If personal sales in your primary marketing strategy (meaning you have a sales force, external or internal), the primary key to being successful lies in their ability to listen to their clients.
When is the last time a sales person visited and asked questions, listened intently and took notes to your answers? You can’t blame them. It’s the way we’ve sold since the days of Willie Loman (Death of a Salesman). You show up, glad-hand a little, talk about your favorite sports team, or fishing hole, then it’s time to move in for the kill. And each sales person has been trained to “tell” each prospect why they should do business with them, and how superior their products/services can be, and that their prices are the best in the World! Plbbbtttt..
Your salesforce is a major investment, and just like any other asset you invest in, you want it to maximize its potential. Each sales call should be viewed at as an investigative session to learn all you can about the prospect. And little should be said about your company’s products or service on a sales call, unless the situation presents itself that it would be foolish not to point out how your products/services will fill that need perfectly.
How can your reps expect your products/services to make a difference if they don’t know what’s important to the prospect. Think of yourself as Lt. Columbo, a detective from my old TV days that asked more questions than my mom did before heading out on Friday night.
Assuming your reps have done their homework (using Google), I would recommend the following line of questioning:
- Start with the macro-environment. How is the economy effecting your business? What are you doing differently? How is that working out? etc…
- Narrow to their industry. What major challenges is your industry facing as a whole? What is the trend in this industry? What stage is/are the products in the product life-cycle (introduction, growth, maturity, decline). What brands are leading the way? What are they doing differently.
- Get more specific. How is your company fairing right now? What does your company do to differentiate it from the competition? How is that working? Any new products/processes?
- Target. “What about your job keeps you up at night?”, you would ask. What would you change? How would you change it?
Your challenge is to gather your sales-force and put together your own list of questions to listen. Make a questionnaire sheet and have it printed if you have to. Then be sure they’re collecting this valuable intelligence. The cost of a personal sales call is over $250, and when reps come back with little more than a few scribbled notes, I want to pass out.
Practice, practice, practice. There are many listening exercises available. And it takes a lot of time to learn not only to listen, but now we have to be sure we have “heard” the prospect correctly. That’s another post altogether. You heard the words, but did your rep understand what was just said? More later.
So practice asking questions, and sitting back listening, and learning. Do it casually so it doesn’t come across like an interrogation. But all successful salespeople that I know are very effective listeners. And you’ll build a reputation for being the one that is truly interested in what goes on at that prospect’s business…not just selling them something.