Another new year is upon us. Fresh with opportunity, optimism, and numerous goals and metrics that you have set for your sales team. But what about your clients’ goals? I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that nowhere on your clients’ list of goals does it say “buy [your] product.” To gain your clients’ trust, and ultimately their business this year, the key is to suspend self-interest.
But what does it mean to suspend self-interest? Let’s visit this idea via a short parable:
Meet Mike. Mike is an ambitious, determined, bright, and knowledgeable sales person for a start-up SaaS company called Praiz. Praiz provides HR Software to manage compensation, benefits, rewards programs, and job candidates. Mike has a promising new prospect, Valerie, who is the VP of HR for a silicon valley company with 2,500 employees.
In their first meeting, Mike spent some time getting to know Valerie. He asked about what’s important to her at work right now, what keeps her up at night, and they even chatted about what they each enjoy doing in their free time. The meeting was going well and her body language was positive. Mike then provided a very well prepared presentation of Praiz’s offerings. It wasn’t any old generic presentation. He made sure to focus on the product features that tend to matter most to a company in Valerie’s industry, and he shared some results that similar clients have seen using Praiz. He knows it’s important to position his product in a way that is meaningful to each client.
Mike closed the meeting by offering a free trial of the software, and asking when would be a good time to follow up. Valerie thanked him for the generous offer of a free trial and said she’d be delighted to meet with him again in 2 weeks, after she’s had some time to think about it and talk to her team. Mike followed up 2 weeks later and did not heard back from Valerie. Then two months went by… still silence.
Unfortunately Mike made a rookie mistake that all salespeople have made at one time or another (many do it chronically). He made the meeting all about his product. But wait, you say, he tailored his presentation to her company! He demonstrated his knowledge of her industry! While true, his level of understanding was nowhere near what it should have been prior to giving a presentation. When you’re selling a product that you believe in and that you’re passionate about, it can be difficult to hold off showing your client how great it is. The problem is that your client hears from salespeople all the time who are certain that their product is the best thing out there. This is the reason why it is crucial that you take the focus off of yourself and your product and make it all about the customer and his or her company goals.
How do you do this?
Do your homework before the meeting.
Read articles about what’s happening in your client’s business; visit their webpage often; read their blog or twitter feed if they’re active on it; pull their annual report and read it. Okay you don’t need to read the entire annual report. Just get a sense of how they operate what their business priorities are. Read the Introduction or Business section, the Risk Factors section, the Management’s Discussion of Results, and possibly other sections (depending on what you’re selling). A general understanding of their financials is also important; in particular how their results compare to the previous year(s).
Ask good questions during the meeting.
What do I mean by “good questions?” Don’t ask for any information that is readily available to you via the resources from step 1. If this is a first (possibly even second) meeting, keep your questions focused on current state vs. desired state of the client. In other words, where are they now, where would they like to be, and when do they want to be there? Notice that none of these questions have anything to do with your product or its features. Your questions should also provoke thought in your customer’s mind; get them to see opportunities or risks that they had not yet considered. And by all means, DO NOT respond to their answers by jumping right into how your product can help them seize that opportunity or mitigate that risk factor.
Align your offerings to where you now know your client is trying to go. Share only the product features and benefits that will help them accelerate their business results. Superfluous detail can land you back in the uncertain Q&A phase or reset the sales cycle entirely. Depending on what it is you’re selling, you may even be able to spell out for the client exactly what tangible outcomes they will see by using your product or service: “By adopting this software, you will save $3M per quarter on OpEx” for example.
There are certainly more steps in any sales cycle before you close the deal, but the bottom line of this article is that you ABSOLUTELY should not start selling until you have completed a thorough discovery process. Suspend self-interest until you have all the information you need to position your product in line with your client’s goals. Not vaguely aligned to their industry or company type, but a direct connection to each client’s individual strategy.
One final tip: your client does not care about your quota, how demanding your boss is, the sales contest you almost have in the bag, or anything else about your success as a salesperson. They only care about delivering results to their leadership team.