Tag Archives: Customer

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 – “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?”