As I struggled to type these first few words, I thought about my purpose for writing a blog post in the first place. Ultimately, I want to pass down what I have learned from the people before me in hopes that the people after me will be ready for every opportunity that comes their way. So I’ll start at the beginning by using our first experiences of building trust and relationships to describe two fundamental aspects of selling. One is having the proper mindset and the other is the basic process of virtually all sales – Introduction, Needs ID, Demonstrating Capability, and Closing.
Introduction & Building Rapport
Have you ever noticed that smiling at a baby will often cause them to smile back? This is a good place to start when greeting an infant for the first time (or anyone for that matter). Just as the feeling of happiness will produce a smile, a smile can create the feeling of happiness. Now the baby feels happy and you seem nonthreatening so maybe she won’t cry when you hold her. This exact same thing happens during the introductory stage of the sales cycle.
Well, not the exact same thing… Adults are more experienced with language and nonverbal communication so you have to do more than tickle and smile at your customers to make them comfortable with you (don’t tickle your customers). Here are some general guidelines - be friendly (smile), use the other person’s name, be genuine, be a good listener, reciprocate body language, establish common interests, give honest appreciation, and make them know they are important to you (and do so sincerely). These are the basics of human relations and how to build rapport. You build rapport with a baby so they are less likely to cry, and you build rapport with a customer so they are more likely to buy.
The baby is crying - what do you do now? You find out what they need. I don’t have children of my own so I can only assume that the internal dialogue of a parent in this situation goes something like this – “Is Ryan Jr. sleepy? When was the last time he took a nap? Is he hungry? When did he eat last? Is it lunchtime yet? Is his diaper wet? *Sniff, sniff* is that poo?” Asking the right questions identifies the underlying needs that are causing your customer to cry out for help (they agreed to your meeting because they need your help solving their problems).
The best method for uncovering needs that I have ever studied is called the “SPIN” strategy of questioning. SPIN Selling was discovered by a researcher named Neil Rackham and was quickly adopted by the sales forces of many top companies. My friend Andrew (SLC Founder and IBM Sales Rep) told me about a time at a large work conference when a high level executive had one piece of advice for IBM salespeople, “Read SPIN Selling, read it again, then practice it all the time when talking to family, friends, and strangers.” The UC Sales department teaches SPIN Selling, and Mr. Rackham is an adjunct UC professor. You are in good hands.
When the diapers are soiled it is your wipes and fresh diapers that leave them feeling clean again. When they are hungry it is your food that satisfies and nourishes them. And when they are tired it is your touch that rocks, and voice that lulls them to sleep. You will do none of these things for your customers. However, what you will do is demonstrate that your product or service has what it takes to meet their needs.
Traditionally, sales training programs that address demonstrating capability recommend talking less about the features of the product and more about how the product will benefit the customer. SPIN Selling digs a little deeper by focusing on what Rackham calls explicit benefits. These types of benefits address what your customer explicitly tells you that they need. You will uncover these explicit benefits in “Needs ID” by properly using the SPIN technique.
When you rock a baby to sleep, hand her off to someone else and she starts crying again, you know you’ve closed the deal. Okay, yeah that’s about where my analogy starts to break down.
You can do everything right up to this point but you still have to close the sale. There are entire books describing hundreds of different closing techniques. Some companies will actually have one salesperson develop new relationships and bring in “The Closer” at the end of the sales cycle to complete the sale. Closing has always been known as the most important sales skill; if you can’t close you can’t sell.
Does Neil Rackham think so? Not really. He suggests you focus more of your time and attention to the Needs Identification and Demonstrating Capability stages. If you develop an urgent need, check that the customer’s key concerns are covered, then summarize the benefits, you will become more like a business advisor that can recommend the next step to take rather than asking them to buy. To me, becoming an advisor to your clients is the ultimate achievement in sales.
After watching my nieces (ages 3, 9 and 10) overnight this past weekend I wanted to do two things – 1.Wait at least 10 years before I have kids, and 2. Trash this blog post. Why? Taking care of kids is nowhere near as simplistic as I made it sound. But then again, neither is Sales. Both are very complex, have many styles, and different paths to get to the same goal. This somewhat reinforces the analogy and can be taken even further.
I realize that parents aren’t trying to “sell” to their children or persuade them to “buy” into their trust. Essentially what parents do for their children is help them grow. This is precisely what you do when you sell and is something I struggled to understand when I first started studying sales. Bad experiences with salespeople in the past left me with the impression that selling is about manipulating the customer to fatten your wallet. When you sell properly you trick nobody and help at least three people.
1. Yes, you do help yourself by growing your own financial situation. A sales career is often an opportunity with unlimited earning potential. You don’t wait on a raise; you give yourself a raise by working harder and working smarter.
2. You help your company. The main responsibility of salespeople is to grow their company’s revenue.
3. And most importantly, you help your customers grow. When sales is done right it is less like you selling widgets and more like them buying into a product and relationship that will take their business to the next level. You have the capability to add value to this person/company and they are eager to become better through a partnership with you.
“Sales” has a bad reputation with some people, but really it is a profession of honesty, integrity, and mutually beneficial relationships. If all salespeople in the history of selling treated every client like it was their baby, maybe Sales would have the honorable reputation it deserves.