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SLOW DOWN, SELL FASTER!Understand Your Customer's Buying Process and Maximize Your Sales
By Kevin Davis
AMACOMCopyright © 2011 Kevin Davis
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWhy Slower Is Faster
How Selling Too Fast Results in Lost Sales and a Longer Buying Process
Recently I was retained by a regional VP of sales for a large financial institution to evaluate the effectiveness of his team's sale of investment advisory services provided to high-net-worth customers. He asked me to be a "mystery shopper," and at his request I met with one of his salespeople while posing as a high-net-worth customer considering the possibility of changing from my current financial advisor to another investment management firm.
Coincidentally, at the time I actually had a few concerns about my own personal financial advisor, and because I realized that I might change firms as a result of my analysis, I told my client that in order to perform a realistic decision process, I would also meet with two of his company's competitors. (It's also why I asked to meet his best and most experienced advisor, figuring that's who I'd want working for me should I decide to actually pick this firm.)
Over the next six weeks I met as planned with the representatives of three different investment advisory firms, including one from my client's firm. Each of the sales consultants was extremely effective at building rapport, making me feel comfortable, and creating a perception of caring.
Yet they all made the single most common mistake that salespeople in all industries make: they moved through the steps of their sales process—building trust, identifying needs, presenting their solutions, going for the close—without thinking about where I was in my decision-making process. They sold too fast. They put me on their sales track, instead of joining me in my buying process.
That's why this book has the paradoxical title of Slow Down, Sell Faster! When you sell slower on each sales call—ask more questions and do many of the activities suggested in this book—your customers will buy faster. They will more fully recognize their needs and the urgency of those needs. The best solution (hopefully yours) will be more clearly defined and differentiated in ways the customer recognizes as important. It is this connection with the customer's buying process that will differentiate you.
In this chapter, I want to talk in more detail about what I mean by saying these financial advisors sold too fast, discuss how customers buy, and present a new model of selling that matches the customer buying process.
How Selling Too Fast Causes Lost Sales
My first face-to-face meeting with my client's investment advisor went as follows (the labels are mine, the actions were the advisor's):
* Build trust: The advisor began by learning a bit about me, before sharing about himself, his money management background, education, etc. It was an effective opening.
* Identify needs: The advisor then asked me some questions. He learned about my financial goals, and that I was dissatisfied with the returns and performance achieved by my current financial advisor.
* Present solution overview: He explained that his firm's approach is not to be market timers or "fad chasers," and he told me about his firm's investment model that minimizes risk while maximizing returns. I also learned that his approach to determining his clients' needs was to create a Personal Wealth Plan based on my answers to questions such as: Where is my money now? Where would my financial assets be in retirement?
* Close for next step: The advisor then recommended we meet again in a few days, and asked that I bring account statements of my current investments.
Here are the five mistakes he made—all of which revolve around selling too fast:
1. He didn't delve into why I thought my returns with my current advisor were poor. If he had, I would have explained that over the previous eight years my portfolio hadn't really changed all that much—that there had been little movement of assets from one investment type to another. My opinion was that my current advisor was lazy and took my account for granted. Had my client's advisor asked the right questions, he would have gained deeper insight into my needs, and he would have been much more persuasive later during his solution presentation.
2. Since he didn't know about my current advisor's laziness and slow response, he forfeited one of the most powerful tools a salesperson has: getting prospects to think about the possible negative consequences of not making a change. In this case, had he asked about what would happen if I did nothing, I would have thought about the effect of trusting my money to someone asleep at the switch, and about all the fear and uncertainty that that would have entailed. That would have helped me put a face on my future.
3. He didn't try to find out about my second need. Usually, the first topic discussed with a prospective client is his or her greatest concern at that time; it's the need that's most developed from the customer's perspective, and the reason the customer agreed to meet with you. Getting prospects to realize they have more than one need for change creates a greater sense of urgency, which adds greater potential value to the solution you will eventually offer (see sidebar).
