One Person’s Perspective Is Just That

In complex sales, getting one person’s perspective is just that. And how well does that one buyer’s perspective usually reflect the whole story?

Over the years, I’ve spent a great deal of time both observing and coaching professional salespeople in the field.  I marvel at how often salespeople, even those that are good, solid performers take the word of a single buying contact as gospel.  In other words, they seek only one person’s perspective, and they don’t bother to seek others’.

As a professional salesperson myself, I understand that it is a lot easier and certainly more efficient to go to one source of information rather than going to many sources.  Validating the intelligence that one can gather and confirming the whole truth takes time.  It also has a clear payoff.  Yet many salespeople still won’t take the time to seek more than one buying contact’s perspective.

Is it because of laziness? Is it fear? Is it just a lack of awareness that causes people to accept one (buyer’s) version of the truth?

Maybe it’s some or all of the above.  I am really not sure.  Rather than try to determine with certainty the reason behind this single-buyer-perspective syndrome, let’s look at the effects.  Following are the top ten things that happen when you get one (and only one) person’s perspective throughout a buying cycle:

  1. Poor assumptions about the buying process.  Assuming that one person really has the authority and the capability to make a buying decision without validation, input, or approval from others is deadly.  Very few companies allow their people to buy that way any more.  There’s too much risk.
  2. Positioning the wrong capabilities or emphasizing things about your capabilities that the customer won’t ultimately value.  If you only know what one person in an organization values, how can you demonstrate value to anyone else?
  3. Wasted time.  Chasing down information, writing proposals, revising proposals, making offers…it all takes a lot of time.  If you have to do it several times over because you didn’t anticipate that others would be interested in weighing in on what you propose, then you’ve wasted a great deal of time.

    Why would you take this guy's word for it?
    Why would you take this guy’s word for it?
    (Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net.)
  4. Skipping some really important conversations with key players in the customer’s organization.
  5. You lose or… Heaven forbid… you win but set your solution up for failure.  Depending on just one buyer’s perspective creates a great deal of risk that your solution will not address the needs and outcomes that others desire.  Prepare for frustration and disappointment if you lose.  Prepare for dissatisfied customers if you win.  Either way, it’s not good.
  6. Wasted resources.  See #3.  You’re probably wasting others’ time and valuable resources in addition to yours.
  7. Selling to the wrong person.  See #6 and #3.  If you’re selling to the wrong person, it probably means you’re not really in a buying cycle at all.  You’re just making friends, which is nice, but it is not what you are paid to do as a professional seller.
  8. Selling not once but several times.  Back to the drawing board!  You didn’t bother to get Sally’s perspective, so it’s time to sell to her now.
  9. Getting blind-sided.  Is there anything worse than finding out that someone else’s perspective mattered more than the person on whom you were focused?  One feels really dumb when that happens.  Getting blind-sided sucks.
  10. Surrendering control over the buying process… to  someone who may not have your best interests in mind.  Some buyers like the attention of salespeople.  In fact, they’ll take it all day long, as it makes them feel important.  So hand over the reins to that one buyer who’ll be happy to give you his perspective on everything but not bore you with anyone else’s perspective.  He’ll take care of you in the end.  Right?

With that top ten list behind us, the question I pose to you is, “Why would you take one buyer’s word for it ever again?”

No, really.  Why would you?

Comments and feedback are welcome, as always.  Please feel free to share on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook, or forward this post along to others who might enjoy the discussion.  I love new friends.  I will be back soon with another post and with a really exciting announcement about USR and our new Total Customer Strategy offering.  Stay tuned!

Buyer Behavior Has Changed Yet Again

They just changed the game on us again.

“Who?” you might ask (especially if you haven’t read the title of this post).  Buyers, that’s who.  They’ve changed the game on us again, changing their behavior just to drive us professional sales people crazy.  I hate it when they do that.  

Which aspect of buyer behavior has changed specifically?  Buyers’ expectations of value are now even higher, and they appear to want results faster than ever before.  Sellers, who were already hard-pressed to meet buyer expectations, are finding themselves playing catch up and trying to close even larger value gaps than they had to just a few years ago.

Let’s go back in time for a moment.  Remember in the 90s, when “return on investment” became a widely used phrase in conversations between buyers and sellers?  That was twenty years ago, by the way.  “ROI” made its way into corporate marketing decks and sales pitches, and any buyer worth their salt would include a question about ROI in their Requests for Proposals to sellers.  Buying decisions were influenced by sellers’ ability to answer the ROI question effectively, and a great deal of practice time was spent on perfecting the answer to the question, “What will our Return On Investment be if we hire you?”

ROI calculators became all the rage, and sales teams spent a lot of practice time on directly addressing or dodging the ROI question when it was inevitably asked.  Two decades have past, and sales organizations are still refining their answers to the “return” question.  The fact is that Return On Investment (and some of its lesser known cousins, Return On Time or On Effort or On Resources) is still an important consideration for buyers, but what buyers mean by “return on investment” has changed…and therefore, so has the game.

