My recent article on Negotiation caused quite a reaction. I received numerous comments suggesting that it had helped them. Others made comments that suggested they did not realise they were really talking about ‘selling or buying’, and not negotiation.
I write this article purely from a ‘Business to Business’ perspective, and it concentrates on the fundamentals of selling B2B. I really have no idea about consumer decisions, they are much more random. For example, why do people buy personalised car number plates? Or why do people buy bits of string to go around their wrist? I have no idea!
This article makes no effort to go into the psychological side of selling, as it could potentially go on forever.
First, it is important to sell to those who have needs. This may sound obvious, but do not waste your time trying to sell snow ploughs to the Saudi’s, a little up front research in establishing your target may go a long way.
Making an appointment is a full subject in its own right. But usually a phone call (clearly identifying the decision maker/team) followed up by a letter works well. It can of course be an introducing letter first, followed up with a telephone call. Either way, the ‘target’ must be convinced that there is some value to meeting the sales person. So ensure you have a compelling reason that will be appreciated by your target. It may well be that you have to sell your product service first to an engineer, and to a buyer at a later stage. A canny salesman will now have the engineer as an ally!
So, you have arrived at your appointment. Find out a little about the person you are dealing with.
“So presumably you are the engineer?”……………. NO, do not open with this!
“So tell me a little about your role in this department”. This enables the target to answer freely.
Do likewise about the department, and the Company too.
Once you have learned a little about your target, his department, and how it integrates into the company, you are now in a position to ask who else will be involved in any buying decisions. If appropriate you can request that others involved in the decision join the meeting to understand what needs you can satisfy. This may not always be possible.
At this point it is important to remember that most salesmen have two ears and one mouth. A good salesman will use them in the same ratio. In other words he will be listening 66% of the time, and only talking for 33%. You may have heard this before, but it cannot be stressed too often.
Treat the selling process as a game of cards. You need to uncover the prospects needs, so you need to uncover the ‘cards’ he has in his hand. How do we do this?
By asking questions!
Above, with the introductory preamble there were two distinctly different questions. The first (“So presumably you are the engineer?”) was a CLOSED question. It encouraged the prospect to respond with a ‘Yes’ or a ‘No’. It did not encourage dialogue.
The second (“So tell me a little about your role in this department”) was an OPEN question. It encouraged the prospect to respond with an open dialogue. In this case it was ‘uncovering cards’ from the prospects hand.
It is this open questioning technique that can be used to good effect. Both open & closed questions can be used to great effect in selling. The key is knowing when and where to use each.
Consider the following dialogue:
“So tell me about the issues you are facing in your filling room?”
…..An open question that is likely to uncover needs.
“Well we have real trouble fitting our current production into a working week.”
…..The opportunity given here to identify a need.
“So, if you had a way of fitting your current filling requirements into a working week, would this interest you?”
…..A closed question that is used to CONFIRM a need. Indeed it may also encourage open dialogue too.
“Yes, indeed. We may also increase by a further 20% over the next 12 months.”
…..You have now confirmed a need.
“Presumably this means you have a large overtime spend.”
…..A closed question that is used to strengthen your case.
“Yes, overtime is killing the profit on this product”
…..You have now uncovered more of your prospects cards.
“Let us consider our latest KL3500 filling machine. It runs 50% faster than our nearest competitor!…..”
…..You have now just delivered a FEATURE. A Feature will not sell the product, it must become an ADVANTAGE!
“…. As a consequence of its speed, you would easily meet the production requirement in the working week….”
…..You have now just delivered an ADVANTAGE. An Advantage will not sell the product, it must become an £ENEFIT!
“… By completing the filling process within the working week, you can save all that overtime. That means that you can pay back the cost of our machine within three months”
…..You have now just delivered an £ENEFIT. £enefits are highly compelling purchasing motivators.
But surely……… £enefit has been spelt wrongly. Well spotted! It can also be spelt $enefit. It is more difficult to spell if you are dealing in Euros!
Take on board this point : a £enefit ALWAYS relates to a monetary advantage.
Consider the SAME scenario, but a very poor use of questioning, using closed and open questions inappropriately:
“So you have some issues in your filling room?”
…..A poor closed question that is unlikely to uncover needs.
