One of my colleagues in the Vistage chair community in the USA, Larry Cassidy, makes a great point when he says:
- “Sell the problem you solve, not the product”
and that seems to me encapsulate the true purpose of sales, particularly B2B.
The trouble is that we also seem to mix up marketing and sales when in fact they are vastly different in purpose, delivery, design and scope.
In simple terms marketing is that essential exercise that uncovers the potential for the business through research and the generation of awareness and interest in the market.
It demands rigour in identifying potential customers or clients and then using appropriate techniques to make contact and generate interest and hence leads.
Conventional marketing used to use a metaphorical hopper into which just about any possible potential is loaded, passed down through filters eventually resulting in a small number of genuinely potential customers.
Today, because research techniques have been greatly enhanced by technology, it is more attractive and certainly more effective to identify precisely the potential customers with whom you want to deal and then make contract with them.
Social media, both free or paid for via SEO (search engine optimisation) or PPC (pay per click) is becoming the medium of choice. Conventional advertising methods using broadcast and print still have a place as does PR and in the end good marketing will make the right decision as to the most appropriate media to use.
This by no means obviates the need for a very professional approach and indeed attitude to sales. In fact it strengthens it and demands that every sales meeting should be conducted with technique and purpose.
The days of enormous outside sales forces have, perhaps as a consequence, largely disappeared and sales visits can fall to almost anyone in an organisation capable of developing relationships.
In my early days in engineering sales I was a specialist product engineer assisting the northern half of our sales force of 120 to develop market penetration.
As Larry Cassidy says we need to solve the problem and therefore we need to identify the problem. More’ s the point the customer needs to identify the problem, its significance and what needs to be done about it.
Not every customer can articulate what is needed and it is then the function of the sales person to assist through focused questioning.
My old sales mentor, Phil Copp, the sage of Wythenshawe, was a ferocious and forensic questioner and taught me how to do it. Most importantly he was an equally dedicated listener and that permitted him to wait until the problem had been exposed and he could show how it could be solved.
His use of “what….” and “how…” questions was masterly and he would drill down with “and what else?” until he felt that he had enough information to pounce.
So many sales people fall into the trap of becoming vocal catalogues and list everything that their company can supply in the hope that something might strike home. Too often it is a vain hope and another sales call fails.
Identify the companies with which you want to do business together with the appropriate purchasing influence, make contact, discover the problem they have through judicious questioning and listening then offer a solution to their problem.
It is that easy and using it will vastly improve sales force productivity and results. What more could you ask?
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