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Use Your Product as a Means to Find Problems

I start off every sales training with asking participants to write down specifically what they say differently and do differently on a sales call today that is different than 10 years ago. Other than the obvious answers that the meetings are shorter and more rushed, which is not a reflection of what they do differently, I usually get a lot of stares and vacant looks.

Within reason, most sales people have been having the same exact conversation they have been having for the past couple decades without any real change. They are selling the way their forefathers sold. I always ask them do you not get bored with the same old same old?This is where I get heads turning. I always tell them to use their wealth of experience as a tool for inquiry, not as a stereotypical tool to convince and persuade.

The more superior your offering's attributes are, the more apt you are to forget about the customer. "The facts are very clear. No sales organization, company, manufacturer, association, or entity will ever again have a long standing differentiated advantage in terms of quality of product or service. No one product will remain unique in any marketplace very long. The world is just too small, technology too available for that to occur," said Bill Brooks. There is little that will put you more at risk of being complacent than entrenched success.

Pity the sales person who believes that they have a true selling advantage when they do not. "If your product is mature, a me-too commodity, or even inferior, relax... you have got it made. The best way to stop selling may be simply to stop selling," says Mack Hanan. Conventional information merchants believe they are spreading the wealth with their alleged value, but in reality they are simply spreading their irrelevancy. Management is a co-conspirator by encouraging an overabundance of product training. What if they taught the true language of sales was silence, and the silence is only interrupted by questions? What if they taught that product knowledge is best used to acquire customer knowledge?

Your relevancy in the information economy comes from your expertise and skill to engage the customer in meaningful dialogue about their business, not your product expertise. Product pushers are a dime a dozen. Sales business strategists are rare and will stick out from the competition that overwhelms with content, and underwhelms with context and perspective. Sales people need to face the humanizing fact that their self mastery of their product information is not worth a hill of beans until a customer admits to a problem and its consequences.

Remember this: You are truly unique just like everyone else. "Your differences earn you the right to be just like everyone else," says Mack Hanan. As long as you believe being different and unique is a dime a dozen, then you have the beginning of the understanding that differences are not brought to the table, they are earned. And they are earned by not what you have to say, but what you have to ask, hear and understand.

"The product does not know how to do anything but work. So you'd better know how to do the rest," says Mack Hanan. To diminish commoditization companies are delivering more complex solutions that require strategic selling. Unfortunately, most sales people are ill-equipped to sell strategically. Sales people are being called upon more so than ever by their customers and their company to transcend their offerings by bringing more value. However, if you look at your product as a means to find customers, instead of a means to locate and fix problems you are going to have a big problem making the transition.

One person's trash is another person's treasure. You first need to understand what the customer values. If you want to be truly differentiated, and not be viewed as a me-too commodity, stop treating the customer as a commodity, or a mark.

Xerox did a survey of 2,000 of their customers in the 80s to find out what they wanted from sales people. Surprise, surprise, more product information did not make the top five. By the way superior listening and questioning were in a dead heat. A fair amount of customers will buy from someone simply for the reason that they took the time to listen and understand them. Most traditional sales people only take the time to get their customer to listen and understand their offering.

Information selling deprives customers the luxury to roam intellectually and emotionally because of stifling sales calls, which inhibits the free flow of ideas. So stop treating your products and your information with so much sentimentality as it were an end all be all. Do not let it define you. The problem is not about providing more product features and benefits. The problem is about sales people selling the wrong thing, the wrong way, at the wrong time, to the wrong people. No one cares about you or your product, only your mother cares about you. Be product desensitized so you can be very customer sensitized.

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