Expert: Leader, Follower or Copycat?

When it comes to social media, probably 4 in 5 people you meet these days are experts. A quick Internet search reveals there are 310Genius baby million “social media” experts with 166 million grabbing the “social selling” expert moniker. That’s a lot of experts.

The problem, as I see it, is that “social media” is so big, so broad and so misunderstood that it is tough to pinpoint what expert really means. How do you really know if you are talking to one? Are you talking to someone who leads, follows or just copycat’s the work of others?

It takes 10,000 Hours (or close to it) 

Just yesterday I was interviewed for an edition of Top Sales World’s HardTalk podcast series. While talking to Jonathan Farrington about what it means to be an expert, for grins, I had looked up the definition before we got started with the interview. With so much noise being created by self-proclaimed experts, potential customers need a way to determine who’s got the goods and who does not, which might be tough if they aren’t even sure of the questions to ask or what skills to vet.

As defined on Wikipedia, “Experts have a prolonged or intense experience through practice and education in a particular field.”

While some will argue that you don’t need the 10,000 hours of experience that Malcolm Gladwell talks about in Outliers, I happen to believe that demonstrable experience actually matters. Do you think someone with no athletic experience can take up figure skating and within a year be competing in the Olympics? Anything is possible, but I’ve  NEVER heard of it happening.

Gladwell said in his book that “the key to success in any field is, to a large extent, a matter of practicing a specific task for a total of around 10,000 hours.” If you did nothing else but study, work with clients and practice your craft 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, you could get there in just over a year. Of course, we all know that isn’t realistic at all. More likely, we are talking in the neighborhood of five years at least. Expert status, I believe, takes time, it takes hard work and especially where social media is concerned, you must be constantly learning and adapting.

Tactics and One Trick Ponies

When it gets right down to it, you know you are talking to someone with social media chops when they demonstrate breadth and depth of knowledge of the various platforms and how they fit together. You may be a really good LinkedIn trainer, but that does not make you a social media (or social selling) expert. Someone who understands social media strategy and how it impacts Sales, Marketing and Service will have a clear sense of best practices, and they will also know where the potential for disaster or failure lies. They will be able to show you the strategic work that they’ve done.

Be wary of one proven process or one way of approaching things. What works for one customer won’t necessarily work for another one.  A truly experienced social media player knows that it all begins with strategy and that strategy is crafted after you invest the time to understand the core of a customers business. Tactics come after strategy and not the other way around.

Buyer Beware

At the end of the day, I suppose it is the way of the world. People latch onto hot ideas and hot terms and want to ride the wave without learning how to surf. But trusting your reputation, your sales and your business to “experts” could be dangerous. You may find out that all they are expert in is taking taking your money.

 

It’s All in the Details

As a new member of a non-profit board, the chair recently asked all of us to complete the Everything DiSC Work of Leaders assessment. Having completed a number ofbob the builderassessments through the years – Myers Briggs, DiSC, Hermann Brain Dominance, Strengths Finder, Emotional Intelligence 2.0 – the results were no big surprise. As Popeye would say, I am what I am. Still, I always find the data helpful in reminding me where I might have blind spots or where certain situations and people may challenge me.

Understanding personality and behavioral styles is a good thing. In business we deal with people. For sellers who understand style differences and how that plays out in sales meetings and communication, it can give them a real leg up when selling. When they adapt their style to give their buyers what they need, deals are won more often than lost. Sell the same way to everyone and the probability of missed opportunities increases.

Let’s say that your style is more high level thinker, optimistic and good at verbal communication but you tend to gloss over the details. If your buyer happens to have a style that requires details to make an informed decision, you need to be prepared to go there. If you try to reassure them through promises that you’ll do whatever it takes, that just will not be enough.

So assessments and understanding human behavior can be helpful in selling and in all interactions with other people.

Where assessments – and they are assessments not tests – become problematic is if other people try to box you in based on your style designation. This assumes that an assessment score is the sum total of who you are as an individual. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

Assessments provide big clues as to a person’s dominant way of thinking, behaving or decision making, but even two people with the same style designation are not exactly the same. And, in the case of DiSC, which is based on four quadrants, you may be most dominant in two of them but that doesn’t mean you have no strength in the other areas.

