While this is primarily a technology-focused blog, I enjoy sharing some on sales and application engineering such as this little story…
Some time ago I went to a new store in my neighborhood to buy some nutritional supplements. It was a “mega-store” so there were no less than 90 options (yes, I counted them – my mild Obsessive-Compulsive side showing). I asked a clerk for some guidance, at which point he said, “Well, these are on sale” and in so doing committed a classic error I have observed in years of working with sales professionals – he went right to the price.
“Hmmm, any other thoughts?” I asked. He then spent the next few minutes going on about what his other customers liked. Can you guess what the second mistake was? It is a combination of two things – he was talking instead of listening and he did not ask me a single question such as “Are you currently taking this supplement?”, ” What results are you trying to achieve?” and so on.
As I have spent a number of years training others how to win a sale (albeit usually for more technical solutions), I could not let this coaching opportunity pass me by. So I asked him, “Do you get any commission or performance bonus here?” He replied “Yes, but not much”. So I went on, “How would you like to significantly increase your performance-based pay?” He said he would like that very much, so I shared with him in about three minutes some simple principles about using questions and listening to develop and close the sale. He looked a bit down-trodden so I assured him I have seen sales professionals with years of experience make these same mistakes and, in fact, have to be ever-diligent to keep myself from making them.
He then made an interesting comment I had not heard in ten years of training and coaching sales reps, “Isn’t it rude to answer a question with a question?” Wow, I had never considered it and I shared that with him. “However, I went on, if you feel awkward responding with a question, you can use the two most powerful words in sales.”
“What are they?” he asked
“It depends” I replied. “On what?” he asked. “No, I said smiling, ‘It depends’ is the response to a question like “Which of these supplements is the best?” The customer will usually respond exactly as you did, “On what?” to which you can then move into what we call ‘discovery’ – finding out what they want, or what problem they are trying to solve. But remember to still use questions, don’t just launch into a long response.”
“Ah, I get it”, he replied, and we went on for a few minutes role-playing these techniques before I made a purchase and went on my way.
I went back to the same store a few weeks later and learned he was no longer there. After browsing for a while I made a decision to go to a smaller, locally-owned store where I usually shopped. The prices are a bit higher but I like the staff there and feel good about supporting a local business. When I walked in who should be there but the same young man I had spoken with a few weeks ago. “Wow, it’s great to see you again!” he said, and went on to excitedly share with me that the local store owner had gone to the mega-store to check out the competition. She was so impressed with his approach of questioning and listening that she offered him a job with higher performance-based pay and bonuses.
To me, this is what it’s all about, helping others achieve greater success!
I may not have been paid in dollars for that coaching session but the excitement of this young person achieving success as he entered the sales arena was certainly payment enough.
For those of you in more complex, technical sales, ‘It depends’ can also be a powerful response to early questions on pricing. If you are still in discovery or are moving into trying to align your solution with the customer’s need and are being pressed on price, ‘it depends’ and the nearly inevitable “on what?” response can give you the breathing room to continue focusing on the value of your solution without being sucked into a price-centric conversation.
I’d love to hear some of your experiences or questions on sales techniques. Feel free to use the comment section or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org