Many sales reps who have been in the business for a while have been experiencing a steady decline in their performance for the last decade or so. Unfortunately, most of them cling to the ways of selling they learned two or three decades ago, despite the fact that these techniques are no longer effective. These reps persist in the old sales strategies because they’re supposed to work, or so they think. But the old approaches, like “solution selling,” don’t work anymore because the “solution” they are usually selling is a solution to the sales rep’s problem instead of the customer’s. Let me explain.
Let’s say there is a sales rep named Barbara. Barbara has been trained by her company to sell using a presentation that was created by their marketing department to make sure every sales rep presents the same fool-proof analysis of their product’s features and benefits, and how they will solve the customer’s problems.
Armed with this fancy presentation, some slick brochures, and product samples, Barbara hits the street. Her first step is to try and build rapport with her prospect because she knows folks do business with people they like. Once she feels like enough rapport is built, she seeks the opportunity to make her presentation. Barbara may even probe for problems, needs, or goals she can relate to the features and benefits. When she uncovers one, she immediately says, “You know what will work for you…” and proceeds to tell the buyer how her product will fix it.
At this point, Barbara typically gets delegated down to the level in the organization that is interested in features, usually mid-level management, where she starts all over in establishing a relationship. She will say, “Hey, buyer, let’s go play golf or have lunch,” thinking she is now talking to the key person who decides what to purchase. With being the buyer’s buddy as the focus of Barbara’s attention, she relies on the product’s features/benefits to be the main sales driver.
Since Barbara has been taught to create a transaction, all her effort is geared toward getting to the close. If there are delays or objections, she attempts to close by persuading, handling objections, and overcoming resistance. If that does not work, her next tactic is to drop the price. In short, Barbara is trying to manipulate the buyer into buying.
The prospect asks Barbara to leave her brochure so he can review it and think about it. Days later, when she tries to reach him, he does not respond to her calls or emails. Barbara doesn’t understand what happened because she thought she had established a great relationship with her prospect.
The problem with Barbara’s conventional approach
Barbara is unaware that she starts off on the wrong foot from the very beginning because her conventional sales techniques are about what she wants – a transaction – and not about what her buyers want. As a result, there is a lot more going on that Barbara doesn’t know about:
- Barbara’s prospects think she is arrogant and audacious, even if she doesn’t mean to be.
This is why she gets delegated down to middle managers. Her talk about how her product is going to solve every problem is talking, not discussing. And it is all about her opinion instead of what the buyer wants out of his purchase. Barbara doesn’t truly connect with her buyers because she doesn’t ask the right questions to find out what they are really after, so they delegate her down the line to somebody else.
- Barbara’s prospects know they are being manipulated.
Prospects smell these old-fashioned sales techniques a mile away. They know they are being “sold to,” and they don’t like it. That’s why they put her off and she never hears from them again.
- Barbara loses customers even after she’s made a sale because she thinks her good rapport with them is everything.
When her customers have a problem after a sale, she relies on her friendship with them, not her ability to solve the problem, to keep the business. Customers leave her because her friendship is not what they are after. They find someone else who will solve their problems.
- Barbara’s Sales Manager is perpetuating her poor performance.
He is always breathing down her neck because her kind of sales rep must be managed. Sales managers like Barbara’s spend too much time picking up dropped pieces or solving problems the typical rep cannot handle. By helping such reps manage the crisis they create, the sales manager is teaching them that problem-solving and being proactive are not required sales skills.
- Sales reps with inferior products sometimes win Barbara’s customers.
The more Customer Aligned Sales reps buyers encounter, the quicker they jettison the old-fashioned reps like Barbara. When a Customer Aligned rep calls on Barbara’s client and treats them with a Customer Aligned Sales approach, the client is refreshed! The rep is more interested in what their problems, needs, and desired outcomes are than in making a sale. The rep engages them in a true discussion and does more listening than talking. So when he does talk, what he says resonates with the customer, and he gets the sale even if another rep’s product has more bells and whistles.
The Customer Aligned Sales solution
Conventional selling has a very steep declining return. If your sales techniques used to work great in the 80s and 90s, but aren’t producing results today, this is why. The buyer of today wants you to bring value to the table from your very first sales call. Rapport is still important, but you don’t build it by playing golf and taking prospects to lunch. In today’s world, relationships are built through gaining your prospect’s trust by demonstrating your alignment with his or her needs and desires. If you do that, relationships and sales will follow.