Is there such a thing like the “best way to sell”? Or the “worst way to sell”? Personally I believe yes and in this short article I will share my experience about the latter and tell you how to avoid “killing the sale with your own hands”. These advices are 100% helping in the selling process of both services and goods.
As most of my business life I’ve been a client, I attended countless meetings in which suppliers tried to sell their goods or services. In the majority of cases, the potential suppliers made formal presentations, aiming at gaining us as a client.
What differentiated the successful suppliers from the unsuccessful ones? Obviously, their expertise in the field and the fit between the needs of my company and the services/goods they offered.
BUT, there was one other thing that, in my opinion, made a huge influence: their focus on helping our company overcome specific ” burning” issues, rather than on selling their portfolio of services/goods!
I’m sure all of you can recall the following scenario: the supplier representative enters the meeting room and asks where (s)he can project from the laptop their company presentation. Then (s)he starts going through a zillion of slides, in the best case highlighting the key ideas from each slide, in the worst cases reading thoroughly everything, at such a monotonous pace that would make the worst insomniac immediately fall deeply asleep. And, in all honesty, I vividly remember many cases when I needed several coffees to keep me awake during such meetings.
But what is wrong with this approach? Simply put, it is an egoistic approach of a salesman focusing on what (s)he needs to sell, versus focusing on the needs of the client! Let me be very blunt: a great salesman NEVER PUTS HIS/HER INTERESTS BEFORE THOSE OF THE CLIENT! This is, in my opinion, the worst way to sell! You never present your company’s credentials before you understand what the client’s needs and pain points are. Just like a good doctor first diagnoses the patient and only then offers the prescriptions, the best salespeople first diagnose the business of the client and then present their offer 100% tailored to the needs they found during the diagnosis process.
But how to do a good diagnosis of the client’s needs? I will share here my way of doing it; perhaps not the best one, but it served me very well throughout the years.
1. Prior to the meeting, I do a very thorough check of the info available about the client and his brands/business overall. I start with their website and follow up with Google search, also monitoring their media presence (including Social Media). Next, I look at the same info available for their competitors. This exercise not only gives me the basic info about the category where the client operates and the key brands playing there, but also about the dynamics between the key players and potential issues that the client might face (but these issues need to be validated in the meeting with the client!!)
2. During the meeting with the client, I always ask my favorite question: “Tell me what keeps you awake at night, what business challenges you currently face and you would like to solve”. Alternatively, I ask another question I love: “If I were a fairy from a fairytale and could solve you 3 business issues on the spot, what would they be?” Through these questions, I want to understand the hottest problems, the ones that are “life-threatening” for the business, in the same way a doctor in the ICU looks at the life-threatening issues of the patient before taking care of the less serious ones. To give you an example, if I see that a brand lacks broad distribution, I will never recommend a sampling program because, no matter how good the brand is, if the consumers cannot buy it, then the sampling effors and money are wasted. Instead, I will see whether I can help with the distribution build-up.
3. After hearing the hottest issues the client faces, then (and only then), I start telling how my company can help via our services. For example, if the client’s brand needs trial among a certain target group, then I may propose a sampling program that delivers this. If the client needs awareness, then I work on a tailor-made communication plan. Very important: I NEVER open my laptop to show any slides! I know by heart my business and what I can do for the client, and only open the laptop to present specific supporting information that may be hard to be memorized (such as researches, studies, techical specs, etc). Also, in this part, I honestly tell the client what I cannot do for them because of my company’s limitations (I still vividly recall a perplexed Trade Marketing Manager from a famous FMCG company who told me that she never met a salesperson who declined a project). Honesty is still the best strategy in business, by the way!!
And one final advice: making the sale is not important and must not be your focus! The most important thing is finding a way to help the client with his/her burning issues; once you achieve this, then the sale will follow effortlessly!