If you don’t know DiSC, let me briefly break down the four quadrants.

  • D=Dominance. Priorities include Results, Action, Competency. Avoid the small talk and focus on demonstrating quick, confident action.
  • i= Influence. Priorities include Enthusiasm, Action, Relationships. Upbeat, outgoing, openness is important. Negativity, too many details or detached people are bothersome.
  • S=Steadiness. Priorities include Sincerity, Relationships, Dependability. Casual and low key, these folks like predictable, harmonious environments.
  • C=Conscientiousness. Priorities include Quality, Competency, Dependability. Quality and high standards is of utmost importance. Be prepared to present logical reasons for decisions.

Curious about my style?

My style is a balanced Di. These are my natural tendencies. Core priorities that shape my leader traits are:

  • Being Pioneering – strategic, big picture thinker, I often see trends ahead of others. Always willing to risk trying something new and untested.
  • Being Commanding – that’s the D in me. I will drive for results. Meeting after meeting but accomplishing very little or nothing at all… makes me nuts.
  • Being Energizing – positive, glass half full gal is who I am. I believe the best in others until they prove me wrong. I tend to focus on what we CAN DO not what someone thinks we can’t.
  • Being Affirming – seeking to include others comes naturally. Collaborative in nature, I like to share and acknowledge the good work of others.

And while these four descriptions are accurate, they are not the total picture of Barb. Though details can sometimes bore me, my style does not mean that I am not a detail oriented person. It means that you wouldn’t want to place me in a role that required detailed work 100% of the time. It drains my energy, and I’m the first to tell you that looking at detailed spreadsheets can make my head spin. But I’m pretty darn detailed when I need to be. If it is important, I do it. To assume otherwise strictly based on my personality type is incorrect and unfair.

What got me thinking about how people make assumptions about each other, especially when you complete assessments and share results among team members, is a comment made at recent meeting. The conversation related to a particular project that I am responsible for and jokingly someone said, its good that so & so is on your team because you aren’t much for details. It was a stupid thing to say. It is untrue and disrespectful. As a practitioner in the field of people development, that individual should know better.

Human beings have so much more depth than any assessment, regardless how detailed or scientifically validated it is, can ever fully describe. In team building, coaching or hiring, use assessments to provide insight about the styles of others, but never assume you know all there is to know about them.

It’s More Complicated Than That

“Become disenchanted with anything that takes complex subjects and breaks them down into “Top 10” lists.” – Brian SolisWell-known physical formula

Social media has changed business. Today’s buyer looks nothing like the buyers I first met when I began selling 25 years ago. Technology allows them to evade us, block us and downright ignore us if they so choose. It’s a new world, and if you don’t think so, I’m worried for your future in selling.

Anyone who reads my blog posts or articles knows that I am unwavering in my belief that WHAT you sell is less important than HOW you sell. For the sales reps who have, to this point, made a pretty good living selling through feature dumps or demos, understanding that the “what” is less relevant now is a tough transition to make.

That I keep seeing questions or conversations about how to better “cold call” tells me that we have a lot of sellers stuck in the past. A member in one my LinkedIn sales groups asked if you should leave a voice mail when calling someone you don’t know. Group members actually debated techniques…yes, no, phone number in the beginning, compelling pitch in the beginning, phone number at the end… really? Instead of trying to improve upon an outdated mousetrap, get a new one.

Change is needed and it isn’t simple.

I follow a number of highly regarded leaders in sales. One of those leaders is Tamara Schenk, who writes an excellent blog that you should follow. Her recent post on the difference between simplification and simplicity is brilliant. It crystallized for me what the problem is related to the thundering din that is social selling. In their attempts to make social selling sound simple, the usual suspects have created a loud, confusing mass of noise that leaves sales leaders either completely confused – OR – they mistakenly assume, because that’s what they’ve been told, that if their sales people just follow a prescribed set of steps, their sales challenges will dissipate.

There is NO one size fits all.

Are there tactical elements that typically lead to success when using social for selling? Of course. Will they work for every seller, in every industry the same way? No. Should you even start with tactics in the first place? Absolutely not.

