The following is adapted from Beat the Bots by Anita Nielsen.
Demonstrating value is about far more than rattling off a list of ways you’ve helped other customers in the past.
A few years ago, I was coaching Ted, a B2B tech sales representative trying to sell a cloud-computing solution to a new prospect. He had been able to line up an appointment with the right people. I’d be joining him, and we worked together to prep. I stressed the importance of asking questions to discover what the customer really values.
Then, during the meeting, Ted stuck his foot in his mouth by focusing on how he’d helped other customers when he should have focused on how he could help this customer. He made the mistake of not personalizing the value he had to offer.
Understanding Your Customer’s Needs
One of Ted’s colleagues, Tom, consistently and beautifully managed to do everything Ted should have done. Tom was my superstar. He made the time to gracefully ask as many questions as needed to understand his customers’ perspectives. During one of my ride-alongs with him, he said something like this to a prospect:
“First off, I have to say, ‘cloud’ has become a buzzword. It’s almost like it means so many different things that it actually doesn’t mean much of anything. What I’ve learned is that it’s important for me to understand what cloud specifically means to each of my customers. That’s the only way I can help guide them to the best solution. So, would you mind telling me what ‘cloud’ means to you?”
Big, fat gold star for Tom! Up went the floodgates, and the customer kept sharing more and more information that we knew we could spin into gold.
First, Tom was transparent, showing he realized “cloud” had become something of a buzzword at this point. This neutralized any outright skepticism the customer might have had about the overuse of the term. It showed the customer that Tom cared enough to want to understand their viewpoint, which created rapport.
Then, Tom didn’t say anything that made him seem like a know-it-all. He didn’t break into pitch mode. He was telling the customer, “What matters to me is what this means to you,” which is an incredibly powerful strategy. Not only did it give the customer the opportunity to speak — and people love to talk about themselves — but it also gave Tom the right to ask increasingly detailed questions.
Tom listened carefully throughout the meeting and responded in ways that tied directly to what the customer said. He never went into a pitch or a list of features and benefits. This is the first step in personalization, it creates trust and credibility. The customer naturally wanted to work with Tom. In fact, the prospect signed the third-largest deal in Tom’s company’s history, a multi-million-dollar contract with a five-year term. Just think how big Tom’s commission check was.
During that legendary call, Tom got what has become known, a bit snarkily, as “Anita’s gold star” look, one that says, “My baby’s all grown up” and “I’m so proud, I’m about to cry.” One of the “perks” of being an embedded coach is that you start to become a caricature.
Skills to Master
Through years of being on countless initial prospect meetings, I have found that the high performers, the ones I know will outshine the bots, are experts at:
- Making the conversation all about the customer or prospect;
- Using thoughtful, open-ended questions to get customers talking about themselves; and
- Paying close attention to the customer’s every word, so there is no doubt that she knows she is being heard.
Top performers realize it is crucial to their success to understand what value means to each unique customer. They don’t make assumptions based on their company’s product and technology training, or about a customer’s perception of value.
How well you understand what value means to your customer will make or break your deals. Sales is the discovery, creation, and exchange of value, and value is in the eye of the customer.
For more advice on future-proofing your B2B sales career, you can find Beat the Bots on Amazon.
Anita Nielsen is a sales performance consultant with over twenty years of experience in B2B sales and support. As an advocate for salespeople, she is dedicated to coaching and equipping these professionals for success. For her efforts, she was named one of the Top Sales Enablement Consultants of 2018 by Selling Power magazine. With a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s in business administration from the New York Institute of Technology, Anita is uniquely positioned to help salespeople adapt and thrive. Anita lives in Chicagoland with her husband and two teenaged children. Currently, she is trying to survive her children’s adolescent years without going completely grey or succumbing to overwhelming tiger mom urges.