"The Navigator" News Blog

How to be Disruptive in Sales

“Disruptive” is a word that’s frequently used an infrequently understood.  To be “disruptive” is to blow up current expectations and patterns, and set new expectations and patterns.  Our profession of selling is one that could use some disruption.  According to a recent HubSpot survey, salespeople are one of the least trusted professions.  Only 3% of people say that they trust salespeople!  At least we beat out politicians, so there’s that. Still – it’s time to update and change.

Any profession with a 3% trust rating needs some work.  The problem is that our customers have been telling us for years how they want to be treated, and we ignore them.  We focus on “Sales Processes” instead of the Buyer’s Journey.  We ask limited questions.  We hold back critical information thinking that we’re giving out “free consulting.”  In short, when customers have the chance to kick salespeople out of the process, they usually take it.  The good news is that this leaves a lot of ways to be disruptive in sales.  Here are three:

  1. Be transparent.  Today, the ultimate sales flex is transparency; customers don’t want to fight for critical information.  Those fine-print contract terms?  Put ‘em on your website so that customers can read them before you visit.  Publish pricing.  Be aware of, and reactive to, your online reviews.  You can either embrace transparency or have it forced upon you. And if you’re scared of putting your information out there, don’t be.  It’s out there anyway.  Technology has made it so that there aren’t any secrets – and if you don’t look like you’re trying to keep secrets, customers will trust you more.

    This also means that you should stay current on what information is out there about you and your company.  Did you get a bad Google review?  Chances are that your prospects will become aware of it.  Be ready to discuss it with them, openly and honestly.  Someone has ripped your company on Glassdoor?  Same thing – be informed, ready, and candid.

  2. Ask your customer how they want to buy. Again – your sales process is “you” focused – be “them” focused. Being “them” focused is one of the easiest and best ways to be disruptive in sales.  I learned how to be disruptive in sales when I was 19; I just didn’t recognize that I was doing so.  I had a job selling mens’ suits at a large department store in Topeka, KS.  Topeka was not a big ‘suit wearing’ city, and most of my customers were coming in to buy a suit for an occasion – a graduation, a funeral, or a wedding.  We all know what retail salespeople do, right?  They say, “Can I help you?”  The customer, knowing their line in this play, quickly says, “Just looking.”  In other words, “leave me alone.”  I did that for a little while, and then one day this couple came in.  The man looked decidedly like he was there under protest.  So instead of the standard question, I asked him, “So, how do you like to shop?”

    He stared at me for a moment and then grumbled, “Well, I really don’t.”  I smiled and said, “Let me guess.  You’re here because someone is graduating, someone died, or someone is getting married, right?”  At that, he smiled and said, “Yeah, my daughter is getting married and I need a suit.”  I quickly sized him up and walked him to his size on the rack (48 regular, if I remember right).  He grabbed the most conservative blue suit on the rack and said, “That’ll do.”  I stopped him, agreeing that it would do the job for the wedding – but what if I hooked him up with a suit that was equally acceptable for the wedding, but had a little more flair?  That way he could wear it with a sport shirt to take his wife out for a nice dinner.  At this, his wife perked up and elbowed him.  He said that this might be possible – so I found a windowpane plaid suit, paired it up with a dress shirt and tie, and then found a couple of sport shirts to try on with it.  I’ll never forget the look on his wife’s face when he came out of the dressing room.  Suffice it to say that I bet that he had a very good evening.  I sold him two suits, two sport shirts, and a shirt and tie.  After that experience, that’s what I did – and the older guys never could figure out how a punk kid was outselling them.

    I was being disruptive by breaking the customer’s expected patterns, and instead working with them to help them buy in the way they wanted to.  I made the customer a genuine partner in the process – and it worked.  It will work for you, too.

  3. Give free advice. Salespeople are petrified of giving “free consulting,” meaning that they want to hold back their prescriptions for solving the customer’s need until they feel that they have a deal.  The fear is that the customer will take their advice to another vendor, get a cheaper price, and buy elsewhere.  This fear ignores two essential facts.  First – customers eventually buy from the vendor they want to.  If you aren’t that vendor, you’ve done a lousy job of showing the customer your value.  Second – the knowledge that the customer wants and needs is out there.  Remember that whole “technology” thing we were talking about.  Giving the customer essential knowledge is one way to build a relationship that is based on openness and trust.  “Don’t be a free consultant” is one of those old philosophies that has been made obsolete.  Remember – there are no trade secrets today.

Most of the time, when “disruptive” is used in a business context, the writer or speaker is referring to technology.  In our profession, tech is vital – but technique can be even more disruptive.  Going against the grain in a way that your customers want is the best, and most profitable, way you can be disruptive every day.