Take control of the conversation

When business owners sell, they’ve got to think like salespeople and not like business owners. Three common mistakes owners make when they’re selling:

  • talking too much
  • talking ‘is’ instead of ‘does’
  • selling to the prospect’s cost consciousness

Don’t be treated like a commodity

If you allow price to occupy the conversation before you have demonstrated value, then the prospect is going to see your product as a mere commodity. More importantly, they are going to see you as a commodity.

The single biggest danger for anyone in a selling situation – from the junior salesperson to the CEO – is to allow themselves to be treated like a commodity. Whether I’m training sales staff at a company’s headquarters or running seminars for SMEs, I repeat this over and over: don’t be treated like a commodity. Let me explain.

We don’t control conversations by dominating any more. In the early stages the prospect should be doing 80% of the talking and the salesperson 20%.

We all know what a commodity is. For the sake of my argument it is a commodity’s fungibility that matters – the idea that you can get it from multiple sources without any variation in quality. It doesn’t matter where your crude oil comes out of the ground; what matters is its price.

At the start of a sales interview, a salesperson is a commodity in the prospect’s eyes, a mere vehicle for the possible acquisition of a product or service, qualitatively indistinguishable from any other salesperson.

As long as this perception persists, price is going to govern the prospect’s thinking – about the product, about the company, about the salesperson. If you compete on price only then this is fine, but I think everyone understands that trying to compete on price is going to knock you out of the game eventually.

Control: in those days

The successful salesperson must break this paradigm as soon as possible.

How? Well, there are a thousand different ways, but one of the basic requirements is to control the conversation.

In the old days salespeople controlled the conversation by dominating it, by unleashing an impermeable stream of speech about the product, essentially inundating the prospect in information. It was about gab, smooth talk and displaying product knowledge, talking about what the product is as opposed to what it does for the customer. There was a kind of ritual involved, so that the mark of a good salesperson was, effectively, to live up to all the preconceptions about a good salesperson!

Control: these days

Nowadays, the first thing you do is distinguish yourself from other salespeople, rather than try to seem like one.

Yes, ultimately your job is to get the prospect wanting your product more than your competitor’s, but it starts with you. When the prospect sees you as the person uniquely positioned to solve their problems then value dictates their thinking, rather than price. You have to become that person, that problem-solver.

We don’t control conversations by dominating any more; we control them by allowing the prospect to dominate, at least at first. In the early stages of the sales interview, the prospect should be doing 80% of the talking and the salesperson 20%.

The conversation moves towards a balanced dialogue as the salesperson uncovers the prospect’s unique needs – and needs amount to much more than what prospects think they want; they include what prospects hope to achieve in the long term, and what they hope to avoid.

It is only at the close that the salesperson should be leading the conversation. But never do you try to dominate it completely; even when you are closing, you should be seeking to have the prospect talking at least 20% of the time.

If there’s one great difference between today’s salesperson and the salesperson of the past, it is that we are no longer merely experts in our products; we are experts in fulfilling a prospect’s requirements. To the extent that we demonstrate such expertise – by listening rather than talking, by asking questions rather than spouting product specs – we avoid being a commodity in the prospect’s eyes. And this is crucial to competing on value rather than price, whether we’re a member of the sales team or the owner of the business.

Mark Garbelotto

CEO, Australian Academy of Sales

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