Winning over the 87%

8th Apr 2016

Winning over the 87%: How to show a customer you understand them

Ideas of success and failure in the sales profession are still grounded in archetypes from yesteryear. Struggling, Willy Loman-style characters were always born losers, and born losers they shall remain, while the smirking charmers of this world, the Joe Girards and the Jordan Belforts, can flog anything to anybody, and will always win out one way or another. Whoever has “it”, has it; whoever doesn’t should probably find a role in the back office.   

Naturally, it’s not quite that simple. An era of high technology has led to something of a sales revolution – and the sales profession hasn’t quite caught up. The goalposts have moved, and so has the field of play. If you’re a salesperson today, you can’t expect to compel purchases through sheer force of personality anymore. It may be theoretically possible, but it’s not a reliable way to earn your commission.  

Now, more than ever, it’s about the customer and their desires rather than any individual’s capabilities. With a simple Google search for a product or service, they have more options than any reasonable person knows what to do with; nobody eats everything at the buffet table – they pick and choose the foods that seem most appetising. The ‘millennial’ generation that has grown up with this technology can be particularly discerning, and if you want to stand out, you’ll have to work for it.   

According to sales evangelist Josiane Feigon, only 13% of customers believe a salesperson can understand their needs. If you intend to gain any ground on your competition, you’ll need to prove the remaining 87% wrong.  Here are a few ways to do exactly that.

Know who you’re talking to  

The average sales pitch tends to be formulaic (and borderline boilerplate). Historically, this was out of necessity: nobody had the time to learn about the hopes, ambitions, and pain points of each prospect, so rattling each product feature off a cold call checklist and hoping to hit on something resonant was often the most efficient way to close a deal.

But even back then, these deals were significantly easy to progress when the salesperson made an effort to properly connect with the customer, and these connections are significantly easier to make with modern technology.

To resonate with millennials, your pitching should be focused on them, rather than the product. Scattergun spray ‘n’ pray sales won’t work. With big data technology, it’s simpler than ever to accumulate information about what frustrates and delights your prospects. For example, if you’re running a brewery at Christmastime and you know that several local businesses will be holding their annual office party, certain software makes it possible to identify those who might be interested in bulk-buying liquor, beer, and wine.

It sounds terribly obvious, but the best way to understand your customer is to understand exactly who your customer is. You’ve only got one chance to make a first impression: if someone receives an unsolicited, seemingly random email, they’re likely to consign it to the spam folder with immediate effect; a harsh judgment, and one that will damage all future attempts at contact. Your product could be applicable to their situation in future, but they’ll never know. Instead, use a targeted approach to make an impression with fewer – but more relevant – customers: you’ll waste less effort, and you’ll receive a larger commission check.   

Relight their fire  

It doesn’t matter if your team’s positively drowning in new business if it can’t retain it. Complacency is a cardinal sin, and a costly one at that: long-term relationships keep the lights on. When a customer feels undervalued or ignored – or simply believes that there are better deals to be had elsewhere – they’ll defect to your competitors.  

Thankfully, it’s possible to pre-empt this issue. When you’ve closed your first deal with a customer, it’s not just a sale: it’s an opportunity to gather actionable information. Using the right analytical software, you can gauge preferences fairly easily. If you’re running an automotive aftermarket company, the technology might indicate that a business customer buys spare tyres in high volume at a particular time of year. In this case, you can take your competitors out of the running by pre-empting their enquiry.      

Other times, it’s possible to identify opportunities for cross or upselling: if a business customer buys laptops in bulk, they may also be interested in laptop cases; if you’re a managed services provider, you might be able to sell a virtual firewall to go with a high-speed enterprise internet connection. Think about what might be useful to them outside of the initial sale, and you’re likely to build a stronger long-term connection.  

It’s like any other relationship: take care of the other person’s needs, and it’s more likely to flourish.

See the bigger picture  

When we look back on short periods of sales success, we tend to place them in the context of trends. The late nineties craze for Pokémon cards came at the height of the film and TV series’ success, for example.   

It’s not yet possible to fully anticipate what will become popular at which time, but sufficiently advanced technology opens up opportunities to capitalise on these trends as they emerge. This can, in turn, increase revenues – and commission payments.  

For example, if you’re working for a janitorial supplies company and notice a slight uptick in sales of brooms or mops, you might be able to discount these items to stimulate sales and gain an edge on your competitors – and maybe include them in a package deal with buckets or dustpans. If you’re working for an IT hardware company and notice that a particular brand of desktop PC is selling well, it might be possible to include a monitor or a power supply in a best-price bundle.

In 2016 and beyond, salespeople who can see patterns – and anticipate the millennial consumer’s wants and desires – will have a clear advantage over their competition.  

Nature and nurture  

Technology has fundamentally changed customer expectations. If you’re a salesperson, innate ability is still helpful, but it will no longer be enough to win the day. The customer has always been the centre of the universe, but in an age of relentless technological advancement, they now know it too.  

Where natural ability fails, nurture will succeed. By turning transactional and customer data into actionable information, there is a clear opportunity to forge stronger bonds with customers. It is the responsibility of salespeople to take advantage of it.   




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