In October 2014 I switched gears and decided to enter into a totally new industry.
This was a risk.
I had no idea about the market, the dynamics, the competition. I reasoned this to me, my circle of influence and also to my new employer, that I am a sales guy and a good sales guys can sell everything.
Does that sound familiar to you?
Maybe you are a sales person yourself and heard you say the same thing. Maybe you hired people from other industries to get fresh blood and thinking into your company and approached this with exactly this mindset.
Looking back on my own experience, I do not sign this statement off as given anymore. Not to say that it is a myth that good sales can sell everything but it is not as a hard fact as we all believed it to be.
The differences in sales
Following the myth sets us all out for disaster. The sales guys that will keep this mindset will fail and the managers that hire with that mindset will be disappointed in 8 out of 10 attempts.
Why is that?
There are differences in sales processes and these processes are not so much determined by what you sell but to whom you sell. I do not want to stress the differences between B2B but B2C too much. There are different settings that you should consider when you are looking at sales.
The most common differentiator is the size of the sale.
A few angles to consider.
Closing a sale of lower value goes relatively fast. The decision making process is short and so are the approval mechanisms. In B2B many buyers can make the decision on their own. In B2C lower value purchase decisions can be made without calling in the budget council at home.
The time of closing a sales increases exponentially with the value of it. You will need to make much more sales calls to get a signed PO from your customer.
Depending on the value of the sales, you will need to use a completely different argumentation about your product or service.
While at a smaller value sale you will convince your customer to purchase from you after you have highlighted all the different brilliant features your product or service has.
On a big sale you will not be successful with this approach.
For a bigger sale, you need to come from a totally different angle. Understanding the situation of the customer, unfolding his wants, asking for his underlying issues and creating a need for your product during the sales call is the mastery of sales.
He is not interested in the features of your product but only in the benefit that he can get from it.
Many non-sales people think that sales are talking all day. They are basically able to talk everybody into buying anything.
Well, there are sales like this out there but the really successful sales people listen more than they talk.
The most powerful tool of any sales person is his question. Also here, the size of the sale makes a huge difference in how you ask and what.
For small sales, you narrow down the need of the customer with closed questions. After you have the answers you present the product, educate him about the features and deal done.
For larger sales however, closed questions won’t bring you anywhere but back to the parking lot without progression on the opportunity.
The higher the value of what you have to sell, the more open questioned you need to go. The first few sales calls (remember that you need much more the more money is involved) are purely fact finding missions. Understanding the customer and his problems will only work with open questions.
This is where a lot of sales struggle. Because to ask really open questions, you need to go there with a real open mind. Don’t have the preposition that you want to land in mind but really listen and understand the customer.
Selling is all about relationship.
So true and so untrue if applied wrongly.
Many companies hire sales people because of their network. Which is logical and understandable but again, the success of it being very much dependent on the size of the sale that you want that person to do.
In lower value sales areas this is fully the case. If the decision is done by single people, relationships are very handy. No cold calling, no flirting in the first place needed. Credibility and trust is already earned.
But what is helpful in lower value sales, can hamper your success in higher value sales.
Too close and too good relationships with the buyer can deteriorate your standing at a customer in total. It could create the impression that the buyer is biased by the relationship with the sales person.
In times where code of conduct is on board agendas, companies are very much into preventing any type of sweethearting.
When to sell
Timing is key in sales and especially the timing when to really sell is crucial. If you pull the trigger on the customer too soon, he may not be ready to being sold anything and your bullet misses the target.
Selling on a smaller scale in terms of value, the timing is right after you have identified what the customer wants. By asking your questions you identify the implied needs of your customer.
Once you are confident that you got that base covered, go for it. Offer your solution with all its benefits and you will be good to get that deal done.
Selling more budget intensive products or services however, does not go that quick.
Identifying the implied needs is also here crucial but unlike with smaller deals, only the first step. Once you got that covered, you go further to solidify the seriousness of the need by asking further question.
To really gage the readiness of the customer to invest a significant amount of money into your solution, probe the value of a solution to his problem. What would solving his issue be worth to him?
Wrapping this up, you define with the customer his explicit need.
Then and only then, it starts being about you and the solution that you bring to the table.
The sales books are full of small acronyms and the most famous one might be “ABC” — always be closing.
Again true, but also to be used with caution on the context.
If you are in an industry where your sales amounts moderate and you have probably one sales call, this applies 100%.
The more you close, the more you sell.
It is just like that. Once you have done your homework, identified the implied need, sensed that your solution satisfied that, you should be medium level aggressive on getting the deal done.
Questions like, „Ms. XSW, we found out that our solution does exactly what you need, when do you want us to deliver?“
Remember, on smaller sales the chance of getting the deal cools proportionally down with the temperature of the chair that you sat on during your sales meeting. When you are out, chances are you wont get it.
This is fundamentally different on larger sales. To be frank, it is 180 degrees different.
The more you close in this environment, the less you sell and the more unhappy your customer will be.
Figure this, in large sales you must be recognized as a trusted partner much more than a sales guy. Consultative selling is on the agenda and would you believe somebody having your advantages in mind if he keeps on banging your head on this contract that he wants you to sign.
As you can see, there are huge differences in how you need to be as a sales person depending on the value of the products that you want to be selling.
To understand this differentiates the good from the failing sales because what makes you successful on one job, can be counterproductive on your next.
Does that mean that you cannot go for a job where you sell airplanes while you have been selling the napkins for the in-flight catering for the longest time?
No, absolutely not. But you need to understand that just because you were the best napkin sales person on earth, that you will not also sell all the planes.
Be aware, that you need to learn new skills, change your mindset and your way of working to make that shift successful.
If you are in the position of hiring sales people, be aware of the differences and mind what product or services you want your sales team to sell.
To have a long term successful hire, check if she can sell your product. Even more importantly, check if she is aware of the differences that sales need to bring to the customers table depending on the size of the deal. Is she willing to learn and adapt to it?
No, you cannot sell everything.