Years ago, I read a great cartoon that showed a dog owner talking to his dog. The cartoon was about what the owner was saying to the dog and what the dog actually heard. The dog had just made a mess of the owner’s kitchen and the owner is letting the dog have it. “Rover, how many time have I told you? The kitchen is not your play area. This is where I cook and it must be clean. Bad dog Rover, bad dog!” This is what the dog heard, “Rover, blah blah blah blah blah blah blah? Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah, blah, blah, blah blah blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah Rover, blah blah!”
I thought of this cartoon recently during a conversation I was having with a friend who is a VP of Sales for a successful technology company in Austin, TX. I was asking him about his experience in sales and how he approaches his prospects, and what he does that makes him successful. He said that when he first started out in sales his approach to selling was not unlike every other salesman, cold call enough prospects, make your pitch, ask for the appointment, send product literature, make the appointment, demonstrate the features, functions and benefits of your product/service and go for the close. “I was successful, but it was purely a numbers game,” he said. “I knew that if I got in front of enough decision makers, I would close a certain number of deals, and make money for my company and myself. It was more about me and my company than it was about the customer and his/her problems.”
He went on to say that at some point in his career, he realized that he was no different from other successful salesmen and that his company and products/services although good, were not that much different from his competition. He could imagine that when he was talking to his prospects, they were not always hearing everything that he was saying. He sounded too much like everyone else. His success had more to do with being at the right place at the right time with a solution that was acceptable and affordable to his prospects. There was no big differentiator.
At some point he decided to change, to approach each prospect with one goal in mind, to be Unforgettable. Since then he has achieved greater success with his current company, increased sales, increased profit margin and hired and trained a very successful sales force. But more importantly, each and every prospect and customer remembers him, he brings something to the relationship that no other sales person brings, he brings ideas.
Our conversation ended, much too soon and my friend was unwilling to give me the process that he goes through when he has an appointment with a decision maker. He is my friend, but he is also a successful salesperson who doesn’t want to reveal all of his secrets. I have an idea of what his process is and I think it would look something like the 10 Step Checklist for a C-level Appointment proposed by Barbara Geraghty in her bestselling book, Visionary Selling.
Here is the check list.
- Prepare, prepare, prepare – Can’t do enough of this. There is more information available on companies, decision makers, customers, competing products/services etc. that should eliminate the use of the term “cold call”. This is also where the ideas that you can give to your prospects and customers come from.
- Enter the meeting with the essential ingredient: self-confidence – Your preparation breeds self-confidence – you know your product/service, you know your company’s ability to deliver and implement the best solution for the client and you can demonstrate the value of your product/service to your customer.
- Display your honor and respect – You are not there to waste time, to chit-chat, to inquire about the customer’s family, friends or fishing exploits. You are there to help solve a business problem and to demonstrate your product/service can solve that problem within a reasonable amount of time. Value your customer’s time. Honor his/her position in their company.
- Ask pertinent, insightful questions, and Listen! – Listen for clues, listen for problems, listen for opportunities to frame or re-frame the best solution, listen for issues, and listen for the Pain. Listen for Yes!
- Trust your instincts – Nothing happens in a sales call according to plan. The best that you can do is react to something that you heard from your customer. Don’t wait for the customer to ask for the contract (they never will) if you feel that the time is right to close, then close.
- Communicate concisely and courageously – Remember that a wealth of information about your company, products/services, customers etc creates a poverty of attention. Be clear, concise and don’t be afraid to make bold statements about your product/service, your company, solutions but only if they are true and verifiable.
- Present your most powerful idea – In most cases, the ideas that you present center around solving the customer’s problem with your products/services, but not always. This is where my friend in Austin makes his difference known. He often suggests ideas that have nothing to do with his products/services. He knows enough about what his company can deliver and thus knows his company’s products/services have limitations. He also knows his competitor’s products/services, has done enough preparation and by asking the right questions and listening, also knows what the customer needs. It may not always be your product or service. But you will be Unforgettable.
- If your ideas are not what the customer needs, keep asking questions – Sometimes your best ideas, best solutions, best alternatives may still not address you customer’s issues. In that case, time permitting; more questions should uncover more opportunities.
- Make the close natural but scripted – Make sure that when you go for the close that you address all the issues, questions, concerns and problems that you uncovered in the meeting and how your company and products/services satisfies and solves them. Make sure the ROI is front and center and in alignment with what the customer is willing to invest. Don’t wing the close, it is too important.
- Play to win – Sounds like a cliché but it is true. By helping the customer find a solution to his/her problems, whether the solution is from your products/services or some other competitor, your customer wins. And either way you come out the bigger winner, you become Unforgettable.
So, when you have a conversation with your prospects or customers is it like the owner/dog conversation from the cartoon or is what you must say so different that your customer hears every word? Are you Unforgettable?
As for me, I am going to take my dog in to the vet to have her ears checked. I would hate to think that all she hears when I speak to her is her name and a bunch of ‘blah blah blah blah”.