Guest Post: Tim Foster, Sales Director EMEA, The TAS Group
Over the first month of this year, I asked a lot of sales people and their bosses a simple question; “What is the most difficult element of selling in 2012 and what will make or break your year?”. The same two answers came up frequently:
- I can’t get access to the decision makers
- Customers don’t follow through on their committed actions
These are not new problems, and not ones that seasoned sales professionals like to admit to themselves. But things have come to a head. For the last five years sales people have been told to create value, not just communicate value.
We have all warned and been warned that the buyer now controls the buying cycle, and that much of it is happening without the seller present. In many cases (dare I say most?) the sales cycle has been reduced to a short interaction to validate buyer assumptions and haggle over price. Buyers are now used to this pattern and as a result have Zero Tolerance for the traditional Discovery Call. The bar has been raised. Without doing something dramatically different you won’t get access. Even in the rare cases that you get in the door, they will perhaps smile, but you will not get them to agree do anything if you follow the old traditional approach.
No one likes to be confronted with their failure, least of all me, so let me try to explain, in a positive way what’s going on and what we need to do.
The symptom is the difficulty of gaining access and provoking action. The underlying cause is the inability to build consensus and alignment between you and the buyer. You can only build consensus if people remember you and what you say. This means that what you say has to be something that represents true value creation for the buyer.
What you say must be an idea that the buyer has not come up themselves, and, crucially, must be something that is truly useful from their perspective and delivered in context of their current challenges, their situation and their goals. If you don’t you do that, you are merely a distraction. At the heart of this is the age-old perception problem that many in sales or “Business Development” cannot be trusted. And, without trust it is hard to have to gain the customer’s confidence. So, before the conversation starts, you have to earn the right to engage, discover and advise the customer.
At the TAS Group we are cognizant of the fact that at the end of the day, the customer’s opinion is the only opinion that matters, and to change the customer’s mind, you have to first get inside it. We think the Trust Equation is a good framework to use to virtually place yourself on the same side of the table as the customer.
Trustworthiness = (Credibility + Reliability + Intimacy) / Self-orientation
How the Trust Equation Works:
It all starts with Credibility:
Credibility Builders include:
- Accuracy and completeness of your story
- The ability to grasp and even predict the customer’s key business challenges and the ability to articulate the way you have solved similar issues for others in their industry.
- Confidently and proactively reference other customer outcomes ( avoiding the often awkward phoney war of Discovery first, references 2nd)
Credibility Killers include:
- Overstating your knowledge
- Lack of specific detail that demonstrates a lack of preparation.
Reliability is just ‘table stakes’, but a critical factor.
Reliability Builders include:
- Delivering on what you say you will do
- A connection between promise and action; doing things the way the customer wants them done
- Marshalling all the required resources within your company and beyond
- Helping the customer look good with their peers or superiors.
Reliability Killers include:
- Missing deadlines
- Inability to move things forward for the benefit of the customer. They hate having the same conversation twice – or boring conversations even once.
- Wasting their time
Intimacy shows that you are not afraid of being vulnerable:
Intimacy Builders include:
- Courage to do the right thing
- Leading (which might not be the safe option)
- Candor and willingness to demonstrate emotional commitment to the customer
Intimacy Killers include:
- Artificial behavior
- Saying just what the customer wants to hear
- Arrogance or belligerence.
- Closed mind set, or fear of taking risks. (Ditch the comfort blanket of the 14 slide company overview that you like to warm up with)
Self-Orientation is critically important. Getting this wrong destroys your efforts everywhere else:
Self-orientation Builders include :
- Active listening rather than talking. I mean really listening to what the customer has just said and building the dialogue around that before moving onto the next point you want to make.
- Focusing on the reality of the here and now and a genuine curiosity of the customer’s problems is essential.
Self-Orientation Killers include:
- Being in it only for the money and your benefit
- Always needing to be right
- Winning at all costs with limited evidence of long term commitment.
Think about a good sale you made recently. Everything seemed right and if you were to ask the customer why they bought from you they should recognize that you made it easy (or easier) to buy from you rather than the others. Building trust and a relationship with the customer makes it easy for the customer to buy.
This approach requires a shift in mind-set as well as the learning and application of a new way of working with customers. It’s a fine balance between asserting control and getting on the other side of the table.
Not all customers will let you stay on their side of the table, and not all sales people will find that a comfortable place to sit. I urge you to try it. You just might like it and make things a little less painful for the customer. In turn, that will make things a lot less painful for you, and will validate in the customer’s mind their decision to give you access, and strengthen their desire to follow though on their committed actions.