You see, that’s the biggest gripe I have regarding the chatter that largely surrounds social selling. It is surface at best. The message has become… just deck out your LinkedIn profile, send InMail to the prospects on your search lists, Tweet the content of industry influencers – so that they will one day reciprocate – and share a few blog posts… boom, you are now a social seller. The top of your funnel will magically fill up, decision makers will scramble to clear their calendars to see you, and deals will close in no time. You wish.

If it were easy, everyone would be doing it and succeeding.

“As customers make their decisions differently, every time, because their situation is different – so do sales leaders. There are no silver bullets. Every sales organization’s challenges are specific. Every sales organization’s customers are different. The way that your specific customers want to engage with your sales organization is different as well.” –Tamara Schenk

Social selling is not simply about adopting a new set of “tools”. Success requires developing a new mindset related to selling entirely. A change is required in attitude, approach, process and skill set. Change is tough, it can be messy, and it is painful in the beginning. Leaders must think holistically about what needs to change, what they have to work with – people, tools, process – and what they need that is missing.

I’m not saying don’t give sales people LinkedIn training, but I am saying that isn’t the first place to start. And if that’s all you do, expect limited results.

Just Cancel My Account – Part 2

This is the story of how I became a client and canceled my AWeber account all in the span of 3-days. Game Over

In part 1, I talked about Infusionsoft and how frustrating their process is for canceling your account. Had it been easy to walk away, I wouldn’t have broadcast to my followers that Infusionsoft doesn’t live up to its promise, and they are tough to do business with. In AWeber’s case, the process for canceling my account wasn’t difficult and they refunded a portion of my money to boot. But a process that they spin as being better for you – the customer – isn’t.

For 8 years, I’ve been building my email list. I take the CANN-SPAM act seriously and have always followed the rules of email marketing. This is so important to me that I NEVER add anyone I meet who hands me a business card. That’s not permission to add to a list my friends, although far too many people do it. Subscribers can easily opt-out of my list; I don’t waste their time even asking why. I assume their reason is nothing personal. Everyone is on overload these days. I’m no exception. Email inboxes are more crowded than ever and people often just don’t have the time to read one more newsletter. I opt out of plenty of them myself.

While using the Infusionsoft system, I once again scrubbed the list. If a lot of people start opting out, Infusionsoft assumes you are a spammer and will halt you in your tracks. I think that’s a good thing. But imagine my surprise when we wanted to upload our mailing list to the AWeber account only to find out that they insist on sending out a “reconfirmation” email. That means that people who have opted in to my list, now have to go to another step to say yes again.

AWeber will tell you that it is the best way to ensure that emails are not blocked by spam filters. They claim that their process is why they have a high rate of delivery versus other email marketing companies. I don’t believe it. There’s a back story there somewhere.

As I’m working to get my email marketing back on track, this little hiccup didn’t make me happy. I asked a couple of my colleagues what they thought about the double opt-in policy. Depending on who you talk too there are two ways to look at it.

1. You can think of the process are further cleaning and purging your list. Makes sense. I really do want people to find what I send them valuable.

On the other hand…

2. People are super busy. What if they never get around to reconfirming? Depending on how long it takes people to confirm again, my email marketing might not be very effective.

I did some checking on AWeber’s support site to find out if there was a way around this default. After all, quite a few of their competitors don’t require this and have their own ways of verifying if you have a purchased or spam list. It turned out that – yes – you could ask them to waive this default setting if you have a clean list. Awesome, I thought. Now we can move forward.

Uh, not so fast.

I sent AWeber my request, explaining my reason for switching providers and confirming that I had just gone through the process of scrubbing the list about 12 months earlier. Pretty quickly I received a response that essentially said that AWeber rarely makes an exception to their policy (OK, why is it on your website and written in a way that suggests you do make exceptions?). The service rep goes on to say that if I will answer their list of questions, they will research my situation and get back to me. They are trying to verify that I’m legit…I get it.

The next email I receive now says they aren’t sure and that maybe they’ll make an exception, which they will rarely do, but now I need to give them the log in details to the Infusionsoft account so that they could verify the last campaign that I’d sent. Well, for starters, I told them I had not sent a campaign in a few months. I also told them that I’d canceled my Imfusionsoft account, which at the time, I didn’t know was still active.

