In the ten years plus that I have been working in the field of complex B2B (business to business) sales – first as a salesman, and now for more than 10 years as a Sales & Marketing manager, I have observed many different strategies, techniques and tools applied to selling and I’ve noticed that there is a marked difference in the results these various approaches create.
Looking back, knowing what I know now, I can see that I have also been using different strategies, techniques and tools over the years myself. In this article I will give you some of my most important findings.
Basically, what I have found is that you can have different basic focuses as a salesperson and/or as a sales manager. The parameters I have chosen to focus on in this article are the following:
- Selling to customers/Helping customers to buy
- Problems (what’s currently not working)/Solutions (what’s currently working)
I am sure you could find a lot more parameters, and in my experience as a Sales and Marketing manager I have found these very useful as basic filters in coaching my salespeople and working with customers in getting the job done.
In the following article you will see how I define these parameters in relations to working in sales and marketing giving you a sense of why I believe these are useful. Having the right focus is important but not enough. Later in this article I will explain why using NEW NLP made it possible for me to get true value in working with these parameters.
Product / Customers
Even though this is not a new finding, since the whole of the sales and marketing literature has been discussing the importance of moving from being “product oriented” to be more “customer oriented”, it seems to be a natural tendency for most people towards moving back to being “product oriented”.
The reason for this, even though most marketing people of today have been trained to be “customer oriented,” is that too few people actually spend enough time and effort understanding the customer – and perhaps most of them in reality don’t even have the skill set to gather the right information from the customers, leaving them with little or nothing to work with.
On the other hand it is much easier for most sales and marketing people to gather a lot of information about their own company and their own products making it attractive to start here even though their time and effort often will be wasted. This phenomenon accounts for the people who have been in an industry or in a company for many years, and in my experience it accounts even more for new people, who tend to seek security in knowledge about their company and their products – instead of starting by truly and deeply seeking to understand their customer’s situation and needs.
I have seen many new salespeople getting caught up in the “Knowledge Trap” – the more they seem to learn about the products the more they realize they don’t know since there is an infinite amount of knowledge about and an infinite amount of potential questions a customer can be asked. The time they use trying to learn “everything” to make them feel more secure, they are not using to meeting their customers to get the “real” understanding regarding what product information is really needed. Having realized this I have basically changed the way we train new people. Today they simply start by visiting customers and then as a consequence of the questions from these specific customers they can start learning about the products. But, from the perspective of what is important for the customers right now.
Then a question pops up! How do you know what your customers really want? As opposed to what they ask because they feel that they should have some questions. It’s now that the communication tools from the NEW NLP model prove to be very useful.
Some years back I found my self in a situation of tough competition. At that time I was active in selling starch products for the food industry and one of my big accounts had recently appointed at new purchasing manager who was eager to prove that he could get the best price. After a few weeks of negotiation I arranged a meeting with him announcing that I was bringing my final offer, which would be valid during our meeting only. So basically I invited him to accept that he could accept my offer or reject it. The meeting started of with some small talk, but relatively fast we moved on to the topic of the meeting – The Final Offer. And it went on like this:
Him: So what´s you final offer?
Me: DKK 2,95 pr kilo
Him: Nonverbal – with his eyes – Yes
Me: Thank you for the order
Him: Nonverbal – A little confusion and then a smile
Verbal – Thanks for you price.
If I had not had the sensory acuity and utilized it I am not sure that I would have gotten the order. Basically what I am saying is that you need to be able to utilize the first feedback from the costumer before they start to talk. All the words are of course nice to have to check the congruity of the costumer.
When you have integrated this understanding you will be in a good position to move on to next point.
Selling to customers / Helping customers to buy
When I talk about this point most people seem to think they are the same things and that I am just labeling them in two different ways. But, when I ask them if they have ever had the experience of being sold to and also the experience of buying – then I ask them to recall these situations, and they always admit that the experience is different. Most people like to buy things and they hate being sold to. You can say that from an observer’s position it is the same process; products move from person A to person B, and money moves from person B to person A. Still it is important to understand that it is two radically different processes and if you want to build positive long-term relationship with your customers helping them to buy will, in my experience, be the most effective and efficient process.
