More than two decades ago, I learned a lesson that has stuck with me since, and that I’ve taught countless salespeople — all of whom have used it to good effect. It’s about the most valuable information you can possess. Of course, I tell everyone that the most valuable information is information about their CUSTOMERS — but some pieces of information are more valuable than others.
In the situation I’m recalling, I was dealing with a repeat customer on a fairly large purchase of electric motors. This customer and I had done business a few times, and I knew that anytime he was buying more than about $5,000 of stuff, he liked to let it percolate for a couple of days, and then he’d buy. The problem was that my sales manager was trying to cram numbers to finish the month, and if I let the customer wait, the month would end.
“Hey,” my SM said, “don’t you want to finish STRONG? Just apply a little salesmanship to this guy.”
I responded, “Look, I know him. He’s gonna buy but if we try to pressure him, it’ll irritate him. I’d rather not upset a good customer.” My SM snorted in disgust — and then, unbeknownst to me, called my customer and offered him a “buy now” discount. My customer called me and wanted to know who the ‘jerk’ was that was pressuring him. I was caught unawares, and long story short, my customer ended up buying from my competitor, and it took me a few months to get back into his good graces. When I did, he bought the same exact way as before.
I learned two things from that incident:
- The most important thing you can know about a customer is how that customer prefers to buy.
- Once you know that, the most important thing you can do is to respect how that customer prefers to buy.
This goes against all the old tropes of selling — “Persistence pays off,” “closed mouths don’t get fed,” etc. But there’s a reason those are old tropes. Respecting your customer and how they want to do things is key to an arrangement.
“But Troy,” the old-time salesperson says, “Buyers are liars, and what if they’re just stalling you to get a better deal from your competitor?”
My up-to-date response is this: Ultimately, the buyer buys from who they want to. If they’re just stalling me to get a better deal elsewhere, then I haven’t sold my value well enough.
Let’s look at the most basic buying process.
The buying process starts with MOTIVATION. This is the step in which someone recognizes a need that could be filled by making a purchase. They could be motivated by something happening under their control (internal motivator), such as a machine breaking, or they could be motivated externally — perhaps through an advertising message or a cold call. At that moment, they become a potential BUYER.
The next step is INVESTIGATION. That’s where the buyer’s needs and wants are defined, and the goods and/or services are measured against the needs — a final solution, or slate of solutions, is arrived at. This is where getting in a hurry can really hurt you as a salesperson. If you fail to correctly define the needs — or worse, not match your solution to the needs — you get eliminated. This is also the step that salespeople are most likely to shortcut, as they look for a quick path to a sale. Hint – if you don’t qualify on this step, the next one won’t matter.
That’s because the next step is EVALUATION — price and terms. The thing to remember is that PRICE ONLY MATTERS IF YOUR SOLUTION IS THE CORRECT ONE. Too many salespeople think they can price themselves into a sale that their solution didn’t get them into — this is wrong.
The final step is DECISION. The customer either buys or don’t buy.
Here’s the important part — the selling process should mirror the buying process. In steps and speed. Ideally, we want to be moving through the process at the same pace as the buyer. When we get ahead of the buyer, we’re considered pushy and we make the buyer uncomfortable. COMFORTABLE CUSTOMERS BUY. Uncomfortable ones don’t — or they do so reluctantly, and aren’t anxious to repeat the process with that salesperson. For most of us, repeat sales and relationships are our lifeblood.
“So you’re telling me,” o-t-s says, “that when a customer tells you to wait, that you wait?”
My response is that, yes, normally I do. Over the years, I’ve won far more deals than I’ve lost by respecting the customer’s buying process. The truth is that it’s a lot harder (for the salesperson) to sit and wait than it is to push, push, push — I’m not an overly patient person. But it’s a lot harder to lose a potentially good deal because you pushed a customer away.
So my advice to you is, with every customer: Find out how they want to buy and then align your sales process to it. Your customers will thank you — and sooner or later, your sales manager will too when you show him/her the numbers.
Troy Harrison is the author of “Sell Like You Mean It!”, “The Pocket Sales Manager,” and a Speaker, Consultant and Sales Navigator. He helps companies build more profitable and productive sales forces. Contact him at 913-645-3603 or [email protected].