Assume nothing and you can sell anything
The mind-set of salespeople toward products - their biases against some and for others - is so common that I address it during every sales seminar. I ask, "How many of you have favorite products?" With their best be-kind-to-dumb-animals look, they answer, "We all have favorite products!"
I ask, "Why?" Their answers won't surprise you. "We can genuinely endorse only products we like - those we believe in." "We'd feel dishonest selling something we didn't believe in?" They elaborate, "We like to share our experience. We can tell shoppers that other customers like how the product looks and feels in their homes." "We can speak from experience when we promise that certain floorings will look good for a long-time." Or, "I want my customers to have the best, so I promote products that have given me no problems."
Their answers are right, yet they also wrong! Why? Because they ignore a crucial selling skill.
Salespeople are right to want to be genuine - to promote only what they believe in. I know the feeling. Early on, I had tried to sell life insurance. I couldn't do it - after all, I'd cancelled my life policies because I didn't think it a wise investment of my money. How could I sell insurance if I didn't have any myself?
Before examining what's wrong with their answers, let me emphasize what's right. Long-term success in selling requires that a salesperson believe in his or her products. But belief, alone, is insufficient. It amounts to half of one of the four characteristics of high performance. The other half is that great salespeople can convey their conviction to customers - conviction that the product's value exceeds its cost. They express their conviction with powerful words and obvious passion, and reinforce it with body language.
Customers can feel the conviction either consciously or subconsciously, and that positively shapes the customer's emotions. (Remember the rule: all buying decisions are first emotional and then justified with logic. Someone said, "There are two reasons why someone buys; the one that sounds good and the real reason." Some people even buy what makes no logical sense, because their emotions are so strong.) The customer's positive emotions, even though subconscious, compel them to buy.
Yes, believing in products - having favorite products, if you will - and conveying your belief are the two components of enthusiasm - one of the four essentials of selling. But, just as belief alone doesn't sell, neither does enthusiasm alone. We must balance it with expertise. Salespeople must know the value of every product on the showroom floor.
Without such product-knowledge, enthusiasm for a few products actually works against the salesperson like a doubled-edged sword. Salespeople who favor only a few products sell less than those who can honestly sell anything on the floor to the right customer. In my seminars, I ask, "How many favorite products do you have?' Typically the answer is four or five. It has been my experience that they will sell far less than a colleague who has, say, eight or nine favorites. Favorites sabotage sales.
I recommend that you confer with each of your salespeople, to identify the products they don't prefer. Assure them that every product you carry is there for a reason. Teach them the value and best uses for each product, so the salesperson can enthusiastically and honestly sell them.
Next, teach them how to express their enthusiasm. As they approach a new customer, they must set aside their product-enthusiasm and express their customer-enthusiasm - the privilege of meeting a new customer and helping her. At this point, they should be product-neutral. Their primary job is to discover this customer's needs and find the right product, not to change the customer's need to fit the salesperson's favorite "right" product.
Granted, the Pareto Principle applies: 80 percent of our sales come from 20 percent of our products. But salespeople get in trouble when they assume that their next customer will want to buy only the products in that top 20 percent. What does assuming do? It depresses sales.
Understanding why assuming gets salespeople in trouble is key to teaching them to change their approach. I've observed thousands of salespeople. Those who favor few products tend to ask their customers only a few questions. (The fewer the preferred products, the fewer the questions.) Too soon, they assume they know this customer's needs and start presenting a product.
Their mistake reminds me of a sales-training video we used several years ago. In it, a woman customer carries a hidden video-camera in her purse while shopping several stores. The video shows how unsuspecting salespeople reacted to her needs. As each salesperson approaches her, she shows a sample of an inexpensive carpet. (The sample looked like Texas... a lot of wide open spaces) She tells them, "My friend put this carpet in her home. I really like it. I've just painted my living room and I'm thinking of buying the same carpet." Then she asks, "Is this a very good carpet?" and waits.
In the video, most salespeople responded to her question with an answer, instead of a question. They describe the sample's poor quality, explain it won't serve her needs, and offer her higher quality carpeting. Not one salesperson asked, "Before I can tell you whether this is a good product or not, please tell me what you need. What's the traffic in your living room? Tell me your long-term expectations." The video's lesson is that all salespeople wrongly assumed what the customer wanted. They didn't leave their minds open to the possibility that she wanted or needed something less.
My point: when a salesperson assumes the customer's needs and tells her what she wants, she thinks Wait, he's trying to sell me something. But customers trust salespeople who ask questions ... and then listen. There was a time when great salespeople were great talkers, but today's customers don't trust talkers; they trust listeners. Asking and listening are effective, but regrettably they are underused tools in the salesperson's toolbox.
The lesson learned is that good questions are as important to the customer as they are to the salesperson. Without the questions and the customer's emotional trust in the salesperson, sales drop.
My suggestion is simply this: Make sure your sales staff understands the best use of every product, so they can believe in each product. At the same time, teach them to be product-neutral when they approach a customer. Teach them to enjoy hunting for the customer's needs, and to ask questions until they know that the customer knows her needs, and knows the salesperson knows them. It's about finding a product to fit her need, rather than twisting her need to fit your product!"
Most important: teach them what happens when they assume.