Telling Isn’t Selling

Businessman sleeping at the presentationAt lunch with a colleague last week, we chatted about how the sales people at his client account operate. Not surprisingly, it is standard practice during a sales meeting to walk prospects through 44-slides of yada, yada, yada that begins with extensive detail about the long, successful history of the company. Mind you, this is a company that is well known. The history lesson is unnecessary! Even when it becomes obvious during a presentation that the decision maker is bored out of their mind, the sales rep will simply keep plugging along. After all, they have been trained to “tell” not sell.

  • Let me tell you about our history.
  • Let me tell you about the awards we’ve won.
  • Let me tell you about the features of our products.
  • Let me tell you how we can solve your problem.
  • Let me tell you about our pricing model.
  • Let me tell you why other customers love us.
  • Let me tell you how we are better than the competition.

It isn’t that these things are unimportant. Well, maybe the awards and history, but the fact is that this information is no doubt already listed on the corporate website. Prospects don’t need sales people to tell them what they already know.

What kills me is that even in companies that have trained their sales people in a solution selling program, their sales people still show up in buyer’s offices and tell. Sure, they may ask a few questions about the prospects business but then they roll right into the pitch they’ve been taught to deliver. Seems strange, right? Even those sales people trained to sell solutions still talk AT prospects not WITH them. Why?

Because…

  • More time is invested in training sales people about the features of products.
  • An investment in training great sales skills is viewed as a one time event and not a process that is continually reinforced.
  • It is easier than learning about the prospects business, industry and challenges.

Instead of using meeting time to tell, imagine your roles are reversed and YOU are the customer. As the customer, what is important to you? What business initiatives are you expected to execute upon? What will happen if you don’t? Are you struggling to out pace the competition? What is happening in your industry that will impact your business today and tomorrow? The point is that unless you think like your prospect, you’ve done some digging or ask the right questions, it is going to be tough to know what is really important to them.

Here is a story to illustrate what I’m getting at. About 20 years ago, I was in the market for a new car. I’d first visited the local Nissan dealership and the conversation with the sales person was a disaster. Right up front, I detailed exactly what I wanted. In classic form, he didn’t listen. He took me over to a specific model and started “telling” me why this would be a great car for me. As if he knew, right? Immediately, I say that I’m not interested. Undeterred, he keeps pushing all the features he believes to be awesome. Again, I say, I don’t like the car and there is NO WAY that I would drive it. To which he replies, “What’s not to like, my wife drives this same car.” I couldn’t run away fast enough.

Contrast that with the experience I had at the Infinity dealership right next door. The sales person was courteous, professional and asked about me. He asked about my work, what I was most interested in, any features important to me in a car… you get the picture. Learning that I was a sales rep who supported accounts in Tucson, he knew the drive between Phoenix and Tucson was a 2-hour long stretch of highway with practically nothing out there. He also learned that I’m a music lover. Rather than talking about the vanity mirror, he focused on safety and security by highlighting the roadside assistance program that came included with a car purchase. He had me try out the awesome stereo system. I already loved the car – a G20 – because it was sporty, looked upscale and was a dream to drive. And because this sales person had learned about Barb, he tailored his message to focus on what I cared about. Guess what – car sold. Most pleasant car purchase experience ever!!!!

The irony is that Nissan owns Infinity. What gives? Why a horrible experience with the Nissan rep but a stellar one with the Infinity rep? I asked my Infinity rep and he told me that the company invested many hours of training and constantly stressed (and reinforced) the importance of selling a solution based on the needs of the car buyer. Listening and asking good questions was a huge part of their training programs.

Stop telling your prospects (and customers) what YOU think they want to know, ought to know or should know and begin with the end in mind. If your goal is to win business, then begin by getting into the head and heart of your prospect. Buyers want to you care about them and when you don’t… they simply look elsewhere.

The Road Ahead

In 2006, I began evangelizing what I would eventually call “social selling”. I can promise yousocial-selling1-300x2272 that at that time sales leaders thought I was nuts. They believed that social media might impact marketing’s role and that was about it. These leaders did not understand that what social media (in the collective) really meant was that buyer behavior was changing. Buyers were no longer relying on sales people for information about products and services. They were using the Internet and social networks to start the selling process by doing their own independent homework.

By 2009, it was absolutely crystal clear that sellers – B2B sellers in particular – needed to start taking the changes in buyer behavior a lot more seriously. It is why I felt compelled to write a book on the topic called The New Handshake: Sales Meets Social Media.

