Breaking Away with Exceptional Credibility
BY Jeff Thull
The more credibility we earn, the more exceptional our sales success will be, but it is becoming increasingly difficult to earn exceptional credibility. In my second book, The Prime Solution, I described how the requirements of our customers have steadily grown over the past decades. As customer requirements have expanded, so have the demands on sales professionals. Our ability to understand and meet those demands determines the degree of credibility that our customers will assign to us.
We all know how important credibility is. When I ask seminar audiences "What is credibility?" the answers will include, our product knowledge, our brand, our history of success, our financial strength, our customer testimonials, our dedication to service, our reputation, etc. All of these are important answers and valid contributors to our credibility. The next questions I'll ask are "How do we typically convey that credibility to our potential customers? How do we get this message across to the customer?" Inevitably, the answers are, "we show them'¦" or "we tell them'¦" or "we give them a presentation." Then I ask a question that is quite sobering, "How different is your 'credibility story' from the credibility story of your next two best competitors?" The response is usually, "Not very different at all."
In essence, the credibility story is most often focused on the company selling, but that is a flawed strategy. Please don't misunderstand what I'm trying to say. This is important information, these are important attributes, but I would like to suggest that they comprise what we have termed "expected credibility." They aren't unique or impressive. They are expected. The customer might question it if they didn't exist, but they are not impressed by the fact that they do exist. In fact, after a customer has heard three "expected credibility" stories, they are more than ever convinced that all three companies will likely be able to do the job and the customer will start to settle in on "price" as the main decision factor.
Expected credibility is what you know about your business and your products and services. It is a minimal level of credibility, that is, the minimum level at which customers expect salespeople to operate, and the majority of salespeople are meeting the standard of expected credibility. However, expected credibility is only the table stakes in the world of sales. With expected credibility, we have earned the right to engage the customer, but our chances of winning the sale are determined by the luck of the draw. If we are unfortunate enough to be competing against a more credible player, our chances of winning the sale start dropping precipitously.
If you want to win your share -- or, let's be ambitious, "more" than your share -- of the complex sales you undertake, you need to step out of the crowd and execute at the exceptional level. You need to be able to operate well above the standard for expected credibility. Sales professionals who win an extraordinary number of sales are almost invariably operating at a higher level of customer credibility. They are themselves an added value in their customers' eyes and have earned exceptional credibility.
In short, exceptional credibility is what you know and have come to understand about your customer's business, their job responsibilities and their performance measures. You know you have established exceptional credibility when an individual sitting across the table from you says to themselves, or better yet, to you: "I believe you understand what we are facing here and what we need to accomplish. I believe you will be able to help us get there."
There are two main steps to achieving exceptional credibility. The first is that you create the mindset, the proper stance, that your sales approach is focused on the customer's business, not yours. You must see your sales process as a business decision-making process driven by the value the customer will obtain from their investment.
The second key ingredient is managing the proper diagnosis of the business problem to be solved. The diagnostic questioning process is critical. Think about all the questions a customer should be asking themselves that would help them to clearly understand their problem and what it's costing them if they don't change. These are the questions, when answered that will enable them to make a quality decision. When your customers hear these questions, they will recognize how helpful and important the answers to the questions will be. They will recognize that they did not think of these questions, and will start seeing you as a valuable advisor.
Exceptional salespeople create their own luck through a combination of opportunity and preparation. It will payoff! Customers will likely recognize that your competitors are not providing this type of guidance and obviously are not as experienced as you are. They will see you as exceptionally credible and you will be rewarded with exceptional success.