I had a landscaper install a new sprinkler system the other day, and as we stood under the warming sun waiting for his crew to set up he asked me what I did for a living. I told him I was a sales trainer (this is the easiest answer as for some reason as soon as I add “inside sales” to anyone out of the industry, they have no idea what I’m talking about).
He immediately made the mistake that most companies and managers and even sales reps make when he next said, “Product knowledge is what it’s all about. You have to know your products.”
When I corrected him by saying product knowledge takes second place to qualifying a prospect and discovering unique buying motives, he seemed genuinely confused. I explained:
“Most companies spend hours, days and even weeks training their sales reps on each product and service, and then about a day (or a couple of hours) on how to sell them. This results in a knowledgeable sales team that is quick to list features and benefits until the cows come home. This creates a lot of conversations, but not a lot of sales.”
“What should they be doing?” he asked.
And that’s when I asked him how he would go about selling me a pencil.
He thought about it for a while and then launched into – you bet – a list of features and benefits about a pencil.
I let him go on for a while until he was out of ideas (you can only talk about the color yellow and the use of an eraser for so long), and then I asked him: “What if I don’t even use pencils?”
That stumped him.
And that’s the whole point. Most sales reps sell just like he does: leading with features and benefits sure that if they just say the right one or ones, in the right order or combination, then prospects will eventually see some value and say, “Ah! I’ve got to have that! Thank you so much for calling!”
As Dr. Phil would say, “How’s that working out for you?”
The proper way to sell a pencil – and your product or service – is to first qualify for need and unique buying motives, and then match up the appropriate features and benefits to fit those defined needs.
So using the “how to sell a pencil” analogy, it doesn’t begin by pitching the attributes of a pencil, rather, it starts by uncovering the need for one (or for a thousand). It begins with a series of questions like:
“How do you use pencils in your facilities?”
“How many pencils do you go through in a month? A year?”
“Who orders the pencils?”
“What’s important to you in a pencil?”
“How many pencils do you usually order at a time?”
“Where do you get your pencils from now?”
“Why do you get them there?”
“When was the last time you compared suppliers of pencils?”
“If you were to change suppliers, what would be important for you in the next vendor?”
“Besides yourself, who makes the decision to order pencils?”
“How about in your other facilities?”
And on and on… Now, I can just hear some of you thinking, “But Mike, a prospect isn’t going to sit still for all these questions!” Well, maybe yes, maybe no. I’ll tell you now, non-buyers won’t sit still, but most buyers will. And that’s a clue as to who might buy from you and who won’t.
The bottom line is that you can’t sell without knowing if there is a need and interest. And if you get some of the answers above, then you’ll know exactly how to pitch and how to sell.
If you don’t, you’ll just go through your list of features and benefits and when you get to the end, you’ll cross your fingers and hope someone buys.
I don’t know about you – but that’s a horrible way to make your way through life in sales.