Ed Pierce, Fleet Industry Marketer
In last month’s column, I concluded that prospective customers do not have time to educate vendors on their businesses. In fact, the once-acceptable “tell me about your business” sales approach is an imposition on busy managers in today’s fast-moving environment.
Instead, prospects want to be engaged in a “rational” discussion characterized by a conversation with an expert possessing insights into their business, competitors and markets. The best way to earn acceptance, possibly even an enthusiastic response, is to recount the business challenges and opportunities similar companies have addressed. Introduce industry benchmark data, survey analyses and anecdotes from other companies that capture those business challenges.
Before a sales rep can build a relationship, he or she must establish credibility. The sales rep’s goal is to be thought of as an insider who understands the prospect’s challenges. Open-ended questions have given way to beginning with a premise of the prospective customers’ needs based on preliminary research and relevant experience. This approach begins the process of earning trust as a subject-matter expert.
The next step is to build off the challenges that the prospect has just acknowledged by offering a new perspective that connects those challenges to either a bigger problem or a larger opportunity than was ever conceived. Even if the sales rep has a good idea of how to connect the dots, this is not the time to “spill your candy in the lobby.” The supplier and prospect should collectively create the data, knowledge and insight to create a new perspective that leads to a deeper conversation.
Have you truly engaged the prospect by reframing conversation? If the reaction is too easily one of agreement, your discussion is probably not unique, innovative or insightful. That means that the rep is responding to a prospect’s needs versus defining those needs. Remember, the goal is to open a prospect’s eyes to something new.
Finally, a third step requires that the sales rep lay out the business case for why reframing the problem is worth the prospect’s time and attention. By leveraging supporting evidence — data, graphs, tables, charts, etc. — that quantify the cost of the problem or define the opportunity, the sales rep offers an objective, numbers-driven rationale for thinking differently about the challenges at hand.
Only in this way will the prospect overcome the inherent inertia that precludes making a change. Only with this evidence will a prospect take action. The best sales reps know how to present information in a manner that makes a prospect uncomfortable enough with the current state of affairs to change. An ROI analysis on the value of solving the business challenge (not an ROI for buying the solution) brings awareness of the loss of substantial savings or revenue opportunity that cannot be overlooked any longer.
If you have any questions, comments or opinions that you’d like to share, write to me at edpierce@ITAcommunications.com.