They actually want to be led
(Excerpted from UnSelling™: 22 Strategies to Win Without Selling)
The average sales person (and team) tends to be overly deferential to their clients. Which would be a sound strategy if the average client had a clear idea of how to evaluate their alternatives to ultimately choose the best among alternatives.
The subservient sales person usually asks the question, “How will the decision be made?” It’s a reasonable question that usually begets the feeble answer from the key contact at the prospect, “Oh, I have good news – I’m the decision maker!” To which the “delighted-to-be-invited” sales person says, “Alleluia – I found the decision maker!” (Tongue firmly planted in my cheek as I type this of course)
On the other hand, the UnSelling professional handles the question differently and for a very different purpose. What we really want to understand is both the evaluation process (the steps they will take to gather information including an RFI (Request for Information) to 10 vendors, a formal invitation to 4 vendors to propose, a series of reference calls and client site visits, etc.) and the decision process (which are the specifics about who will be involved and what roles they will play in the actual decision – influencer, approver, technical evaluator, decision maker, etc.)
But here’s the catch: instead of asking these questions so that we can conform to the client’s chosen process (which are almost never well-defined or thorough), our goal is to actually add value in the buying process by consulting with the client on the steps and evaluation criteria they should include in order to make the best, most-informed decision. Remember, this is all about the client’s success – not ours! It just so happens that if we help them define the ideal steps and criteria it will not only advantage them by leveraging our experience with other clients but will also help them know what steps and criteria to use that will highlight our solution’s strength and expose our competitors’ weaknesses (if done well).
Consider this question: when’s the worst time for the client to determine they didn’t ask all the right questions of all of the vendors they have evaluated? You’re right if you answered, “After they have chosen the wrong one and signed a long-term contract with that vendor!”
Here’s the key: great UnSelling professionals have made their living working with prospects and clients who have been both successful and unsuccessful in evaluating and implementing solutions in their industry. We’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly with a myriad of clients and when it comes to knowing what to do and how to best conduct an effective evaluation, we are the experts, hands down! If you buy into this notion, instead of starting out selling, why don’t we start by asking the prospect how he/she intends to conduct the evaluation? And, assuming they have an incomplete process (or no process at all), offer to help them define a set of steps and a set of criteria that will be most helpful to them – to both determine if they should do anything at all and if they do, how to effectively choose the best solution? If you take this “high road” in the buyer-seller relationship you will gain more credibility, establish strong relationships, and have a significant competitive advantage throughout the buying-selling process.
I should challenge every reader on one more point: shame on us if a prospect comes to us and asks – “Can you help me define the best evaluation and decision process for this initiative?” and you look at them like they have three heads! To do this well, and proactively, you’d be well-advised to define and document your collective experience with numerous clients to develop a personal (or better yet, corporate) perspective on what the right steps are for your prospects. Done well, you’ll have a process that is most advantageous to the client but also highlights your solution’s strengths (and exposes the competitor’s weaknesses) because the client is asking all the right questions.
If you want more details on the UnSelling approach: download a free copy of Peter Bourke’s newly published eBook UnSelling™: Sell Less … To Win More. The free eBook is available in several formats, including Kindle, Nook, iBook, PDF, and more.
This topic is all about helping sales (and non-sales) people to realize that winning new business is not about selling (or “telling”) more aggressively. It’s about changing the nature of the relationship between buyer and seller to one of collaboration.
I welcome your feedback!