Category Archives: The Sales Detective

The Sales Detective – Lessons from a Cabinet Maker

By Bob Davis

A few years ago my wife and I went looking for some new kitchen cabinets. We visited several showrooms and announced, “We’d like to see some cabinets.” The salespeople responded by demonstrating their cabinets.  Their product knowledge was of the highest order. They all could describe the wood used, construction details, and hardware options. Enthusiastic presentations were typical. By the end of these presentations we had enough product information to convince us that the cabinets described were well made and, therefore, expensive. We did what all customers have been trained to do. We asked. . .

  • What does it cost?
  • Can we get it for less with different hardware?
  • How big is your discount?

By the end of the day we had an armload of product brochures and lots of price quotes. We were truly proud of ourselves as comparison shoppers. We were

Kitchen cabinet display in a store in 2009. Fo...

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determined to get the best product at the lowest price.  Does this customer sound familiar to you?

At the last a cabinet shop, we approached an older gentlemen wearing baggy tan pants with a folded wooden ruler in his back pocket.  “Can I help you?” he asked the carpenter pants .

Confident in our abilities as wise customers, my wife and I said, “We’d like to see some cabinets.” With a slow, sweeping wave of his arm toward the cabinets behind him, the older gentlemen said, “We have lots of cabinets that I’ll be glad to show you.” Then he did something strikingly different from the other cabinet salespeople. Rather than walking over to the cabinets, he turned to us and said, “Would you mind if I asked you a few questions first? If I understand what you’re trying to accomplish, I’ll be able to point you toward the best cabinets for you.”

My wife and I felt our comparison shopping method was coming to a screeching halt. Oddly enough, we didn’t mind, because this older gentlemen was the first person who expressed interest in finding out what was on our minds.  His cabinets were secondary to our goals in making a change to our kitchen.

While this older gentlemen may never have taken the seminar I teach–Wilson Learning’s “Counselor Salesperson”, which teaches sales people to be consultative–he was doing it. (Too many people like that on the street and my business is in trouble!) There was no lack of product knowledge in Marco, as we discovered later when he explained how his cabinets and other services addressed our problems. The skills he demonstrated led him to sell us a complete kitchen renovation and brought a halt to our comparison shopping. He did this by demonstrating that he wanted to solve our problem, not just sell us a product.

Let’s examine how he accomplished the sale and differentiated himself:

  • Other cabinet salespeople were dressed in a suit and tie. This gentleman wore tan pants with a wooden ruler in his back pocket. His hands were calloused, as you would expect from someone who actually did carpentry. He listened to us and understood we were not technical experts on carpentry.
  • As we described our situation, he told us stories about other customers in similar situations. He had a picture book of work he had done on their kitchens.
  • He discussed his feelings about quality only after we brought up its importance to us. Consistently, he would discuss his values in kitchen remodeling only after we brought up the topic.
  • He always made it clear that his desire was to help by giving us a clear value propositions for everything he asked us to do. During our first visit, for example, he requested to visit our existing kitchen by saying:

“I’d like to look at your current kitchen to be able to draw an accurate model of your new kitchen. I’ll come to your home, ask you some questions about what you’re trying to accomplish and take some measurements.  This will allow me to create a drawing of the new kitchen you want. This will give you a clear picture of the kind of work I can do and allow you to decide if we should work together.”

The Sales Detective lesson:

Customers are less interested in the technical specs of your product than in how it solves their problem. As Ted Levitt the renowned marketing guru from Harvard once said, “People don’t buy ¼ inch drills, they buy ¼ inch holes.” Sell what it does, not what it is!

The Sales Detective – The Ultimate Guide to Sales Planning

If You Plan Something, It’s More Likely To Happen

by Bob Davis

Alice came to the Cheshire Cat sitting on the bough of a tree and said, “Would you tell me please which way I ought to walk from here?” “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat. “I don’t much care where,” said Alice. “Then it doesn’t matter which way you walk,” said the Cat. “So long as I get somewhere,” Alice added as an explanation. “Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if only you walk long enough.”

Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Salesperson In Wonderland

In selling, we all have had days like Alice. We know we want to get somewhere, but we never sit down and thoroughly plan the where, what and how. Sure we find the customer’s place of business, but do we really develop a clear picture of the outcome we desire from the day’s activity?

