Collectively, sales people are often victims of our own behavior. The barrier to entry to become a sales person is often low because companies can place a significant portion of compensation tied to performance. Employers can take a chance on sales people hoping to find that diamond in the rough. As a result, most sales people are either not very good or highly mediocre. In the business community many of the buyers are resistant to sales people. I believe this is a result of the way sales people approach their work. Most fall into 2 categories. There are those who apply the “show up and throw up” method which is an obnoxious way of saying that they show up in your office and talk about their product during the entire meeting. I refer to the second group as the “greeters”. The greeters bring in a subject matter expert (SME) and after handling the introduction, they sit back and hope the SME can make the sale. Neither of the two is very effective.
In my seventeen years of selling experience, I have been both. Success for me, as for many others has come from hard work, determination, persistence and often the ability to just not take “no” for an answer. However, in my quest to avoid being lumped into the general stereo type of all other sales people, I believe I have learned a few things that are well received by the majority of high level decision makers in the business buying community. In fact, I believe that the high level executive buyers are demanding a higher quality sales person. One that doesn’t actually act or feel like a sales person. So how do you take your game to another level? How do you effective sell to high level executives at big brand companies?
Here are several principles that I try to follow myself and teach my team. Hopefully, they will get you closer to being that sales person you desire to be.
1. Be a subject matter expert. If a sales person is truly an expert at their product or service, the conversation will be filled with quality content and not sales speak. Sales people have a way of phrasing things that make them sound like a sales person. This typically creates a barrier between the sales person and the buyer. If you want to be treated and perceived as a sales person, then act like one. But if you want to be treated like an expert or a trusted advisor, then remove the sales speak from your meeting and focus on the content. This is a great opportunity to express your views and thoughts about the marketplace, your prospect’s business and even share similar experience from other clients. Engaging in such a dialogue will lower barriers and your prospect will share more about his business and challenges. In this conversation is where you will find your hot buttons as opposed to asking the question, “What keeps you up at night?”
2. Bring something to the table. High level executives are busy and often own more responsibility than they can actually get done in one day. Therefore, the hours in the day are too precious to waste on some sales person who doesn’t come to the meeting prepared. This doesn’t have to be a custom presentation or a solution to a problem in your first meeting. I have found that some of my best first meetings have been done with a pen, blank sheet of paper and well thought out questions. Smart business people want to have partners, vendors and suppliers that will make them and their company better. This is also where being a subject matter expert can really help. You should be prepared to share a potential solution to a challenge that your prospect is facing. This will only be effective if you have asked effective questions and exposed a need or challenge. It is difficult to anticipate what the challenges may be, but if you are truly a subject matter expert and stay close to your clients, you will have lots of experience to draw from. This leads me to my next principle.
3. Stay involved with your clients. I realize that many companies try and get the sales person out of the process as quickly as possible. I have never been a fan of this thinking. The motivation for this philosophy is sometimes driven by the desire to not pay commission on recurring sales. In my business, we look to develop a long and fruitful partnership with our clients. The strategy is to build upon a solid relationship forged at the time of sale, then service the client with excellence and add valuable complimentary services. The sales person loses the credibility to sell additional services that solve for business challenges to existing clients when they only show up at contract time.
4. Focus on your clients, not on your commission. This theory often flies in the face of conventional sales thinking. Companies pay on a commission as a method for keeping their sales people hungry for new sales. But clients can smell commission breath a mile away. Great sales people must resist the urge to sell something just because the client will buy it. Ask yourself whether or not you would buy the product or service if your job was on the line for its success. I have had numerous experiences where I have convinced my customer not to buy for the sole reason that I didn’t think it was in their best interest. And while some short term sales may have been lost, there were many more long term gains as a result of developing an alternative. The ability to sell something of greater value became much easier as a result of the credibility I built with the client.
5. Be confident. There is a fine line between confidence and arrogance. Nobody likes an arrogant sales person but people gravitate toward confidence. There are several opportunities to display your confidence. One of my favorites is the silence that you master before your answer a question or after asking one. I can’t even count how many times I have watched sales people ask a great question and proceed to let the person off the hook from answering it by continuing to speak. Yes, this sounds a lot like listening, but it is much more than that. Your posture, ability to maintain eye contact, facial expressions and ability to not be the first to break the silence will help instill confidence. A pause before answering a tough question will have a similar affect. Ask any average sales person a tough question and you will witness several nervous reactions. Fidgeting, looking down and senseless babble are just a few of the signs the person lacks confidence. The most comical reaction is when the sales person turns the question back to the client without giving an answer. The confident sales person makes sure they understand the question, pauses to organize their thoughts, maintains eye contact, develops a smile that says “I have the answer”, but most of all, is confident with the silence that fills the air before delivering a well thought out answer.
6. Have an opinion and don’t be afraid to share it. Most sales people are concerned about expressing thoughts or opinions that might be in conflict with their client or prospect. Some of my healthiest client relationships are with people share their thoughts and expect me to do the same. We don’t have to agree on everything to develop a solid relationship. In fact, a difference of opinion followed by a healthy debate will often result in each person leaving the conversation with a new perspective. I’m not advocating an argument with your client, but instead, deliver your opinion in a professional manner and encourage questions and comments.
7. Be humble. This is an important principle especially if you are going to express your opinion and be confident doing so. A humble sales person is willing to be wrong, willing to be challenged and most of all, willing to learn. Show me a sales person not willing to improve and I’ll show you one that just got beat. Don’t ever let yourself believe that you are the best or that you can’t lose. Those fears will help keep you hungry and driven toward getting better every day.
I truly hope these ideas have helped influence your desire to improve your skills as a sales person. If nothing else, I encourage you to dedicate your self to constantly improving your skills and don’t take your eye off the basics. Happy selling!!!