This afternoon I read an article that talked about sales, “Ask, Don’t Sell! Strategies for Selling Innovation.” I certainly have always believed as the article states that sales is all about relationships and not about products or their features unless they can be translated into real benefits for the customer.
“The long-term sales goal is to develop a mutually profitable relationship with the buyer.”
The article reminded me of my first sales manager. He was a chain-smoking, ex-IBM sales person who taught me three things.
- The sales person who listens the most will like be the most successful sales person
- Rushing in to fill a gap in a sales conversation can cost you a sale.
- Having the last word is more important than having the next word.
Building a relationship is all about building trust on a personal level not a product level. You can gain a certain amount of credibility by representing a product that a customer trusts and perhaps has even used personally.
However, you are selling technical products on an enterprise level, building this trust has to come on a product, organizational and a personal level.
When you move forward with the hopes of making a sale that can transform an organization you cannot do it with just great products. The customer has to have a level of trust that begins with you and goes all the way through your management organization.
The only time a customer will buy a product from an organization that they do not trust is when it is the only place that they can get a product which they desperately believe is the only way they can meet their internal goals.
Their fear of failure in meeting their internal goals can out weight their fear of dealing with an organization they do not trust.
Unfortunately for many product driven technical companies that situation does not happen very often so they really do need to build trust with their customers.
If you are a smart organization, you will understand that in order for a customer to run with your product they have to walk with it first. That means you need to enable pilot projects of a sufficient size that a new customer can be comfortable betting their business on your product.
Often companies make the mistake of thinking that shipping out a seed product solves this need. In fact some companies even measure their sales people on how many seeds they have managed in a quarter. The sad fact is that a product without a person to get it going is likely going to stay in a box or get marginal use. Often a single product as a seed is absolutely worthless unless you really just want to sell one unit as opposed to hundreds.
It does not matter how great your sales people are if you do not have enough pre-sales technical people to properly support customers who wish to try your products in significant ways.
Product driven companies are so afraid of not having the right quarterly numbers, that they often neglect to invest in long term product placements with the right human resources to make them successful.
They assume that bringing in more aggressive sales people can drive up their numbers when likely they need more technical people. It is even more important for technical people to listen to customers. They often become so enthusiastic about their own product, that they cannot hear what the customers is saying about their real needs.
Technical folks want to mention every last feature so they often jump in and fill those important gaps in conversation when the customer is trying to relate what you have already said to their pressing problems.
“Remember people don't care as much about your product/service as you do”
To build trust in your organization, those technical people to support pilot projects are absolutely critical. In fact they are the most important part of the organization. A product shipped in a box with no person to help get it up and running conveys the clear message that your company is just a box company and really does not have the resources to do more than ship the products out. This subtle unspoken message is clearly not want an organization that is considering betting the farm on your product wants to hear.
Waiting for problems to develop before providing support just reinforces the image of your company as a box mover and a company interested only in selling something as opposed to building a long term win-win relationship.
The next thing you can do to really destroy the potential relationship is bringing in a corporate executive who really knows little about your products and even less about your customer. Unless your corporate executives really want to understand customer needs and build that long term, recurring relationship with customers, you will never be successful in making large enterprise sales consistently.
It won't matter how well your technical people perform, how good your sales people are, or how great your products are. Enterprise sales request trust all the way up the food chain. The rules are no different for executives than they are for sales people. They need to listen, and they need to bring value to the relationship. That does not mean throwing their meeting notes in a trash can on the way to the airport.
As a sales person, if you have executives who don't care about customers or who care only about selling products even if they are the wrong products for the customers, you are in a lose-lose situation.
Sometimes to be a successful sales person, you need to put the customer before the company and walk away from a potential disaster. Selling a lot of the wrong product for the wrong reason may be a way to make a shallow sales manager happy, but it is not the way to have a successful career in sales.
Listen to your customers, wait for the opportunity to have the last not the next word, even if the last word is maybe our product is not right for this situation.