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Stop Selling “Stuff”

One of the tasks I occasionally get to do as part of my consulting and coaching assignments is to observe sales people as a “fly on the wall.”  I will accompany a sales person as they meet with their prospects and customers and just observe their interactions so that (depending on the assignment or project) I can provide management with an assessment of skills, provide training recommendations, offer reinforcement or further coaching to the sales person, etc.  What I often find during these experiences is an over-reliance of sales people and the marketing functions that support them on their product, their companies, and their processes (this product is the best on the market, we have been in business for three decades, we are able to accept payment in four different ways, etc.).

An example of structuring sales messages.

An example of structuring sales messages.

Unfortunately, the person (the buyer) they are speaking with, has their own issues, needs, wants, desires, concerns, etc.  Further, the buyer is not really in pursuit of a “widget” or a product – though that is what the sales person is attempting to sell.  Rather, the buyer is in search of a better future or progress.

The Role

Therefore, the role of  sales people and the marketing departments that support them, is to identify the right outcome and then provide them with a reasonable way to accomplish that through the use of the sales person/marketing department’s “stuff.”  If the prospect/customer can align their future vision or future concept with the products/services being sold – a sale can happen.  One great resource to help guide companies do this can be found at:

While there is much to digest in this blog post, a few highlights are:

  1. Ideal Customer Profile – know who the customer is that can best leverage the use of products and services.  In the event that your company services customers with very different profiles (size, geography, industry, etc.), create different profiles for each of them.  This does not mean that the company will ONLY sell to these customers, however, it is essential to identify the “ideal” customer to assist in the focusing of sales and marketing practices.
  2. Popular Points of Pain (PPP) – knowing what are the general issues that the Ideal Customer Profile is experiencing based on the industry, job function, and environmental, legal, or competitive pressures.
  3. Interesting Ideas – prospects may be caught in their own conventional thinking or accepted “truths” about the business (this is how we do it, we have always done it that way, it has to be done this way, etc.).  Bringing challenges to those accepted conventions that open up new possibilities is a key way to distinguish your company (or you) from competition and help secure sales.
  4. Results – in some instances, the results can be expressed in quantitative terms (increases, decreases, ROI, savings, revenue, etc.). Other times, it may be expressed in qualitative ways (anxiety, happiness, confidence, etc.).

What it is NOT

What the prospect is not as likely to respond positively to is a reliance on a sales approach that prematurely jumps into discussions about features, technologies, and product components.  There is a time for that – however, it is NOT to occur before the sales person demonstrates that they understand the prospect’s reality (even if it is not the one the sales person subscribes to, the sales person has to prove they understand it).  Then, the sales person has to show that s/he can help the customer achieve a better or new vision.  Only then is it appropriate for the sales person to share the “HOW” it occurs through the use of the sales and marketing company’s products.

Hoping that a product “demo” will sell the prospect/customer on closing the deal when the sales person’s efforts have not been successful to that point rarely leads to a sale.  If the vision has not been established, the product alone will infrequently be sufficient to help the prospect transition to being a “buyer.”   And, certainly, trying to apply the subtle pressures that sales people and marketing departments occasionally rely upon to generate sales (discounts about to expire, generous payment terms, information about competitors looking to make a purchase, etc.) will only serve to confuse and frustrate (the prospect will still be wrestling with “what is it that this product will do for me?”).

David Zahn