4. He didn't ask me about my buying process—how I would make my decision regarding who would get my business. So he didn't learn that I was going to be interviewing two of his competitors. He lost out on an opportunity to start answering my question "why should I choose you" before I asked it of him.
5. He didn't ask me who else would be involved in my decision. While I could have been acting alone, had the advisor asked he would have learned that my wife is a valued partner in our financial decisions. He could have then sped up our buying decision by slowing down his sales pitch and requesting a follow-up meeting with both me and my wife. (In fact, most sales situations today involve more than one decision maker. Gaining access to the second or third or fourth decision maker is therefore key, and is something I'll cover in Chapters 3 and 5).
When I met with the advisor the following day, he continued to make even more mistakes, maintaining his focus on his selling process rather than on my buying process. (In case you're curious, I did eventually hire one of the three advisors I interviewed, and am very happy with my choice.)
In a way, I wasn't surprised by this advisor's behavior. His company had put their salespeople through a lot of traditional sales training. Also, I've observed that more-experienced salespeople are the most likely to sell too fast. Why? One reason is that the "expert" salesperson has seen the customer's problem before, and assumes that the customer now sees it, too. As a result, he or she jumps immediately into describing their product's or service's benefits before the customer has fully recognized the scope of the problem. (New salespeople lack application expertise, so they're more likely to ask additional questions that get the customer talking about needs and applications.)
No matter whether you're just selling as you've been taught to sell, or showing off your knowledge of the subject to your prospect, jumping ahead of the customer means you are pitching too much information too soon. This only serves to dampen the customer's curiosity. (Have you ever noticed that customers are easy to reach when they need your information, but almost impossible to reach when they don't?) You play the customer. Suppose I present you with ten capabilities of my product or service, but you think you only need five of them. How will it make you feel? The natural reaction is either that "this is more than I need/it's too expensive," or "maybe somebody else has a better solution for my company's needs."
Every salesperson wants to sell more. We all want to make more money and gain recognition for peak performance. As my experience with the financial advisor illustrates, the way to do this is to slow down. We need to take the time to get into our customer's head, because that's how we can learn more about their needs, and how their focus and concerns change as they move through their buying process. With a better understanding of a customer's needs and concerns, we provide more value throughout their buying process. We can help them become clearer about the opportunity and risks they face; help them better define criteria for an ideal solution. When these issues are clearly spelled out, customers become more comfortable with their decision. They can reach their purchasing decision more quickly. And that's how you sell faster.
Shifting from Selling- to Buying-Focused
Over the past twenty years as a sales consultant, I've delivered hundreds of sales seminars. I start by asking salespeople two questions. The first question is, "What are the steps of your selling process?" Here, I get clear, concise answers. Most salespeople can describe how they sell. One answer I hear often is "Open, Needs, Support, and Close." Another is "Prepare, Qualify, Present, Objections, and Close." While the answers vary from one salesperson to another, and from one company to another, the point is clear: Most salespeople have a well-thought-out and well-defined sales process that they follow.
The second question is, "What are the steps of your customer's buying process?" Even today, with an increased emphasis on being customer-focused, that question still stumps people. Some have never thought about the process from the customer's viewpoint, and even those who are trying to be more customer-driven haven't formalized their thinking to the point where they can appreciate the process that customers go through when making major purchases. The result is that salespeople tend to think about what they're doing during the sales process to try to sell, rather than what the customer needs to do to make an educated buying decision.
One of the first lessons I try to pass on to salespeople is that customers don't care about your sales process. They care about their buying process.
The Eight Steps in the Customer's Buying Process
People and organizations buy in two ways:
1. Buy-knowing: When buyers already know as much as they need to know in order to buy, they quickly make a decision.
2. Buy-learning: When buyers do not have all the information they need to make an educated purchasing decision, they need to do some research and learn more first.
Because the customers who are operating in a buy-knowing mode are likely to make up their minds without dealing with a salesperson, the customers we will focus on in this book are those operating in a buy-learning mode. They are going through a more deliberate, predictable process.
The major premise of this book is that understanding the customer's buying process and adapting your sales behavior accordingly is what will give you a competitive edge.
