Read an Excerpt
Conversations That Sell
Collaborate with Buyers and Make Every Conversation Count
By NANCY BLEEKE
AMACOMCopyright © 2013Nancy Bleeke
All rights reserved.
The Importance of You in Selling: Being a Real Part of the Solution
"Always be a first-rate version of yourself, instead of a second-rate version of somebody else." —JUDY GARLAND
With today's marketers focusing the bulk of their resources on data, hype, and having a powerful online presence, you might think that salespeople are no longer relevant. You might fall into the trap of thinking that buyers don't need people in their buying process, taking up their time, when they can get "all the information they need" instantaneously over the Internet. Don't believe it! In today's world, where information is pervasive, you, the sales professional, are more important than ever.
What? The seller is more important than ever?
Yes, you heard me right. You are an essential component of what you sell. You are an essential component in many purchasing decisions.
YOUR ROLE IN THE SOLUTION YOU SELL
For more than a decade, "experts" have predicted the demise of the sales professional, arguing that online buying will significantly reduce or eliminate the need for salespeople. Yet I haven't seen that happen and I don't expect it will. What I have noticed, to the contrary, is that many online retailers are adapting how they sell to include chat features that offer site visitors the opportunity to connect with someone "live" to answer questions, discuss options, and clarify information. They have found that personal attention and assistance leads to selling more product.
This confirms my belief that there will always be a need for people to sell to people. In fact, as of 2010, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that there are over 13.4 million salespeople in the United States alone; and if you've checked the job listings lately, you'll find thousands of sales jobs waiting to be filled.
Why is that? Why do buyers still need salespeople when they have access to so much information? Let's take a closer look.
With the commoditization of many products and services, combined with the proliferation of information, you are often the differentiating factor in a prospect's decision to buy. While pricing, delivery, and the solution itself are important, what makes a buyer choose your solution over your competitor's is often you—your understanding of their situation, your concern for their need, your ideas about how they might best use your solution, and the confidence you give them in your company's solution. In short, they need what you personally bring to the sales process and solution during and after the sale—both in the business-to-business (B2B) sector, where solutions tend to be more complex, and in the business-to-consumer (B2C) marketplace, where personal experience and ability to relate to the consumer count—a lot. You add value to the solution and that value closes more sales.
Let me share an example from my own experience.
Early in my sales career, I took the advice of a mentor who suggested that I would win more business if I focused on my product, not my expertise, and modeled myself—style, dress, and demeanor—after a certain successful sales professional in my industry. Her message was that the product would sell itself if I didn't get in the way.
As a young upstart business owner, I thought I ought to listen. If that meant being invisible and just selling the product, well, that was okay by me. But that well-meaning, old-school coaching nearly cost me my first big sales opportunity—a multi-year training engagement in the financial services industry.
I managed to land the project after some quick scrambling, but it ended up costing me dearly—tens of thousands of dollars over a four-year period. Why? Because I was so busy trying to stay out of the way, so focused on the product pitch and being invisible, that I lost sight of the value I added to the solution, and, consequently, so did the client. Bottom line, I did a great job selling the product because they wanted my solution, but they didn't want me.
I salvaged the deal by hiring a trainer who had the experience the client requested and fit their suggested profile—someone older, preferably male, with gray hair or, better yet, bald!—while I took on the role of account executive. The percentage I paid my colleague deeply eroded my profitability and cost me referrals that went to him as the front man.
Over time, though, I gained confidence and began demonstrating my competence as a resource for the client, finding answers even when it wasn't my direct responsibility, driving the ongoing implementation, offering my experience and advice, and using my talents to "get it done."
After one particularly productive meeting where I was able to share some of my knowledge, insight, and suggestions, one of the leaders who had been part of the original selection team asked, "Where were you during the sales process?"
I wanted to stammer, "What? Where was I? I was the one working twelve-hour days to meet your deadlines and compile the information requested by your thirteen-person decision team, each and every step of the way." But I wisely kept my mouth shut as she went on to say that if the decision team had seen how smart, knowledgeable, funny, and personable I was, I wouldn't have needed to bring in my training colleague!
