Renowned sales expert Neil Rackham wrote what many still consider to be the definitive guide to sales, SPIN Selling. First published in 1988, this book was the “sales bible” for two decades.
But the author now acknowledges that the original edition of the book is out of date. Many of the techniques it taught no longer work today! Instead, Rackham now says that sales people must become value creators.
What is value? Value is the information, insights, and actions a sales rep brings to the customer/prospect that they can’t find or achieve on their own. The 21st century customer demands value at every step of the relationship.
All sales strategies and processes should be targeted to this fundamental change.
Today’s customer doesn’t want to deal with run-of-the-mill sales reps. Today’s customer wants to buy from someone he/she trusts and views as a valued advisor. Therefore, the responsibility of the sales rep is to focus on how they can add value from the very first sales call.
Valued advisor reps develop a sales process that delivers value at each step of the customer’s buying process. The steps vary, naturally, but there are a few specific things that these reps never fail to achieve.
How valued advisor reps do it
Here are seven essential habits of sales reps whose customers see them as valued advisors:
- They create an agenda for every sales meeting. The best ones even distribute printed copies at the start. This signals that they’ve done their homework and have a clear plan, which lets a buyer know they are not going to waste his time. Knowing that they value his time makes the customer anticipate receiving more value moving forward.
- They ask the customer what they want to get from the sales meeting. One of the first items on their agenda is asking the key question: “What do you want to accomplish during this meeting?” Or, “What will make this meeting successful for you?” This demonstrates that the sales rep’s focus is on the customer’s needs and desires rather than on his/her own interest in making a sale.
- They do their research. These sales reps show up for sales calls with a strong knowledge of the company gained from reading the prospect’s annual reports, press announcements, LinkedIn page, website, and anything else that can be found online. They may have reached out to a banker who calls on the company, or one of the company’s suppliers to glean more specific information from folks who have an established relationship with them. These sales reps have also talked with others in the industry to identify key market issues affecting that company and the industry as a whole.
One wholesale food distributor told me they check the dumpster of their restaurant to see what supplier names are on the product packaging before they talk with the chef or owner. “We know who supplies their chicken, vegetables, and even paper products before we even have a conversation.”
- They ask the right questions. All the advance research valued sales reps do arms them with the knowledge they need to ask more than the typical “get to know you” questions mediocre sales reps start out with. Valued reps know enough to speak the customer’s language and ask relevant questions that focus on the customer’s problems and goals. Relevant questions related to revenue, expenses, and risk, key initiatives and where are the gaps in solving their problems or achieving goals.
- They are able to educate the buyer. Valued reps are aware of specific areas that could be improved and have effectively helped other companies in these areas. They have developed the communication skills to engage prospects in an informative conversation, without lecturing or purely giving their opinion. The rep can share specific examples, stories, or metrics in how the offering can potentially impact company goals.
- They speak the customer’s language. Valued reps know who all the buyers are and how to relate to them. They understand each one’s particular concerns or issues and know how to facilitate a discussion that leads to a viable solution that will have a positive impact on revenue, expenses, or risk.
- They follow up in a timely manner. After every sales meeting, the valued rep sends a meeting summary to all participants recapping their current business issues, problems, the proposed solutions, and the potential next steps. This shows the buyers that they listened well and they care about the customer and his/her needs. If the rep promised during the meeting to send other resources or information, they send it within the timeframe they established with the customer, demonstrating that they are trustworthy professionals who do what they say they will.
Valued reps do a number of other things, too – sending handwritten thank you notes, helping prospects expand their network by introducing them to someone they’d like to connect with, etc. But all the other things they do won’t mean anything if they don’t have these six essential habits under their belt. Customers who view your reps as valued advisors are loyal, repeat buyers who will become raving fans.