Now I’m fuming. Time is already being wasted; I’m no closer to getting a newsletter out. And there was no guarantee that they’d say yes anyway. Screw it, I said to myself. I told the service rep that this was a complete waste of my time and wasn’t worth it. I said that I planned to cancel the account, which I did right away.

And then…

I receive another email from the same service guy saying that if I would provide the list, they’d do some sort of verification thing to see if the addresses were valid. More of my time to be wasted and again no promise that my request would be approved.

Thank you, MailChimp.

MailChimp and AWeber both receive good reviews and recommendations but AWeber seemed have just a bit more under the hood that would suit my purposes. After my brief experience with them, I went to MailChimp. They have ecommerce hooks and other things that I need. They also happen to be a business local to me, many of my colleagues use them, and they have a fair number of corporate client. Good enough for me. But the biggie…they don’t force the double opt-in process.

MailChimp has designed an algorithm that can test your list to determine validity. Guess what…within a few minutes, my list was verified and I was ready to go.

If you won’t, your competitors will.

There must be hundreds of email marketing systems available. Why would any company want to make it difficult for new and existing customers? It is beyond me.

The experience with AWeber left me feeling a little like being back in grade school. It feels like their “rule” is meant to stop the real spammers, but in the process they penalize legitimate business people who work hard to do the right thing.

Well, thanks for the memories AWeber. MailChimp, I look forward to a beautiful relationship!

A Tale of Kick-Butt Service

I love Zappos.iStock_000015017344Medium

Hard to remember when I first heard about Tony Hsieh, Zappos’ CEO. Digging back into my memory banks, I think it was when I was still with Microsoft and Tony’s company, LinkExchange was acquired for a hefty sum. I remember thinking…a multi-millionaire at 24? I barely had a steady job at that age. WOW!

But I don’t love Zappos because I’m a big shoe buyer. Contrary to urban myth, not all women are! I don’t like “traditional” shopping either. I love the Internet; hate going to the mall. There is something so deliciously fun and easy about having packages delivered right to your door. I admit that my face lights up when I come home from a meeting and find presents waiting for me. So what if I sent them, it’s still fun.

OK, I got off track for a moment.

I am a Zappos customer.

When I need shoes or athletic wear, I’ve bought from them. They have other great stuff too. Point is that the process has always been smooth and easy. Though I’ve purchased from Zappos, that isn’t the only reason I am a fan. For starters, I love their CEO.

As CEO, Tony is quite engaged on social media. He interacts and engages with people online and demonstrates that he cares about the people who buy from him. His beliefs around culture and service mirror mine.

And who can’t love a company whose CEO pens a book called Delivering Happiness?

The company culture is amazing. Heck, they are so keen to get the right people into their culture of excellence, that they’ll pay you to walk away if you do not fit.

Service practices should be designed to make your life, as a buyer, easy. Zappos has got this down. You can automatically return something that you ordered from them if it doesn’t work for you with no hassle AND for free. The return authorization is sent with your order.

I love Zappos, and I had also never had a problem until…

On 2/4, I placed an order. Fine with the regular shipping, I figured the order would arrive around the 8th. Then I receive the confirmation email today that says my order just shipped. What? Ordered 2/4 but not shipped until 2-days later? I took to Twitter with my question at 3:56pm Eastern.

Bam! 4:01pm Eastern I had a response. The response wasn’t a lame…click this link and report your problem here…a real person was actually engaging me.

This is the exchange that ensued (read from the bottom up):

zappos

I had selected the free shipping, because I wasn’t in a big hurry. But when I saw that 2-days had elapsed between order and ship date, I was a bit annoyed. I wanted an answer as to why my order wasn’t shipped sooner. That had never happened before.

The support rep didn’t justify, argue or give me excuses. I’m simply told my shipping was upgraded; I can expect my order tomorrow. That is seriously cool!

