by Doug Rice
I am in an interesting position as a sales professional. I see things from the rather optimistic perspective of a salesperson. I see myself as a value creator and a problem solver for my customers. I help them achieve their goals. I make their lives easier and more fulfilling. I believe that I am valuable to them. They don’t just need a product or service. They need ME. I make a difference to them.
But, then again, I buy stuff too. I am a consumer and a businessperson as well. And I have to ask myself, “Do I view other salespeople in the same way?” You see, when I take off my sales glasses, and come back to end-consumer reality, I realize that I may be a little delusional. It seems that most people have quite the opposite view of salespeople. They see them, not as value creators, but necessary evils.
When people go shopping for a car, they rarely want the salesperson to help them. They tolerate it because they have to in order to get the vehicle they want. I recently read an article about an increasing number of doctors refusing pharmaceutical reps from making unsolicited sales calls. “If we need something,” reads a sign on one doctor’s door, we’ll call you.” We hate shopping for furniture because we don’t want to be “hounded” by the salesperson. We find the house we are interested in and THEN contact the real estate assigned to it to see if we can negotiate a better price. We send out an RFP to decide between suppliers.
We want the car. We want the house. We need the drugs. We need the supplies. But the salespeople? They just stand in the way of us accomplishing our objectives. They just make the buying process more difficult for us. We don’t want them and we don’t need them. They are necessary evil.
How to Be the Value Not a Necessary Evil
If you are a salesperson, you are probably feeling rather indignant right about now. I know the feeling. I hate admitting this to myself. But let’s face facts. This is the perception that most buyers have of us. The question is, “what are we going to do about it?” You see, it really doesn’t matter if we truly are value creators or simply sheisters trying to squeeze out profit. If customers perceive us as barriers, that’s what we will be. We can create all the value in the world but, if it goes unnoticed, we are just exhausting our efforts in vain. So, how can we change perceptions? Well, it isn’t easy, it won’t happen overnight, and it will take a lot of upfront effort before there is any payoff. But it is possible to transform your image from that of a necessary evil to that of a value creator. Here are a few tips:
- Never fail to qualify. Asking open-ended questions signals to customers that you care about helping them find solutions. Never talk features and benefits until you know what the customer needs. If you do, you may offer a benefit that is irrelevant to the customer. And customers seem to view benefits as mutually exclusive. If it works in one way, then it must not work in the way they need it too. Always know your customer before attempting to sell your customer. If you don’t learn about your customer, you are going to be irrelevant. And value that is irrelevant isn’t really value at all.
- Never emphasize price. It doesn’t matter if you have the best price in your market, bragging about it will commoditize you and make you unnecessary. And an unnecessary good is just as bad as a necessary evil. I’m not saying to hide your price. Be upfront about it, but present it in a matter-of-fact manner, as if it really isn’t important. Your customer is trained to seek out the best price but really wants the greatest value. Sell the value, not the price.
- Always have a reason. Whether you are sending an email, making a call, or giving a presentation and whether it is your first, second, or third attempt, always have a reason for contacting your customer. Never simply “check-in.” This kind of activity says to the customer, “Hello, you haven’t bought from me yet. Are you going to do it or not?” Newsflash for salespeople: they probably haven’t bought yet because you haven’t yet convinced them. Pestering them with calls basically asking them to hurry up is not going to motivate them. Have something valuable to say every time you contact them. If you do, you are reinforcing to them that you actually have something meaningful to contribute.
- Always follow up. Nothing says that you were merely an obstacle to overcome more than the customer never hearing from you after the sale. When you turn the sale into the beginning of the relationship, you are signaling to the customer that you are in it for the long haul. Make sure they don’t just have your product or service after the sale. Make sure they have you. Closing is the new opening.
These tips aren’t guaranteed, of course, to turn you into a knight in shining armor for your customer. But they do send the signal that you are not merely a transactional salesperson. You do not sell businesses a better service but rather a better business. You do not sell consumers a better product but rather a better life. If sales is your career, you’ve got to start working on changing your perceived role. Commoditization is all too easy in today’s world. You’ve got to stand out if you want to stand at all. Soon, “necessary evils” won’t be necessary at all.
–ME “Liz” Strauss
Work with Liz on your business!!