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16 December 2009

Back to the Future (again)!

As he asked for another from the bartender that thought a Commodore 64 was an old car, I realized that Bill was right on the money; we can’t forget about how we got here.   No, it wasn’t a discussion about creation versus evolution and it had nothing to do with me forgetting how to get home from a state (physical not mental) seventeen to the left of New Jersey.  It was a discussion about sales.

Bill is a 40+ year old sales professional in an industry that has gone through a lot of change.  He and his lovely wife are raising three great kids in a small, family friendly Midwestern town where the nearest airport is 45 minutes away and it takes two connections to get anywhere (I saw the pictures on his battered and bruised iPhone that looked as though he used it as a door jam; twice).  Bill prided himself on his past success and while not completely happy with the commissions he earned this year, he knew he earned every penny he was paid.

So, here he and I were.  Two lonesome sales professionals on the road eating food only reserved for those carb loading before the Boston marathon and telling tall tales about our sales success when we got on the topic of social media and its impact on our professional lives.  We both agreed that social media has, and will continue to have, a huge impact on our profession.  But the point of our discussion was not to convince one another the virtues of social media but rather what’s next, and not what’s next in the philosophical world reserved for those who are smarter than I.  Rather, the discussion was on what’s actually the next step in the sales process once a potential customer reads our brilliant blogs and sees our wickedly luminous soliloquies on Facebook.

The answer, he and I both agreed, was from both of our pasts; professional consultative selling.  Now more than ever, professional consultative sales skills are the key to sales success.  Bill and I were both unanimous in our opinion that while consumers have a greater thirst for and access to information than ever before in the history of our industries, they need us to be the best that we have ever been to help them the way they want to be helped.  Our potential customers are reading our blogs, viewing our posts, pondering our tweets with the need to find the sales person that they feel will help them.

Is this a new notion? No, but we/I tend to forget.  What are professional consultative selling skills?  There are numerous books written by scholars of varying backgrounds from a variety of industries – but nearly every book will describe how people desire to work with a sales professional that understands their wants and needs, has a strong working knowledge of the product and market they serve, and above all else, listens to what they (as the customer) have to say.

Together, Bill and I have apparently read every sales book written since the break-up of Pangea (go ahead and Google it,) and came up with three distinct chronological sales milestones that we both agreed are necessary to ensure success.

#1:  Building Rapport – once your customer finds you through the many social media outlets, always keep in mind that most people like doing business with someone who understands their needs.  How do you find out their needs?  Ask the correct open-ended questions.  Rudyard Kipling once wrote; “I know six honest serving men that have taught me all that I knew….their names were what, where, when, why, how and who.

#2: Sharing Expertise – knowledge is a powerful edge in sales.  But applying your knowledge to what you learned about your customers’ needs during your rapport building is the difference between your customer believing that they made the correct choice when they selected you, or not.  And finding customers is too hard and expensive for it to be a “not”.

#3:  Gaining commitment – asking for the sale is absolutely appropriate and the right thing to do for your customer to help them think through their final decision if you performed the first two milestones correctly.  If you missed on the first two milestones, you don’t know how to continue to build value and are left talking only about price; which always seem to move inversely to income!

When last call came, Bill looked right at me and said, “well, this was boring!”……….. and then said “this all kind of reminds about that movie with that guy driving that car that went back in time.  It’s amazing – with all the new tools we use – we always come back to what we learned in the beginning: sales success requires professional consultative sales skills.  We can’t forget how we got here.”

What do you think?

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