Just who do you think you are? Just because you “look” the part, speak the language and have the innate ability to command attention with your good looks, winning personality and dapper attire, doesn’t mean you have earned the right to walk through my door and ask me about my business! Ok, ok… I realize that might be a bit harsh, but it does set the stage for this post. Keep reading, I promise it gets better... in about two minutes you’ll get some ideas to help you sharpen your sales approach.
I’ve been a marketing and sales consultant for over 15 years, and through the years I have met many sales people who think they can read a few articles or surf the internet for a few hours to get a 30,000 ft. perspective on an industry, a specific company and the competition. They believe that this bit of information will arm them with the insight and intellect to impress business executives and owners enough to get them to “share” their company’s sales goals, sales strategies, challenges and vulnerabilities. Sorry Charlie, while this approach might work a few times… it’s most likely attributed to your “genes” and a bit of good luck—or in other words, chance. Not that there is really anything wrong with that, I just wouldn’t suggest “chance” as a sales strategy for success to my clients. After all, success is planned—anything achieved without a well thought out plan is pure luck (or chance.) That’s the real difference between winning the lottery and becoming wealthy by working hard and smart.
Now the good part, in sales—how do you earn the right to ask the deep insightful questions? How can you get your prospects to be transparent and share their vulnerabilities about what’s keeping them up at night? It’s imperative to ask questions that will render the answers you need to put your talent to work, answers that will help you partner with your clients to solve their problems with innovative and customized solutions. At The Center for Sales Strategy, we answer this question for sales teams across the country regularly. The answer is simple: you must build rapport and earn their respect. Not yes ma’am, no ma’am respect, but respect for your business intellect and your ability to help them solve their challenges.
That begs the next question, in sales—how do you build rapport and earn the kind of respect that will make you a valuable partner? Following are five suggestions I’ve offered my clients:
1. Change clothes. In other words, take off your “sales” hat and put on your “business owner hat." Give yourself an opportunity to learn and grow by completely changing your perspective. Think like the business owner you’re trying to get an appointment with, as if you’re responsible for 100% of the profit and you’re liable for 100% of the risk—failure is your burden and success is your glory. With this simple paradigm shift you can develop a knowledgeable and empathetic approach to your client’s situation. And approaching your client with both knowledge and empathy will give them the confidence that you really understand and care about their business, their challenges and their needs. They will believe that opening up and developing a relationship with you is a real value rather than a waste of their time.
2. Keep up with the market! You don’t need a Harvard degree, nor do you need to be a financial analyst, a stock broker or certified financial planner to know what’s going on in the market. Just pay attention, the signals are everywhere! The state of the economy greatly affects consumer behavior and thus greatly affects ALL businesses. Knowing how the market, economy and consumer confidence affects your client’s business will help you earn the kind of respect that will get their attention and keep it!
3. Know your business. After all, if you don’t know yours... how can they trust you to know theirs? This idea is simple enough to understand without much explanation. The point is you must know your company’s capabilities and your capabilities as a salesperson before you can offer deliverable solutions. The worst outcome would be to build rapport and earn trust, and then throw it all down the drain with an undeliverable solution. It’s really hard to get trust back once you’ve lost it. Remember, you share the glory of success as well as the burden of failure.
4. Dig Deeper. Think depth not breadth. Which industries are you naturally drawn to? If you could do anything else besides what you do now, what would it be? Would you be a doctor, a chef, a teacher? Choose an industry that you’re passionate about and become the expert. For instance, if you’re naturally drawn to the medical field, take the time to really learn about that entire industry. What is the competitive landscape? How is the market/economy affecting this industry? How has Healthcare Reform affected this industry? What is the consumer confidence rating in this industry? And the list goes on. With that knowledge, you can now call doctors, hospitals, insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, pharmacies, etc. Knowing how the industry works and how the different businesses inside that industry work together (or against each other) will really help you build rapport and earn the respect you need to ask the tough questions.
5. Be trustworthy. You can only “fake it ‘till you make it for so long”… not that you would or intend to. The only way to really earn trust is to show that you’re worth trusting. We’ve all heard that trust takes a lifetime to build and a second to destroy. Remember that. It’s true. Without trust you will never earn the right to ask the deep and insightful questions. Without trust, your prospects will be guarded, not transparent. On the other hand, with trust you will earn their respect. And, with their trust and respect you can build a lasting relationship and an invaluable partnership. You will become indispensible.
The bottom line is that all relationships take work and constant nurturing, even business relationships. You would never expect a first date to be completely vulnerable with you and share their wildest dreams, deepest regrets and biggest fears. They have to believe you will understand them, that you will be empathetic and that you honestly care about them before they would ever be that transparent. The same holds true for your business relationships.
So in a nutshell, the best way to start the sales process is to be empathetic, be trustworthy and make it your business to know your prospect's business before scheduling an initial meeting. With knowledge and an empathetic approach you will be armed to conduct a successful in-depth needs analysis.
Demrie Henry is a Performance Consultant at The Center for Sales Strategy.