Because the steps of buying are a process, I created a model that shows them as a wheel (see Figure 1-1). This wheel captures the four phases of buying that customers in a buy-learning mode typically go through:
1. Identifying a need
2. Learning more about their options
3. Buying the good or service
4. Evaluating the value of that purchase
Need ... Learn ... Buy ... Value ... those are the customer's purposes, the end game of each phase of buying. But dig a little deeper, and you'll see that customers go through eight steps—two distinct steps in each phase—as shown in Figure 1-2.
For example, think about the last time you were in a buy-learning mode, making a big purchase such as buying a car or a house. Everything started with a Change in your life (Step 1). Did you have children? Move to different area of the country with different weather conditions? That change triggered Discontent with your current situation (Step 2). Discontent can be caused by a problem (such as a wrecked car) or an opportunity being missed (such as a new job that pays you more money and causes you to feel dissatisfied with your old clunker).
Once your discontent has developed into a need you decided to learn about the options you had. First, you did Research (Step 3) to identify alternative solutions (houses in different neighborhoods, different models of cars or minivans), then did a Comparison (Step 4) of potential solutions (different car models or different houses).
Eventually you identified a preferred solution and were about to buy. But if you're like most of us, there was a moment of Fear, when you weren't sure you were doing the right thing or making the right choice (Step 5). You walked out of the showroom or told your realtor you wanted to "think it over." You may not have returned the salesperson's calls until you had rethought the decision. Eventually, I'm assuming, you worked through your fears and made a Commitment to the purchase (Step 6).
For many salespeople—the car salesperson or realtor in our scenario—that's where the sales process would end because the purchase has been made. But from your point of view as the customer, the important part of the buying process is just beginning, you want to see if the value you receive meets your Expectations (Step 7). If yes, you ultimately reach a state of Satisfaction with the purchase (Step 8) ... until, that is, something changes and you go through the cycle again.
Six Mysteries of Selling Solved
If you follow a sales process that does not match the steps of the customer buying process, you end up making inadvertent mistakes. When you become more familiar with what is going on in the customer's head at each step of their buying process, you will be able to explain some of the most common mysteries of selling, including:
* Why so many of your telephone prospecting calls fall on deaf ears. Most salespeople include in their approach call a "benefit statement," which is two or three generic customer benefits that attempt to create interest so the prospect agrees to an initial appointment. But the vast majority of prospects are either in the Change or Discontent steps when you call them. They may or may not be aware they have a problem, which means they are nowhere near having the kind of explicit need for a solution that would allow them to respond positively to your pitch. Describing benefits is a match for a customer's state of mind much later in the buying process, in the Comparison step. In talking about benefits off the bat, you're out of sync, steps ahead of your customer—and, unfortunately for you, buyers rarely skip steps.
* Why customers ask you early on to give them a "ballpark" price. In the Need phase, buyers are trying to determine whether the discomfort they are feeling is a serious enough issue to warrant attention. They are wondering, "Is this a big enough priority that we should explore purchasing a solution?" By asking you to give a ballpark estimate of the cost, they are looking for data that will enable them to compare cost versus benefit, and judge whether it's worth going any further with their purchasing decision. If the price seems reasonable compared to the seriousness of the problem, they are more likely to continue along the buying process. If it is expensive relative to the perceived impact, they may bring the process to a halt.
* Why customers fail to recognize the full value of your solution and resort to pushing back on price. As salespeople, most of us have been trained to present our solution as soon as we have identified the customer's needs. Trouble is, that usually occurs when the customer is in either the Discontent or Research steps. That means we are discussing our features and options when the customer still only has a vague notion at best regarding the urgency of the need, let alone what an ideal solution would look like. Until they fully understand their needs—including the consequences of inaction—and they have a vivid mental picture of a solution, they are not in a position to appreciate the value of what you're offering.
Excerpted from SLOW DOWN, SELL FASTER! by Kevin Davis Copyright © 2011 by Kevin Davis. 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.
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