When you read the latest books about how people buy, you find that they all tend to have the same fatal flaw. In each book, even though the authors are describing today’s savvy customer, the salesperson is still portrayed as having more knowledge than the customer. He is described as the main player who acts as a guide to the customer’s buying process – as if the customer were ignorant and needed the salesperson’s help.
This is completely untrue. Now more than ever.
Want some knowledge about a product? Google the subject. Read the articles, blogs, reviews, and customer discussions. Whatever you need to know is at your fingertips (and much of it is not produced by the selling companies). Customers about to spend some money are willing to take the time to self-educate themselves about the product or service. They keep digging until they find answers that make sense.
Quite often, the ugly truth, if there is one, comes out in these venues. Given how easy it is to find answers, only the laziest customers are naïve these days. There aren’t many of them out there.
But, even before Google, the customer has always been in charge of the customer’s buying process, and any particular salesperson only plays a small part. Except in the mind of the salesperson! The salesperson is lying to himself about his own influence.
Today, customers get about 80% of their questions answered online, which means they are going to salespeople to get the remaining 20% of their questions answered. They talk to several salespeople.
Each salesperson has the ability to influence only a small portion of the customer’s total buying process. And even that influence isn’t what they think it is.
For example, when customers are listening to a pitch, they aren’t just passively absorbing what the salesperson is saying. They are using the knowledge they’ve already gained to find out if the salesperson knows his stuff, and if he is telling the truth (or not). Because of their own research, they will be able to tell when the salesperson attempts to pull the wool over their eyes with a designed-to-deceive omission.
Since this happens with disgusting regularity, customers are very skeptical of pitches. The only thing they are likely to believe is whatever the salesperson says about the competition.
Salespeople are also less influential than they assume because customers never tell salespeople what they’re really thinking when they’re being sold to. Only the best salesperson listens, learns what the customer needs, and then explains how his product will satisfy that need – avoiding internal company jargon and using the customer’s own terms.
Of course, any salesperson reading this will think, Well, sure, that’s what I do. Nope. What really happens is the salesperson listens until he thinks he’s heard just enough to pigeonhole the customer. As soon as the customer uses a key trigger word or phrase, the salesperson launches into the jukebox pitch that matches.
The customer, at the receiving end of the pitch, is thinking, He didn’t wait to hear the whole story, so what he’s saying doesn’t apply to me. And he just left out the big gotcha that everybody online is talking about.
To make things worse, company managers just haven’t faced the fact that by the time the customer comes to a salesperson, he’s answered all of his generic questions, and now has questions pertaining to his very specific situation. Salespeople are typically trained to answer generic questions…the ones that the customer already knows the answer to.
No wonder selling isn’t working.
All of this makes conversations between the customer and the salesperson very disappointing for the customer. It’s a painful part of their buying process and is rarely productive.
In fact, the salesperson is the naïve one in the buying/selling process, because he is kidding himself about his own role. He is also kidding himself about how hard he has to prepare and how much he has to learn in order to be successful.
Selling – the usual way – is a very tough way to make a living. The script-following salesperson is just making calls all day to people and saying things that make it easy for them to say “No.” “We have a special deal this week. Are you interested?” “No.” “Have you had a chance to look at our demos yet?” “No.”
This typical salesperson is actually being unhelpful as the customer tries to buy, which is why more than 90% of the calls result in rejection. It’s not fun for the customer, and it’s a terrible, stress-filled life for the salesperson. Plus, it doesn’t work. Really, companies should give it up.
There are a number of things I would have bought already if:
- The salesperson was passionate about learning everything he could about his product – no matter how “technical” the product is. By the way, anyone selling a technical product should never say: “I’m not technical.” If I am expected to learn enough about the technology to make a decision about a technical product, the salesperson has no excuse. Plus, you can’t “sell” (or educate anyone about) anything you don’t understand.
- The salesperson’s company provided endless, rigorous training – about the product, the market, and the customer’s real needs.
- The salesperson asked questions while talking to me until he truly understood my problem, and could either solve it with his product, or admit that his product wasn’t the right solution, and recommend alternatives. Any salesperson who did this would reap big “karma” rewards over time. I wouldn’t forget how helpful the salesperson was, and would either make a point of referring others to him or go back to him when a need arose that he might be able to fill.
A salesperson who takes great pains to learn all about his product – and who tells customers the truth – can significantly increase his chances of making sales.
Salespeople are drawn to selling because they have a gift for getting along with people as they’re growing up, they like talking, and they really don’t want to think very hard. This works for them in high school, barely works in college, and doesn’t work at all in the business world we live in today.
Since there really aren’t any more “ignorant” customers to exploit, salespeople – and their managers – need to start thinking things through and working with customers to solve their problems. Yes, that’s right. THINK and WORK.
Stop pushing customers to buy something that may or may not work, and actually focus on how you can help. It pays.