I joined Procter & Gamble because they had the reputation for being a great training ground – they were known as ‘The University of Marketing’. After a week’s one-to-one induction on understanding the company, product knowledge, customer types, business systems and most importantly selling processes and techniques (the steps of the call and the consultative sales process) I was then accompanied on my first visit to a variety of customers. I found the sales proces quite uncomfortable at first as it felt forced and overly mechanistic especially as I had recently lived in North Devon where bartering and exchanging mutal favours with people was how things worked down there.
After 6 months of selling on my own with some coaching from my manager I was invited to attend the sales training course at a hotel near the head office (then in Newcastle). The course brought together a group of very motivated and competitive sales people who had recently joined the company and mostly from University. It was quite a pressurised environment where you were being monitored by trainers, a senior manager and filmed on videos to then watch yourself and be critiqued by everyone else!
The key take-out that I took away from that experience, apart from a number of life long friends, was a question asked of us by a grizzled sales trainer at dinner the last night ‘ Who has the most power, the buyer or the seller?’ Although at the time we thought he was a bit past his sell-by date and eccentric he was right to challenge us in our automatic thoughts that the buyer typically has more power and encouraged us to think that the seller also has power when they offer something that is unique, scarce or with a more trusted and reliable service than the alternatives.
I have gone on to use this question frequently in my work with clients to help them focus on their areas of strength, their uniqueness and to build the value of their business products and services in the eyes and experience of their customers (buyers). So thanks very much Hedley Grey for asking that question all those years ago and I recommend that you use it to help build the value of your business.
In most sales training courses the close or closing question that ‘asks for the order’ is viewed as the most critical component. It can’t be denied that actually asking a question or suggesting an action to buy a product or service can help a customer who is not sure what to do next. I believe that this ‘question or suggestion’ is an important step if it is done at the appropriate time (after finding out whether the customer actually needs the product or service!). However, traditional sales training often elevates the close to such an extent that the salesperson can become tense or even aggressive at this ‘make or break moment’ with the customer in order to gain the sale. We all know how it feels to be pushed too hard and we will often push back with a No! or reluctantly give in but vow never to return to the seller again.
We have re-examined the sales process from the customer’s perspective and in our workshops and coaching we take some of the focus and anxiety/aggression away from the ‘close’ and provide a bigger picture view of the buying and selling experience by adding in what happens after the sale. The follow-up part of the sales process does not usually figure in sales training as it could be viewed as part of customer service but I believe that this misses the point. Having contact with the customer after they have bought a product or service will help a salesperson to understand what the customer has gained from their purchase, what works well and what can be improved. This follow-up step which comes after the close may be less interesting to those agressive salespeople, who are often described as ‘hunters’, but if they did take the time to follow-up on their sales they would actually find that the next sale to this or another customer would be so much easier, but then maybe they just like the game of pushing hard and winning!
What do salespeople do when the pressure comes on to hit their numbers and they need to sell more? The natural response is often to try pushing their existing and new customers to buy more products or services and if this doesn’t work push them even harder! This ‘hard sell’ approach to gaining more business is seen as the macho response to the challenge of selling more which is in contrast to the ‘soft sell’ approach of building relationships with customers by understanding their needs and tailoring the product or service offer to deliver the desired outcome. This ‘soft sell’ approach can take longer to achieve the objective of increased sales and during times when the business needs to sell more it may be viewed as a luxury that can’t be sustained. So what’s the answer, do you take the short-term hard sell route or the longer term soft sell path? Every situation is different but my preference in selling situations, as both a customer and a seller, is to take a balanced and open approach to find out how the seller can help the customer by understandng their situation and needs and then confidently recommending and discussing what is best for the customer with clear next step actions. As with most things in life I think it’s about achieving the right balance!