Customers Commoditize Us Because They Believe We Treat Them Like Commodities
If a buyer of a major Fortune 500 company had their office wired with hidden video cameras and 10 sales people came into their office in a course of the week selling the same product, could a casual observer notice a unique approach, a product differentiation, a customer focused approach or a unique sales strategy? The smart money would be betting on no.
Things in excess (value selling, feature and benefit selling) causes their opposite. "The more words people use, the harder it is to understand them," said Lao Tzu. Information sellers (90% of the selling population) are severe offenders of excess.
Familiarty breeds contempt. The same old same old loses and alienates customers. Like products, often our selling strategies can be very over engineered and we do more harm than good by overstating our salient selling points.
The reason customers commoditize our offerings is because we make our customers feel like commodities by our cookie-cutter sales approach. They frequently feel devalued, because they were not heard, understood, or validated, and so they return the favor and devalue and commoditize us. Since we do not honor them by giving them the time to vocalize their value proposition (most pressing problems), they do not give us the time to express our value proposition (thought-provoking questions). It becomes a vicious cluster fest of devaluing one another's information, and everyone walks away losing.
According to widely accepted communication research, only a small percentage of effective communication is based on what you actually say. To add insult to injury for the information sellers set, research shows that customers forget 90% of everything they heard (rational and logical selling appeals) in the first 24 hours.
Selling to the rational side of someone can be very unproductive. My guess is customers still remember 90% of how a sales person made them feel after 24 hours. Appealing to your customer's instincts, emotions and gut, which relies on far less information, is a far more effective and sustainable strategy for sales people. This sales appeal relies heavily on thought-provoking questions to trigger emotions.
"Decision makers who buy for irrational based reasons become the most loyal customers, while the ones who buy for rational based reasons become the least loyal customers," says Bill Brooks. Your offering might be a tangible product, but your customers are buying it as if it were intangible.
"The purpose of your information is to get customers to emotionally see and feel something; not necessarily to get them to think. The world's greatest communicators are masters of the metaphor," says Mitch Anthony. It is not the "what" that is important, it is the "why" that is important. Concern yourself with why do they want something, or why do they want to change. Commodity and information sellers concern themselves with "what they want" and that is what gets them into "commodity hell."
"If all things are equal, the deal will come down to price. But if all things are equal, why do we need sales people?" says Skip Miller. Every sales person should be posing this question to themselves every day. The day you cannot answer that question is the day you should question if you are in the right profession, right company, or right industry.
Our ultimate goal in a sales call is knowledge not persuasion. Knowledge is always a double edge sword for the uninitiated in sales. Sometimes the truth of the poor viability of a customer hurts so much that sales people will do everything humanly possible to avoid it. Knowledge is truth. And the truth hurts sometimes. Informed consent allows sales people to make better business decisions and to take measured risks. Successful sales people never shy away from the truth.
Most mainstream sales people confuse providing customers with product information as educating. The only education your customer ultimately values that you can bring to the table is a different perspective on their business and their problems. So if you really want to educate, educate them on their choices, alternatives, and different courses of action they can take and explorer to achieve their business goals. Customers give us so many cues that say, "pay attention; this is important," and we are too busy enthusiastically educating and selling them our solution that we miss the real story.
"Average sales people try to satisfy their prospect's curiosity. Top performers try to make them more curious," says Tom freese. The more you try to satisfy their curiosity the more entrenched their resistance can become, the more confused they can be ,and the stricter the criteria they use to judge the veracity of your claims. Also, when the customer's knowledge and expertise exceeds that of the sales person, it becomes very difficult to sell high-value premium offerings.
Marshal McLuhan was famous for stating that the medium is the message. "In relationship to selling your products and services, the sales person is the sales medium," says Howard Stevens. It is not what you sell that creates value, it is how you sell it that creates value. "The conversations sales people have with customers may be the last bastion of competitive differentiation in today's rapidly commoditizing markets," says the American Marketing Association.
Selling product information is like bug spay. Eventually your customers become immune to it. "Most of the bad things that can happen during a sales call is when the sales person's mouth is open," says Bill Brooks. Most information is about bragging rights and most customers do not like to be on the receiving end of a self-congratulatory barrage.