Of all the possible sales mistakes one can make, two are more damaging than all others combined.
The first is assuming that prospects know about your company and its products.
The second is not having a value concept.
What the name of a business or product stands for is critical for separating it from the competition. Without that essential differentiation, prospects will seldom buy, particularly when they are satisfied with a present supplier.
Some salespeople think the way to displace a competitor is to talk about themselves. They forget that prospects are already satisfied with their present supplier.
The key is to determine what customers value most that they might not be getting from the current supplier.
Try harder to have your company, product or service clearly differentiated from the pack. If your prospects can’t easily and quickly understand why you’re different from the current supplier, you need to review your presentation. Don’t just assume they see your uniqueness — ask them if they do.
The answers to these three critical questions will give you the differentiation you need to separate yourself from the competition:
- Why are we in business? Two quick answers are to make money and serve customers. While both are important, neither one is the right answer. The major reason to be in business is to create customers. If a business doesn’t create customers, it won’t last. A good way to develop loyal customers is to demonstrate a “we’re here to solve your problems” attitude. Satisfied customers want a positive response when they run into problems or have serious questions.
- Why should someone do business with us? This question usually brings out a laundry list of wrong answers. “We have great people” usually tops the list. While there’s no denying the value of having bright, hard-working employees, this isn’t the answer. The next most popular answer is, “We have great products or services.” So do a lot of competitors, including the present supplier. Another answer is, “Our service is the best.” While exemplary service is essential, it’s not the major reason why prospects will dump a present supplier. The real answer depends on the value you bring to customers. What you consider as value-added, may not be seen that way by customers. Unless you deliver what prospects consider as value, there is no value.
- How can you make sure that you and your company are in the minds of your prospects? Some salespeople think because they’ve been around a long time, they will always be given top priority. A number of companies are now out of business because of that type of thinking.
Keep your name in front of customers and prospects as much as possible. Use letters, postcards, newsletters, email, quick voice messages, product notices and personal visits to stay in touch. Always try to have something of value to say or share with them.
Try to avoid assumptions about prospects, because their needs change frequently. Ask yourself, “What’s happening to customers? What changes are taking place? What problems are they facing? What difficulties are they encountering in the marketplace? What are their opportunities?”
If you don’t have current, up-to-the minute answers to these questions, you’re in no position to displace a competitor. The only way you can know what prospects are thinking is with a feedback system. The first rule is to stay in touch. Call frequently to find out if the customer has any challenges that need to be met and how you can help.
Even though you may be doing a good job taking care of your customers’ needs, that’s not nearly enough today to replace competitors. It’s the ideas, the information, the help, the guidance and the insight that you give to prospects that earns you the privilege of doing business with them.
Initiate discussions that focus on their future needs, upcoming projects or areas of potential growth. Then you will be in a better position to capture business from the present supplier.
Use questions effectively
The most effective method for attracting the interest of a “satisfied” customer is to spend time asking questions rather than giving answers. Some salespeople put the cart before the horse, the answers before the questions. They talk about features and benefits of their product or service without taking the needs of the prospect into account.
The more they talk, the more they tell the prospect that their goal is to make the sale, not to find and resolve problems that a present supplier might not be doing.
Asking questions breaks down the barrier between a salesperson and a prospect. In a first meeting, the prospect may be wary, defensive and cautious. If the salesperson is too assertive and seemingly manipulative, the presentation may be over in a hurry.
Effective questioning may remove barriers, producing an interaction in which the prospect takes the initiative and the salesperson listens. It’s in these conditions that maximum communication, understanding and acceptance take place.
Here are eight ways to get the prospect to want what you’re selling:
- Know your prospect’s business. No prospect wants to hear a salesperson ask, “Can you tell me something about your business?” Why should a prospect take the time to educate you on his or her business, just so you can turn around and sell something? The way to win the prospect is to demonstrate that you know who they are, what they do and what problems they’re experiencing. Ask yourself for specific results that the prospect can get from what you’re selling. How do they compare to what the present supplier is delivering?
- Be an expert in your field. What the prospect is buying today is an advisor. It’s better to be known for knowing something, not just for selling something. Thorough product knowledge and the desire to communicate expertise enable you to influence a prospect’s buying decision. If you’re not conveying your knowledge, you’re probably not going to close the sale. The prospect should come to the conclusion that you’re an expert early in your presentation. An effective way is to open the interview with who, where, when, why and how questions. They are easy to remember and don’t let you miss anything important.
- Work with prospects so what they buy is in alignment with what they want. Prospects are usually looking for an answer to one question when they meet with a salesperson for the first time: “Does this person understand what we want?” If the prospect isn’t comfortable with the answer, there’s usually no sale. Some salespeople jump to solutions before they know the problems, making prospects instant skeptics. They doubt the solutions presented will accomplish their objectives. Concentrate instead on ways by which you can educate prospects by broadening their understanding and expanding their knowledge.
- Help prospects clarify their thinking. Prospects don’t always know what they want even though they may say they have a clear picture of the solution. Questions like, “What’s the biggest problem you’re facing now, and what are you doing to solve it?” might help them get on the right track. A follow up such as “How can I help?” may lead to a successful close.
- Work until you find the irritation. This is a goal that may only be achieved through intense questioning. “What changes would you make in your current system?” “How would you like it to operate?” “What seems to be confusing about your present setup?” “How many times a week does that occur?” “What is your normal shipping schedule?” “Is size a problem?” Answers to these questions may get you past the surface issues and isolate the serious problems.
- Ask questions to measure the competitor you’re trying to replace. Avoid taking the negative road by asking about competitive prices or where the competition is not meeting the prospect’s needs. A positive question, such as, “What would you like to see improved in the product or level of service you’re now experiencing?” may be more productive.
- Try to determine the urgency of your proposal to the prospect. Will your product or service resolve a major problem that requires immediate attention? Or is your solution more of a long-term decision. What would it cost if the prospect retains the present supplier? The prospect needs to know the cost of staying with the status quo.
- Be ready to ask prospects questions throughout the decision-making process. Prospects need to know that you care and want their business. Show that you’re interested, supportive and willing to be patient as they study your proposal. Asking if there are any additional questions or information gaps will let prospects know that you’re committed. Following up with questions like, “What do you see as the next step?” or “When can be get together again?” may help you advance the sale.