19 Sep 2012

Customer Focused Selling

Article on - Customer Focused Selling

The role of sales professional is undergoing a revolution. In the minds of today's well informed buyers, can you compete successfully, confidently and with ease?
I started my sales career in the high growth IT industry in the 90s, when the industry was peaking towards its most innovative era. New startups were popping up like mushrooms, each with something more advanced to offer. Sales people were very much product and company focused. We were drilled on new functionalities and acronyms, touting them like cures for cancer. We prepared for customer meetings by familiarizing ourselves with products features, often without really understanding what it might mean to the customer, and why they should pay for them.
As the IT industry matures and consolidates, products have become difficult to tell apart. Today, if you compare a list of features and blank out the product brand names, they virtually look the same.
Across the board in today's market, the role of the sales professional needs to drastically evolve to one which is more tightly aligned with how a buyer makes decision. It needs to focus on the reality that customer will buy at their own pace, with their own criteria, based on their own reasons, gut feel and view of risks, no matter how badly you want the deal or how attractive your offerings look.
Even if you have been fairly successful, the likely scenario is you will be assigned a higher quota in a shrinking territory with cheaper and hungrier competitors.

"Human beings are the same everywhere. If you don't like to be "sold to", neither do your customers"

Empowering your customers, not just selling them products
Buyers are more well informed than ever, with the prevalence of social media and the internet facilitating peer to peer information sharing and e-marketing campaigns. The traditional selling of product centric “I know just what you need” approach may turn buyers off faster than you can imagine. They may grant you a few meetings but you are no more than a source of quick tactical information, an “outsider” at best.
Human beings are the same everywhere. If you don't like to be “sold to”, neither do your customers. We act based on reasons we ourselves discover and we want to feel that we are in control. The sales person's role is to facilitate the buyer's process in the discovering of those reasons, and then to work with him to match them to product's capabilities. There is no deal until the buyer expressly state that to you. The connection must happen in the mind of the buyer.
Your buyer wants to be empowered, not “sold to”.

"The idea is to ask questions which will invite the buyer to open up to you"

Earn trust by having value based conversations with your customers, and not just making presentations
The common approach to a sales meeting is anchored on doing presentations. We are somehow prone to believe that a stack of well formatted PowerPoint slides and graphics will impress the buyer.
While it is important to give a good overview of your company, 90% of the precious customer facing time should be spent on meaningful, value based, 2 way discussion. This requires a deliberate effort from the sales person to prepare well. One way is to research on a few relevant successful customer stories of how usage of your products have helped in their roles (i.e. the title of the buyer), and based on that, prepare a list of questions to frame the discussion. The idea is not to tell the success stories word for word, but to ask questions which will invite the buyer to open up to you on his unique needs and problems.
A plan of action, to be agreed by both parties, can then be drawn up, where a more thorough evaluation can happen.
The buyer feels he is in control. And empowered.

"Being customer focused doesn't mean you give in to everything the buyer asks for!"
Negotiating from a strong position
Negotiating from a strong position hinges on the fact that you have done the necessary in uncovering values AND you have met with the real decision makers. (Value is defined as the expressed agreement that your product can address the business issues in the best way.)
Most importantly, you must have earned their trust and respect along the way. Being customer focused does not mean you give in to everything the buyer asks for. It means managing a balanced, give-and-take relationship, with one respecting the other's responsibility and career wellbeing. It means saying a polite NO at times when a request is not justified or when a buyer is not prepared to give anything in return.
Develop a closing plan early and stick to it. Before agreeing to any discounting, you should confirm that you are the only preferred vendor, that price is the only preferred vendor, that price is the only remaining issue and the date of issuing the Purchase Order. These are fair questions which the decision maker, if he also care for your success, should be able to support you on.

In summary, being a sales person is an exciting career. But we need to see the game differently. We can add most value to our customers' organisations and their careers when we demonstrate strong empathy and focus on how they actually go about solving their business problems. We are accountable in building relationships which is based on our ability to bring solutions to their needs. This will ensure a long term, satisfying and lucrative career.

About the Author

Kevin Ryan
is an experienced conference speaker, workshop leader and facilitator. He has twenty-five years experience as a corporate trainer and fifteen years experience as a professional speaker. He is a Certified Speaking Professional (CSP) which is the highest possible level in professional speaking and the only one recognised internationally. Kevin is the current National President of the National Speakers Association of Australia and is currently a trainer in Training Edge International.