Friday Afternoon Fall Musings –
Summary: Creating a sincere interest and rapport with customers remains an important sales tool. Being likable leads to new and repeat sales and sets you apart from the crowd.
Used car salespeople have been the butt of many bad jokes. While there was a time when Slick-Willie type individuals would paint over rust, or patch exhaust pipes so they wouldn’t make noise on the lot, or even change the odometer to show less miles than there really were, those days are pretty much behind us. How did so many get conned? Simple: The used car salespeople were the most likable people you could meet that day. Now, one needs to do just a little homework, spend a few bucks on a CarFax, or best of all, get their own mechanic to check it out. Now, before parting with your Benjamins, the odds are in your favor that you won’t be the fool separated from their money, no matter how many times you get a pat on the back or a compliment about your taste in cars, clothes or hair styles.
I mention this because I have always tried to come across as a friendly, affable and a genuinely likable person to all, regardless of their stature. (Note: See genuine rock star buddy in photo). I take genuine interest in my clients, and perspective clients, and look for cues about their hobbies, awards, and achievements they proudly display. I look around the office for a golf trophy or a picture of the client boating a massive Tarpon, or anything I could relate to, in order to strike up a dialogue and build sincere rapport. Even little things like photos of family vacations present an opportunity to find some common ground for conversation, before, during or after the initial sales call. That’s because feeds, speeds, pricing, while important, don’t really make the sale – you do. Let me repeat, this is genuine interest, not gaming the mark. It’s simply being likable.
Has this art been lost? Are today’s sales people so focused on responding to an RFP, where the request is cut and dry, almost sterile, and often very tedious? Here’s some real excerpts from an RFP with over 200 questions:
- Can your application run unmodified on a virtual 64 bit Windows server environment, and maintain 24 X 7 X 365 uptime and bank-grade security?
- Do you have specific examples of where this product was used, and how it saved costs? Please provide details including client name and contact info.
- How long will the implementation process take, and do you accept nominal fees for missing dates? Is your team available after hours to avoid impacting normal workflow, without charging a premium rate?
The list goes on and on, making the process of sales impersonal rather than trying to convince someone face-to-face that you offer a great solution at a fair price, and its the right fit for the problem they want to resolve.
But do not despair. I have found there are unique ways to get closer to the decision making people than you might imagine.
Ask a question or two to start the conversation
So many people feel that they have to complete an RFP like they would a mortgage application. And in some cases, that’s probably true, though odds are an actual human being is going to review the information in your response. To take this process from being in isolation, it pays to ask questions – even ones you already know the answers to. And despite resistance, the goal should be to formulate some measure of interpersonal relationship. Simply put, would you treat a response to an RFP from some unknown party, the way you would from someone you had the opportunity to have even a simple dialogue with? Probably not.
Be better than everyone else by knowing more about people
I may get some heat over this, but I dig deep on social media to learn about the client and people involved in the sales decision. Go ahead, call me a Facebook or LinkedIn stalker. But you can learn a lot about the person(s) involved in the decision making process, and the stressors they may be under. I also spend time on sites like Business Insider and the WSJ to understand how the company is doing.
So to be better than your competition, you need to know your contacts better than they do, and you need to leverage those contacts through your contacts. Look in your circle of business and personal connections to try to find people that can help you get a toe-hold over the competition. Got a friend or contact that is a mutual connection on LinkedIn? Ask for the favor of an introduction. Realize that creating the RFP, or whatever proposal you have, took a lot of time. And by being sincerely interested in learning about helping the person(s) that is responsible for the proposal, and not just closing the deal, you’ve separated yourself from the pack.
You already know you can learn a lot about places people have worked on LinkedIn, their volunteer activities via Facebook, sports they follow, and topics that they contribute to, or merely “like” on LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram. And this data should give you a leg up on your competition. At the same time, the data you might uncover can let you know you are dealing with someone who is not as influential in the decision making process as you have been led to believe. Perhaps they are merely aggregating and collating the responses for the real decision makers. In the end, I believe that in order to win, you need to change the game and reset the rules. And in today’s social media age or information, there are plenty of ways to accomplish this.
Maximize your marketing assets
Often you may think the customer is simply price shopping, or getting the requisite third proposal, and fire off a quick reply. While sometimes true, you should have an ARSENAL of marketing tools in your kitbag that no one else can touch, Testimonials, demos, white papers, awards – these often have no place to be added, so it’s up to you to figure out to how to leverage that information. Simple ideas: Invite the contact to follow you on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and Google+. Include recent articles and collateral that support your message without it sounding like just another sales bullet that everyone else has in their response. Use your tools.
At our company, Legal Vendor Strategies (LVS), one of the first things we do is to create Buyer Personas. We develop imaginary people, give them typical names, and create informed assumptions about everything from their age, marital status, earnings, hobbies, and more. These buyer personas help us think through the eyes of the buyer, and see what their likely personal aspirations are tied to the success (or failure) of the project. It is a CORE marketing tool supporting our commitment to measurable results. And it works!
Leverage your management chain for a joint call
Bring the best company manager/exec available, preferably one with a relevant title, to make that joint call. Even if it’s under the auspices of “we’re making sure our answers are 100% in tune with your needs”. The goal is not a signed order – it’s an opportunity to get to know you and the company you represent. Sure the client may push back, but it is incumbent on you – call it charm, call it sales savvy, call it being clever, but use it to get your food in the door, and firmly establish why you are a strong contender and not just another respondent.
Your best tools are not your ability to do a demo. Your best tools are inside you. They are the things you have learned from years of formal and informal learning whether for a school project, or getting that first date with someone who you thought was out of your league. And if your honest you realize-it’s all marketing!
Understand your client better, to build mutual trust
Do I make it sound easy? I do! Your clients are workers too. They are always looking to improve their costs, and that means that you (and your solution) are constantly at risk of being replaced no matter your role or your suite of selling tools. Clients are bombarded with news about newer, faster, cheaper solutions. Become their trusted advisor. It’s what many buyers want, and smart sales people, equipped with the necessary marketing gear can make it happen. Understand your customer, at a higher level, and build trust you can share.
There are less than 100 selling days left in the year.
Are you going to hope that you are going to make your target, or are you going to leverage your confidence and develop the ability to be as LIKABLE as Brad and Angelina above seem to be? You can do it.
As always, feedback on my post is welcome, and if you found my musing of any value, please like, share and re-tweet.
And, as always, Thank You for reading what I think.