If you have ever had a sales day when you felt like you were walking in sand, working hard and getting nowhere fast, read on. You may discover a whole new way of thinking about call outcomes.

We present an outcome-based sales call planning approach that is also customer focused. To accomplish this, we re-examine and re-frame the words, Goal, Objective and Tactic. By the end, you will have a quick method of sales call planning that allows you to measure your success and congratulate yourself for success more often.

The End of the Road

Goal — A measurable long-term outcome in the sales process.

The goal is the big picture, that is, where you ultimately want to be in the account. It is not what you plan to accomplish today. The goal helps you focus on what you want to accomplish at a point in time in the future.


“X” % of “Y” products used by this customer will be ours by the end of the 2nd Q

All users will specify our “Z” product on all “Y” applications

Only If You Faint First

Objective: A planned, measurable customer action that moves you toward your sales goal.

I frequently work in the field with salespeople in a variety of industries. One of my standard questions is, “What’s the objective of this sales call?” The response almost always sounds like, “To tell the account about X.” If we plan objectives like this, we aren’t being tough enough on ourselves. The only way we could fail is if we fainted half way through the product presentation.

Objectives should state what the customer will do, not what we will do. What we will do is our tactics. What the customer will do is the objective. Customer action is what we should always plan for in a sales call.

Buy Yourself a Rubber Stamp

Why do we focus on our activity (tactics) rather than the customers (objective)?  Listen to yourself as you tell your manager about an upcoming sales call.  Don’t be surprised if it sounds like “First, I’ll . . . . Then I’ll . . . . etc.” We often become self-focused rather than customer-focused in our sales call planning. Let’s present some guidelines for outcome based, customer focused sales call planning. Objectives should be:

Measurable. You must be able to say what did or did not happen. This will allow you to measure your success and congratulate yourself for a customer action that will lead toward the sale. Examples are — the customer will:

  • Set a meeting with the key stakeholders.
  • Commit to a product evaluation for one week.
  • Support a conversion to our product at the committee meeting.
  • Agree to a cost analysis

Realistic. You must be able to accomplish it on this call. While you want that product conversion, don’t forget that’s your goal, not always the objective of today’s call. Having a decision influencer call the key decision maker suggesting an appointment with you might be a better objective, because it can happen today.

Customer Focused. Customer activity (objective) should be planned for before you plan what you are going to do (tactics). The  desired customer outcome will drive your tactic. There is a simple formula to assure a customer focused objective every time.  Start all your call plans with — As a result of this call, the customer will . . . .

  • Write a letter to . . . .
  • Describe the evaluation criteria. . . .
  • Introduce me to . . . .
  • Let me observe . . . .
  • Support a conversion to our product at the committee meeting
  • Agree to a cost analysis

The key to success is to always think, “As a result of this call,” followed by a “do” word (i.e. action verb). We get paid in sales to create customer activity. Buy yourself a rubber-stamp that says, “As A Result of This Call, the Customer Will . . . .”, to help you implant this mental model. This will assure that you generate more income by staying focused on customer activity.

Can I Focus On Me Now?

Tactic: The salesperson’s planned activities that will lead to customer action.

If we don’t plan our tactic last, we will be as confused as Alice in her earlier discussion with the Cheshire Cat.  Desired customer outcome should always drive our behavior in selling. Now that we have defined that outcome (objective), we can plan what we will do.  Example of tactics are, I will . . . .

  • Ask about the challenges they face when . . . .
  • Ask how they would change the current system. . . .
  • Demonstrate appropriate use of X to . . . .
  • Perform an inventory analysis of . . . .
  • Describe our value added services and their impact on. . . .

If You Plan Something, It’s More Likely To Happen (Revisited)

Dennis Waitley, a motivational psychologist and well-known business speaker once said, “What the mind imagines, the body manifests.” We all recognize the correctness of this on the negative side. The child who is told, “You’re a bad girl/boy” becomes a bad girl/boy because we’ve created that model in their mind. Let’s look at the positive side of what Dennis Waitley has to say.  If you plan your goals, objectives and tactics, they are more likely to happen.  Using the planning guidelines we’ve offered, you can create the mental models needed to help you envision and implement customer focused outcomes.

