In today’s marketplace where there is more access to information, more knowledge about pricing and competition, and more choices for your customers, all professional salespeople need to make all the right moves to build their business. First things first – make no assumptions! Assumptions like the ones that follow.
Assumption #1 Features Sell
Many salespeople hit the marketplace and spew the many features of the products and services they sell. They literally hurl information at people. We know that people that buy what you have to offer do not do so because of features offered and really not even for the benefits, but for a much deeper reason. Let’s face it, buyers don’t really need us and if we were to go out of business tomorrow they would carry on, wouldn’t they?
Now that we’ve established that, stop assuming that they will draw the line between your features and benefits, and connect them to what they need. Start by understanding through “smart” questions and drilling down until you truly understand – let the customer define the benefits they uniquely seek and all that’s left is to make a match with what you have to offer.
Assumption #2 Everyone Loves Small Talk
There have been a slew of books written on the value of bonding and rapport in order to gain trust. While I agree with this, I find that too many salespeople feel that every sales interaction needs to start with the obligatory round of small talk abut the weather, sports, recent news, or some other nonsense. Why is this? I think salespeople do this to establish their own comfort, although they won’t admit it.
There is without a doubt some serious training needed in this area. Small talk is just that – small talk! This type of banter is typically teed up so the salesperson can gain some insight as to the mood, need, style and interests of the prospect. And it does have its place, but it’s also important to get down to business. If you choose this path, be keenly aware of when it’s time to move on. How you transition from small talk to real talk can be tricky though, and most often that transition lacks sincerity and sometimes doesn’t happen at all.
The best way to build trust is to get down to business and get them talking about themselves, their business issues and challenges – their stuff! Don’t assume you need to tenderize your steak before putting it on the barbeque.
Assumption #3 Your Time Frame is the Same as Your Customer’s
I’ve seen countless salespeople spend many hours doing all of the things necessary to get a meeting with a prospect, and once the meeting is set, they prepare a great value proposition and present their case very well. They indeed find a prospect interested in pursing some future possibility of doing business with them. The meetings end with everyone somewhat enthusiastic about the potential of doing something together. Fast forward a couple of weeks. Calls are not returned, emails not replied to – you’re ready to move forward, but the prospect has disappeared. What happened?
One of the biggest assumptions seen in the field today is that the customer has the same level of interest in buying from you that you have in selling to them. Customers do things for their reasons, not ours. If those reasons are not uncovered and discussed during the initial meeting, you have little to re-address the customer with when reviving interest down the road. Don’t assume that the customer will make all the right moves to buy from you at the speed and rate that you choose. Ask appropriate questions to gauge and perhaps even set a sense of urgency. And for heaven’s sake, make sure you both agree on a “clear next step” before leaving your initial meeting.
Assumption #4 All of Your Accounts Simply Love You
This is a dangerous assumption. Taking the customer’s loyalty for granted can be a mistake. Think about what you do for a living – as a sales professional, part of your business life is dedicated to continually calling on and trying to capture part of the marketplace of your competitors. You are continually introducing yourself and your company to the customers that are currently doing business with your competition. You are looking for a few of them to give you a shot at earning their business.
What do you suppose your competition is doing? They are doing the same thing and they might just be better at it than you.
Don’t take your customer’s business for granted. Continually look for ways to add value, over-deliver, and strengthen the relationship. Imagine this to get your mind working – what if after every call you had with your customer, you could see three of your strongest competitors in the waiting room with appointments that follow your call. Would you do things differently?
Assumption #5 Your Customer Will Refer You to Others
Getting a referral from a happy customer is truly representative of sales success – something we all strive for. Yet, many salespeople assume that their customers will automatically think of them and refer them when the opportunity presents itself. Wrong!
- You must ask for them – a lot.
- You must earn the right to ask for them by over-delivering.
- You must make it easy to refer.
- You must professionally follow up on every referral.
- Say thank you.
Leave nothing to chance and ask, ask, ask. The highest performing salespeople realize that every great customer is worth several more great customers, but like everything else, it rarely happens on its own.
Assumption #6 Customers are Impressed with Your Knowledge
They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Confusing the need to tell with the desire to sell is a fault of many salespeople today. There is a time to develop your customer’s trust in you based on your knowledge, but it’s much later in the process than most think. It has to happen after you understand the customer by asking smart questions.
As a buyer yourself, how impressed are you with all of the techno-babble that some salespeople subject you to? Does this information draw you or push you away? Are you impressed with the salesperson who tells you what they know or the one who works to find out what you need? Don’t assume the buyer needs all the information you possess. Instead, find out what they need.
Assumption #7 My Product/Service Meets All of My Prospect’s Needs
We’d like to think so – but it’s not the case. What you have to offer may not meet the needs and desires of prospects and customers you meet today. Sometimes the answer is “no”. Sometimes they don’t qualify. Sometimes, we don’t qualify. Sometimes, there is no fit. Use a well crafted Up Front Contract to begin each meeting and then work together to discover together if it makes any sense to proceed. If there is no fit, it is your duty as a professional to walk away. If there is a fit, it is incumbent upon you as a pro to design a value proposition that will meet their highest value needs and lead them to a decision to do business with you.
Assumption #8 The Customer Never Changes
There is often a changing of the guard within our client companies. The person you may have the strongest relationship with can suddenly be let go or moves on. In some instances, management makes a change in buyer positions because of these relationships – making sure all vendors get a shot.
I’ve seen salespeople lose some of their biggest accounts because of this. You should always expand your circle of influence within your accounts. Get to know one more person each time you visit – ask to meet others – earn your way into their doors. Become a valued resource at many levels of the companies you serve. Meet the decision makers. Never assume that your customer will never change – assume they will and be prepared.
Assumption #9 The Customer is Interested in My Issues
Once a customer hires you to do a job (create a solution), they don’t want to hear your problems about getting it done. They don’t care! Do a great job, do it on time, do it on budget, don’t complain, and give the customer a little extra. Understand that your problems are of no interest to them and rightly so.
Our customers don’t care about our problems with traffic, our personal issues, why their shipments are late – they only care about themselves. You are in front of them only because they believe that you might be able to better their situation. You are there by invitation only. It is your duty to focus only on the customer. You are there to ask them questions about them, their issues, their pains, their fears, their wishes, and their highest value needs. And you are there to listen! Be very conscious of making sure that most of your sentences do not include the words “I, we, or me”.
Assumption #10 Your Research Will Give You All the Ammo You Need
In today’s information-filled world, it is easy for us to gain access to vital data before meeting with a prospect or customer. The best salespeople do an adequate amount of research to go into their calls well versed, but what you do with that information will make the real difference.
Having information does not negate your need to do a very thorough job of understanding them during the call. Remember that people don’t argue with their own data – they need to be speaking to you, which means you need to be asking questions. In addition, often the information we gather in research is outdated. The main reason you ask questions throughout the sales process, rather than relying on data collected, is to show the prospect that you are focused on them and their needs. The questions show you care.
You may have heard us say “don’t spill your candy in the lobby” – this is very appropriate regarding pre-meeting information gathering. Knowledge truly is power if used properly – the best source for the things we truly need to know live inside the person that you are dealing with. Never assume that you don’t need to ask.
Go into every sales encounter prepared to do a thorough and professional job – a job not bogged down with assumptions. Be dumb enough to be smart.