Advice From the Best Salesperson I Ever Met, Part II

What makes a good salesman? 

I think we have to start by agreeing what makes up the most effective salespeople in today’s marketplace.

If we agree that the vast majority of people do not want to be “sold” but instead want to “buy”, it stands to reason that the most effective salespeople are those who enable the customer to make the purchase and effectively facilitate this buying process. In addition to that, they are able to zone in on the exact problems and profile the prospective customer by leveraging their experience and skills.

When someone is successful at any type of sales position, there is this tendency to label that person as one of the “successful” sales types we described above. Often the label is followed by the suggestion that the salesperson has some type of “power” over people.

For example, I have participated in Fantasy Football + Baseball leagues for 15 years. Whenever I would approach an owner of a team for a trade, I would get some variation of the following:

     
       “JP, don’t think I am going
         to fall for yourJEDI mind
         tricks like everyone else.”

Now, I realize it’s Fantasy Sports but what this situation really illustrates is a traditional sales objection. So, how do I overcome that objection?I focus on how I could help solve their issue (roster need) without focusing on what I gain.

Why? Because how benefit is the least important factor in the discussion.Overcoming the image of the Alec Baldwin salesman can only happen through helping the other owner and their team solve their problems.

…And I can tell you this works like clockwork. Every time. Once we focus on their solution, the other person quickly dismisses the original objection.

The Secret to Being a Successful Salesperson

So, why does this little “trick” work? It’s simple: Everyone has problems…

People will naturally gravitate to someone they perceive as trustworthy, capable of resolving their problems and willing to make acquiring the solution easy. The complexity and cost/benefit of solving the problem at hand vs. the perceived talent/ability of the problem-solver determines how much inconvenience the person will put up with.

Therein lies the true talent of the most effective salespeople, because…

  • The most effective salespeople understand their customers by listening to them
  • They walk into sales meetings knowing how to read the attire, posture, body language, non-verbal cues of the people in the room and establish hierarchy + communication style
  • They research their prospects in advance to profile their personalities and understand the perceived biases around the problem set or the proposed solution
  • They are incredibly polished in their appearance and communication style
  • They understand the stigma of “sales” and dispel that notion through actions
  • They prioritize the pain points of the customer against the perceived benefit of their solution

….and they do all this in an instant.

Stop “Selling,” Start Problem Solving

The best salespeople solve problems. That’s the big “secret.” The natural byproduct of this problem-solution approach is revenue.

The most critical step towards improving the performance of your entire sales organization is changing the culture. It starts with rebuilding the entire sales process based on the specific needs/wants + desires of the specific types of customers you’re targeting.

The goal is no longer to “make the sale.” By asking these important questions and promoting internal consensus, both Sales + Marketing can prioritize the market segments and niches which are most critical to the organization’s Sales plan.

Be the Facilitator of the Buying Process 

This strategic focus allows both of these internal organizations (Sales + Marketing) to dive deeper into the nuances of the buying process and how it applies to the target customer types.

Understanding the different “players” involved on the customer side, their relative role in the process and the application of your product/service in their lives, enables you to effectively pre-answer objections while satiating the needs of the different types of customers during the research phase.

Whether you’re catering to the needs of the decision maker, the sales enabler or the researcher, you will be able to facilitate the buying process naturally because your marketing strategy will be relevant and customers will notice.

Companies leave money on the table when they leave it up to the customer to connect the dots as to how he or she benefits from the product/service and how the company is different/better.

I think I Know my Customers vs. I know my Customers 

If Sales + Marketing join forces, they can identify the target markets with specificity and validate internal assumptions about what the customer values with actual customer insights.

That’s the reason why “Voice of the Customer”, “Persona Development” and “Buyer’s Journey” exercises are very sought-after services today in the digital space.

The process typically involves:

  • Interviews with current customers (in relevant target segments)
  • Interviews in focus groups (lookalike interview segments)
  • Interviews with prospective customers
  • Interviews with former (lost) customers

The questions asked during these interviews have to be open-ended and geared towards (in)validating the internal assumptions gathered by Sales + Marketing. The process relies on qualitative saturation and provides clear priority in terms of content, tactics and advertising.

While this process solidifies joint direction for Sales + Marketing in any organization, organizations that are SMART companies can implement the findings into their sales process immediately while also using them as fuel for sales enablement materials.

I think I know my Sales Team vs. I know my Sales Team

The challenge for marketers has now grown beyond lead “quality”. Marketers need to understand what happens after a lead enters the sales funnel. This means that Sales + Marketing have to align strategically on WHO they are targeting and validate what they KNOW about how these target customers buy.

But it doesn’t end there… The organization needs to consider WHO the leads are going to and HOW they will be guided through the sales process.

That’s why, when I discuss how Sales + Marketing can work more effectively together, I start with the following analogy:

“If you take 10 salespeople…”

  • 2 are top performers
  • 2 are in the process of being fired
  • 6 are in between

“Of those 6 salespeople in between….”

  • 2 are on their way to becoming top performers
  • 2 are on their way to being fired
  • 2 will never be good enough to get promoted or bad enough to lose their job.

