They shoot salespeople, don’t they?

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They shoot salespeople, don’t they?

By Harry S. Dennis III, for SBT

September is the time of year to give your sales force one last shot in the arm. Soon the fall breezes will be blowing and not long after that the winter doldrums. Thanks to TEC speaker Gerry Layo for helping me offer a little test for your salespeople. It’s a tough test. You’ve got to get all 10 questions right to pass! Read the statements below and decide if you think they are right or wrong.

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Question 1: It’s better to sell features before selling benefits.
Wrong! As one wise sales manager once said, this is called "showing up and throwing up." Customers don’t buy features. They buy the benefits that features provide. Here is a simple check to make sure the benefit portion of the sales equation is being communicated.
As you identify a feature such as "computer processing speed," always follow it with "what this means to you is more work accomplished in far less time" – the benefit to the customer.

Question 2: In the beginning, it’s better to let customers talk about what they want to talk about.
Right! Small talk doesn’t get it done these days. Customer time and relevance issues dictate that discussion centers on the customer’s wants and needs. Let them do the talking while you do the listening! The ratio for this? About 90/10.

Question 3: A good salesperson knows how to set the customer’s buying time frame.
Wrong! It is virtually impossible to set a buying time frame, since the customer always knows whether it will be sooner or later. There is nothing wrong with asking good probing questions to find out, however, where you are in the sales cycle.

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Question 4: You can never afford to stop working on improving customer relationships.
Right! The moment you think you have a satisfied customer for life, your competitor comes along and proves otherwise. Capturing market share is still "Business 101" and you must continually seek ways to add value, over-deliver and strengthen your customer relationships.

Question 5: I can count on satisfied customers to refer me to other prospective customers.
Wrong! Referrals are never automatic. To get them, follow these tips. Ask for referrals every time you have ANY form of customer contact. Earn the right to ask for them by giving more than what your customer expects. Make it easy to refer. Follow up on each referral. Find different ways to say "thank you."

Question 6: Impressing my
customers with product knowledge is less important than being able to identify and meet their needs.
Right! How impressed are you with the "techo-babble" that some salespeople throw at you? Better to get customer trust first through a complete understanding of their needs. Then it is appropriate to let your knowledge work to meet their needs.

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Question 7: I am capable of meeting all of my sales prospects’ needs.
Wrong! A common mistake made with new prospects is to oversell product or service capabilities by making promises that simply cannot be met. It’s better to be honest up front and say that you will determine whether the fit is mutually beneficial. On the rare occasion when it isn’t, you’ll be able to disengage diplomatically and in good faith.

Question 8: An eventuality in every customer relationship is that the customer contact will change.
Right! And this is why it is so important to cultivate other relationships or centers of buying influence in the company. It really pays if you are perceived by others to be not just in the selling cycle but a valuable resource who can help them understand the condition of the industry in general, new product initiatives, trade show happenings and so on.

Question 9: Customers have a genuine interest and concern about problems beyond your control that affect your business with them.
Wrong! Unfortunately, once you are hired to get the job done, the expectations for you are no different than they are for any other employee. Good performance is rewarded and poor performance is punished (as in lost business to a competitor). Your task is to be the problem-solver and give them a little more in the process.

Question 10: Doing customer research before a sales call, coupled with a thorough needs analysis during the call, leads to the most productive sales results.
Right! Don’t make the tragic mistake a salesman for a steel roll forming company made. The engineering sales department provided him with a list of product specs for a prospective customer he was calling on. He didn’t read the specs until he was in the lobby of the prospective client’s firm. Guess what? They were the specs for a competitor of this client!

In conclusion, don’t assume a darn thing. Go into every sales encounter prepared to make the right moves, and always leave a little bit more than what was expected. Until next month, "good sales hunting."

Harry S. Dennis III is the president of TEC (The Executive Committee) in Wisconsin and Michigan. TEC is a professional development group for CEOs, presidents and business owners. He can be reached at 262-831-3340.

Sept. 5, 2003 Small Business Times, Milwaukee

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