The Sales Paradox: Stop Selling to Sell
BY Jeff Thull
Let's face it, most sales are getting more complex and commoditization is running rampant. Customers are placing pressure on prices like never before. For many sales professionals, they simply are not winning as many sales as they had in the past. Is it realistic to think that they can win more if they just work harder and do more with the same outmoded sales practices? It has been described that continuing to do the same behaviors while expecting different results -- is insanity.
As professionals in today's highly competitive market, we must change our thinking. Exceptional sales professionals do not think like typical sales people, they think like business people. They do not see themselves as people who "sell," rather, they see themselves as business professionals who diagnose and solve business problems. This is what sets them apart from the pack.
Professionals who think this way avoid common sales pitfalls such as making early and frequent presentations, or engaging in never-ending dry runs, both instances resulting in time wasted and sales never made. They have made what most would describe as a 180-degree turnaround from commonly accepted sales practices.
As salespeople, we are "guilty until proven innocent." We're always suspected of being self-serving and focused solely on closing the sale for our financial benefit. Unfortunately, conventional sales behavior reinforces those suspicions. This is why it is so powerful to literally do the opposite of what salespeople are expected to do. As an example, how frequently have you been asked, "What makes your solution better than (insert competitor's name here)?" How do you think over 95% of salespeople respond to that? Exactly -- they'll jump right into presentation mode, detailing the features that make their solution the best choice. And what percent of that story will the customer likely believe?
Now, consider an opposite response, something like, "Right now, I'm not sure that we would be the best choice. They're a great company. However, at this point, I'm not sure I understand enough about your business and what you are trying to accomplish, that I would be comfortable recommending one or the other of us. Let me ask you this... "(Now ask a powerful diagnostic question that really causes the customer to think and examine their situation.) Some of you might have a knot in your stomach right now, thinking, "No way would I, or could I, say that." That's the very point -- you wouldn't expect a salesperson to say that, nor would your customer. However, you would expect a colleague or your best friend to say something like that.
An interesting analogy to employ here would be that of a physician. Think of yourself as a doctor. Your objective wouldn't be to sell surgery, but instead, to guide your patient to a quality decision by helping them thoroughly understand their problem... that is, if they actually have one. After all, heart surgeons don't feel they've failed if they don't persuade everyone they examine to have heart surgery.
A salesperson should no more make a presentation to every prospect than a physician should prescribe medication or surgery for every patient. Presenting a solution before you've thoroughly defined the problem would be like discussing the details of surgery before diagnosing the disease and before the patient recognizes they are at risk and want to do something about it. Prescription without diagnosis is malpractice.
Presenting a solution to a problem the customer doesn't have, does not recognize, or won't do anything about, is a tremendous waste of personal and corporate resources. The exceptional sales professionals are always thinking from their customer's perspective. They are thinking like a doctor, "First do no harm." They are thinking long-term relationship and mutual benefit.
This mode of thinking requires a radical change in the mindset of most salespeople and it is well worth the effort. Exceptional sales professionals who use a diagnostic, customer-focused approach are viewed by their customers as valued advisors, partners and colleagues.