Hearing that hard truth was tough, but it taught me a valuable lesson about the importance of being part of what I sell—of letting my personality and unique strengths come through. If only I hadn't hidden behind the product, thinking that was all that mattered. If only I hadn't blindly followed my mentor's direction to focus only on the product and not incorporate "me" into the process and solution. If only I had demonstrated that I was part of the solution and the value they would receive, I would have closed the sale with fewer complications and a much higher profit.
FAKE IT 'TIL YOU MAKE IT: DOES THAT WORK?
What if you've been taught, or prefer, to focus your buyer solely on your product or service (solution)? What if you're not comfortable being a part of the solution—for whatever reason? Maybe you don't want to be seen as assertive or pushy, or you're feeling the pressure of not meeting quota; maybe you want to sell more and don't know how, or you've been "beaten up" by your buyers, by the market, by your manager, or by your competition. Maybe you are new to sales or in a new role, or have a new territory with different buyers, or have new solutions to sell. The reason doesn't matter much. The question is, can you "fake it 'til you make it" when it comes to confidence and competence, as many well-meaning managers, mentors, and colleagues advise when you're fighting through the fear, stress, and uncertainty that make up a day in the life of a salesperson?
I think not!
Perhaps it worked in the past, though I doubt it ever really did. It certainly doesn't work in today's world, where buyers have too many pressures on their time, resources, and attention to waste them on sellers who are disingenuous. And trust me, they can spot a fake a mile away—sellers who pretend to care, while they haven't taken the time to understand the buyer; sellers who lack knowledge, misrepresent the impact of their solution, or project uncertainty.
Buyers need sellers who really do care, who really do understand, who really can help them focus on the important information and discard all the rest. They need sellers who show up prepared to work with, and sometimes guide, them through the sales process effectively and efficiently.
But what if you genuinely lack confidence, or perhaps the necessary competence, to be the kind of seller buyers need today? You've come to the right place—the rest of this book will introduce you to the skills, tools, and techniques along with best practices and examples that will help you become a competent, valuable resource for your buyers, so you can approach any selling situation with genuine confidence.
THERE'S NOWHERE TO HIDE IN A TRANSPARENT WORLD
If you're not yet convinced of the need to approach your sales with genuine competence and confidence, in today's transparent world your reputation, and that of your product and company, are more exposed than ever before. For you as a seller, this transparency is a double-edged sword, opening opportunities to reach more buyers, to build stronger relationships and trust, and to differentiate yourself from the competition. At the same time, it leaves you and all you have ever done uncovered for your buyers and competition to view and analyze as well.
When buyers access the Internet or their network for information about your product and company, they look for reviews to learn of others' experiences, and frequently check up on the sales rep's "rep," too. One bad experience or questionable action can be broadcast instantly across the Internet, through social networks and consumer forum sites. And buyers pay attention. There's simply nowhere to hide and no room for faking it these days.
ADOPT AND ADAPT BEST PRACTICES TO ESCALATE YOUR VALUE AND SALES
If it's important that you make yourself a part of your solution, and vital that you be "real," does that mean you should never model or borrow successful practices from top salespeople? No. This book is filled with best practices I hope you choose to adopt. The key, however, is to adopt and adapt—to make them your own.
Try them on for size, practice them, and make incremental adjustments to best fit your solution, your buyers, and the industry you work in. Make them genuinely yours by adapting them to fit your strengths, personality, skills, and expertise.
When you are "real" and a vital part of your solution, you give your buyers confidence, and you both experience new levels of satisfaction and success.
Collaborative Selling: Where Every Conversation Matters and Everyone Wins
"I'm convinced that the world changes, conversation by conversation."
—Daniel Pink, author
Imagine this scenario. You're in a conversation, sitting across from another party—maybe one person, a couple, or a business team—with a wide desk or kitchen table between you. The surface between you is covered with documents, a computer, a telephone, and stacks of paperwork. Your prospective buyer is avoiding direct eye contact, afraid that you're there to sell them something or tell them something they have to do.
Now imagine a different scenario. You enter a conference room, office, or living room and your buyer smiles at you and greets you with a warm handshake. They invite you to sit next to them to share ideas and information. They are open when responding to your questions and engage with you collaboratively to discuss how you and your solution might help them, or provide something they want or need.
In which scenario do you have a better chance of succeeding? The second one, of course!
How do you make that happen? How do you create such a setting? You approach each sale using the collaborative selling approach you'll learn in this book.
