Sales Challenges: How to Play Sales Detective
Welcome to CSI Print Sales. We’re a small micro-unit of the big city crime-solvers who investigate wrongs and make them right. Today, we will do a forensic study on a sales subject that frequently causes the death of an order: “Your price is too high!” My name is Detective Farquharson. I carry a badge. Oops. Sorry, wrong generation.
<<dung-dung>> There, that’s better.
Now then, let’s take a look at the case. The victim is a print sales rep of medium build and moderate experience. The claim is that customers only buy on price. Seems he’s been running into this situation for a while, but finally got fed up and has filed a complaint. His boss, the sales manager, contacted us. Let’s review the victim’s statement:
“I typically mind my own business and try to do my job. As a print salesperson, naturally, I seek out purveyors of printed products and try to convince them to buy my goods and services.
“But things typically go like this: Late last week, a prospect requested a price on a piece in three different quantities. Pretty standard stuff. I reviewed the specifications of the job and handed it over to estimating. Some time later, I was given a number, reviewed it with my boss, and sent it on to the customer. After multiple attempts to get back in touch (where DO these people disappear to?), I finally got through and learned that my price was too high. Again.
The Price Quote Is Never Good Enough
“This has to be the fifth time I’ve approached this prospect for a chance to bid on something. He occasionally obliges but, then when I provide a number, it’s never good enough. This guy only buys on price. Every time we go up against the incumbent vendor, we lose. And he’s not alone, either.
“This is a repeat pattern that represents the bulk of my attempts to obtain new business at any account. Price, price, price. That’s all I hear. It’s a crime - and it’s killing me. I demand justice!”
This is a classic case of the Pied Piper Sales Technique if ever I’ve seen one, only the Piper (sales rep) in this case is not aware that he is the one actually causing it all to happen. The rep leads the buyer down a path and the buyer follows. Every time.
It’s unfortunate, to be sure, but the only crime here is the sales rep doesn’t make the connection between his sales approach and the outcome. I mean, imagine if it was late at night and someone deliberately strolls into the darkness of an alley only to find a gang of ruffians waiting with clubs and sticks. What do you suppose the outcome will be? If the guy on the stroll was a print salesperson and the gang a bunch of print buyers, you’d have the same outcome: a price mugging.
Sure as the Pied Piper led the rats out of town, the sales rep has the power to lead prospects to where he wants them to go depending on the “tune” he plays. Ask for the chance to provide a quote and you are merrily headed into the alley, one where danger awaits. But take a different approach and you can expect a different outcome.
View Sales' Role Through A Different Lens
Let’s start from the beginning. In the victim’s statement, he declares his job to be that of a print salesperson. In his own words, he seeks out purveyors of printed products and tries to convince them to buy his goods and services. This is his first mistake. What if he saw his job differently?
What if instead of seeking to understand a buyer’s print needs, he made it his job to understand a customer’s business challenges and then seek solutions using those goods and services in his arsenal? Rather than think, “My job is to sell print,” what if he considered his job to be, “We help our customers to find their customers?”
Looking at the world through this lens completely changes his perspective, conversations he’s going to have, and perhaps even the person he’ll be speaking with. Such an approach can only end better for him, since he’ll be discussing ideas and not prices.
See, the Pied Piper knew a thing or two about leading. He’d get that instrument blaring and people took notice. The sound was literally music to their ears and he was able to create the outcome he desired simply by giving people what they wanted.
The same is true in sales. Play a tune about price and that’s where the client will head. But play one about helping the client to succeed and you’ll have a different result.
So, let’s change the tune. One of my associates, Detective Covey, is fond of saying, “Begin with the end in mind.” In this case, that means engaging in a different conversation.
Imagine if a customer called and said, “I need your help. I am trying to grow my revenue and would like to discuss any ideas you might have for making that happen.” Great start, you’d think. But chances are good that whatever business that caller is in, it’s not one where you’ve had any experience personally. So, it’s not as if you can say things like, “Well, when I was the VP of marketing for a bank, here’s how I did it ...”
That’s OK. You don’t need to know the answers. What you do need to know are the questions to ask. Doing that will get you into the desired conversation. This will require heeding a lesson from Detective Carnegie, who once said, “You can get what you want when you figure out what the other guy wants and help him to get it.” Nice guy, Dale. He was always winning friends and influencing people.
Client Pain Point: More Sales Growth
So then, what does the customer want? While businesses face a lot of different problems and challenges, the common denominator is sales growth. Help the client achieve that and you get to sell your print. But how? Everyone wants to grow and - other than through M&A deals - there are only three ways to accomplish that goal:
- Get more customers;
- Sell more to existing clients;
- Enter into new markets.
If everyone wants one of those three things and our Pied Piper salesperson needs his tune to change, it’s clear that the path to sales success is to engage in a conversation regarding their plans surrounding these three revenue-generators.
Here’s where you get to play Detective. Ask open-ended questions like: Who’s your target market? What’s your differentiator? Can you describe your ideal client? How do people find you now? Do you know? Would you like to know?
The answer to each of these questions will lead to other questions and, soon, a symphony of music follows. Soon you find yourself not talking about price until after the new solution has been approved and they need something to put on the purchase order.