The Sales Detective lesson:

Always plan calls by starting with the big picture goal, followed by the commitment/action you expect from the customer — then, and only then, plan your tactics!

The Sales Detective – Closing the Sale

“What do you see as the next step?”

By Bob Davis

Closing the sale is critical for those of us for whom selling is our noble career choice. Many of us have been taught the “ABC” method of closing (always be closing). Often, this gets executed in a trial close that seems manipulative to our customers. Some examples (and the fantasy response I would like to give):

Car Salesperson: “What can I do to get you into this car today?”
Customer: “Open the door!”

Insurance Salesperson: “If I could show you a way to protect your loved one’s future and give you increased financial security, would you be interested?”
Customer: “No! I don’t much care for my family and my goal is to go bankrupt this year—can you help with those?”

In the fantasy interchanges above, we have exaggerated (not by much) the manipulative nature of many closing techniques. Of course we all know that a truly consultative selling approach engages the customer in very different process that doesn’t require the manipulative closes like the above. A discourse on Consultative Selling is a three-day affair when I teach sales classes as a professional sales trainer. Rather than cover all of that in this blog, let’s take a look at a quick tip on closing that I discovered by accident.

I was working with a software company that was considering having me and my company design and deliver a large segment of their Global Sales Meeting. After several meetings with sales operations and others, I was brought in to the office of the sales VP. Much work had been done prior to this meeting and I knew more work would be needed to close the deal. Getting involvement from this VP was critical as he “owned” the Global Sales Meeting and its budget. After 45 minutes of productive discussion, I sensed the meeting was ready to end and asked the VP, “What do you see as the next step?” His eyes brightened, he leaned forward and he said, “That was a great closing question!” We defined specific steps and dates that would lead me to a contract and a twelve-year, very productive relationship with this gentleman.

“What do you see as the next step?” was not a deliberate and planned question. I was an “unconscious competent” – someone who is doing things right but is not consciously aware of it. My VP Sales buddy made me a “conscious competent” – someone who is doing things right and is consciously aware of it. Since that epiphany, I make sure that on every call I ask the customer at the end, “What do you see as the next step?” What amazed me when I first started doing this was:

  • Virtually every customer had a next step or multiple steps that defined my sales process to closing
  • The most amazing discovery was that the customer would often go further in their next step description than I might have proposed
  • Those who would not state a next step, were signaling me they were not a qualified customer OR I was talking to the wrong customer OR I had done a lousy job of selling

I now see that simple question as a way to co-create the closing process with the customer.

The Sales Detective lesson:

On every customer contact, ask, “What do you see as the next step?”

The Sales Detective – Strategic Selling Tools

Challenge your customer’s thinking!

By Bob Davis

A long-term client gave me access to their most important customer as part of my research for an International Sales Meeting I was helping to design. My mission was to interview my client’s customer and ask, “Why do you like working with them?”

By way of background, my client was creating sub-assemblies that would be part of a telecom device built by their customer, Lucent. My client had a long productive relationship with Lucent and was a well-respected vendor.

I contacted the purchasing department and asked the purchasing agent, “Why do you like working with these people?” He responded, “They challenge our thinking!” My first thought was – this sounds downright rude of them! I controlled my self talk and proceeded to say, “Tell me more about that.” Here is what the purchasing agent said:

You see we get specs for a sub-assembly build from engineering and give that to several vendors requesting a price for them to build it. All the vendors respond in a reasonable time frame and provide us with a price. Perhaps I should not have said ‘All the vendors’ because your client does something very different. They start with “Let me explore your request in this meeting to be sure I understand what you are trying to accomplish. This will assure I come back to you with a response that assures you of having the best and most cost effective sub-assembly.” Then they start asking lots of questions like:

  • Tell me what you want your device to do?
  • Why has it been designed this way?
  • May I speak with the design engineers?

