Selling is far more than face-to-face communication about what you’re selling. In fact, that’s the least part of it. In my book on sales, we break the process down into five general areas:
- building relationships
- analyzing needs
- knowing customers’ industries
- generating creative solutions, and
- helping your customers succeed
1) Building Relationships at Higher Levels
When you are a vendor, you are a commodity. Many fall into this position when they don’t differentiate themselves from their competitors. Vendors are selling what they have, not working on clients’ needs.
Solution providers have a skill that they want to apply. They still aren’t focused on what the customer needs. The consultant level is the beginning of a long-lasting relationship. You are applying your expertise to understand and solve client problems. (There is more on this and the higher levels shortly.)
Team members have transcended the barrier of being an outsider. You know more about your clients’ processes and are trusted. If you used to work for the client, you often start at this level.
The term partner is much used, but seldom attained. Here you have proven that you have the clients’ interests at heart. You are privy to high level information, and do more than you are asked to. You treat the client’s business as if it were your own.
Advisor includes all the other levels, plus the ability to act independently for your client. You take responsibility for their business, and often act as a mentor.
While there are many ways to describe relationships between you and your clients, this hierarchy gives you some goals to shoot for. While you can’t be at the highest levels with every client, you will build the best business–and enjoy yourself the most–when you have clients who trust you at the top levels.
2) Analyzing Needs
In order to analyze prospects’ and clients’ needs, you need a repeatable method. Obvious examples are checklists or a series of questions, followed by action steps.
For instance, one insurance agent has trained thousands of others to use about 90 brief questions on their finances. The form takes a prospect nine minutes. It helps them understand their own needs, qualifies them, demonstrates the agent’s expertise, and starts the relationship off at the consultant level. And it immediately screens out people who have no needs.
Needs analysis questions can start with the general situation, but should move quickly to the prospect’s unique circumstances. To do a needs analysis, you need to be much better at asking questions, listening, and analyzing than at presenting. This gets you away from old-fashioned selling situations with their stereotype “arm-twisting” and pressure.
3) Knowing Customers’ Industries
When you specialize in clients’ industries, they know you’re already up to speed. They don’t have to pay for your education or for beginner’s mistakes.
Not all the ways you can help improve your clients’ profits will come from your direct services or products. Some may come from connections you make for them in their industries. This is one advantage of specializing in a niche. You not only serve customers better, but you give and receive stronger referrals that are more relevant to you and your clients.
4) Your Creativity at Work
Peter Drucker said roughly that the only purpose of business is to create customers through marketing and innovation. While innovation is often thought of as new products, more important in our service economy is innovation in delivering services.
Creativity helps you at two stages of the sales relationship. First, it makes it easier to come to prospects’ attention and convince them that you are worth investing time in. If you look and act like every other “salesperson,” you won’t stand out. People spend time avoiding “average” salespeople, not building relationships with them.
The mere fact that you do something different early in the relationship–such as a needs analysis–suggests that you may offer more customized, 1-1 solutions. Clients need new approaches, and you do too if you are to avoid being a commodity.
The second area where creativity serves you and your clients is in producing new and better solutions. If you offer something no one else does, you (and your customers) have a unique advantage.
You may also be more creative in customizing solutions specifically for clients’ needs. Some people define the ultimate in expertise as knowing all there is to know. This means you know the state of existing “art” in your field. I would argue that knowing how to create new solutions is more important to your expertise.
Don’t just apply what has been done before, create customized solutions for clients. Of course, this is also the opposite of the “vendor” at the bottom of the relationship hierarchy.
5) Helping Your Customers Succeed
You’ve probably heard the old example that someone only buys a one-inch drill in order to obtain a one-inch hole. The drill is the feature, the hole the benefit. However, this example doesn’t go far enough. People have a reason they want the hole. You need to know more about the benefits to your customers.
The simplest way to help your customers is to know more about who their customers are. While your customers may need your services, remember that they only what them to attain their goals. Their ultimate goal is to succeed. There is more to the definition of success than money. You need to discover the dimensions of success your customers care about. By keeping their goals in mind, you will realize that there are other ways besides your services that you can help your customers.
The most profitable business comes from repeat business from good customers. If you’ll work on the five aspects of sales covered here, you’ll be more successful in building that valuable repeat business.