the customer and being a resource is powerful. A best practice of sales is having a foundational knowledge of your clients business – begin now. Another high gain component of sales is earning trust start becoming a resource to the prospective customer.
- Low Interest. The beginning of the felt unease in a customer. The customer sees that the present state is not ideal, and the question for them is, is it worth the journey to disrupt the status quo? Your insights and support important during this period.
- Motivated. This is where I have fallen on my face. The customer is motivated, and it is time to move fast, but the customer is still research and comparing alternatives. Go at his pace while also facilitating the best decision making process. Great sales equals effective guidance on sound decision making.
- Convinced. The customer knows he is going to make the decision, and he knows his decision. It is up to the sales person to manage the selling company’s internal business processes and put an agreement in place that is of mutual benefit.
- Committed. Easiest and often the hardest part of the sale. Don’t talk past the sales close; let the customer think about the deal, and let him agree to the deal. A committed customer wants a sales person to close quickly while giving them time to think. A slow close of a deal is similar to eating at a great restaurant and not being able to get the check at the end of a fabulous meal.
Let’s now consider the buying and selling cycle together in diagram 4.
Going back to Tony’s quote, “Nobody wakes up in the morning and decides to have a terrible buying experience!” It is the sales persons involvement in the process that makes it into a great or terrible experience, and specifically, it is not being aligned with the customers buying cycle.
You are selling the treasure, the customer values it highly enough to trade money for your product. By aligning with his process, and then facilitating a mutually profitable transaction, the sales person is providing tremendous value to everyone and in a predictable manner.
Another mentor in selling is Rick Madison, I asked Rick what makes a great sales person, he told me that it is really basic, “Be predictable to your customers. Follow-up when you promise, and keep your word.” I know Rick does much more than that personally and with his team, but it does give a flavor of being a professional and stay close to the buying/selling cycle.
The Triad of Success (CPR)
This is probably the most valuable sales tool that I have used in my career. I was in a meeting with the owners of a micro surfacing business several years ago. The customer was not hearing a single word that I was saying, and it was getting really annoying and frustrating because I new what I wanted. Listed below is the Triad of Success in Diagram 5, and helps identify the focus for high performing sales.
Whenever a sales call or a meeting with customers begins to go poorly, try to take a thirty second time out – Even if the customer is talking (usually a bad idea). Immediately evaluate the triad for success. Often times the focus has moved towards the needs of the sellers business and away from what are the challenges facing the customer. Looking at the world from the customers point of view makes conversations much better.
Let’s review the three components of the triad,
- Focus on the CUSTOMER (the C in the CPR moniker). Stephen Covey is someone that my business partner, Dave Henderson often refers to, and specifically, the concept of “first seek to understand and then seek to be understood.” In industrial sales, customers are depending on products, technology, and service to work, and there is consequences when the product does not perform. First seek to understand their situation. You may not be able to do everything that the customer wants, but at least an important component of human interaction is being taken care of by you: showing respect to the person with the problem.
- PERSUADE through collaboration (the P in CPR). Where there is candor and honesty, trust develops and so does loyalty to each person business needs. Being open about the limitations of your product and also brainstorming alternatives builds strength in the relationship. Collaborating on a solution allows for the highest degree of mutual benefit, and it does not need to take too much time – just some preparation.
- Earn the RIGHT to advance (the R in CPR). Making a decision with the help of a professional outside of a customers company can feel a risky. Consider these customer hallucinations: 1)Will this person take advantage of a situation? 2)Will he share confidential information with my competitors? 3)Will he make me look foolish? These are some of the things that can creep into a customer thinking. Trust is a multiple level contract with someone. It is fine to ask the high gain question, and it is okay to occasionally pull the question back from the conversation, and to then explain why it was asked. Earn the right to advance is earning trust with your customer.
Developing a Questioning Plan
Ironically, most people get into sales because of their gift to talk, but the great sales people are the ones who can ask the high impact question and listen to their customer. The art of questioning was Socrates primary approach towards teaching his students; it forced the students to think, consider, evaluate, and solve issues. This is very similar to a strong relationship with your customers.
Listed below are the three common questioning formats:
- Closed. Yes/No answers are typical with closed ended questions. This questioning method is to clarify and confirm a point with a customer. “Does that make sense?”
- Open ended. More reflective and requires consideration to answer. The question is thought provoking and exposes thoughts, feelings and analysis. “What are the consequences to the team regarding this product performance issue?”
- High Gain. These are the relevant and significant questions which will have an impact on the sales process, and also, to the customers business. “What are the keys to success in this product launch?”
Consider the questions that will help your customer in the buying process and it will have an impact on your success.
“It’s not the will to win that matters. …It’s the will to prepare that matters.” – Paul “Bear” Bryant
Great sales is a combination of the following:
- building off of the triad
- understanding where your customer is in the buying process
- reflecting on the significant questions you would want to be asked if your were in the customers position.
Preparation is understanding that your customer wants to have his business do better. And, you as a professional need to be prepared to ask question that help your customer in making good decisions. Asking questions about cost-benefit are tough, and working through them insures that best result. A sound questioning strategy typically takes twice as long as preparing remarks for a client. The customer values the questions more than the comments.
The best of the best sales people spend less than half of their time in front of customers. As another friend and guide, Wayne Mackey says, “When you are sitting in front of the customer, you are in the million dollar seat.” We better make that time worthwhile.
Preparing for a sales call is simple, but in the urgency of life, it sometimes does not happen. Here is a simple process that hopefully has an impact for you:
- What is the outcome from the call that you hope to achieve in the call and with the customer overall?
- What does the customer want for an outcome? Where is he in his thought process and emotions?
- What are the three high gain questions you hope to ask:
- What solutions are issues should you be prepared to discuss?
- What is the greatest objection or concern your customer will have?
- Was there any follow-up from a previous meeting that I should be prepared to handle?
- What advice or feedback would my mentor or manager suggest?
Successful selling is an intense and satisfying. By considering the following:
- where your customer is in the buying process
- understanding CPR – focus on the Customer, Persuade through collaboration, earn the Right to advance
- using the power of questions along with preparation
Feedback is welcome, please shoot me a note in the comments section regarding your perspectives and insights. Also, where-ever you think we can be of assistance, please do not hesitate in contacting us.