Then the question arises – how do I most effectively help the customer to buy?
Problems / what’s working
Basically you can motivate people in two ways – you can use the carrot or the stick. Speaking of sales this means that you have the choice of helping the customers to get rid of a problem or help the customers find a solution to get to where they want to go. Again from one point of view you could argue that these are the same, but if you take just a few minutes to think it over you will realize that the way you approach the sale will have a massive impact on the interaction and the overall experience you will create for your customers.
If you are starting from the “problem” you basically have to convince the customer to do things a different way, and in my experience this will often put the customer in a uncomfortable state, since most people will experience that this means that they have done something wrong in the past when they took the decisions leading them to where they are now – and very few people have enough self confidence to simply to accept this. Is not that this approach does not work, but you have to be aware that you are anchoring the customers problems and bad states to yourself and the company you are representing. What makes this even more counter-productive is that it will often happen outside the awareness of the salesperson and therefore no one is in a position to repair the customer’s perception of your company and your services.
In the companies where I have been working it has always been very expensive to win new customers and much more cost effective to maintain and develop long-term business relationships. Having a focus on what’s working for the client has been a very powerful and productive way of approaching the people with whom my staff and I wanted to develop and have a long-term relationship. The most effective way to obtain this though time has been to start the interaction with the customers by focusing on what is already working for them, since this focus supports the customer in being in a open minded state – where he is motivated and able to listen to and understand what you have to offer him in relation to were he wants to move.
My experience has also been that people who are in an open/positive state tend to focus on possibilities and what they want. When you are there when they have this experience they will anchor this state of mind to you and the products and/or services which you represent.
Content / Process
I have found it extremely useful to train myself and my salespeople to understand that our job as salespeople is to help our customers to run a “buying process,” as opposed to only providing product/service information.
I have often found that new and inexperienced sales people believe that if they can just provide the right information then the customers will buy from them. Sometime a sale can happen this way, but in my experience these are the situations where the customer has already made their buying decision and just need the last details before they can place the actual order. Or the opposite can happen – they are collecting information to support the decision to buy from the competitor.
My best salespeople understand that the information about our products and services are only to be used when and if it supports the buying process of the clients. On top of that they always track for evidence telling them where the customers are in their buying process. This gives them the information they need to know what to do next. Basically they are always asking themselves:
- Where are we now?
- Where would we like to be?
- What can make this happen?
And they understand that sometimes giving information is what can make the sale happen and sometimes they need to do something else. Having this mindset in place releases them from the pressure of “needing to give all the right information” and helps them to focus on the buying process of the customer.
What does NEW NLP™ bring to this?
There are three headlines describing what I have gotten from using the NEW NLP model in my sales work. These are: Well-Formed Outcomes, Sensory Acuity and Personal Flexibility
There is no single “right” focus in relation to these four parameters:
- Product / Customers
- Selling / Help the customers to buy
- Content / Process
- Problems / What’s working
It’s about having the right focus in relation to the outcome you want to achieve, and this is one of the things that NEW NLP models have taught us.
To be able to do what I have described in this article, you need to be able to get the right information. At first this sound simple and easy. But in my experience the NEW NLP model has given us a significant tool to make this a conscious process instead of only being based on an undefined gut feeling of the sales person.
The NEW NLP Model has brought some easy to understand and applicable tools to the market, which have given us a language to describe what is actually going on with the customer, telling us exactly where he is in his buying process.
Personal Behavioral Flexibility
It not sufficient to know where you are going and where you are – you also need to be able to adjust your behavior accordingly. Here I have also found the NEW NLP model brilliant, as it provides elegant descriptions of the complex patterns of human behavior in a simple and direct way that makes them learnable for normal salespeople. Learning about and having access to these patterns gives these salespeople more choices with regard to their personal behavioral flexibility.
I hope this short article has inspired you to improve your sales tactics for the future. For me it has been amazing how big the effect that even a small adjustment in these areas of focus have brought me.