Most everyone has heard the expression that "patience is a virtue." Through the years when asked to describe the major difference between A players (superior) and B/C players (average) salespeople in one word. My response: patience.
Mistakes sellers make stem from impatience.
Once goals or problems are shared, many sellers immediately try to rescue buyers by telling them the solution, a phenomenon we call “premature elaboration.” Sellers are well intentioned, but there are two problems in jumping to the rescue:
- Sellers are shooting blind because they have no way of knowing if their generic “solution” will address a buyer’s needs.
- Buyers aren’t ready to be rescued until they and the seller understand the shortcomings of how things are done now, before introducing the offering.
Taking a step back, if buyers knew why desired business outcomes couldn’t be achieved, they would try to address them without help from salespeople. The “hurt” amounts to asking questions to help buyers understand what’s broken in the way they currently operate.
Don't discuss product too early.
Still, B/C players often get into premature product discussions. Once product is mentioned, many buyers will natrurally ask: “How much does it cost?” This often begins a death spiral because if no value has been identified, any cost will seem high.
There are a several reasons sellers dive into product too soon.
- Their companies provide extensive product training.
- Many sellers and vendors believe part of a seller’s job is educating buyers (even though few executive buyers want to learn all about offerings).
- Talking about offerings is a comfort zone for salespeople.
- Asking relevant questions and responding to buyers’ answers is challenging.
Sellers should earn the right to talk about offerings by having buyers conclude early in sales calls that they are sincere and competent. In order to avoid boiling the ocean it would be helpful for sellers to go into calls with a menu of business outcomes that are relevant to the title they are calling on and can be achieved through the use of their offering. Sharing title-specific "success stories" and asking some probing questions are ways to have sellers share business goals.
Articulating a business goal.
Having buyers share a business goal is a watershed event. Both seller and buyer now understand a desired outcome. Once again, however, patience is necessary. Many B/C players dive right into their offerings. The downside of doing that is that it will be a “spray and pray” exercise without knowing a buyer’s requirements. A-level players begin asking diagnostic questions to understand why the buyer can’t achieve the desired outcome. After doing so, they can present only the features/capabilities of their offerings that are likely to be relevant to the buyer.
One further caveat: Sellers should uncover areas that are "broken" that can be addressed by capabilities within their offerings.
Seek first to understand.
Having the patience to ask relevant diagnostic questions allows sellers to:
- Understand the buyer’s situation before discussing their offerings.
- Share only those capabilities that address barriers to achieving the desired outcome so that they share specific rather than generic solutions.
- Help buyers quantify the potential value of achieving the goal being discussed by finding out how much problems cost to buyers that are uncovered.
Being patient can be especially difficult for experienced sellers. They’ve had these conversations several times before and therefore see likely solutions long before buyers do. Understanding it’s the first time through for buyers can allow sellers to do thorough diagnoses (hurts) before earning the right to present solutions (rescues). Buyers want to know how things are broken, the specific capabilities they need to address them, and the value of fixing them.
Ben Franklin once said: People are best convinced by reasons they themselves discover. As it relates to selling, I would tack onto Franklin’s phrase: “and by answering relevant questions posed by patient salespeople.”
Patience in earning the right to discuss a seller’s offering should provide superior buying experiences for key players and result in more closes.