It used to be that buyers would allow for a solution to be delivered and for some time to pass before they expected to see Return.  Now, the culture of immediate gratification that has gained hold in the 21st century seems to have changed that.  Buyers expect return on their investment almost immediately, regardless of how long it might actually take to produce actual return from that particular investment.  The fact that it may not be possible to generate real, verifiable return in short order does not seem to matter.

IS THIS BEHAVIOR IRRATIONAL? YES, AT LEAST SOMEWHAT.

But it’s buyer behavior, so we need to address it.

Though the ROI wave made it challenging for sellers to justify the price of their solutions back a decade or two ago, sellers still had the option of helping buyers to define (or redefine, as the case may have been) what “return” actually meant.  Highly effective sellers would focus buyers on “leading indicators” of success versus actual or lagging measures, and for the most part, buyers accepted those leading indicators, particularly in environments where ultimate return itself would be difficult to measure.  Their was a détente of sorts between buyer and seller that sounded something like, “You show me how I can give evidence of immediate return to my boss, and I will go along with these ‘leading indicators’ you’re shoveling at me.”  And everyone was happy.

Fast forward to 2012, and that “leading indicators” (stuff) doesn’t fly as fast or far as it once did.  Instead, buyers are asking sellers for ways to mitigate the risk of not getting a return.  They say things like, “I want to know how much of this risk you are going to bear,” and they expect sellers to have an answer.  The seller or company that isn’t willing to share risk with its customers is going to have a more and more difficult time forging new relationships with buyers.  If you can’t give your customer a quick-reward, little or no risk proposition today, they’re not likely to buy from you.

The topic for today’s post is just another illustration of how the bar for professional sellers continues to be raised.  Either we plan and practice to get over the new bar, or we fall short.  When buyer behavior changes, we have to adapt to it.

What are you doing to show your prospects and customers that you understand what it takes to get real return on their investment?  How are you demonstrating your willingness to share in some of their risks?

Post your ideas here, or send them to me directly.  The best response will receive a signed copy of my new book, whenever I get around to publishing it!

Best of luck and continued success!

 

Politics vs. Sales: A Primer

On a few occasions during the current Presidential debate season, politicians have demonstrated that they have no idea what “salesmanship” really means.

In fact, they’ve been using the word “salesman” derisively, applying to it the same meaning as the word “lying” at several points in the debates.  I’ve chosen to write about this potentially sensitive topic this week because I think it’s time to explain to those in the political world that professional salesmanship has absolutely nothing to do with lying.  NOTHING.  Nowadays, if a salesperson were to get caught in a lie while trying to persuade a client to buy, then he or she might as well pack up the bag and go home.  Buyers won’t tolerate lying…not even for a minute.

What would a bureaucrat or someone who gets paid to play in the political arena know about that?  NOTHING.  They don’t get paid less when they fail to be truthful with their customer.  They don’t pay a significant price when their promises go unkept.

 

WHAT DO POLITICIANS KNOW ABOUT PROFESSIONAL SALES TODAY?  VERY LITTLE, APPARENTLY.

 

Perhaps those in politics need a lesson or two.  A simple primer might get the job done.  What do you think about the following, simple primer on professional selling?  Would politicians see the light if we shared these ideas with them?

1.  Professional selling is about creating insight and guiding buyers to a better path, and it is not about pandering.  To indulge a customer’s weaknesses or to sell them something that you know won’t help them is effectively pandering.  Politicians do it frequently, but for salespeople, pandering to customers leads to very short relationships and smaller transactions.

2.  Professional selling puts the customer’s desired outcome front-and-center, and keeps it there.  Selling does not entail putting a spin** on the crap that you want to sell.  Politicians tend to put their own agenda first, particularly after they’ve been elected, but they will tell constituents that they feel their pain.  Salespeople who want to succeed simply do not have that luxury.  Professional salespeople must have legitimate concern and interest in their customer’s success, and they will fail in the long run if they lose that interest and concern.  ** Note: “Spin” in this context takes the Beltway meaning, another method of lying.  This has nothing to do with the brilliant, research-based, founded-in-reality “SPIN Selling” model conceived by Neil Rackham and the folks at Huthwaite.  Politicians have bastardized what “spin” means, too.  Ugh.                                

3.  Professional salespeople really do have to understand their customer’s environment.  They can’t just say they understand their customers’ environment, like politicians do.  Buyers today will skewer salespeople who don’t understand (or seek to understand) their environment.  There’s no faking it anymore.

If you are reading this blog, you are qualified to comment on this simple primer.  What do you think?  What other lessons should politicians seek to learn from professional salespeople?

Please comment, share this with a colleague or anyone else who would find the discussion interesting, or contact us with your thoughts.  Thank you again for your time and your support!  We really do appreciate it.