What it Means to Be an Innovative Seller

Darrell Sterling discusses how if you're not changing in distribution sales, you're being left behind.

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Are you still selling the same way you were just a few years ago? How long has it been since you really changed the way you sell? If you think being innovative is just for the tech companies or manufacturing, you are dead wrong. If you’re not changing, you are being left behind. I don’t just mean tweaking your sales presentation; I mean changing how you see sales.

My sales process is constantly being redefined. It has to because the world around me is rapidly changing. The industry I sell in changes tremendously due to new regulations, new products and changes in best practices, along with many other factors. If my approach or process didn’t change or evolve, I would no longer be relevant to my employer.

Don’t get me wrong, my core values haven’t changed. I still believe in integrity selling. I believe in providing value to my customers, under-promising and over-delivering. But the way I incorporate my core beliefs into my sales process changes from presentation to presentation depending on the circumstances.

Feeling Value

The March/April 2015 issue of Industrial Distribution included an article I wrote about the power of videos. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then what is a video worth? Yet, I rarely use videos in presentations. The reason is you only have a customer’s attention for so long, and with a video you can lose them rather quickly. Videos are powerful if presented at the right time and if they are more custom-tailored to your customers. A general video does not have the same impact.

The use of iPad, videos or even live demonstrations — all of which are great — are not what I mean when I talk about being a sales innovator. You only achieve that when you truly understand your customers’ needs and have specifically designed a sales process for that customer that allows them to truly feel the value that your solutions will give to them. I’m not talking about features and benefits. I’m talking about having your customer experience how it will be if they choose your solution(s).

If my solutions will save my customer an extra 12 minutes per day because I found a better, quicker way for them to conduct business, that means we are saving them one hour per week, four more hours per month, and 52 more hours per year. If my solution can give my customer one extra week every year, how do you suppose they will feel about that? Think of what they can do with that week. The key is for them to feel the benefit during the sales process.

If my product can prevent breakdowns, then it’s important for a plant manager to feel what it will be like to be worry-free, because this product will take away that nagging ‘what-if’ tension. I do have a maintenance-free product that is virtually fail-proof, but it is expensive. The key will be whether it is worth the perceived value in this situation: How much pressure is there on the plant manager to keep the plant running at all times, and how seriously do they take their job?

What do they Really Need?

You need to thoroughly understand what drives your customer’s decision-making. You might have to take an innovative approach to get your customers to open up and trust you with what they need. Sometimes our customers think they need one thing, when they really need something else entirely. I’ve heard customers say they really need better marketing to sell their products or services. The customer believes that they need to generate more leads, but the fact is the company’s closing rate is extremely poor. What they really need is to improve their closing percentage. If they capitalize on what they already have, then they would achieve their budgeted revenue goal. That company needed to spend money on learning a proven sales process, and not on a marketing campaign.

You really have to know and understand your customer’s needs. If you know those needs better than they do, then you will have figured out a path to become that company’s trusted advisor. You need to find creative ways to ask questions that clarify what’s really needed.

Be Prepared

There is so much client information available out there. Now more than ever, you must be prepared before running a sales call so you don’t waste valuable time asking questions you should already know the answer to, or that you can later find out for yourself. The key is to spend some quiet time just thinking about how you want to approach this sales call. I find it impossible to be creative or innovative in a chaotic environment. I need to find a quiet place where I can relax before I start thinking about my customer. It’s amazing the ideas that will flood into my head if I can slow down and give myself time to really think through the process. I cannot just go robotically from sales call to sales call. If I fall into that trap, I’ll find that I’m unable to penetrate deep into my top accounts the way I need to for success.

You can’t be an innovator if you don’t take the time to first do your homework and learn everything you can about your client, then slow down and take the time to formulate a proper approach to learn more and develop a deep understanding of what your customer truly needs — not just what they tell you they want. If you’re SterlingSterlingwilling to change your approach, look at things through your customer’s eyes and then find creative solutions, you will sell more and be a successful sales innovator instead of a run-of-the-mill salesperson.

Darrell Sterling is a regional sales manager for Johnstone Supply, an HVAC supplies distributor in Central New York. He can be reached at Darrell.sterling@johnstonesupply.com or 585-441-0335.

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