The days of the great salesperson swooping in to save the day are over. Or are they?
I am in the middle of writing my new book and have been thoroughly enjoying the research and stories that are going into it. The area that has really caught my interest is around the ways the buyer-seller relationship has changed over the past 100 years.
And today we want to make the buyer the hero of your sales story. First let’s take a look at what’s going on with our customers.
(Click here or the play button below to listen to this post)
Buyer-Seller Relationship History: BFFs?
I just had coffee the other morning with a friend of mine who was very active in selling during the 70’s and 80’s and we talked about the difference between then and now. It used to be that the salesperson had all the answers. They were the gatekeepers of information. So companies would wait for salespeople to come in and give them the goods. The salesperson could basically tell them whatever they wanted and the buyer had to make decisions based on what they heard.
Salespeople had a crazy edge over their customers. They learned all sorts of psychological tricks to persuade, manipulate, and convince customers to buy. That was what caused the birth of the professional buyer. Companies started to bring on people whose sole purpose was to thwart the efforts of salespeople. It really wasn’t about buying, but rather protection. That was the first major rift in the buyer-seller relationship.
Then, as the information age started to put more knowledge in the hands of the customer, buyers began to exclude salespeople from the conversation. Buyers began to work through their own problems on their own until they determined a suitable solution, and then would approach a seller to provide an offer. This is why today we see that most buyers are about 60% of the way through the buying process before they engage with a supplier. And also, exactly why most salespeople feel they are only competing on price.
Of course there is much more to this than I will write in the post (hence the book), but as salespeople have been looking for more ways to provide solutions to customers, buyers have been finding more and more ways to reduce being sold to. However, this lack of collaborative dialogue is causing both sides of this relationship to miss out on huge opportunities. And really, I feel like I want to be a relationship counselor to both buyers and sellers to get them to see this.
By not engaging salespeople early on, the buyer misses the chance to look at multiple ways to solve problems, find hidden opportunities, and create long-term relationships with a partner. And when salespeople fall into the trap of being just about price, they commoditize themselves and sell less. The best salespeople are the ones who understand that the true value is not in the product or service, but the value of themselves. With all the information that is out there today, customers are confused, overwhelmed, and unclear on their best options. The role of the salesperson is to help them cut through the clutter, provide insights, and be the ultimate resource. Most salespeople have forgotten this.
Relationship Selling is Dead. Sort of.
The idea of relationship building in selling has stood the test of time, but in today’s markets, relationships are different. Gone are the “Madmen” days of the martini lunches and wining and dining your customers. Actually, I would like to bring that back myself – it just looked fun! The old school selling model was one where you tried to build relationships first, and then get to business after. But if you take a look at the way we all buy today, no one is looking to build relationships in that fashion.
One of the most interesting books on selling over the past five years or so is The Challenger Sale: Taking Control of the Customer Conversation by the Corporate Executive Board. In it, they talk about the five seller profiles and how the “Relationship Seller” is actually not the most effective, but rather the winners are those who “Challenge” the customer.
As I look deeper at this subject, the more clear the solution has become. In today’s business environment, relationships are earned, not made. They are a result of a job well done. The concept of the charming and charismatic salesperson is outdated. To be effective, you must start with adding value to your customer and help them uniquely. While at the same time, you must be LIKABLE. If you are likable, add value, and provide insights, your customer will then be much more inclined to build a relationship with you. If you are one of those salespeople today who are trying to open with the relationship, take a hard look at your conversions as this may be why you are struggling.
Stop Selling: Build Powerful Insights Instead
A few weeks ago, I wrote about how to sell using insights where I explained that even with all of the sales training out there, there are only a handful of great salespeople who are effective today. And how the 80/20 rule is now 87/13. The big reason, as we have been discussing today, is that salespeople are still just trying to give information. Let me try and be clear here…
YOUR CUSTOMERS DON’T NEED MORE INFORMATION.
It breaks my heart when I see someone who actually has a decent product or service and tells me “If only the customer would understand how great this thing is” or “maybe I need to give them more information or data” or “let’s start using powerpoints to show them all the details.”
