I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not a professional sales person. I just don’t have the personality to strike up a conversation with a complete stranger and in a matter of only a few minutes to become their new best friend. But as a lead technical person I have been brought into many client meetings to help provide technical backup to the sales process.
Sales people don’t like bringing technical people into the sales process because they feel they are going to lose control of the customer. But, I was successful helping them because I had previously worked closely with someone who had an incredibly successful, forty year career, selling large computer and software systems to corporations. He taught me one simple thing, “Telling’s not selling”.
Everyone has encountered the sales person who simply won’t shut up. They ramble on and on about the wonderful attributes of their product, why it is the best thing since sliced bread, how the deal they are offering is only valid today, and why that deal can’t be passed up. The only thing in your mind when you encounter this type of person is how quickly you can leave.
What I learned from my colleague was the technique of asking probing questions to uncover the customer’s needs and to use questions to help lead the customer to make an informed decision. Using questions to lead a customer’s thought process in a specific direction is incredibly effective because:
- The customer believes they are coming to a decision on their own
- That you are a valuable resource that helps them with that process.
Unfortunately, it is also challenging to do and requires training and practice.
To help people develop this skill, the company I worked for ran periodic sales training sessions where these techniques were reinforced and practiced. Two sales people would be teamed up with one role playing the customer and the other trying to sell them a product. The one role playing the customer would be given a card, which they hid from their partner. The card defined how they would act during the role play. In the smart home world, some examples could be:
- You don’t want to be here. Your wife wants this product and sent you out to find it and get the best deal.
- You are an enthusiastic geek who wants all the technical details, especially about top of the line gear, but doesn’t want to admit that you have a very low budget
- You are a snob who doesn’t really believe that this store can offer you the caliber of equipment you want to buy. You are only here to make sure you cover all the bases by talking to the various stores in your area. Your mind is already made up that the people across town are the ones you want to make your purchase from.
- You have a friend that told you that the only way to create a smart home is to do it yourself with an Amazon Echo and products that integrate with it. You’re only here because your wife isn’t sure you can do it yourself. You can’t wait to get this over with so you can go home to place your order with Amazon.
The role play would begin as if the person just walked into the store and the sales person had to introduce themselves, begin the process of understanding the customer’s needs, and working through overcoming the barriers to making a sale. The other sales people would watch and after the role play was over they would critique what they observed. Again, in the smart home world the role play might take the following form.
Sales person: “Hi, my name is Bob, how can I help you?”
Customer: “I just want to look around. Thanks”.
Sales person: “Please feel free to look things over and I’m here if you have any questions.”
(A few minutes later) Sales person: “I see you are looking at our mock up of a smart home. Are you considering a smart home system for your own house?”
Customer: “I’m thinking about it.”
Sales person: “Have you been doing any online research on smart homes?”
Sales person: “What features of a smart home are important to you?”
Customer: “I haven’t really thought about it that way but I guess want to make my home more convenient to live in.”
Sales person: “How big is your home?”
Customer: “4000 sq. ft.”
Sales person: “Do you have a family?”
Customer: “I have a wife and three children ages 4, 6, and 8.”
Sales person: “What about your home isn’t convenient for you?”
Customer: “My kids constantly leave the lights on. They also leave TVs on.”
Sales person: “Have you done any reading on lighting control systems?”
Sales person: “What systems have you read about and what about them appeals to you?”
Customer: “I’ve read a lot about Lutron lighting systems.”
Sales Person: “Lutron has been in the business of making lighting systems for a long time and they have a very good product. What did find that you liked about them?”
The key points are how the sales person isn’t pushy but simply uses probing questions to uncover the customer’s needs. For this to be effective, the sales person has to develop the skill of quickly thinking through the customer’s answer to figure out the best way to follow up to both uncover more information and to lead the customer in a direction that will result in a sale.
The customer should walk away from the interaction feeling that:
- The sales person really understood my needs
- The sales person helped me to better understand the benefits of the smart home system we discussed
- The sales person was honest about any shortcomings to the products discussed
- The sales person is someone I can trust to give me an honest answer
“Telling’s not selling” is a great adage to remember whenever you are working with a potential customer.