What has impressed us is that the digging they do allows them to come back with more than a price—they come back with ideas like:

  • ‘If we change this in the design, it will save steps and cost in manufacturing’
  • ‘Reconfiguring the operator controls will save steps and provide benefits for end users’
  • ‘Here are some ideas that will significantly reduce heat build-up and extend your device life’

I saw clearly why my client was a preferred vendor for Lucent. Rather than responding with a price quote for what the customer said they wanted, my client went into detective mode. This gave my client information that helped them routinely differentiate their response and provide unexpected value for the customer.

The Sales Detective lesson:

When a customer says, “Here is what I want, what will it cost?”, go into Detective mode, not “fill-the-spec-provide-a-price” mode.

The Sales Detective – Negotiation Best Practices

Are your salespeople leaving money on the table?

By Bob Davis

Wilson Learning had me record a podcast that is being used in a marketing campaign for our Negotiating Seminar. It’s based on a presentation I delivered to a software Exec trade group last Fall.

During the podcast, I present practical and executable Nothing says "Let's Negotiate!" like a firm handshake.ideas for senior sales executives and other sales professionals to help accelerate the negotiating process with both internal and external customers.

It’s about 20 minutes long, but I believe it’s time well spent.
Listen to the Podcast here.

The Sales Detective – “Who is ‘him’?”

Here at The Sales Cafe, we are devoted to bringing in the best and the brightest sales thought leaders to share their wealth of knowledge. Our latest Cafe blogger is Bob Davis, The Sales Detective. Bob Davis has more than 20 years’ experience in sales, sales training and marketing. He’s now part of The Sales Cafe team. (Read his first post here.) Please enjoy his take on sales transformation and join in the conversation by adding a comment below.

By Bob Davis

Often I have the privilege of spending a day in the field with a salesperson as part of my research when working with a new client. One such client happened to be in the medical device field. A new device was in the hands of the salespeople designed to ease the life of those responsible for delivering IV fluids to patients. Time savings and patient safety were the key value propositions of this new wiz-bang technology.

As was my usual routine, the salesperson met me for breakfast and set up plans for the day. The salesman (we will call him “Joe”—not his real name) plopped his new wiz-bang device on the table and proceeded to review the exciting features and benefits of the product. Not wishing to stop a sales person in whirling-dervish mode, I listened attentively.

By 9 AM we arrived at our first hospital for an appointment with the Director of IV therapy. After introductions and pleasantries, Joe said, “I want to demo my new whiz-bang technology that will save you time and increase patient safety.”

The Director was all ears and the conversation went like this:

Joe:                    “Let me show you how fast the set up is.”
Director:           “That is terrific!”
Joe:                    “This will save you significant training time with staff.”
Director:           “This is great, I will be sure to review that with him!”
Joe:                    “Also the safety clasp will protect your patient.”
Director:           “I have been speaking with him about those safety issues!”
Joe:                    “And the color coding means less chance for error.”
Director:           “I really like this device and will review it with him!”
Joe:                    “And it also…………”

At this point, I felt compelled to gently intervene and said, “Pardon me for interrupting, but may I ask, who is ‘him’ ?” Joe, who had been presenting his product like he was doing laps at the Indy 500, applied the brakes hard, and had a look of “I don’t believe I missed this!” on his face. The Director replied, “That would be our Operations VP. He has the budget authority for any purchases I recommend.” Joe got back on the right track and asked, “Is he available to see us today? I’d be glad to discuss the investment and easy to calculate ROI on this device with him.” The Director responded by picking up the phone and paging her VP, who agreed to meet in 20 minutes.

The Sales Detective lesson

Listen don’t just hear! We often become like John Travolta in Pulp Fiction, when Uma Thurman said to him, “Are you listening……or waiting to talk?”

Often, and especially when demonstrating an exciting new technology, the salesperson is in a technology induced trance. Rather than having a dialogue with the customer and truly listening to the customer, the focus is on demoing the product/service/technology and its wonders. As one of my client Sales VPs lovingly said, “They feature puke.” Joe heard everything the customer said, but was not listening.

Hearing is what you do with your ears….listening is what you do with your brain!

The Sales Detective – “I’m Not Moving!”