WHY COLLABORATIVE SELLING WORKS
Buyers and sellers often approach a sales situation as if they are on opposing sides of the table—or opposite sides of a negotiation. That's what you saw in the first scenario.
Collaborative selling is about being on the same side, working side-by-side with your buyer to achieve something you both want. They want a solution; you want a sale. That's what you saw in the second scenario.
How then do you achieve what you both want? By focusing on the buyer.
When you focus on helping your buyer solve a problem, capture an opportunity, or get what they want or need, you give them greater value, build a trusting relationship, earn their loyalty, and end up with more sales. That's a situation where you both achieve what you want or need—short term and long term.
To help you remember the importance of focusing on your buyer throughout the selling process, I've developed an acronym—WiifT, pronounced "whiff-it" —which stands for "What's in it for Them?" Them is your buyer. It's spelled with a capital T because the focus is on Them.
The way you focus on the buyer is to make their problems, opportunities, wants, and needs the focus of your conversations and the reason for your solution. This leads us to another important acronym—POWNs, pronounced with the sound of the first o in opportunity. POWNs stands for problems, opportunities, wants, and needs—the items you work with your buyer to address or achieve. (I promise there are only three acronyms in this book for you to remember.)
Usually sellers are taught to find the buyer's want or need, and that is a great place to start. Yet when you look beyond the obvious want or need and help your buyer capture opportunities and solve problems, you gain their respect, earn their trust, give greater value, and create a stronger sense of urgency for adopting your solution.
These desired or not-yet-capitalized-upon opportunities and known and unknown problems are often the areas where you can provide the most value. In consumer sales, these may be life changers. Your solution may lead to less stress, healthier relationships, an improved quality of life, a more organized lifestyle or home, or a better work-life balance.
In corporate sales, they may be more complex, involve other departments, and help the company's customers or benefit the overall organization. Your solution might help them avoid future replacement costs or reduce maintenance expenses. You might help them realize a high-level benefit, such as eliminating redundancy with another department or improving the company's reputation. These are things your buyer may not have thought about, and yet addressing them benefits the buyer's company and puts the buyer in a favorable light within their own company.
When you think beyond immediate wants and needs, you make a huge difference to your buyer. The impact makes you more valuable than someone who just provides a product or service.
There are some misunderstandings about what collaboration is. There is a perception that collaboration is an arduous process, involving large teams of people and long timelines. Yet collaborative selling can be as simple as a single conversation, or a string of conversations, between a buyer and a seller—two-way conversations where the discovery and dialogue are part of the value the buyer receives.
In a nutshell, collaborative selling involves a buyer and seller, working together, conversation by conversation, to address the buyer's POWNs, with the outcome being that they both achieve something of value. The approach works whether your conversations take place face-to-face, over the phone, or through email.
COLLABORATION IS CONSULTATION PLUS
Consultative selling, which has been the norm for many years, positions you, the seller, as the expert in your field—the authority on your product or service. Your role has been to uncover your buyer's wants and needs, go off in a silo and develop a solution, and then return to explain how your solution matches the buyer's need. It's a "them and us" mindset, not a "working together" approach. Although the approach has been extremely effective for decades, it only addresses wants and needs, and misses opportunities and problems. Collaborative selling provides an opportunity to add much more value, as I'll explain later in this discussion.
Collaborative selling is also a more efficient sales process. Today's buyers are faced with more challenges than ever before. They are faced with what I call a "More and Less" syndrome:
Today's buyers face:
Sellers need an efficient, effective selling approach that doesn't waste their buyer's time or add to their "More and Less" challenges. You need to make every conversation count for your buyer, and that's what happens when you focus on Wiif'T. It's also what happens when your buyer becomes a part of the solution.
Remember the old saying that "two heads are better than one"? When you and the buyer bring your collective expertise and ideas together, you often come up with a solution that neither of you would have discovered alone.
A participant in one of my training sessions shared a situation where he was faced with a buyer's objection. Rather than trying to identify a solution to the objection by himself, he asked the buyer for their suggestion. The buyer's suggested solution was one the seller never would have thought of, leading the buyer to feel part of the solution and the seller to have a quicker decision with a committed buyer.
Excerpted from Conversations That Sell by NANCY BLEEKE. Copyright © 2013 by Nancy Bleeke. Excerpted by permission of AMACOM.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.