I didn’t actually receive an answer to my question about what went wrong, but obviously something went awry. OR, maybe I misunderstood the email and that’s why the rep said “no worries” when I inquired if I’d made the mistake. Again, no blame assigned to me…the customer. The way the service person handled it, who cares what went wrong, if anything?

That’s the lesson.

When things go wrong or customers misunderstand your communication, all that is expected is that you make it right. WOW them! Don’t make their life challenging or difficult. Don’t put the burden on them. Just handle it.

If you compare this story to the one I shared in my prior post about Infusionsoft and their “make it a challenge to cancel my account policy”, the differences are stark. Point of fact, I have spent a heck of a lot more money with Infusionsoft than Zappos, but Zappos treated me as if I have been spending thousands on Christian Louboutin’s for years. Not only will I continue to be a loyal buyer, which will translate into thousands over time, I will continue to tell everyone I know to buy Zappos!

Finally, what I really love is that Zappos understands that their customers will interact with them in ways that suit them. Zappos’s doesn’t force you to communicate with them in their way, they adapt to YOUR WAY! They actually have people manning a Twitter account who are clearly held to responding fast. I contrast that with other companies who claim to have service presence online but never actually respond to you.

Zappos gets an A+ from me. They are a shining example of what kick-butt service looks like AND feels like to the customer. If you don’t buy from them – you should!

No Christopher Here

“Telemarketing and fancy email marketing campaigns yield disappointing results.”no

Yes, because the sales message sucks. Just like the one you sent to me.

If I am tired of this kind of cheese, you know that other busy Sales Executives and Business Owners are too. You would welcome the opportunity to learn more about my sales process?

First, I’m not Christopher and Christopher has never worked here.

Second, I’m not available to waste my time educating you about my business.

Third, you assume that the people you are emailing struggle to find prospects.

Four, if you really “care” – take time to do your homework and tailor your message.

Five, the email is a pitch, and I don’t care that you are “excited” to share how you help others.

To all sellers, sales leaders and marketers…

Differentiation from the competition is a common sales goal, and it isn’t that hard to do. Guess what…don’t send messages like this one. Guaranteed, you will stand out! Why? Because it is RARE to receive a cold email that adds value or is compelling enough for buyers to want to know more.

PLEASE don’t send emails like this one.

“Hi Christopher,

Most business owners and sales people struggle to find prospects. Telemarketing and fancy email marketing campaigns yield disappointing results. I’m excited to share how I’m helping others have a constant stream of prospects with XYZ’s automated prospecting technology; the return on investment is typically less than 3 months. I provide sales expertise and can help in other areas too.

Benefits:
• 30%+ Response rates (personal & relevant content with multiple touches, totally automated & managed)

• Steady Stream of prospects=$ MORE SALES$

• Fewer missed opportunities: our clients are at the “Top of their prospects minds”

•Personal and professional attention from a sales professional with over 20 years of B2B sales success, I care.

I would welcome the opportunity to learn more about your sales process and share with how I can help add drive more revenue.. Do you have any availability for a brief call in the next few weeks?

Sincerely,
XYZ
Chief Salesologist”

Talk is Cheap

In 2005, I wrote an article outdated customer service. It is now 2013, and I’m still asking the same questions about service and customer experience as I did back then.

Person Annoyed by Others Talking

When it comes to delivering a service experience that WOWS are most companies talking rather than doing?

At the time that I wrote my article, I quoted Tom Peters from his book The Pursuit of Wow in which he said, “70% of customers hit the road not because of price or product quality issues, but because they did not like the human side of doing business with the provider of the product or service.”

It doesn’t feel like much has changed. Yes, companies like Zappos and Amazon WOW. But what about all the thousands of other brands out there?

I recently read a blog post penned by Frank Eliason, Director of Global Social Media at Citi. In his post, he says that “One of the reasons the Customer experience is broken at many companies is we have tried to force the Customer into our view instead of taking the Customer view.” Exactly. I couldn’t agree more. How often are companies insisting that their employees walk in the shoes of their customers? How often is the boss going “undercover” to really see what’s going on?

We’ve had rapid advancements in technology – digital, mobile, social networks – in the past 10 years. More people can be reached faster and in more unique ways, but what good does any of that do if you talk about service but never actually deliver. As buyers, have we become so accustomed to mediocre service or worse that we just tolerate it?

