Getting the edge in professional selling
Terence A. Hockenhull
I wouldn’t be far off the mark if I suggested that 95% of all salesmen offer solutions to the client far too early in the selling process. As I have said before, this is not selling. It is telling the client what he or she should do. Customers either consciously or unconsciously resent this type of sales pitch. There are a number of reasons to delay offering a solution until the end of a sales call. First, all customers want and need time to think about a decision that may affect their business. The same, of course, applies to customers who are buying expensive items for personal use.
Take buying a car for example. This is, for most people, a major purchase. A customer who chooses to finance the purchase through a loan company or a bank will be paying the principal and interest on the car loan for up to five years. If they make the wrong choice, they are the ones who are going to suffer. Not for a matter of days but for as long as they keep the car. It is quite understandable that they require time to think through the options, making up their own minds about what they want and need.
When customers enter a showroom to look at vehicles, they may have already narrowed down the models of car they are interested in. However, no firm decision to buy has been made (otherwise they would be placing the order). If the salesperson tries to get them to commit at this stage of the sale by offering a particular model, the customer is likely to back away from a commitment. Customers like to leave their options open until they made up their own mind about what they want.
Effective salesmen avoid mentioning or naming their own products and services in the selling process until the client has expressed clearly defined needs. The selling process is quite simple. The salesman already knows the features of his own products. He asks the right questions to get the client to express needs for each of these features before mentioning the product. Instead of telling the customer why he should buy a particular model, the salesman should take time to find out what the car is to be used for. For example, he might ask whether the potential buyer has a family, whether the car is to be used for business or pleasure. Is the customer looking for a manual or automatic, leather seating, high performance engine, good fuel economy, etc.? Will the car be used in Metro Manila for long or extended out-of-town trips along rough roads? The customer will readily answer these questions. He is responding to simple questions about his needs, not making an absolute commitment to buy a particular model.
Let’s say that the customer tells the salesman that he is looking for a four-seater family car to be used for both work and personal use. He says that the vehicle should be automatic, have a good safety rating, fit within a clearly stated and defined budget, offer good fuel consumption, easy servicing and parts availability and a states a preference for a particular color.
Now is the time that the salesperson can think about offering a particular model. He might say, “I understand that you are looking for a family saloon with an engine of 1500cc or less. Fuel consumption is important to you. You want an automatic and your color preference is red. Let me show you this model which meets all these requirements.” The salesman will then point out all the features of the vehicle that the customer has expressed a need for.
If the salesman falls into the trap of offering the features before establishing needs, it is very likely that the customer will object. “Sir, this model here has a 1.4 liter diesel engine,” might be met with, “That is no good to me, I want a gasoline engine.” Customer objections are not good. Despite the fact that they can be overcome by offering something more suitable, the very fact that they occur in the first place creates resistance on the part of the buyer.
A salesperson who has the patience and skills to uncover needs before offering a solution is more likely to establish a friendly (rather than confrontation) rapport with the customer. In turn, the customer will have the chance to sort out what he really wants and needs. When the solution is finally offered and the customer sees how well it will meet his own specified needs, the chances of closing the sale will be much higher.
This method of selling has proved to be the most effective way to handle sales where the cost of the product or service is significant. The salesman should remember that the customer will face serious consequences if the wrong decision is made. Let the customer make up his own mind about what he wants before offering solutions.
Terence A. Hockenhull is a long-term resident of the Philippines. He is an accomplished sales consultant who currently holds an executive sales position with an Italian geotechnical company.