by Rick Phillips
When my son first joined the local Little League team he had a big problem striking out. The fact is he couldn’t hit dirt with a shovel. He was among the smallest kids playing and I igured that the team baseball bats were just too big for him. So, we set out to find him his own personal bat.
It was in the pursuit of the baseball bat that I learned an important lesson about sales. The sporting goods salesman was well versed in product knowledge and he proceeded to try to sell us a regulation bat featuring 22 ounces of anodized aluminum with a Neoprene non-slip grip at “close-out” prices.
Interestingly, it never seemed to occurred to the salesman that we were not there to buy aluminum and rubber. My son was buying home runs and I was in the market for something that would help him gain self-esteem and confidence, learn team work and develop athletic skills.
While the salesman knew something about bats, he was way off base about how people buy them. If he had thought about the transaction, from the customer’s perspective, he would have understood that features and price were far from my greatest concern. I was buying the bat so that my son would feel like a success, so that I could sit in the bleachers and proudly listen to other fathers congratulate me on my son’s hitting heroics.
The important question that that I learned to ask (as a result of this buying exercise) is, “Are you selling from the customer’s perspective?”
There are the four basic buying steps that a customer goes through before you can make a sale.
In any personal interaction there is some relationship. It could be good, bad or indifferent, but there is a relationship. Velcro might be the only thing more mysterious than building relationships, but one thing is certain, selling depends on the relationship between the buyer and the seller. The probability of the sale being made moves up or down in direct proportion to the strength of the relationship.
Trust must be established in the mind of the buyer before any purchasing decision will be considered. You can have the cheapest price on the best product in the world, but if customers don’t trust you, all you have is a lot of inventory. When two vendors are selling the “same” product, the buyer will make a “least risk” vendor decision.
The “least risk” decision explains in large measure why competitors with big names or big advertising budgets will continue to sell even at a higher price and/or lower technology.
We have found that the only reliable way to establish a selling relationship, where none has existed, is to show the prospect that you are more interested in understanding him or her, than you are in selling your product or service. The best way to do this is to put away the brochures and ask questions until you are certain that the customer is certain you thoroughly understand the depth and breadth of his or her needs.
Picture yourself limping into a hospital and being greeted by a doctor who says, “Brother it’s your lucky day. We have a special on upper GI procedures running for the next half hour.” There’s a good chance you would limp right back out of there. Obviously the doctor would have spoiled any chance of developing trust and you would want no relationship with him or his hospital.
You might say, “That is ridiculous. No one would ever do anything like that.”
The sad fact is every year I travel with salespeople who approach new prospects by doing three minutes of “warm up” before they pull out Product catalogues and basically say, “Stop me when you see something you like.”
The real professionals I have had a chance to work with, understand that developing trust based relationships come from showing an interest in serving the needs of the customer. If that is not done on the first call, there will seldom be a second call.
After a relationship of trust is established, the prospect must decide if there is even the possibility of doing business, whether he or she could use or buy the product or service the salesperson is offering.
The sales person may be in a great position to understand the product and its capabilities, but he or she is usually in a very poor position to understand the customer’s business. The buyer is the expert in understanding how the organization works, what they do, what they use, what they have tried in the past, who has authority to buy, etc. While the sales person can disagree, the buyer or prospect is the final authority on what is possible and what is not. The failure to understand what is possible leads a lot of salespeople to buy volumes of books on answering objections, when their time would be better spent looking for new prospects. A friend of mine tells the story of the commercial real estate salesperson who saw a $500,000 tax lien as an objection. He says, “She looked right at me and very seriously said, ‘Well, if it weren’t for this tax concern, would you be able to take advantage of our offering right away?”
After there is a positive relationship and a recognition that the possibility of a purchase exists, the buyer must make a decision about whether there is an opportunity. A newly furnished restaurant, for instance, might not recognize bargain wicker furniture as a buying opportunity. As nice, as functional and as desirable as the wicker furniture might appear, solving other needs might be more pressing. Very simply, the prospect makes a decision about the depth of need and the value of a solution.
At some point in the selling process, the prospect pulls out a mental scale and weighs the perceived value of the proposed solution against all of the costs associated with the change and then decides whether the opportunity exists to go forward.
The cost considerations often go far beyond the base price of the offering.
The costs can include things as basic as downtime for training or as complicated and private as the prospect’s borrowing power at the bank. If the restaurant owner wanted to buy the wicker furniture, he might be reducing his ability to finance cash registers for the bar.
At times, this decision can seem very subjective to the sales person but, above all, it is the buyer’s opinion and the buyer is the expert on what he or she thinks.
The salesperson’s best hope is that a prospect will not make the decision prematurely. If the salesperson has enough insights to understand the prospect’s needs, he or she will be able to explain how the offering will positively affect the organization.
Finally, if the buyer trusts the relationship enough, recognizes the possibility and the buying opportunity, he or she then must make a decision about whether to buy now, examine other alternatives or live with the existing situation. This action step is the one where many salespeople strike out. The problem occurs when we go for the action before letting the buyer go through the other steps. This might not be a big problem when we are selling small dollar items, such as personalized door mats door-to-door; but on major purchases, the buyer must go through all of the steps before reaching a point where action seems appropriate.
Often urgency will affect the sale and cause the buyer to be willing to push the action step to accomplish a particular objective, but pushing is considered bad form when the seller tries it.
Some sales people will attempt to press the “action ” button and force the buyer to close in order to gain some special pricing or delivery offer. Today this type of technique will more often than not gain more contempt than sales.
Selling from the buyers perspective makes a lot of sense. It is always easier to let the buyer buy the way he or she is comfortable buying, rather than to try to sell the way we are most comfortable selling. In the end there is only one vote that really counts in selling situations. The buyer has it, and they vote with their feet.
Copyright © 1996 Rick Phillips. All Rights Reserved. Used with permission.
Rick Phillips is a management, sales and customer service speaker and consultant based in New Orleans. He is president of Phillips Sales and Staff Development (PSSD), a nationally recognized training firm he founded in 1984.
Should you have any questions about his training programs or would like Rick Phillips to speak to your group, contact him at:
Phillips Sales and Staff Development
P.O. Box 29615
New Orleans, LA 70189
Phone: 504- 241-7704 or 1-800-525-PSSD (7773)