Do you have a 30 second pitch or elevator pitch? Or maybe you call it a value proposition? Take a look at it and ask yourself if it is all about you, or about the value you offer to others and problems you solve. People buy from you, not because of what you do or who you have helped before. They buy for their own reasons. They want to know how what you do actually adds value to them – uniquely. Your “value” proposition must resonate with them individually. So if you find yourself rattling off the same 30 second pitch at networking events and being met with disinterested blank, polite stares, you may be just saying garbage. I have done the same thing over and over, myself. What we want to try and get good at is positioning that value proposition in multiple ways that actually get people smiling and nodding because they see how it applies to them.
As for insights, this is where the true magic happens. I am going to start with the assumption that what you currently offer your customers is a good product or service – one that you truly believe in. And you wish more people would see the value, right? Where I would like you to begin is to take a step back and think about how your offer actually solves problems. In fact, take a step further back and write down who your ideal customer is.
- What do they look like? Business size, staff, revenue, etc?
- What are their typical challenges?
- What level of complexity are they faced with?
- Who is in their supply chain?
- Where would they be on the innovation scale?
- How open are they to change?
You can make that list as big as you want. Ideally, you want to build your customer avatar, profile or segment in a way that you can then start to create an understanding. You may have a few different segments, and your sales process and materials should change for each one.
Next ask yourself about which challenges they have that they know about and which ones they may not see. The amateur seller is the one that goes in and asks, “What’s keeping you up at night?” Today’s winners are the ones that already know the answers to that. Learn about the problems your customers have, how you may help them see around corners, and how to help them avoid potential landmines. Your ability to then bring these insights into your customer conversation will separate you from the rest. If you do it right, you will be brought in earlier in the buying conversation, increase your win rate, and have access to non-competitive deals. And you will stop selling on price.
Insights position you as a resource.
Tell Stories and Make the Customer the Hero
Now that we have the fundamentals covered, you’ll see why the topic of this post is so important. I would love if you went back and read my 4 part series on Why We Make Decisions Based on Emotions where I cover some cool behavioral and brain science. This helps set the stage for the power of story-telling in sales. Also, in my post on How Reading Makes You More Awesome, I talk about how when we read, we insert ourselves into the story.
These concepts are the framework for how you can sell more effectively. Learn to become a great story teller AND how to tell the right stories for the people in front of you. If your story actually resonates with your audience, then they’ll have a more immersive experience. They will see themselves in the story where your solutions and insights will have more emotional power. Whether it’s that 30 second pitch, or a corporate meeting in front of a large audience of stakeholders, a great story that has a point and connects with the individual is one of your best assets.
Too often though, I see that people use stories ineffectively. They tell stories about themselves or their products that make the salesperson the hero. They talk about how they solved a problem, how everyone was happy, here’s why I’m awesome, blah blah blah… We also fall into this trap with customer testimonials that don’t actually connect with potential customers. If the customer doesn’t empathize with the story and insert themselves, it falls flat.
Salespeople today feel like they need all the answers and that they have to present themselves as a superhero. Do you ever get the Mighty Mouse theme song in your head?
It’s actually the opposite. You must work on making the customer feel as though they are the hero of the story and you played a supporting role. And work the customer into the story. Tap into their imagination and make them see themselves solving the problem. Paint a picture of their current situation, including the challenges they are facing (or potentially will face), and then show them a new way. Help them come to the “ah-ha” moment and visualize what it would feel like to break through to a new reality.
As I write this, I can feel that you are thinking about how you would apply these ideas to your own process. I know that it may seem like you are missing many steps and that you don’t need more to do. Maybe you are wondering of this would actually work with your own customers? Maybe it won’t. But what if you dedicated five hours a week over the next three months to building better insights and playing around with story telling? What if you started having fun and telling stories to your customers? And it started working…They became more responsive and open to your ideas. You were able to explore deeper, more complex product offerings. And what if, because you took the time, you were able to get others to understand what you do and how awesome you were – immediately? Your ability to provide insights, value, and connect could be the next phase in driving new referrals to your business and increasing your average sale.
See what I did there?
I would love to know if you actually took the time to apply these ideas. The world of selling has definitely changed. But selling is never going away. How will you stand out in a noisy world and cultivate brilliant buyer-seller collaborative partnerships? Will your customers bring you into the discussion early as a strategic resource or simply call on you when they need a competitive quote with two other options? It will be up to you. And it will take work.