Turn On Your Sales Radar

Being perceptive is a necessary competency for sales success, as many opportunities salespeople pursue are not immediately apparent. Here are some ideas to help you develop a sales radar.

This article was part of Industrial Distribution's March/April print issue. The full issue can be viewed here.

“Ghost Rider, this is Strike. We have unknown aircraft inbound Mustang. Your vector zero-nine-zero for bogey.” 

This is the opening scene from the 1986 movie, Top Gun. Wouldn’t it be exciting if there were radar that could help salespeople identify and engage sales opportunities? There is.

A common and persistent request I receive from sales managers is, “Tom, can you teach our salespeople to become more perceptive so they can identify sales opportunities?” The short answer is yes. Being perceptive is a necessary competency for sales success. Many opportunities that salespeople pursue are not immediately apparent. They are not necessarily hidden; they are just not obvious. At times, customers do not know what they need, but they know they need something. These customers want answers to questions they do not know how to ask. Sometimes, their needs and dissatisfaction with the status quo gnaw at them, not quite painful but uncomfortable. Other times, they are clueless that they need anything at all.

Entrepreneurs are known for their ability to sniff out an opportunity. Salespeople can develop this sense of smell by becoming more perceptive. Perception is the meaning we attach to incoming stimuli through any of our senses. Being perceptive is synonymous with insight, intuition, and understanding. It is the ability to stand back, look at a situation, and see things that others miss. Part of this comes from industry expertise and market exposure. The other part comes from social intelligence which is your ability to read and work with others. This unique combination of expertise and social intelligence is your sales radar. Here are some ideas to help you develop this radar:

Open your eyes and ears. Adjust the resolution on your radar screen to focus on everything happening with the customer. Salespeople typically listen for specific pro-duct cues that will trigger a feature-benefit presentation. Listen bigger. Talk to several people, up and down the organization, and learn their perspectives on the business. Look around the customer’s office and see what you notice. Are people busy? Are they overworked or bored? Consider these things: the political climate of the customer’s business; power base distribution; financial stability; relationships with their customers; competitive pressures; manufacturing, marketing, and engineering concerns; human resource issues; their internal resources; what they need most versus what they want most; and the totality of their needs. What are they articulating and what are they holding back? Are they purchasing other things that you can provide? 

Open your mind. Once you have opened your input channels – your eyes and ears – open your mind. What insights have you gained from you heightened alertness? What does your intuition tell you?  When you study all of the moving parts, can you synthesize them into a coherent set of needs that would demand a broader solution? Think bigger than your commodity product. Consider the total experience that your company offers. Go for non-traditional ideas. Get wild with your ideas. As Linus Pauling said, “The best way to have a good idea is to have a lot of ideas.” What would be the ideal way to make the customer’s life better? What would a full-impact solution look like for this customer? Why should they consider this total solution? 

Open your mouth. Now, it is time to open your mouth and start sharing your thoughts with the customer. Prime the pump with your creativity. Remember, you are asking the customer to view things differently. You are expanding their fields of awareness about their needs and a solution. Be patient. Many people struggle when you ask them to view the bigger picture. It makes them uncomfortable. You may need to inch them along at a slow pace.

Some people are naturally better when it comes to using their sales radar. They may have developed these powers of observation early in life or in another profession. I believe that anyone can learn this skill with study and practice. It demands openness. Opening your eyes and ears is a very active form of listening – it is full-sensory inputting. Listen as an empty vessel. Fill yourself with everything that you hear and see. Open your mouth. Argue your case. Be persuasive. Sell the dream. Demonstrate the full-impact experience that your total solution represents. This type of selling is as far from commodity selling as you can get. 

If you turn on your sales radar and study the full extent of your customers’ needs, you can provide them with a value-added, totally differentiated solution.

Tom Reilly is a professional speaker and author of 13 business books. He is literally the guy who wrote the book on Value-Added Selling (McGraw-Hill, 2010). You may visit Tom online at www.TomReillyTraining.com.


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