Sales: Knowledge quest will change their perceptions of you

I’ll let you in on something. I have a personal mission. It is, “To make a measurable contribution to the professional development of business to business salespeople at all levels.” So you can imagine how rewarding it must have been for me to hear what Tom, a client salesperson, had to say just a few weeks ago.

I’d been working with Tom’s company for a year or so. We were just getting started in a refresher session by sharing experiences from the trenches. Here’s what Tom shared with the group: “It was mind-blowing. Ever since I started operating in seek mode, my customers have been treating me completely differently. Now I know what it means to be viewed by customers as a business resource. For me, this really has been a transformation.”

Tom had been a good salesperson. By most measures one of this client’s best performers. But he was a skeptic, too. Tom was one of those guys who says, “There’s not really much of any importance about my customers that I don’t already know.” Turns out, yes there is.  And Tom acknowledged as much. By the mere act of leaving his products at the door, taking a step back and going into homework mode with his customers, Tom’s professional life was changed forever.

Dramatic? Of course. Hyperbole? Nope. This type of life-altering experience happens, dare I say it, every day to salespeople who are not afraid to go into – and stay in – seek mode. Throughout these pages I’ve exhorted salespeople to migrate from tell mode to seek mode. “You’ve got to go way beyond needs analysis,” I exhort. “Get the pulse of the customer.”

I’ve dedicated numerous columns to the art and science of conducting what I refer to as “knowledge calls.” In those columns I emphasized mostly the tangible value of conducting knowledge calls – knowledge. And it’s true, there’s much to be learned by asking good questions: knowledge of the customer’s business, competitive knowledge, organizational insights and the like.

Knowledge calls: They’re not just for knowledge anymore

Yet there’s an aspect of knowledge calls – or more generally, operating in seek mode – that is often overlooked. And, for my money – heretical as this may sound – it’s even more important than the knowledge itself that’s gained from the call. It is the way that knowledge calls cause customers to view salespeople differently. To use Tom’s words, it’s “mind-blowing.” 

Some of you might remember an incident I wrote about when, after conducting a knowledge call on a longtime contact, one client salesperson actually received a hug from a contact who was so thankful for the salesperson’s clear commitment to get to know his company on a business level.

Is this just a “feel good” thing? Not at all. The real value is how seek mode causes customers to change their image of you from that of a traditional salesperson to that of a business resource. 

By operating in true seek mode a salesperson is sending a totally different message to customers than those customers receive from other salespeople. I say “true” seek mode because many salespeople think that they’re seek-mode types because they’re good listeners. It’s sort of like seek mode is to listening what space travel is to bicycling: they’re both modes of travel, one just takes you farther than the other.   

Help me, I’ve spoken, and I can’t shut up

What’s the greatest offense against true seek mode? Failure to leave the products at the door. Let’s say you’re in the middle of a knowledge call. And this baby’s hummin’. You’re framing up your questions as if you were writing poetry. The customer’s giving good answers. You’re processing his answers and drilling deeper. It’s a thing of beauty.  Then, something crosses the customer’s mind that he had been meaning to ask you about your product. Rather than save it for later, he asks you right now. THIS is the moment of truth. What do you do? Most salespeople answer his questions, often in great detail. So much detail that your answer prompts further questions from the customer. And more answers from you. You’ve now lost control – and credibility.

What should you have done? It’s simple (but not easy). Reply to the customer with something like, “Yes, our system is available in an ASP format. But there’s a lot more to the story than that, and I’d love to talk to you about it. Why don’t we do this? We seem to be on a roll here. So why don’t we keep going in the direction we’re headed. Then when we’re done, we can circle back to your question. Make sense?”

Give it a try. Boldly go where few in sales seem to want to go – to seek mode territory. And watch how your customers change their perception of you.


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