…..The above question deserved this unhelpful response.
“So what is the result of that?”
…..Another poor closed question that is unlikely to uncover needs.
…..Another answer that does not uncover any cards.
“And what area do you have high costs?”
…..Yet another poor closed question that is unlikely to reveal his hand.
“Mainly in overtime. It is killing the profit on this line.”
“Well there is not much I can help you with regarding your overtime”
……… And so on. Of course, this latest scenario can be rescued by using questioning as per first example.
When selling, always introduce your product or service by making clear the Features (exclusives ones are best), how they relate to Advantages, and how those become £enefits.
….. Features —–> Advantages —–> £enefits …..
Always use Open questions to uncover needs.
Use Closed questions to confirm needs identified.
If your Feature is EXCLUSIVE to your Company, it is quite likely that your Advantage and £enefit will be too. So, where possible, focus on your area of strength.
Where exclusive £enefits are accepted by the prospect there is a clear opportunity to command a premium price. Here it can clearly be demonstrated why ‘Product/Service Price’ and ‘Cost’ are different.
A buying decision is normally made on three (at the most four) key issues (needs). These key issues/needs are normally called the ‘hot buttons’. It is the keen and skilful sales person that establishes these ‘hot buttons’ early on in the sales cycle….. just like the skilful card player.
Resist the temptation to bombard the prospect with lots of Features. Emphasise only those Features that relate to the needs uncovered, and can be developed into Advantages and £enefits.
Many Sales processes do not necessarily go through smoothly. Often the buyer will raise objections! HELP!!
Handled well, objections can strengthen your position! 70% of objections are down to misunderstandings on the prospects part! Try clearing up any misunderstandings by putting the facts right.
If the objection is genuine, then it is up to the skilful sales man to minimise the objection, by emphasising the £enefits accepted.
At this point, Negotiation may be likely. This MUST be recognised by the sales man. For further detail, see my article on Negotiation!
Negotiation ‘should’ only happen once £enefits have been accepted. Upon successful negotiation you are now in a position to close.
Sometimes there will be no negotiation, the buyer is keen to order.
Look out for buying signals….
Prospect…… ” Do you do it in Red?”
Sales man….. “Is that what you want then?”
When he / she says ‘Yes’, ask for the order. (Assumptive Close)
Let us consider some of the possible ways to close:
..Assumptive close (Above)
..Forcing close “You will …….. won’t you”
..Direct close “Do you want it in red?”
..Alternative close “Presumably you would like to take advantage of our credit facility?”
..Summary close “We have agreed on the £enefits from our proposal. Well Mrs Prospect, the need for our service looks very compelling, particularly in view of our competitive advantages. Can we now go ahead?”
..Concessional close “I am convinced this is the right product for your needs, and we are prepared to prioritise your requirements in our factory to deliver by Friday. Now that is what you want, isn’t it?”
Providing you get the desired response to the various closes above, ask for the order!
Having asked for an order STAY QUIET until the prospect breaks the silence!
Resist the temptation to break the silence no matter how long it goes on for. This is just as uncomfortable for the prospect as it is for the sales man!
If the prospect declines the first close, try yet another close. His/her resolve will weaken.
If the prospect declines the second close, try yet again. His/her resolve will weaken further.
If the prospect declines the third close, try once more. This is almost your last chance.
If all closes fail, ask the prospect… “What do I have to do to get us to do business?”
At this stage you have nothing to lose!
Research shows that if a prospect declines FOUR closes, then it is unlikely you will do business. Do not worry about it, but learn from the experience. Do not take failure to close personally
Discuss your successes and failures with your colleagues – share experiences
Read books on selling (free from the library).
Learn from the experience – “where did I go wrong?”
Take corrective action
Look forward to closing the next call
Ian Thomas FInstIB
Southern Group Business Advisers http://www.sgba.co.uk
T: 0870 787 7590
Southern Group Business Advisors – practical advice that works from the independent experts.
Ian Thomas provides a consultancy and Sales training business aimed at maximizing market and sales potential for the SME sector, both in the UK and overseas markets. Ian Thomas is fully accredited by, and a fellow of the Institute for Independent Business International (http://www.iib.org.ws)