Selling Isn’t Telling

He slid effortlessly into the chair, and before I knew it, he had popped open the oyster shell of his laptop and was pointing his screen menacingly in my direction. Uh oh! PowerPoint slide after PowerPoint slide bombarded me with detailed data, specifications, diagrams and text information. After 20 minutes he stopped the torture.

“Wow”, I thought, “he hasn’t managed to ask me even one teensy question during this session of our first meeting”. According to his business card he was the sales director—that seemed a definite worry if he was responsible for others.

The irony of this sales presentation was that I had requested it. I was, in fact, a hot prospect. I had heard the firm’s president talking about their new whiz bang service at a function, and I was intrigued. So intrigued, I approached the president and asked that he send one of his crew over to see me.

I should have suspected something was amiss though, by his reaction when I made my request. Did he become buoyant with anticipation of a sale and reassure me that this product was the best thing since sliced bread?

No. Rather, I found him surprisingly aloof; in fact, almost disinterested. What I did think to myself was, how important it is in sales to be positive and upbeat about your product at all times.

So, back at the meeting, after death by a thousand PowerPoint slides, I miraculously revived myself and questioned the sales director. Why? Well, despite his incompetence, I still had a need. In the end though, sadly, I was not a buyer.

What could he have done differently? He could have asked me a few questions to ascertain what I was interested in. He could have holstered his weapon before drilling me with detail, dross and pap. Of the ten functions of the whiz bang service, there were only two or three that were of any use for what I needed.

We could have dispensed with all the irrelevant detail and gone straight to the finish line. We could have spent the bulk of our time talking about the aspects that, in my case, were most likely to lead to a sale.

Reading this little vignette, I hope you take immediate action and check whether your crew are any better at questioning than this guy. Don’t assume that they have a sales process in place. Are they spending the bulk of client interface time with their laser focused on where they have the greatest likelihood of success?

If they tend only to speak to the client rather than question them, there is a simple formula that will help your crew get to the heart of the matter, and uncover where they can be of most assistance to the client.

Start with either where the client is now, or where they want to be—it doesn’t really matter which one you ask first. This is because we are trying to understand how big the gap is between the two.

Unless the sense of immediacy about the need to close that gap is there, the outcome of the meeting will probably be no sale. Clients are never on the salesperson’s schedule, and will take no action unless they clearly understand there is a benefit to doing so.

Having understood the parameters of the current and ideal situation, next enquire about why they haven’t fixed the issue already. This is an excellent “barrier question”. Depending on the answer, you might be the solution to fix what they cannot.

Finally, check on how this service would help them personally—what is the payoff? They may need this fix to keep their job, hit their targets, get a bonus, get a promotion, feel job satisfaction or rally the troops—there is a myriad of potential motivators.

Why would a question on the payoff be important? When we come to explain the solution to the problem, being able to address their personal win helps to make the conversation more real and relevant.

If my sales slideshow maestro had applied some of these basics, he may have had a sale that day. If you want to see your firm’s revenues go up, get your staff to ask clients questions before they mention anything else. Do this one simple thing and watch the difference it will make.