Everyone has goals these days. The one that causes more disconnects than any other is a sales goal. It’s a number to hit (either units or dollars or both – the better ones are actually measured in profit dollars rather than revenue dollars). They’re problematic because by their very nature they get a salesperson to focus on their needs (hitting their goal) versus the needs of the customer (finding a solution to a problem). The best salespeople truly use a consultative selling approach. The others? Well, they’re just annoying. They throw around phrases in their sales rooms like “Okay guys! It’s time to get your checkup from the neck up! It’s go time! Everyone start smilin’ and dialin’!” Excuse me. I just barfed in my mouth a little…
I’ve had offers posed by both types of salespeople and I too have sold (sometimes like a huckster in my misguided youth but more consultatively as I’ve learned better). Allow me to offer some scenarios.
I was in the market for a software solution. Nothing major – just some basic functionality that would help me grow my business. I needed cheap (not a lot of budget dollars available), fast (I was trying to grow quickly), and easy (our technology department did not have a bevy of available resources to throw at this). I spoke with a few providers. One of them had a very cool solution. It had bells. It had whistles. If you pushed the right combination of buttons it would make you a frappuccino. It was expensive. Very expensive but somewhat justifiably so given all the features. I explained our challenges to the salesman.“It’s a cool product but we don’t have a big budget and it looks complex to implement.”
“Yeah but it’s the top of the line. It will give you market leading features and functionality.”
“I understand that but I only need functions A through C. D through X are cool and all but we really don’t have a need for them at this point.”
“But don’t you want to be industry leading? We’re clearly worth it in terms of value.” Listen up Chief Big Sell… I need CHEAP, FAST, AND EASY! He was looking to move units. He wasn’t listening to my problem. Had he been listening, he could have either potentially downsold me to a cheaper and simpler product or, heaven forbid, could have said “Our solution is too big for your business at this point but once you grow to $XXMM in sales, you should think about moving to our platform. In the meantime, I suggest Playskool Tech – they have a product that will be exactly what you’re looking for.”
“Mike – once again you’ve lost your marbles. You’re saying he should have recommended a competitor’s solution?”
Yes. Why? Because now I trust this guy. First of all, he understands my needs. He listens. He is more interested in solving my problem than moving product. Second, had I succumbed to his wily charms and went with him, I would have been very dissatisfied feeling I overpaid or getting involved with a technology solution that was a nightmare to implement (if you’ve ever put in an ERP system you’ll know what I’m talking about). Third, when my business did grow large enough for his solution, you can be darn sure he’d be on speed dial and get the sale no questions asked because I would view him as a trusted advisor. Net net, he didn’t get the sale and in the future I’m not sure I’d go to him because it’s clear his motivations are about helping his company versus helping his customers.
By way of contrast, two other “salespeople” I’ve worked with have always put my interests first regardless of the short term impact to their businesses. Now I hope you’re sitting down for this because these are probably two of the last people you’d expect to hear praised for their “sales” skills: they’re my attorney and my insurance agent. Shocking. I know. Read on…
I’ve called my attorney Chuck for contract advice on several occasions. “Mike, you really don’t need me to do anything special here. I’ll just email you a boilerplate template and you can fill it out. It’s a waste of your time and money to do otherwise.” Wow! Free stuff from a lawyer? Hell hath frozen over. But guess what? I trust the guy. He’s watching out for my money and my interests. Every time I need something legal, I’m going to him. He understands the LIFETIME value of a customer. He makes short term sacrifices and “losses” in the interest of maintaining a solid relationship that is much more profitable in the long term (both in terms of my business AND the business I refer his way).
My insurance agent is cut from the same cloth. On day one of the relationship, he asked how I wanted to deal with him. Did I want him to walk me through all the numbers and fine print or just send me stuff, let me read it and discuss his recommendation? Did I prefer phone calls or face to face visits? What were my financial goals? No mention of insurance products ever came up in that conversation. Wow. All he cared about was understanding my needs and preferred communication style.
The last time he and I chatted, we discussed some additional coverages. Now sure, I can go out and do all the research on additional products and figure out which ones are best. Instead, I’ve come to trust his recommendations – it’s more efficient for me from a time standpoint. We were discussing adding long term disability coverage. He highly recommended it and I agreed. I then told him “Craig, I also need to add AD&D coverage on top of that.”
“No you don’t Mike.” I was confused. He had just made a sale of an additional product without trying. His client was asking to buy something and he wasn’t going to sell it to me? Befuddlement washed over me.
“Ummmm okay. Explain.”
“It’s not worth your money. Your term life is more than enough and the odds of an ‘accidental’ death or dismemberment are extremely low. You’re much more likely to die of natural causes.” (Our conversations are always uplifting). “Don’t buy the AD&D. You don’t need it.”
He intentionally blew the sale but increased my level of trust and respect for him as a professional. From now on, every time he recommends I do something, I know he’s looking through the lens of what’s best for Mike, not for Craig. That mindset increases the likelihood that I keep him as my agent and that I buy future products he recommends. He’s always out to solve MY problems, not hit his sales goals. By the way, if anyone wants Chuck’s or Craig’s number, drop me a line – I’m happy to provide them.
Putting the buyer’s interests first and solving their problems versus trying to hit a sales goal creates a powerful dynamic. It’s the difference between having a customer and a client. Customers are transactional, fickle, and will switch quickly because there’s no connection there – the salesperson is simply selling a product. Clients are for life. These lifetime relationships are built because the salesperson understands the client’s needs and places them at the top of the hierarchy even if it means blowing a sale in the near term.
So what’s your client’s biggest problem? Don’t know? Better go find out before someone else solves it for them…