Customers want to work with those businesses who demonstrate a sincere desire to help them with anything they need, and they are willing to pay for it. Yes, they want products to work and services that meet their needs. More importantly though, they want people who care that what they sell does their business no harm.

Major departments inside organizations continue to work in silos. Pour a little social media into the mix and the problem is exacerbated. Proudly proclaiming to the world that you provide service and support via Twitter means nothing if you never respond to complaints shared on your page. It happens all the time.

I’m going to be talking a lot more about customer experience in the coming days and weeks. Businesses need to start realizing that there is no “linear” path that a prospect now takes on the way to becoming a customer. Marketing, sales and service folks all need to work together to define and deliver exceptional experience at every touch point in the prospect–to-customer life cycle. Beyond the feel good aspect of delivering WOW experiences, there is financial gain as well.

Is providing great a rich and robust customer experience really that difficult?

I’ll close with these words from IBM founder Thomas Watson who said, “If you want to achieve excellence, you can get there today. As of this second, quit doing less-than-excellent work”.

Traits of a Social Selling Rockstar

As I’m on my way to Seattle to work with a client, I have been having a most interesting conversation with my seat mate. It is always refreshing to talk with like minded people in the world of selling. Both of us have been in the business for quite some time and both agree that the more things change, the more they always seem to stay the same. iStock_000014779452Medium

Social selling aside, in other words the ability to use social technology to support your sales activities, there are core traits that define top Sales Rockstars. I don’t think that will ever change.

1. They are chameleons. My colleagues over at CEB might disagree with me, but I think the ability to adapt to different personality styles makes a big difference in successful selling. Years ago, I sold the same way to everyone. Miss optimistic. Suzy cheerleader, I would discover didn’t work for everyone. If I was meeting with a decision maker who had a high need for details, my “we can do it” attitude didn’t exactly win them over. Later, I would become certified in DiSC and learned that different personality styles have different needs. The extremely detailed person wants detailed answers to their questions. Cheerleading won’t cut it.

2. They listen. Too many sales people these days are enamored with the sound of their own voice. They talk and talk and talk and talk and… OMG, they bore their prospects to death. Listening is not about pretending to be interested while waiting for your moment to pounce with your pitch. Listening is being present. Listening with all of your senses to learn about what is important to your prospect and gain greater connection with them.

3. They care. Once in a management meeting, a peer of mine accursed me of being too touchy feeley because I had the audacity to believe that caring about what was important to others meant something. Call me old school, but I believe Ziglar, Carnegie and other greats who remind us that when you care enough to help others get what they want, you win too.

4. They are learners. I believe that sales people who put a high priority on learning have the ability to relate to people at all levels. I realize that the ability to create great “relationships” is not the only factor in winning deals. Still, people buy from people, and if you can’t connect with them, it will be tough to secure the meeting and advance the deal. Avid learners, however, position themselves as someone bringing fresh insight to the table and being able to challenge the status quo based on their breadth and depth of knowledge and experience.

5. They have vast networks and cultivate referrals constantly. I am a huge fan of Joanne Black of No More Cold Calling fame. She is one of the most ardent proponents for referral selling, and guess what, she’s right. Yes, I’m a huge supporter of using social media to augment your sales process AND cultivating a reputable referral network should always top your priority list. When I have been introduced by someone trusted and respected by the decision maker…I got the appointment. Hard to beat how a referral introduction can get you in the door…fast. After that you are on your own.

What do the super star social sellers do in addition to the 5 traits above?

  • They know they are simultaneously a brand and representing one at the same time.
  • They accept that buyer behavior has absolutely changed. They merge the tried and true with what works now.
  • They understand that pitching is dead. Sharing educational and informative content is what demonstrates credibility and  brings prospects to their doorstep.
  • They don’t live in the past. What worked back in the day has lost effectiveness. Adapt, adjust, thrive.
  • They know that “social” isn’t for the kids. Anyone interested in keeping their skills fresh will up their game day in and day out.

Rockstars evolve and only get better. Will you differentiate or stagnate? Up to you…

 

 

 

 

 

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.