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SELLING FOR THE LONG RUN
BUILD LASTING CUSTOMER RELATIONSHIPS FOR BREAKTHROUGH RESULTS
By WENDY FOEGEN REED
The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.Copyright © 2011InfoMentis Goup LLC
All rights reserved.
The Silver Bullet and the Buyer's Perspective
"I found out that if you are going to win the game, you had better be ready to adapt."
—Scotty Bowman, most winning coach in NHL history
The key to avoiding the silver bullet is to acknowledge that the buyer has the money and the seller does not. Hence, the buyers make decisions about you and your solution, and they are in control of the sales process.
Therefore, no world-class sales process exists, only a world-class buying process. The silver bullet is nothing more than superstition. In fact, the term sales process is misleading. The sales team does not drive the process—the buyer does. The key to mastering this process—to taming the tornado that often ensues upon embarking on a new sales process—is to learn how to align your sales process with the buyer's process. This starts by your understanding the buyer's perspective.
Unfortunately, salespeople and teams have a tough reputation to overcome. We often hear the following complaints about sales teams:
* "The sales team was arrogant. They kept telling us what they wanted to tell us, not what we needed to know."
* "The sales reps are always talking. They talk nonstop about themselves, their company, and their solutions. They talk, talk, talk, but they never listen, which means they do not understand our business."
* "Every time we ask them a question, we get a slightly different answer, which makes it hard to know the truth and trust the sales team."
This reputation stems from a central assumption: as sellers, we often assume that because we want to develop strategic relationships with buyers, the buyers want to develop strategic relationships with us. We are so besotted with our awesome solutions and the sexy features that we believe the benefits are intuitively obvious to all of our buyers. As a result, instead of helping our buyers understand how the solution will solve their problem, we jump straight into what vendors think is cool and ignore the buyers' perspective.
We neglect to understand what the buyer perceives or believes to be true.
Critical to the ability to develop a relationship is our ability to put ourselves in the buyers' shoes, culture, and business. In doing so, we can begin to understand the buyers' perspective.
The Two Critical Questions
When sellers identify opportunities, they immediately begin obsessing about budgets and deadlines, busying themselves by worrying about closing sales and moving on to the next big deal. Though the seller might see the obvious connection between her solution and the buyer's challenge, the seller's mentality does little to assuage the buyer's fear that the proposed solution will not address his specific need.
Instead, the salesperson inadvertently sends a loud message to the buyer: I'm going to love you and leave you by the side of the road.
The seller can begin to rectify this by asking two critical questions. The first question is directed to the buyer.
"What Happened in Your Business That Triggered Your Need for a Solution?"
This question not only helps the buyer feel understood, but answers to this simple question reveal the buyer's needs and goals.
Surprisingly, most sales professionals cannot name their top three buyers' business goals. Can you? If you were given the challenge of listing the business objectives of your top three buyers, would this information be ingrained in your mind, or would you struggle to come up with one of their goals, much less three?
Next comes the second critical question, which you—the salesperson—must be able to answer.
"What Do My Prospects, Buyers, and Customers Think About My Solution, My Company, and Me?"
At the end of the day, your own opinion of your solution and company does not matter. Your competitors' and colleagues' opinions do not matter. Your prospects are the ones who will decide to spend money with you, or not. Your buyers are the people who will share opinions with prospects and create your reputation. Your customers are the people who will validate or dispute information about your solution and your customer service skills.
Such opinions are crucially important. Yet an astounding number of sales professionals lack insight into how they are perceived by these most important people.
The Buyer's Perspective of Salespeople
The second critical question requires the salesperson to consider not only the buyers' perception of his personality, competence, reliability, and the like but also the perception of his sophistication as a sales professional.
As sales representatives grow personally and within their organization, they evolve from communicating product solutions to business solutions to strategic solutions to the buyer.
As indicated in the pyramid, the majority of sales professionals are perceived as product solution representatives. Most sales professionals start out in this category because they need time to evolve their business knowledge and grow their abilities. Here are some characteristics of product solution professionals:
Categorizing Sales Professionals
The Buyer's View
They can intelligently discuss and represent the products and services they sell.
They have some awareness of other customers who have used their products and services.
They can articulate some basic business and financial benefits and points of impact offered by their product or service.
Product solution representatives are typically good communicators who professionally present and demonstrate their product and services. They have basic organization skills, are decent with follow-up tasks and communication, and bond well with buyers. If they are to do business with solution representatives, buyers expect them to be knowledgeable and professional.
As you can see, the perception of product solution representatives is not negative. The downside is that once a sales professional is pigeonholed as a product solution representative, the professional has a difficult time convincing buyers that he can be more strategic. As well, a product solution representative will not have much success meeting with executives on the buying team. Instead, executives will delegate the meeting to someone lower on the totem pole.
The next category of sales professional—the perceived business solution professional—is more valuable to the buyer and is considered a problem solver. A business solution professional is more focused on value for the buyer. The differences in perception of the business solution professional over the product solution representative include the following:
They have a clear understanding of how buyers and businesses use their solutions.
They are credible when it comes to business discussions, and they exhibit strong business acumen.
They can help the buyers craft a business case for their solution.
As far as communication abilities, business solution professionals not only have an awareness of presentation skills and organization, but they also practice these in every exchange and communication with the buyer. They share information and can differentiate their solution; provide alternatives; and listen, align, and personalize business benefits and advantages of their solution. Business solution professionals might have potential access to a buying executive, but they will not be see
Excerpted from SELLING FOR THE LONG RUN by WENDY FOEGEN REED. Copyright © 2011 by InfoMentis Goup LLC. Excerpted by permission of The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc..
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