Tailor presentations to your customer
Question: I recently attended an extensive product training session. We have more than 400 items. How do I organize my information to make sure it makes sense for my customer?
This question reminds me of a greeting card that I once saw which read something like this. On the cover it had a picture of a man talking to his dog. It read,
“Fido, you’re my best friend
“I truly love you Fido
“I especially love how loyal you are Fido, and how you bring me my slippers when I come home from work
“Oh, by the way, I bought you some new Dog Food, Fido”
The inside of the card said, “And here’s what the dog heard”
“Fido, Blah, Blah, Blah,
“Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah Fido
“Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Fido, Blah, Blah, Blah
“Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Dog Food, Fido”
The moral of the story? Find the dog food! Having a lot of product knowledge is important. Knowing how to use your product knowledge to appeal to each individual customer’s interests and values is the real key to effective selling.
Recently, I was in the market for a new phone system for a house that we are building. The salesperson told me more about transmitters and other technical aspects that I really didn’t care about. When I left the appointment, I was a bit confused and overwhelmed by the amount of information. I looked at my husband and said, “So, can we pick up line two when we are upstairs?” While the salesperson gave us a lot of information, he never addressed the specific applications that we had.
For years salespeople had been taught to develop fairly standard sales presentations, incorporating as many features and benefits as they felt were important. That is sometimes referred to as traditional feature/benefit selling. The message is more of a monologue, told from the seller’s point of view.
A more effective approach in today’s competitive sales markets is a customer-centered dialogue, one which the customer helps to direct and one which emphasizes the specific values for that customer only. Today’s sales presentations may appear less structured than the traditional approach. Yet, in order to conduct an effective interactive customer-focused presentation, preparation and structure are essential. Here are some suggestions for conducting customer-focused sales interactions.
Before the call
Understand value – Value only relates to the individual that you are working with at the time, and the specific solution(s) that you are offering to that person. People do not buy features and benefits. They buy specific solutions. First emphasize value for that customer and then use features of your product to emphasize how you accomplish those values. Don’t worry if you haven’t told your customer everything.
Set an objective – Prior to each sales call, know the specific outcome that you expect. What action should result from the meeting? That will help you to stay focused and know when to close.
Use a needs checklist – Before the call, ask yourself specific questions about how you are positioned with your key contact and any other persons who may influence the sale. Examples may be questions about how they feel about you, your product, the competition, and what’s in it for them. Based on this checklist, construct questions to help you fill in the gaps and present solutions during your sales meeting.
During the call
Position your agenda – This may simply be a statement like, “Here’s what we will accomplish today.” That will help to ensure that you and your customer are on the same path right from the start.
Uncover needs and then position solutions – This is the heart and soul of customer-focused selling. You may choose to uncover many needs at one time and then position your solutions all at once. Or you may choose to uncover needs and position solutions one at a time as you move through the interaction. Either is fine. The latter is less formal, allows for more customer interaction and gives you an opportunity to affirm positive solutions throughout the presentation, making it easier for the customer to commit.
Use questions to guide the presentation – Questions are like the tools of a carpenter. They are only valuable when used at the right time. Here are some examples:
– Open ended questions allow the customer to respond freely. Use these to conduct a needs analysis at the start of your presentation in order to gauge the presentation according to the customer’s needs and interests. They typically start with who, what, when, where, which and how.
– Tie-down questions are used to get a customer to move with you. It is said that a customer will not do business with you unless he’s said yes at least twice. Tie-downs are simply statements that end or begin with a question such as, “Isn’t it?” “Wouldn’t it?”
No more than two of those in a row or they start to sound like a technique.
– Give customers some options. This is particularly useful when you’re working with a customer who doesn’t know what he needs. If you give too many options, he may get confused. Limit the choices to two or three at any time.
– Value questions are used to emphasize the value for the customer. You ask the value in terms of a question. When the customer responds positively, you provide them with the specific features and benefits that allow you to accomplish this, such as: “If you were able to process your orders faster, what would you do that you can’t do now?”
– Involvement questions – These are used to gauge the progress of the sale. During the presentation, you would ask a customer about something he would have to decide after the sale. Involvement questions usually begin with, “If you decide to, or “When you decide to.” The way the customer responds will give you a lot of information about how close he is to a decision.
– Reverse questions are used to close the sale. When opportunities to use the reverse are recognized, they are highly effective. You reverse by simply asking a question with a question. For example, If the customer says, “Can you start on this project next week,” you say, “When next week do you want to start?” Rule of thumb is to reverse specific questions and answer general questions.
Adjust to different communication styles – Present information visually, auditorally or kinesthetically depending on the type of customer that you are working with.
Close on actions – Go back to your initial objective for the call and close on a specific action.
Don’t forget to say thank you – Send a handwritten note at the completion of a sales meeting. It will help to separate you from your competitors.
Marcia Gauger is president of Impact Sales Training in New Berlin.
June 1998 Small Business Times, Milwaukee
Tailor presentations to your customer