There is a good joke in the Tampa Bay area regarding our NFL team, and in particular, bad players on it. It goes, "What is (insert player name), worth to the team?" Answer, "About a Buccaneer." Though a buck an ear may be a high value to place on some players, for a salesperson, or anyone in contact with clients for that matter, ears are your most valuable asset.
Let me give you two examples of "bad ears" to illustrate. Good friends of ours recently bought a high-end fixer-upper. The wife took charge of the interior and hired a decorator at a good hourly sum. Her only request was that the interior decorator be sure to match up her ideas with the existing dining room furniture, as it held meaning and substantial value to the couple.
In the subsequent three months, the decorator proceeded to do everything except offer ideas for decor that would match the furniture. She told the painting and drywall crews how much she hated the look of the existing furniture, and asked her client to reconsider, sell it and replace it with new stuff.
Needless to say, the decorator is gone.
Last weekend, we attended a home show and stopped at a contractor's booth. I discussed adding a second floor office, but explained that I couldn't decide whether to put it above the garage, or in the back with a deck. The contractor proceeded to tell me about the potential additional costs I will incur in insurance, with the federal flood insurance subsidy up for cancellation and under debate in the nation's capital.
I might rethink the second floor. He might be out of a large project which, I assume, was what he had attended the home show in order to gain.
Neither of the above folks listened to the client, so they did not know what they had to do to gain and fulfill the sale. I might have been annoyed with the increased costs, but would not blame the contractor.
Cliches are always right, and a great sales cliché states: "You have two ears and one mouth, so you should listen twice as much as you talk."
Don't get me wrong, I'm quite known for having a "gift of gab," and as much as I try, this is the one trait I know I need to work on. Type A personality extroverts often make solid salespeople -- but not if they can't take a breath. As a salesperson, you need to make sure that you are "all ears" when making calls, and especially in initial prospecting.
Years ago I took a Sandler sales course, and like many sales courses, some of the material was known, unusable or filler; but the crux of the system was very good. Sandler teaches you to use a step-by-step system, and one of the steps is to find the "pain" in prospects; learn what component of the present service does not sit entirely well with them.
Prospects will direct you to exactly what you need to hear in order to satisfy their needs and gain the account. Most times, clients will claim they are quite happy and content with the current service. Asking questions, rather than bullying, along with your pitch is the correct path to take when faced with this response. One such question might be, "What is it you feel your current supplier does best?" This forces the prospect to consider all aspects of the supplier's service in order of performance. Now ask, "What would you want to have improved upon if given the chance?" This sends the prospect's mind back down the performance list to the one thing that just might open them up to considering further discussion.
Most of your initial sales contacts should be conducted around questions, not pitch. Initial calls are all about preparation for future meetings, and about trying to learn as much as you can -- anything that will give you better ammunition to go to battle with.
This is more easily said than done, as there is another trait we A type extroverts sometimes suffer from: impatience with keeping and maintaining records, and with remembering details.
Listening to your clients is one thing; but not documenting what they actually say, but simply hoping to retain it all, can implode your efforts.
Fortunately, we live in an age where keeping details is far simpler than the old paper day-planner days. Taking an extra five or 10 minutes directly after each conversation to notate the key points for future referral, and then reviewing these before any future contact, will remind you of the "pain" and better focus your mind on exactly what the client would need to have satisfied if the sale is to proceed.
The decorator and the contractor both had it made, if only they had spent less time projecting their own opinions and concerns on their prospect, and more time absorbing exactly what their prospects said, then taking those cues to solidify an easy sale.
May your cup be full, and the brew exquisite!
KEVIN DAW is president of Heritage Coffee Co. (London, ON, Canada), a private-label roaster serving the breaktime management industries. A 30-year veteran of OCS, water delivery and vending operations, he has concentrated on coffee roasting for the past two decades.