Tag Archives: Business

Sales 2.0 – what about the buyer-seller conversation?

Last week’s amazing Sales 2.0 conference has me contemplating the trendmeisters’ predictions of the demise of the salesperson as we know it (Headline: 15 million sales jobs in the US will be destroyed in this decade). First, I believe the headline is true, or mostly true. It’s already happened in B2C. It will happen in B2B. You can give me every reason in the world why machines won’t replace salespeople, but you’d be denying everything that’s going on around you.

What will the world will be like when the brilliant technology of a very-soon-tomorrow takes one of the two humans out of the buyer-seller conversation? Will the engineers remember to program in a little empathy for the buyer? Will their frustrations over not being able to find an answer to a simple (or complex) question, not knowing how to reach a decision, or not understanding how an offer connects to their problem be understood by the computer they’re interacting with? I sure hope so. Or are we just going to electronically feature and benefit at each other using the worst of our current human-human processes?

Here’s a little bit of experience that happened just a few hours ago. I got a cold call from someone. Being in sales training business, I think it’s morally correct to take cold calls. As usual, I was crazed. About 10 seconds into the call, the salesperson said, “It sounds like you’re really busy, should we talk later?” Empathy – just a little bit, and I appreciated its simplicity. The spam her competitor sent this morning (yes, her competitor did spam me) had no empathy. It was in-my-face, look what I can do, look at what all of your successful colleagues are saying – the usual crap.

I’m not advocating for a return to cold calls. The world has done away with them and good riddance, too. But this experience of mine is a small snowflake on the tip of the iceberg. In one part of the buyer-seller conversation, we’ve lost empathy. That is, unless you believe that the spam was a serious attempt at getting a conversation going……

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...

Image via Wikipedia

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 – 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!