By Dave Kahle
Over the decades that I’ve been involved in sales, I’ve worked with tens of thousands of sales people. Certain negative tendencies — mistakes that sales people make — keep surfacing. Here is number three of my top five. See to what degree you (or your sales force) may be guilty of them.
Mistake Number Three: Contentment with the superficial
There are some customers on whom you have called for years, and yet the sales person doesn’t know any more about them today than he/she did after the second sales call. These are accounts where the sales person cannot identify one of the account’s customers, explain whether or not they are profitable, or identify one of their strategic goals.
Most sales people have a wonderful opportunity to learn about their customers in deeper and more detailed ways, and often squander it by having the same conversations with the same customers over and over. They never dig deeper. They mistake familiarity with knowledge.
What a shame. I am convinced that the ultimate sales skill — the one portion of the sales process that, more than anything else, determines our success as a sales person — is the ability to know the customers deeper and in a more detailed way than our competitors know them.
It’s our knowledge of the customer that allows us to position ourselves as competent, trustworthy consultants. It’s our knowledge of the customer that provides us the information we need to structure programs and proposals that distinguish us from everyone else. It’s our knowledge of the customer that allows us to proactively serve that customer, to meet their needs even before they have articulated them.
In an economic environment where the distinctions between companies and products are blurring in the eyes of the customer, the successful companies and individuals will be those who outsell the rest. And outselling the rest depends on understanding the customer better than anyone else.
Overcoming this tendency
Here’s where a couple of these negative tendencies spill over on one another. The best way I know to overcome this tendency toward superficial is to think about the sales calls you want to make, to think about your customers, and to plan, before you are in front of the customer, what information you would like to gather. And the best way to do that is to ask yourself what you would like to know about this customer. Create a series of questions that you ask yourself. Questions like these:
Do I know how this product application fits into the rest of their systems?
Do I know what the consequences are for them if they don’t get a good solution to this problem?
Do I know what the positive implications are for them if they do solve this problem, or achieve this objective?
Do I know what those consequences and implications mean for the key decision makers?
Do I know how this account makes their money or how they appeal to their customers?
Do I know this account’s vision of their business, their mission and their basic strategy?
Do I know what motivates the key decision makers?
This is just a start, but you have the idea. Once you create a set of questions for yourself, the next step, for any question for which the answer is “no, I don’t know that,” is to seek out that information.
When you seek and discover the information prompted by these questions, you’ll gain a deeper understanding of your accounts.
Want to dig deeper into this issue? Consider the book, Question Your Way to Sales Success. Click here.