Here at The Sales Cafe, we are devoted to bringing in the best and the brightest sales thought leaders to share their wealth of knowledge. Today, we introduce a new Cafe blogger, Bob Davis, The Sales Detective. Bob Davis has more than 20 years’ experience in sales, sales training and marketing. He’s now part of The Sales Cafe team. Please enjoy his first post and join in the conversation by adding a comment below.

by Bob Davis

Several years ago the actor Peter Falk stared in a series called Columbo. He played a rather disheveled detective always wearing a signature rumpled trench coat. He managed to solve cases through relentless digging for information. He would conduct an in-depth interview and start to leave, then turn on his heels and say “Just one more question!” It was Columbo’s ability to ask penetrating and relevant questions that consistently led him to solve the puzzle (in his case, the crime).

Selling starts with good detective work. Like Columbo, we are looking to solve a puzzle. In our case, what information will qualify our customer and solve their problems with our offering? This blog will focus on the art of solving problems for customers by getting information that will accelerate the sales cycle, while at the same time maintaining a relentless customer focus. Our theme will be “The only thing important to the customer, is what’s important to the customer.” Our mission will be to provide ideas that help us find out what’s important to the customer, leading to more sales and more satisfied customers.

“I’m not moving!”

Several years ago, I was teaching a negotiating seminar on the topic of interests behind positions. A single mom told me the following story:

She was planning to move to a new home around the first of the year. It was to be a larger home for her and her four-year-old son. She had been working on him for months to gain his enthusiasm for the move. Every attempt to “sell” her young son on the move was met with an arms folded response of “I’m not moving!” combined with a very determined scrunched up face. She did what most of salespeople do when the “customer” seems to not understand the value of our offering—deliver another “value proposition.” This went as follows:
Mom:  “But Johnny, you will have a bigger bedroom!”

Johnny:  “I’m not moving!”

Mom:  “But Johnny, there is a play room in this house!”

Johnny:  “I’m not moving!”

Mom:  “But Johnny, we will be on the side of town where your friends live!”

Johnny:  “I’m not moving!”

Mom:  “But Johnny, there is a nice park and playground across the street!”

Johnny:  “I’m not moving!”

We all know that while this mom wanted to “sell” her son on the move, the reality is he is going to move even if she has to pick him up and move him. (A note here: A four year old has the ability if he/she does not want to be moved, to actually double their body weight on lifting attempts. I do not know how they do it, but any parent who has tried to move a four year old against their will can attest to this great mystery.)

All of the verbal attempts to convince having failed, she decided to try what we know in sales as the “plant tour”—bring the customer to the home office and show them around (making sure any staff who may embarrass us is off the day of the tour). So she called the elderly couple she was buying the home from and asked if she and Johnny might stop in for a visit between Christmas and New Year’s Day (the elderly couple was moving to Florida the day after New Year’s Day). A visit was arranged. On arriving at the house, the Mom said to Johnny, “At the end of the hall is that nice big bedroom that will be yours. I’m going to have tea with this nice couple. You just wonder around the whole house and come back and tell mommy what you think. ” Johnny set off on his mission.

In ten minutes, Johnny was back. With an expectant smile, the mom said, “Well, what do you think?” Johnny folded his arms and said, “I’m not moving!” In total frustration the mom (knowing child abuse is both illegal and wrong) extended her hands in an “I’d like to throttle you” motion, and said “WHY NOT!!” Johnny replied, “I looked everywhere, and there’s no good kid toys here!” With a look of total astonishment, the mom replied, “Well of course not. When we move all your toys will come with us.” “Every one?” queried Johnny. “Absolutely!” replied the mom. Unfolding his arms, Johnny said with a smile, “Then this is a neat house!”

You see, those of us who remember the famous comedian George Carlin and listened to his rant on moving, know that when we move “our stuff” moves with us. A four year old may not. The simple power of the question “Why?” uncovered the reason for this four year old’s distress. William Ury of the Harvard Negotiating Project, tells us that we often get stuck on the position (the “what” they want) and fail to understand the interest behind the position (the ‘why” they want it). If only this mom had dug deeper into Johnny’s concern and said “Why is this move so upsetting to you?”, she may have saved months of “sales” effort and closed the kid on the move sooner.

The Sales Detective lesson:

When a customer says they want something, always ask in a respectful manner, “Why?”