This past summer it became obvious that it was time to replace 13 rotting windows in my house. Four companies came out to assess my situation and submit a quote. All the sales representatives knew their products well. All presented me with a final quotation and brochure before leaving.
Their estimates ranged from $9,500 to $33,000. Who knew how to evaluate and compare them? I’m not a window engineer. I need to be educated on the nuances of window replacement. I need to be assured that someone actually wanted — and would work hard — for my business. I need to feel good, or at least as good as I can, about spending this kind of money.
I had time on my side, so I ran a little test.
I waited to see who would follow up with an email or call. After four weeks, not one company had reconnected with me. Not one. If a sales rep had taken the initiative, he or she would very likely have influenced my final decision.
This experience spurred me to think again about salesmanship in our industry. I have come to realize and respect that sales represents more art than science, even when dealing with the complex equipment that many of our clients manufacture. We can provide the salesforce software tools that increase accuracy and productivity, but tools alone do not close more business.
Excellent books on super-duper sales technique abound or so I hear. (I’ve yet to have the time to crack one) But I’m not really sure great sales is all that complicated, or at least the core principles seem fairly simple, straightforward and clear. My boiled down version of successful sales techniques are LAFF (I can’t help but create acronyms. My early IBM days still haunt me).:
Listen: What are your customer’s problems and issues? Document them. Repeat them back so your customer can verify or clarify. This step eliminates errors and promotes a more thorough understanding of the application.
▪ Biggest mistake — Doing all the talking.
Advise and Quote: Provide immediate feedback if you can. Be honest, don’t oversell, and refrain from any suggestions if you know you need technical help from your team to refine them. Your customer will respect the fact that you may not come up with instant answers but you demonstrate an ability to tap the right resources to come up with great solutions in the end
▪ Biggest mistake — Acting like you know more than you do.
FOLLOW UP and FOLLOW THROUGH: I have capitalized the above for a reason. I believe this to be the single most important trait I see in successful sales people. Many sales representatives make all kinds of commitments when in sales mode. “I’ll put the brochure in the mail, call you by the end of the week, and email the technical information tomorrow…” Sadly, most of these promises are forgotten by the time the sales rep slips back behind the steering wheel. A relatively small percentage of sales people deliver on all the commitments made during the early sales cycle and many do not adequately follow up after the quote has been submitted.
▪ Biggest Mistake — Forgetting to do what you said you would do. Forgetting to do what you need to do.
Again, technology can remind us to check back with potential customers. It can even be programmed to generate emails or calendar pop-ups to facilitate. But the human factor, the LAFF, is often what separates a proposal from a contract.