I started my sales career selling new cars in Topeka, KS, in 1990. At first, I wasn’t very good, as you would expect. But, although the environment was pretty cutthroat, I worked hard at developing my skills. I listened to a set of tapes that the dealership had (lousy). I went to a car sales training school (not much better). But then I started reading sales books. Some of those were car oriented (Customers For Life, by Carl Sewell, is still on my bookshelf), and some were not. What was interesting was this – I was surrounded by salespeople who did the same. We bought sales books. We read sales books. We traded sales books around. And we worked hard at getting better at our profession.
I’ve been interviewing candidates for a client of mine. This position is a highly paid position and is attracting mid- and senior-level candidates. And a question I often ask is, “What’s the last sales book you read?” And normally, the answer I get is either a blank stare, or an honest, “I don’t read sales books.” “Okay,” I ask, “How do you develop your skills?” Again, I get blank stares. I find this both concerning and disappointing, and it ties to the most frequent question I get when I speak at conventions.
The most commonly asked questions I get are how to deal with price. More specifically, it’s along these lines:
“Troy, I constantly have a problem with customers taking my (lower) price and using it to get their current supplier to drop my price. Then I don’t get the sale. How can I protect myself from that?”
Pardon me while I sigh and roll my eyes for a minute. Okay, I’m back; here’s my answer. There’s a dirty little secret in sales, and here it is.
Customers buy from who they want to buy from. If that’s not you, your price doesn’t matter. If it is you, your price might matter, but it’s far from the only thing that does. If low prices are your only sales tactic, you aren’t a salesperson. Period.
“But, Troy, all my customers care about is a low price,” salespeople wail. Utter nonsense. If everyone was paying the absolute lowest price possible for everything, there would only be one provider of any given service in any given market. Before you think about offering “the cheapest price,” ask yourself these questions:
- Have you asked and understood the customer’s definition of success for the purchase?
- Have you shown them how you can solve their needs and achieve this success?
- Has the customer agreed that you can achieve their success?
- Have you gotten the customer to explain how they see an advantage in buying from you?
If you haven’t done these things, you haven’t positioned yourself to truly “win” the sale. You’re cranking out a quote and hoping that it’s good enough. And then you’re probably complaining that they took your price to the supplier that they wanted to buy from all along, since you didn’t persuade them that they would achieve a better result by buying from you instead.
Entirely too many salespeople ask a few rote questions trying to find a common problem in their industry, and then fire off a proposal figuring that this will make the sale. Most of the time it doesn’t. It’s lazy and unskilled selling.
So, how does this tie back to my original point about sales books? Simple. The salespeople who take the time to reinvest in themselves, their skills, and their careers are seldom the ones who ask me price-based questions. That’s because they understand how to ask great questions, how to make great presentations, and position themselves to truly win sales. If you’re getting wrapped around the axle about price all the time (or even if you aren’t), maybe it’s time to get serious about this great profession of ours.
Read articles (there are over 400 of them on this blog, for instance).
Get SERIOUS about the art, science, and skill of selling.
From your learning, try one new skill per week. Maybe it’s coming up with a new question. Maybe it’s presenting in a different way. Your customers will tell you – quickly – what works and what doesn’t.
Get better and your results will be better.
If you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse – and these days, our customers want and need us to be better.