It’s often easy as a salesperson to make assumptions about what buyers are really looking for. It’s much more powerful though when you experience it yourself!
As some of you reading this will know, Judith and I have recently moved our home and office from the green fields of Surrey to the urban delights of Dulwich, in South East London, where we are starting a 12-month rebuild project on our new home.
This is not a particularly relaxing process and there is no shortage of buying decisions to make — from estate agents, removal people and Internet Service Providers through to builders, window suppliers and kitchens. We reckon we will have made at least 15 significant supplier choices during the last two months.
Why am I writing about this? Well, given that much of our time is spent helping salespeople and sales leaders develop their customer-facing skills, it’s been particularly interesting being on the other side of the fence and reflecting on the factors that are currently influencing our own buying decisions.
Although our experiences here are in a B2C situation, many of the potential suppliers we met are facing exactly the same challenges that our own clients (meaning you!) are facing , namely:
- They are finding it difficult to differentiate themselves from a product perspective (frankly one LED light is very similar to another …)
- They are often faced by cheaper competitors driving their margins down – Chinese glass anyone?
- Their customers are increasingly well informed – I pitied the roof light salesperson when we quizzed them about whether they used Pilkington Activ™ self-cleaning glass and the precise angle we should set it at. Pilkington are a valued client of ours and we are very keen to make use of their products in the house …
To cut to the chase, we have seen a lot of poor to average sales people in the last few months, with the good ones being very notable exceptions. But before we look at these sales behaviours – many of you know that we always start with looking at things from a purchasing perspective – so as buyers, what have we needed in the last few months?
What we need as buyers
- We need salespeople who are interested in us and our project – this isn’t a ‘soft’ touchy-feely thing – our needs are going to change during the project, so we need somebody who can understand this and guide us in the right direction.
- We want to be educated, not sold to – technology is changing rapidly – we are much more likely to want to work with someone who brings us up to date with the latest changes, what this might mean for us (having understood us in step 1) and maybe the questions we should be asking other potential suppliers.
- We want help to get the most ‘bangs for our bucks’ — having understood us and educated us, we want to make the most of our budgets – which whizzy feature is going to add real value to us and which will be simply a nice-to-have? Truly wonderful if the salesperson could understand us well enough to guide us.
- We want somebody to speak our language – in previous blog articles, we’ve covered how the use of jargon can destroy sales relationships. Don’t show us a window and describe the UV%. Instead have a conversation with us about our needs for both light and heat protection and guide us to the right solution.
Does any of this sound familiar?
Summary and Top Tips
Many of our clients are finding it difficult to technically differentiate their product or service and then maintain that advantage — modern technology and market transparency means that today’s killer differentiator is often too easy for competitors to replicate tomorrow. Our own recent buying experiences really brought home the fact that it is entirely possible (and faster and less expensive) to differentiate your company by the way you sell. So what did the good salespeople do that encouraged us to go with their services?
- They were genuinely interested in our project and were obviously excited about being part of the team.
- They asked us great questions that made us think more about our needs and challenged our assumptions.
- They spent time teaching us about the latest technology without talking about their own products – or using jargon.
- Having understood our needs, they were prepared to advise us to avoid expensive add-ons that would not add significant value – building real trust with us along the way.
- Although they did discuss the necessary technical details, they took the trouble to relate it back to our needs – “this will allow you to …”, “what this means to you is …”
For those of you who have been on our programmes, all of this will be a nice reminder of some of the concepts we always emphasise. In any sales situation, B2C or B2B, ‘sincere curiosity’ is the difference which really makes the difference!
Written by Ian Hirst, Greenbank CEO