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Keeping The Customer’s Decision Process In Mind
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Earlier I had written that to address the sales issues holistically in the information age companies will need to address not only how the sales people position themselves, their companies and products but also the sales management processes and companies will need to train sales managers to manage the processes and salespeople effectively. Let us examine on what a sales person should focus on a bit further. We will start by discussing a change that may appear obvious but seems to have been forgotten – the two sides of selling.
Pick up any ten books on selling and almost certainly eight will be concerned with the skills, techniques and methods of getting in front of prospective customers and persuading them to buy your products. This, of course, suggests that the key to selling entirely rests on one’s ability to influence people.
However, research has shown that there is another side of selling. Successful salespeople are inclined to be effective at planning and organizing their time to ensure they are in front of as many of the right people as possible, talking about the right things at the right time.
This second side to selling is more than time management or personal organization. It is also concerned with being very clear about objectives, qualifying prospective customers, analyzing accounts or territories, developing specific selling strategies and understanding the market. Many sales managers are aware of the need to drive sales force activity. Monitoring the number of sales calls, proposals, demonstrations, journeys or whatever, is an accepted management chore. Successful salespeople go beyond their manager’s control data – they continually plan their time and effort to gain the maximum pay off.
Another interesting point to be prized from any ten books on selling is they all profess to offer the total answers to selling: The Sales Panacea. They will suggest that whoever you are, whatever your market, product, service or customer, if you sell in their way you will be an instant success. How can this be true? Even though many have tried, you cannot turn salespeople into robots. In fact, the only similar feature of salespeople is that they are all members of the human race and as homo-sapiens, the most complex and variable creatures on earth.
Also to suggest all should use the same sales approach, whatever the market, is equally ridiculous. Would you really attempt to use the same sales method to sell a squadron of jet fighters to the Indian government as you would to sell a computer system to the local manufacturing company? Is selling vehicle loans the same as selling large computer networks, software and furniture or negotiating a year’s supply of sugar to a supermarket? Of course not.
Each market demands a different sales approach, style and strategy. In fact, even if two companies sell in the same market, both are unlikely to sell in the same way. Each will have its own beliefs, values and strategy with regard to selling its products. One company may be an aggressive new entrant to the market, another, an old market leader fighting to retain its share. The sales approach that will give an organization the best return is dependent on the salesperson, market, company, products etc.
Another realization in understanding how the successful succeed is rather subtle and on face value offers little advantage. In fact the concept of taking the buyers’ perspective is a key component to success. To help understand this better list any major purchases you have made over the past year. Look down the list and tick one where you had control in making that purchase. The chances are you have given each purchase on your list a tick. If there are any purchases you have not ticked, try to remember how you felt after making the purchases. Did you feel manipulated; have negative feelings about the salesperson, the supplier or product?
Having negative feelings about purchases you made when you were not in control of your decision is not unusual. Research has shown that most people prefer to buy only when they are in control of their buying decision. The research suggested that people prefer to feel they buy from people rather than be sold to. They prefer to make their purchases in an environment of trust, considering the pros and cons of their decision themselves. If people consider they have been sold to, they feel manipulated, tricked and submissive. Rather than blame themselves for being tricked into buying, they look for faults in the product or service. They make a vow never to buy that company’s products again and, without admitting any weakness on their part, warn friends of the risks of buying from the company.
This research also suggests that, if salespeople wish to be effective in selling their products or services, they should ensure their customers feel they are in control of their buying decision. They must not, for example, tell their prospective customers what benefits they should consider or even suggest a decision process to help them make their purchase.
Salespeople should not only understand their potential customers’ needs but also the factors and processes they use to form their needs: their decision process. And by acting as a kind of expert catalyst he can cause the customer to consider aspects of their decision that will lead them towards the purchase of their company’s product. If we return to our ten sales books, one or two may suggest a similar approach. More than likely they suggest you ask questions to reveal customer’s needs. However our suggestion is that the questions are posed so that they encourage the customers to think about their purchases in a specific way. Using this approach, customers are free to consider their decisions in their logic, which means that in the end they will own their decision and feel they had total control in the purchase. This requires that salespeople learn facilitation skills which can be mastered with practice.
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