There are many variables involved and many reasons why the salespeople in your organization fall into these buckets. The factors range from things the salesperson cannot control (sales territory, market segment, competitors) to things they can and should control (appearance, preparation, inherent skill, effort level).

With that said, it’s not simply about WHO your sales people are. Too many companies focus on changing who their salespeople are (remember Gil?), instead of acknowledging the truth about sales:

If a sales process of any kind makes a customer feel or do things which are unnatural to them and/or not in their best interest that process will fail more often than it will succeed. So, too, will sales strategies of any kind that make the salesperson feel or do things which are unnatural to them.

What will SMART companies be doing in the future? 

“Wait a minute, JP. You’re saying that most salespeople aren’t soulless monsters who would stab their colleague with the 2nd place set of steak knives they just won from Alec Baldwin?”

Yup. That’s why, rather than focusing on changing people, the SMART companies of the future will focus on understanding HOW the attributes of the individuals within their sales organization (style, tone, demeanor, strengths) align with the buying processes of the various target audiences.

For example, if a salesperson is not someone who is high-pressure by nature and focuses more on the functionality of a product, then their “sales persona” is likely to match with a “buying persona” where the customer values reliability and cost of integration over all else. By matching these internal and external personas, Marketing + Sales will remove one major reason for failure.

Actual Intelligence Is a Prerequisite to Artificial Intelligence

The tools which Sales + Marketing teams leverage for success are only as good as the logic behind how they are configured.

To use these tools at full capacity, Sales has to first tag the attributes of their salespeople and match them with a perceived target market. Only then can MarTech platforms be configured to automate and route leads to the right salespeople.

As you can see, the (re)configuration of the software platforms comes only after:

  • Internal Alignment between Sales + Marketing + Target Audiences
  • Creation + Validation of Specific Buyer’s Journeys
  • Joint Sales + Marketing Customer Acquisition Strategy
  • Internal Sales Persona Modeling
  • Matching the Internal Sales Persona + External Buyer Persona

Nowadays, it’s more important than ever to measure ten times to cut once.

Companies that cannot align philosophically cannot align tactically. Companies that cannot align tactically cannot configure technology to enable measurement.

Artificial Intelligence will not replace people. At least not in the foreseeable future.

Actual Intelligence (that is possessed by people) needs to enable Artificial Intelligence to add value. Or, to return to our examples, matching Gil to the customer that appreciates someone who tells them the truth can turn Gil into a “sales” leader.

Advice From the Best Salesperson I Ever Met

My own path to SMARTech Convergence caused me to finally realize why my grandfather could save someone in a fire on Tuesday and sell them a dining room set on Wednesday. The truth was very simple:

He didn’t sell.

He was the same guy, in the same town, working and living alongside the same people for 50 years. People in his town respected the man and who he was. Whether he was on a fire truck or in a showroom, he was always perceived as Harold.

Who he was in the eyes of people who knew him didn’t help him get the “sale”. My grandfather provided a comfort level for people who knew him to buy the things they wanted or needed. He helped them buy things they felt good about. And they trusted him. They knew that, if Harold recommended it and sold it, then it must be good.

Today sadly; most of us don’t work + live in the same town. The world we live in is immediate, and impersonal. Extended work days and two income households rob most people of the interpersonal relationships that people had during my grandfather’s time. All of that is not to mention that he (to the people who he came into contact with) was one in a million.

Be the Solution 

So; you are probably guessing that my grandfather is the best salesperson I ever met. I’ll admit that the first draft of this article had a simple sentence that followed this..

“He isn’t. I am.”

My point was that I am the best “salesperson” I have ever met because I don’t sell things, I solve problems. But I realized after the fact that in writing it like that; I broke my own rule. If you are solving problems, you never personify it. The methodology above is devoid of ego (even unintentional ego). The best salesperson anyone has ever met is themselves, so long as you focus on what’s right for the other party.

In my entire career, I have never knowingly steered a customer down the wrong path. But I will tell you that every time I was attempting to provide a solution for a client that worked for them, but (for whatever reason) my company needed the revenue- I lost the deal. Nobody likes to lose, especially when external forces influence how a “salesperson” acts, no matter how just the cause. People are so much smarter today than they have ever been and the slightest desperation they sense- the walls go up.

Stop Selling and Start Solving Problems 

When Marketing front-ends the needs of the customer to educate, the sales process becomes less stressful on both sides, and the 6 sales reps out of 10 which are neither the top performers or the soon to be unemployed have a better chance than ever to close more deals, more quickly.

Customers that come in by way of a SMARTech Strategy have been exposed to a unified message, an easy sales process and are less likely to leave given that SMARTech Convergence is predicated on the idea that the reasons customers choose you is the reason why they stay with you (and vice versa).

“Sales” doesn’t have to be the dirty word it has become. The reps that have given the industry (and their Managers) a bad name are being worked out of the marketplace through attrition and/or customers who are intolerant to their tactics.

So stop selling, start solving problems and start winning the hearts + minds of more customers than you ever thought possible.

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