What Prospects Are Saying About Your Selling Skills
According toIDC’s 2010 Customer Experience Surveyof 213 senior level buyers, most people are not as effective selling one-on-one as they think they are.
This comes in stark contrast to the perception of most business owners, consultants and sales professionals who tend to adopt the attitude of“get me in front of a prospect and I’ll close the deal.”
According to behavioral psychologist John Crandall, this overly optimistic assessment of sales skills comes from the fact that for many people, the only face-to-face selling they engage in is with friendly prospects who are referred directly to them.
Crandall explains, “Although referrals are terrific, they can give one a false sense of prowess regarding their ability to sell. What I call ‘friendly referrals’ will usually be extremely polite and seldom brush off or overtly dismiss the sales presentation from a person who got into their office as a result of relationship with someone they respect and trust.”
“Thus, the meetings tend to be very pleasant and the business owner or consultant is left with the distinct feeling that a business relationship is likely to happen. Unfortunately, in the majority of cases that doesn’t occur, although the consultant will hold onto the ‘positive belief’ that a deal is imminent for months or sometimes even years.”
According to the IDC survey, 64% of the key decision makers found sales presentations to be extremely ineffective. A chief culprit? According to Eduardo Conrado, SVP & CMO, enterprise mobility solutions at Motorola Inc., “Doing a straight product pitch without relating it to the specific needs that I have.”
Crandall concurs. “It’s amazing to me that although anyone selling for any extended period of time knows about advanced preparation, and communicating benefits rather than facts and features, so few people actually do this when they are in a live selling situation.There is a huge disconnect between what people intellectually know they should do, and what they actually are doing.”
So what’s the solution? What should business owners and consultants do differently when they are in front of a prospect?
Dr. Crandall says, “The reality is that most consultants and entrepreneurs just don’t get that many times at bat. That’s a huge disadvantage because face-to-face persuasion is a skill that gets better the more you do it. However, when one relies on referrals or cold calling as your primary means for getting meetings, you’re just not going to have a lot of opportunities. This is, to a certain extent, a game of numbers,so you need to first fix the process by which you get opportunities to meet.”
But what about when you’re in the meeting, what can make people more effective in that situation? Motorola’s Contrado has one specific suggestion.
“If they talk about case studies and how they have helped companies with similar challenges-that kind of approach gets my brain going about how they can help me.”
In other words, it’s the stories you tell.
Dr. Crandall cautions, “Stories, case studies, call them what you will, are undoubtedly the most effective method for getting your prospect to visualize the benefits that a company can provide. But again there’s a disconnect.Most people think they are much more effective raconteurs than they are in fact.There’s a huge difference between telling a story in a bar to your buddy, and imperceptibly weaving an effective story into a sales presentation.”
“That requires planning, forethought and practice. Unfortunately very few people seem to be willing to take the time to actually develop a series of stories in advance that they can then draw upon when they are needed.”
Mark Wilson, VP at Sybase Inc. concurs, “The most effective sales presentations are those in which the person has a number of case studies and they pick them intelligently for companies that face the same problems as us.”
What struck me about this article, and the comments of Dr. Crandall, was this disconnect between what we understand intellectually and what we do in action. As anyone knows who has sold anything, the face-to-face selling situation is accompanied with a fair amount of tension. What this means is that unless your case studies and stories are developed and rehearsed in advance, it’s most likely that you’ll either fail to use them in the meeting, or that what is communicated doesn’t represent your best effort.
And that’s a shame. Especially if you don’t get a lot of “times at bat”.