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How to Create Something (Solution) Out of Nothing (Questions)

Without leading with information orthodox sales people feel it's too difficult to create something (solution) out of nothing (limited product information). Starting with a clean slate, with no product crutch, and building a business case from the bottom up primarily on the value of the customer's input, is a scary proposition for most product sales people used to being in control and out in front of every sales call. However, selling with an abundance of information is comparable to making a mountain out of a molehill.

Customers buy in spite of the hardball approach of selling, not because of it. Sales people don't realize that their product offering is only as good or as bad as the other options available to their customers. When your desire to sell is greater than your customer's desire to change all bets are off. This is where selling becomes one big cluster fest of misinformation. Remember, if they don't trust you personally, all the salient product information in the world won't help to have your customer trust your selling points.

Feature and benefit selling is the iconic way to be a product pusher, and the reason it's so popular is because it gives sales people an inflated sense of self and entitlement. Yet, few sales people realize the dark side of how it deflates the customer.

Feature and benefit sellers are fighting a different battle, for a different time, that no longer exists—if it ever did. Feature and benefit selling started in earnest in the 70's and still has an acceptance rate of roughly 95% in the marketplace. Does anyone see anything wrong with this picture? "If everybody is thinking alike, then somebody is not thinking," said Gen. George S. Patton. Feature and benefit selling is simply a dummying down of the selling and buying process and that's why it's so ineffective.

Feature and benefits selling reminds me of all the Seinfeld episodes of the past where the theme is nothing about nothing. Today's customers don't easily confuse substance and style. Many conventional sales people could teach advanced selling courses on style, but they couldn't do a substance 101 class. Customers today want more substance about their challenges and less style and non-substance about sales people's products.

The problem with feature and benefit selling is it raises more questions (suspicions) than it answers (trust). If sales people believed questions were their stock and trade, and their main tool of communication, they would scarcely raise their finger to bring out their prized features and benefits. To accept one is to deny the other. The only time you're virtually guaranteed an intelligent audience is when you're talking to yourself; which is what so often happens with feature and benefit selling.

I see it every day, veterans and newbies alike, jumping on the feature and benefit bandwagon as if it were the equivalent of only a 1G (first-generation) mobile or a pager. Their customers are busy upgrading and honing their decision patterns with the equivalent of 5G. Even PowerPoint (power bore), a favorite delivery mechanism of feature and benefit sellers is becoming a has been. Customers who are the recipients of power bore presentations look and act like petulant adolescents with white headphones tuning out the world.

Customers have gained the means to easily shut out your sales messages by using high-tech (spam filters) and low-tech (simply ignoring you) alike. Information selling and its first cousin, feature and benefit selling, is a flawed sales strategy because its execution dominates the talking, instead of dominating the listening. Sales people need to transition from product evangelists to customer evangelists.

Let your customer take the lead on information sharing through the encouragement of your thought-provoking questions. Most traditional sales people ignore giving the customer the benefit of the doubt that they can make independent decisions, and to make matters worse, when they're done with their information sharing (product dump), they have that annoying smirk on their face of mission accomplished, as they prematurely grab for the prize, try to close the sale, thinking that their selling points are irrefutable. This usually ends in a very ugly fashion.

Richard Farrell is President of Tangent Knowledge Systems, a national sales development and training firm based in Chicago. He is the author of the upcoming book Selling has Nothing to do with Selling. He trains and speaks around the world and has authored many articles on his unique non-selling sales posture.

Phone: 773-404-7915
EMail: rfarrell@tangentknowledge.com
Web: http://www.tangentknowledge.com