As well as sell, salespeople have to market themselves well too. They need to be confident, passionate, competent, knowledgeable, motivated, curious, articulate, great networkers, show self belief, practice sensibility and stay cool under pressure. That’s quite a lot to demonstrate and when they meet a new customer, for the very first time.
NEW-NEW: So how can salespeople go about selling a ‘new’ product (or service) well to a new customer?
Answer: understand the sequence and the nature of the questions all customers ask.
Customers Only Ask 4 Questions
I haven’t found a customer question that can’t be allocated to 4 fundamental questions. All customers will ask:
1. Can I trust you?
2. What value do you bring to the table?
3. Are you right for me/us?
4. How will we make it work together?
1. Can I Trust You?
When we consider trust, we can think of intent and effect. We may set out in a business relationship with good intentions BUT will it work? Do we really mean to deliver the value we promise to customers? Are we confident? Can we commit confidently our intention to deliver this value? (Or do we fall into the trap of sometimes overselling to get the contract i.e. selling what we can’t deliver?) And even if we do commit, can we convey assurance of our ability to deliver?
Trust thus has two dimensions: Integrity and Capability.
As soon as a new customer has interest in what we sell they start to ask (albeit in many instances to themselves):
• Do I feel comfortable with you?
• Will you to keep your word?
• Will you to be reliable?
• Will you be loyal?
• Do I believe your intentions are sincere?
• Do you give me the sense of security I seek in a business relationship?
• Do I want to face the unknowns in this deal with you?
• Will you be there with me should things go wrong?
And they want to know what underpins our credibility and integrity.
With these types of questions a customer discerns our ability:
• Can I trust your ability to deliver what you say you will?
• Do you have the resources, intelligence and wherewithal to deliver what I expect?
• What track record, evidence, research or testimonies exist to back your proposals?
• Is your contract clear and concise?
• What risks exist? What contingencies have you put in place?
You probably don’t need convincing that Trust comes first. Just in case – in recent research, across 120 b2b customers worldwide, the three most important determinants of a healthy sales relationship are:
I. Keep commitments
II. Listen – demonstrate understanding
III. Be trustworthy, honest and loyal (Before a customer’s trust, we must trust ourselves. For if we can’t trust ourselves, how can we expect a customer to trust us?)
So what about Value? This leads to the customer’s second major question.
2. What Value Do You Bring to the Table?
The ‘science’ to determine value discovers what’s important to the customer. And once we understand the customer’s priorities – how do we stack up (against our competitors) to deliver against them? What expectations do they have of us as a supplier? Can we over-deliver? And if we do, will the customer gives us any goodwill/credit for it?
Here are sources of value (business drivers and problems to fix) that I find CEOs look for:
• Cash – Will your proposal improve our cash position?
• Cost Down – Will we reduce costs?
• Revenue/Market Share Up – Will we make competitive gains?
• Agility/Speed – Can we move, reshape, transcend quickly?
• Security – is it safe?
• Governance – Am I compliant with Company Law.
• Product/Service/Cost Leadership – Will our own customers notice/value the changes in our organisation that your proposal offers?
• Innovation (e.g. Technology, New Business Models) – Do I want (to be seen) to be first in the marketplace, to do something differently? Does your proposal accelerate the process?
• Personal Credibility – Can I use your proposal to advance my own career prospects?
• People – Will your proposal raise the effectiveness and job satisfaction of people?
• Something else? – If you don’t know, ask. Even if you feel you know, ask anyway.
Put concisely, we need to understand profoundly what’s important in the hearts and minds of customers – and convey the value we bring to the table in their language, not ours.
This leads to the “crunch” question where the decision to purchase or not takes place.
3. Are You the Right Person/Organisation (to give me/us what I/we want)?
Sounds straight forward but this question has two dimensions:
I. The Tangible or Intellectual
II. The Emotional
I. The Tangible or Intellectual
Over and above all the questions asked so far:
• What’s the business case for your proposal?
• When’s the payback period?
• What’s the upfront investment?
• Am I willing to afford what you ask for?
• What are the risks?
• What are the contingencies to avert or defend against such risks?
• Do I have the OK from my board and my technical people about your proposal?
II. The Emotional (this is where we win or lose the customer decision)
Here the customer takes in everything they’ve seen, read and heard about us and our proposal. They go inside themselves. They internalise the answers to one or more of the following questions….
• Can I see your solution working in my organisation? Will my people embrace it willingly?
• Can I see our business relationship working?
• Does is sound right? Are the bells ringing of joy or tolling a warning?
• Does it feel right?
• Does it smell right? Clean and fresh or something that could go rotten?
• Does it give me a sweet enough taste in my mouth?
• (And when we get a ‘yes’ to the above questions.) Am I inspired enough to go ahead with this relationship?
So now we have a favourable decision to “let’s go” from the customer – a signed and committed contract. We may have had a number of further customer questions to answer, to arrive here. They concern how our proposal will work.
4. How Will We Make It Work Together?
The customer CEO may well delegate some or all of the questions below. They all need answering in due course. The ‘science’ of selling here determines the right time and amount of information, required by the customer in order to make a decision. Our answers set the customer’s expectations about division of labour, responsibilities and consequences when things don’t go as planned.
These are the customer’s “doing questions”…
• What’s the business strategy or migration plan?
• Who will do what, where and when?
• How will we work together?
• How will we measure results?
• How will we track progress?
• What new skills do we need?
• How will we finance the deal?
• How will we get buy in from those affected adversely?
• How will I communicate with stakeholders?
• What do we do if we go off-track?
• And so on…
Tip: Many of us start by leading with: here’s how (we or our products) work, here are the benefits and here’s the business case – i.e. we start with Questions 4 and 3. We work from the inside (of our product or service)- out. Top sellers leave these (still important) messages until later. They work outside-in. They start with Trust and Value.
The process to answer all the customer’s questions that they require to make a buying decision is not linear. The above sequence points where to focus our attention but be prepared to flex if the customer so wishes. If we miss out answering any of the questions, we can end up losing a winnable deal. Pay attention to all the questions a customer asks and those that they don’t. If the customer doesn’t ask any of the above types of questions – find out why.