Sales Training Article: Why Enter a Dark Office without a Flashlight?

By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling® – The Sales Training Company

Virtually all companies claim to be “customer-centric” but set many of their sellers up for failure with the prodigious amount of product training they provide. Sellers’ “comfort zones” become talking about offerings. While tolerated at low levels within organizations, it often shortens sales calls made on executives or abruptly ends them. Executives have neither the time nor the desire to be “educated” about offerings by salespeople.

Early in calls it’s important for executives to conclude sellers are sincere and competent (Covey’s definition of being viewed as trustworthy). This conclusion is a pre-requisite for executives to share their desired business outcomes or problems with salespeople. Buying cycles begin when Key Players share desired business outcomes they’re willing to spend money to achieve.

Sadly many B and C Players lack the patience to learn about buyer needs. Once a business outcome is shared they believe it’s permission to present their offerings and tell prospects how good it’s going to be. Some sellers have the audacity to begin product pitches with the words: Here’s what you need. In general, people don’t like to be told what they need to do, especially by salespeople. I believe sellers should earn the right to talk about their offerings by asking questions first.

Taking a step back, let’s look at it from an executive’s viewpoint:

  • Executives are unaware of the reasons they can’t achieve business outcomes. In my mind the first step in learning buyer needs is asking questions in an attempt to uncover barriers to achieving goals that can be addressed by capabilities within a seller’s offering. If buyers knew the barriers to achieving desired outcomes, they’d try to address them without a seller’s help.
  • Unless executives feel their needs are understood, they aren’t ready to have sellers tell them the solutions. Beyond that, unless sellers can quantify the cost of not achieving the desired outcome, prospects won’t understand the potential value of the offering being discussed.
  • Without first asking questions, the solution will be the seller’s opinion. Given previous experiences with sellers, how much credibility does someone trying to make a sale have with a buyer? Sellers diving into product run the risk of wasting time by offering parts of their offering that aren’t relevant to the business issue being discussed. If sellers could be more patient in doing diagnoses first, they could shine a flashlight on buyer needs. Without doing so they blindly proceed.
  • By asking questions first, sellers earn the right to talk about only those features that can allow the desired business outcome to be achieved. When done this way, sales can be viewed as a hurt (diagnose buyer needs) and rescue (offer relevant features based upon the way the buyer answers questions) exercise.

Executive buyers appreciate sellers that focus on business outcomes, help understand the barriers to achieving them and articulate the relevant capabilities that can be used to address them. The seller that best understands buyer needs is more likely to win the business.