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The sales habit of champions: Lead with Need

Posted by Simon Thiessen on 09-May-2014 12:53:00

The story continues .......

In our previous sales article, we followed the story of a sales person as they prepared for and arrived at a sales meeting with a new prospect. This week we will pick up the story as they are greeted by the prospect and invited into their office - and as they use the single most important habit of highly successful customer centred sales people.

If you missed the first five 'scenes', you can read them in this article. 

Scene 6: So, what have you got for me?

There it is, right there - an invitation to product dump. Isn't that what they just asked you to? So often these are first words, after some initial courtesies, that the customer says. Doesn't that mean they want you to start telling them all about your product? Well - yes and no.

  • Yes: they did ask you about product and it did sound a bit like 'show me what you've got'
  • No: they don't actually want you to rattle on forever about what you are selling

lead_with_need_or_you_will_bore_your_prospectWhy did they ask about product then?

Training. They have had dozens of meetings with dozens of sales people and just about everyone of them was there to talk about what they are selling. They have been trained to expect that from sales meetings which is why they look forward to them with the same enthusiasm as their annual dental check up! When they ask 'so what have you got for me' it is confirmation that they have a preconceived idea about why you are there. As we said last week, the worst thing you can do is confirm those preconceptions.

The unwary sales person can realise twenty minutes later that they are prattling on about their product and looking at a prospect they are fairly sure has gone to sleep - or is at least day dreaming about something more interesting than this meeting such as grass growing or paint drying.

Scene 7: The sales person goes back to their customer centred selling touchstone

At the heart of everything that we talk about in selling is our 'touchstone' - customer centred selling. Whenever we are in doubt about the best approach to any sales situation we ask 'what would a salesperson who genuinely had the customer at the centre of the sales process do here?'

Of course, the answer in this situation is that they would recognise the customer only asked the question because they thought that we were just another sales person - in their minds we are no different to the dozens of other sales clones lining up each week or month to try to extract some money from them.

The customer centred sales person would remember that the main purpose of the diagnostic meeting is to diagnose customer needs - and they would neatly acknowledge the question and get down to the real business of the meeting. They would lead with need!

Scene 8: Lead with need

Of course, the customer's question can't just be ignored - that would be rude and would give the impression of evasiveness. The customer centred sales person acknowledges the question but recognises it as a throw away line and not a genuine invitation to product dump.

You need to use words that are natural for you (we hate scripts) but here are a few examples:

  • Before we get to that, would you mind if I asked you a couple of quick questions?
  • I have a few things in mind but could I just make sure I understand your business properly before we look at those?
  • There is so much I could show you - rather than bombard you with everything, could we discuss a few details to narrow down a little first?

In that moment, you start to do the single most important thing a sales person can do: lead with need. Wow, big statement! Single most important? Absolutely. Genuine customer centred sales people understand that the key to sales is meeting needs. In reality, customers buy rather than sales people selling - the best sales people simply help prospects identify what they offer as excellent solutions to the needs of the customer. 

lead_with_need_at_a_diagnostic_meetingScene 9: The hero treads a fine line and shows off their research

A few years ago, a sales person  contacted me. It sounded like they had done some research and (by pure luck as it turned out) talked about something that was important to me - a key priority in our business at the time. As a result, they got an appointment. When they walked in to my office, one of their first comments was 'so what do you do here'. They weren't just asking for clarification on some fine details - they genuinely didn't know what we did. I very quickly lost interest in the discussion and wrapped it up as soon as possible - they were just another sales person there to flog me something with no genuine interest in our needs.

So, how do you manage to lead with need without sounding like you haven't bothered to find out anything about this prospect? In our post on the most important thing you can take to a diagnostic meeting, we discussed preparing a list of questions based on your research. As you ask those questions, it will quickly become obvious that you know some background. It is the difference between these alternative questions that sales person could have asked to open our meeting:

  • So, what do you do here?
  • I noticed on your website that you offer both franchises and licenses. Would you tell me a little more about the key differences between them please?

Notice, the second question sounds almost like a role reversal? If you didn't know who was who, you may actually think the sales person was the customer. Why? Because they are focusing on the customer, their situation and their needs. The skilful customer centred sales person will have prepared some follow up questions that uncover specific needs.

In this moment, you have differentiated yourself from the majority of sales people who walk into this prospect's office. Because the prospect is talking about themselves and (in B2B) their business, they feel comfortable. They aren't having to ward off an avalanche of product dumping which means they are less defensive and trust and rapport are created. While all that is happening, the salesperson is building a genuine understanding of the needs of the customer and is strongly positioned to meet them.

How do you embed this in your sales approach?

Every time you are about to talk with a prospect or existing customer, repeat the mantra in your head: Lead with Need. Write it down and stick it on your office wall, tape it to something in your car, tattoo it to the back of your hand - it doesn't matter how you keep it top of mind, just find a way.

Also remember the touchstone - whenever you are not sure what to do in a sales situation, ask yourself what a customer centred sales person would do. 

In our next sales post we will look at the questioning technique used by champions to keep themselves customer centred and to get at the customer's real needs. You could subscribe to our blog to be among the first to know when that article is available or take a look at our free customer prospecting calculator which will help you set and achieve some goals in prospecting for new customers.

Customer prospecting calculator

 photo credit (bored): country_boy_shane via photopin cc photo credit (tightrope): Nicolò Paternoster via photopin cc

Topics: Sales, Sales Management