Moving into 2010, LinkedIn was definitely evolving into more than just a job seekers tool. Significant platform changes gave sellers ways to find prospects more quickly and to promote a brand impression of credibility and expertise through rich, dynamic profiles in which presentations, white papers and all manner of great content could be shared. Twitter was becoming more of a force in selling and blogging created new opportunities for sellers to create branded, educational platforms that helped them showcase their industry knowledge and perspectives.

And now we have entered a New Year. Before we look to what I believe lies ahead, let’s take a quick look in the 2013 rear view mirror.

This was a year when mass numbers of trainers, sales experts, marketers, software companies and even Joe the Plumber began pushing something brand new – to them – social selling. This is new, this is radical, you need to get on board, the experts shouted. This will make all your sales problems disappear. Social selling will fill the top of your sales funnel, increase revenue and pipeline, bring more prospects to your doorstep and qualify all your leads.

Heck, if you believe all the experts, social selling will make your breakfast, dress you, handle your outbound phone calls, book your appointments and conduct your sales meetings without you being required to attend. Frankly, you don’t actually need to show up at work anymore, because social selling is going to close those deals without you. Just expect your commission checks in the mail. WOW – sign me up!

Can we PLEASE dial down all the B.S.? It isn’t doing sellers or their leadership any favors.

By all accounts, 50% of sellers missed quota in 2013. This has been a continuing trend for years. In fact, 2013 saw more decline in quota attainment than during 2011, 2010 or 2009…all tougher economic years. Perhaps you could get away with blaming the economy then, but what about in 2013? Not so much.

Does social have a place in selling? YES. Does it work? YES. Does social selling solve every conceivable sales problem beginning with… sellers with abysmal sales skills? No. No. No. Did I say no?

I’m one of the first two people to begin using the term social selling in 2009. From the beginning, I never promoted the ridiculous idea that social selling was THE thing that would cure widespread sales problems. Social selling – as I defined it and promoted it (then and now) – was meant to represent the evolution of the buyer’s journey, which by necessity meant that sellers need to evolve their sales approaches right along with the changes in buyer behavior.

1. Buyers were/are leveraging alternative mediums to research and vet possible vendors.

Tired of pitches and sellers who don’t understand their business, they take to the net to do their own homework. In 2013, as much as 80% of buyers are researching business solutions before talking to sales. While buyers may not have all the information they need to make a purchase, they absolutely have enough information to determine which companies make their short list.

2. A social seller learns and integrates new technology (social media) into their overall sales process.

If buyers are shutting out sales people by deleting emails and unsolicited phone calls and doing their initial research online, using social networks provides alternative ways to be seen and demonstrate credibility and expertise, in order to earn the right to have a sales conversation. Using social media/social networks as part of a selling strategy creates opportunities to “proactively” give buyers reasons to talk to sellers.

Obviously, I’m a huge proponent of using social as part of selling, but using technology is a fraction of what great selling is all about. Where does social selling play a role in the sales process? Networking, prospecting, building referral relationships, lead gen, sales research and fostering ongoing customer relationships. But these are tactics and you don’t just sit at your desk all day long pounding away on social media. As Joanne Black would say…pick up the damn phone!

What I see happening in 2014 is…

More of the same dismal sales performance if sales leaders keep allowing themselves to be convinced that quick fixes exist or that technology does the selling. Suck it up! If 50% (or 40%, 30% or 20%) of your sales team didn’t make quota, it will take longer than 30-days and one or two training’s to move the needle in any significant way.

To all the self-proclaimed social selling experts I ask… how exactly does social technology solve any of these problems?

  • Sales people who cannot sell.
  • People who should not be in sales positions at all.
  • Selling like it is 1980. Feature dumps are useless.
  • Using technology to hammer prospects with pitches.
  • Measuring activity for activities sake.

Oh, I could create a much longer list about the problems plaguing sales organizations, but I’d rather have you read colleague, Jonathan Farrington’s excellent post underscoring what he believes went wrong for sellers in 2013. It will give you a lot to think about!

My passionate hope for 2014 is that sales leaders will stop believing the hype pandered by people who profit from promoting the quick fix. One or two training programs – I don’t care how good they are or who delivers them – will NOT resolve the systemic problems that have been building over time. It is time to wake up and face reality. I want to see sales leaders step up and create a bold new vision for what’s possible. And I want to see sales leaders go to the mat to ensure that widespread changes are undertaken, in order to support the new vision. Band aids fix nothing.

The real question is will sales performance in 2014 be any different than in the years gone by? Only time will tell.