A few weeks ago, I was engaged in a debate with someone in one of my training classes. The salesman that engaged me was a good guy, well intentioned, but like a lot of salespeople, he’d been trained into some bad techniques. He asked me about a particular technique for voice mail that relies on deception (getting the contact to believe you are a customer, rather than a salesperson) to get the contact to call you back.
“It works,” he said. “I get a lot of calls back.” When I asked him how many of those call backs result in sales, the answer got a lot more vague – but I can’t blame him. It occurred to me that one of our problems, in building sales methodology, is that we (salespeople and trainers) many times define “success” incorrectly. We only look at the immediate step rather than the overall result. So how should we define success?
The ultimate success in selling is when you sell a customer, they’re enthusiastic about buying from you again, and they will evangelize for you by giving testimonials and referrals. That’s the ultimate success in selling. Too often, we settle for much less, and the reason is the way we sell to our customers. Let’s look at a sales process and see where we can go wrong – at EACH STEP – to prevent ourselves from doing that.
Initial contact: Typically this is a prospecting call but it can be a call from the customer to you. Our objective is to turn this initial contact into an opportunity to discover the customer’s needs and present solutions. Definition of success: The customer is interested enough to enter into a sales process with us. Failure point: Either we don’t give the customer a reason to be interested, or worse, we do or say something that creates a NEGATIVE impression so that the customer becomes biased against us. Deceptive tactics fall under this umbrella.
Discovery: Our purpose here is to work, in tandem with the customer, to discover their needs, define the successful result of a purchase, and create interest in a Presentation. Definition of success: You discover needs and the customer agrees that you have identified the correct needs, and the customer is enthusiastic about seeing a presentation. Failure Point: You skip or shortcut the needs, you don’t get the customer’s agreement that these are the needs, you move to Presentation before the customer is ready.
Presentation: Our purpose here is to show the customer how we can satisfy the needs and met the customer’s criteria for a successful result. Definition of success: The customer’s interest increases, the customer agrees that your solution would achieve their desired result, and the customer requests a proposal. Failure Point: You don’t show the customer how you can achieve their needs, you don’t confirm with the customer that you have achieved the needs, or worst – you do or say something that is perceived as deceptive. Rushing through the Presentation to get to the Proposal will create customer discomfort.
Proposal: We show the price and terms of our solution. Definition of success: The customer understands the price and terms clearly because we present in a simple fashion with no “fine print” involved. Failure Point: You quote a proposal that glosses over important details, leaving the customer to be surprised later by things like incidental and ancillary charges, etc. You use “sales words” that increase customer skepticism about your credibility. All of these can “stall” a proposal and kill the customer’s urgency.
Closing: We want to get the business in a customer-friendly fashion. Definition of success: Your customer agrees, enthusiastically, to buy. Failure Point: You ‘hard close’ the customer until they bleed from the ears. Maybe you even get the order but the experience is so unpleasant that they won’t repeat and won’t evangelize. When I first started in sales, selling cars, we had a sales manager that was nicknamed “The Hammer” because of his hard closing style. Many times he “hammered” a customer into buying a car – and most of the time, they wouldn’t ever return our calls again.
Post Sale: We want a customer that, as I said above, would happily buy from us again, would evangelize and refer us, and in general smiles when they think of us. Definition of success: Your customer recommends you, takes your calls, takes your meetings, and is open to buying more from you. Failure Point: Poor customer service, poor follow up, or any negative experience during the sales process.
Some tactics in selling are best thought of as “buy or die” tactics – in other words, if the customer doesn’t buy, we’re dead to them. In my experience, I’d rather lose the sale today and preserve a potential customer than go all-in on burning a customer with the hope of slapping one deal together. If you stay in your business and your job long enough, you’ll be surprised at how many of those customers come back to you later because you treated them with respect – and many times, the ultimate deal ends up being far more lucrative.
On the other hand, you can use tactics that deceive, manipulate, and use words to try to box your customer in to try to get them to buy once. And when you do, they’ll remember you, but not in a good way. The choice is yours.