Take control

Who knows more about how your company’s product or service should be purchased – your salespeople or their customers?
We hope you said your salespeople. Why, then, do so many salespeople relinquish that power to customers? In short, it’s because so many of them have a customer advocate mindset-something we’ve talked about often in these pages. But handled skillfully, the customer will welcome the salesperson’s decision to steer the campaign as seller and buyer go through the selling process.
Here are three common selling situations that offer salespeople the chance to take control.
1. Responding to a request for a demo. The software industry is famous for its demo mindset. Software salespeople often rely too heavily on product demonstrations as their selling trump card. (Of course, this over-dependence on demos is not limited to software.) Meanwhile, customers, who don’t know how to buy software, feel a similar unexplained need to request demonstrations. Thus, the sales campaign typically opens when the prospect calls the vendor and asks for a salesperson to come in and conduct a demo.
For a salesperson aspiring to the business resource level, that call is the moment of truth. To merely comply with enthusiasm – "Sure, when would you like to do that?" – is to fall short.
The true business resource will take control, but not in a way that arrogantly ignores the request, which would only alienate the prospect. The effective reply will be along these lines, "Sure, we’d be happy to show you what our products can do. In our experience, though, we’ve found that it’s always benefited both our customers and us to first step back and understand the business issues driving our customers’ need for our software. When I meet with you, I’d like to take some time doing my own homework about your company while also giving you a sense of what our software can do. Make sense?"
2. Changing the buying criteria if you are disadvantaged. If the customer has set buying criteria that clearly puts your solution at a disadvantage compared with your competitor’s offering, you have to steer the customer to modify the criteria to put your solution back in the lead.
Here’s an example, taken once again from the software industry: Bruce was selling financial software to a very large feed mill. The feed mill was requesting specific features that Bruce’s software didn’t offer, but his competitor’s product did. Rather than trying to overcome objections or struggling to make up for the deficiency (the vendor approach), Bruce sought to change the buying criteria. He had sold the same software package to two other feed mills in the recent past. With this in mind, Bruce steered his contacts at this account to rethink the buying criteria to make "the vendor’s feed mill expertise" more important than "the software’s features," and won the deal.
3. Qualifying a sales opportunity. Business resource salespeople subtly convey to their customers that they are nobody’s fool. They communicate a sense of responsibility towards their own company’s resources. They seek mutually beneficial business relationships, and their customers know it. They don’t buy into the vendor notion that the salesperson works for the customer. Rather than blindly chasing an "opportunity" that will allow a customer or a prospect to sap as many of the supplier’s resources as the prospect can get away with, the business resource communicates that his job is to look out for the best interests of both companies.
Salespeople gain enormous respect from customers if they’re viewed as responsible stewards of their own company’s resources. Unfortunately, too many salespeople fear that by acting in such a manner they’ll scare away a customer.
They should take a tip from Barb. After conducting a call to assess the viability of one opportunity, she concluded – and communicated her conclusion to the prospect – that there didn’t appear to be a strong fit between the two companies. Because Barb conveyed that perspective directly, but not arrogantly, she actually piqued the prospect’s interest. Ultimately the two companies worked things out in a way that created a mutually beneficial business relationship.
Steering the sales campaign is among the most powerful ways for your salespeople to be viewed as business peers in the eyes of their customers and to ultimately arrive at positions of dominance in their customer companies. And don’t be surprised when you see how favorably your customers respond to being "steered."
Jerry Stapleton and Nancy McKeon are with Stapleton Resources LLC, a Waukesha-based sales force effectiveness practice. They can be reached at (262) 524-8099 or on the Web at www.stapletonresources.com.
November 26, 2004, Small Business Times, Milwaukee, WI

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Dr. Daniel A. Schroeder is President/CEO of Organization Development Consultants, Inc. (ODC). ODC serves regional and national clients from its offices in suburban Milwaukee. Additionally, he teaches in the Organizational Behavior and Leadership (bachelor’s) and Organization Development (master’s) programs at Edgewood College (Madison, WI), programs that he founded and for which he served as Program Director.

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