Author: Michael Taplin
Years ago in Australia I worked as a consultant trainer for a great trouble-shooter to sort out the underperforming Australian end of a major consumer electronics marketing operation. I worked with them for three years, twice a year, traveling the country, 4 states, doing their sales training.
The first trip was easy, basic techniques stuff, and it is still being taught today. What should I do second, and third and fourth time around? The things I discovered will probably work for you today.
Trick 1: Get the customer to tell you what he wants from you.
I decided to ask a customer. I rang the best consumer goods retailer in Australia; this guy is a living legend.
“How many sales reps deal with you professionally?”
“None! I’ve never met one.” was the blunt answer.
“Would you invest an hour telling a group of sales reps how they should do business with you?”
“Yes.” was his immediate answer and I visited him to set it up.
In due course he arrived and was ushered into my training room. The trainees were impressed and slightly terrified about having to meet, and listen to the great man.
He spent an hour berating them about all the mistakes sales reps make and I’m sure the list has not changed. A small sample:
- Treating him like a consumer..
- Total product feature focus – we’ve got an x and a y and a z and its great.
- No understanding of the most basic question; “How does this guy make a buck out of selling my product?”
- No interest in my business.
- No idea how I set up a product range, and the position of his brand in my retail strategy.
He spent the second hour telling them how to sell to him. It was the easiest sales training session I ever “ran”.
They were a sorry, bedraggled, miserable lot when he finished, so he gave them a consolation prize in the form of the biggest single order that office had ever received. Beer all round that afternoon? You bet.
The strategy was still working two years later. So if you are selling to retailers, try it. It’s free, and customers can’t resist the chance to tell sales reps what they are getting wrong.
You can do this yourself, and I suggest you should. It’s a great way to build customer relationships. I bet you will get an increase in sales. You may need to adapt the approach to your business.
If you are a retailer, why not get a disgruntled customer to come in and tell your people what went wrong, and what the customer really wanted. You may need to give them a gift, but if you consider the extra sales you will make, that’s cheap training.
In a hospitality business, you can get the customers on your side by giving them an opportunity to explain to your staff how they feel when they are confronted by a can’t do system or attitude.
Trick 2: A day in the field is worth three behind the desk.
The easy way to find out what your sales people really need to learn is to spend a day in the field with them.
When I did it I would make sure that I was introduced as the new boy, new to the business and just learning to find my way around. I would say very little, only hello and goodbye. I would listen and watch and make my mental notes.
The hardest part was to resist taking over and making the sale myself.
When we left for the next call, I would ask the salesperson the “why” questions.
- When she said that, what was she really looking for? What did you say? Why? What happened next?
- Why did he say no?
- This kerb-side conference worked best when I teased out the things that could have been done differently or better.
A day in the field gave me renewed insight into the behaviour of sales people, their doubts, fears and blindness to opportunity and customers’ buying signals. I had enough material to work on for two or three days of real training. And my credibility rose because it was all real, their world, and I could do it, not just teach it.
The bonus was that the discipline of listening showed me what the customers really wanted.
Trick 3 Self-image counts
If you work with a sales team for an extended period, you will see that a salesperson’s self image is reflected in their personal presentation. As their personal presentation improve so will their results.
I mentored a talented salesman over a period of two years. At the start, he was really rough uncut diamond. Slightly scruffy, shoes not polished, jacket and slacks, tie not well tied and slightly out of date. His speech was sloppy, with excessive use of jargon, and poor question asking skills. He was too matey with some customers, and ill at ease with others. He looked as unprofessional as he behaved. But he could sell.
Gradually I saw his appearance change. He invested in a good suit with ties and shoes to match. He had regular haircuts. He changed his speech dropping the slang words. As the self-image he projected improved, his customers treated him with greater respect. They sought his opinion and responded to his suggestions. His sales improved. He worked hard to understand their business and made suggestions as to how they could range his product to achieve higher profits.
The last time I saw him he looked good, sounded great and was stepping up the sales management ladder really quickly. It was not about sales skills; he had those. It was all about self image and self confidence.
The moral of this story is that anything you can do to build a person’s self confidence will pay off in sales.
Here’s hoping you find these ideas useful, and can work out a way of putting them into practice in your business.
About the Author
Michael Taplin shares the lessons from his lifetime apprenticeship learning about other people’s businesses as a salesman, sales manager, consultant and sales trainer. He combines the art and the science of sales management in his newsletter series at http://www.bizlearn.biz where you can subscribe free of charge, or print out your selection to share with your staff. Bizlearn also offers guidance on Sales KPIs and performance models that help to improve sales profitability and forecasting.