Sales: Mutual benefits

This really happened.
A guy I know — call him Tom — who worked for a contractor got a call some years ago from a company’s local facilities manager.
“We’re looking at expanding our warehouse space,” the caller said. “Can you come out and help us put together preliminary designs and budget numbers?” 
Wow! What could be better than for a prospective customer to cold-call you? That’s what Tom thought too.
Tom: “Great, thanks for calling us. Can I ask you a few questions before we come out?”
Customer: “Sure.”
Tom: “How big is your current warehouse and how much space will you be adding?”
Customer: “200,000 square feet and we’ll be doubling it.”
Tom: “What’s your timing?”
Customer: “We’d like to get our estimate together in three weeks.”
Tom: “Sounds like you’re on a pretty fast track. Let’s look at our calendars to see when we can come out.”
Customer: “OK.”
Tom raced on out to the customer’s facility. He knew getting in early would give him the edge over competitors. Of course, it also required his company to put in 10 man-days on the bid.
And when they were finished? Nothing. Why? Keep reading.

Rose-colored glasses

When salespeople view every little tug on the line as a potential prize-winning catch, we can waste time and money chasing bad business.
By itself that’s a minor problem. Most of us also know to take off those rose-colored glasses and carefully qualify any prospective sale. Yet how we do that makes all the difference in whether it works or not.
Suppose Tom had tried to qualify this caller, as he knew deep down he should:
Tom: “Great, thanks for calling us. Can I ask you a few questions before we come out?”
Customer: “Sure.”
Tom: “Why are you adding warehouse space?”
Customer: “We just merged with another company and they’re looking at consolidating inventories”
Tom: “Who’d you merge with?”
Customer: “XYZ Company… but how about if we get into those things when you come out?”
Tom: “Sure, let’s look at calendars.”
Customer: “OK.”
Now what happens? Not much. The customer keeps control. He figures he’ll just bring Tom up to speed as the two of them are walking around the warehouse, sizing up the project.
And Tom is still just as eager. So when the customer cuts him off, it just reinforces that this guy’s a “live wire.” In minutes, he’s heading down the same road — committing 10 man-days of his company’s time without really knowing if it’s worth it.

Taking control

What Tom really needed to do was slow down the conversation. That means taking control from the very beginning. But it also requires him — and you — to frame that conversation as one of mutual benefit.

See how he does it:
Tom: “Great, thanks for calling us. There are a few different ways that we can get you what you’re looking for. If we could take, say, 10 or15 minutes right now to step back so I can get a better sense of the big picture then I could recommend an approach that’ll work best for both of us, make sense?”
Customer: “Sure.”
Tom: “Before we get into the specifics of the project itself maybe we could spend a few minutes on the business issues behind the expansion. So, just why are you expanding warehouse space in the first place?”
Customer: “We just merged with another company and they’re looking at consolidating inventories”
Tom: “No kidding.Who’d you merge with?”
Customer: “XYZ Company”
Tom: “Was it really a ‘merger’ or did one acquire the other?”
Customer: “Well, technically, I guess XYZ acquired us.”
Tom: “Does XYZ have warehouse space?”
Customer: “Yeah they do, in Des Moines”
Tom: “Do you think they could consolidate inventories in Des Moines?”
Customer: “I guess so, but we’d obviously rather they do it here”
Tom: “Sounds like you’re looking for ballpark numbers then, right?
Customer: “Yeah, I guess so”
Tom: “Great. If I can ask you a few more questions about the space I think we can give you a pretty good estimate in just a couple hours. Do you have 15 minutes to get into some of the specifics of the project?”
Customer: “Yeah, I guess so”
This time, Tom does a serious drilldown before committing his or his company’s time and resources — and finds there wasn’t really any opportunity here.
The customer’s real agenda was to help create a business case for not moving the warehouse to Des Moines. He was using Tom.
And Tom could only find that out by taking time to frame a real qualifying conversation as, “an approach that’ll work best for both of us.”
With that, he also undercuts the customer’s assumption that salespeople are always eager to jump on “opportunities”— real or not.
Many salespeople struggle with that, fearing they’ll appear unresponsive. Yet it’s not: With a few hours he gave the customer what he really needed, left the customer feeling good about it — and saved his own company 10 man-days of time.
And he did all that by framing the conversation as one that would help them both.

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