A Eureka moment for sales people
I was chatting with an old friend of mine the other day, whose lifetime in sales and thoughts on the subject I hold in high regard, and he said something to me that seemed too good not to share…
This guy has run some massive sales teams and is now involved with a few SMEs where he helps to train sales engineers. Some of you may know him. His name is Harry Kearney. One of the things that I love about Harry is his ability to make complicated stuff seem simple. If there was a Doctorate in practicality Harry would probably have one. Perhaps it’s a Yorkshire trait!
I’ve been helping Harry to find sales engineering trainees for a few years now and we often have a chat about the people he is working with. Harry recently told me that his key measure of development for his trainee sales engineers was when they finally knew what a customer was. Initially I was slightly taken aback by this remark and on the verge of wondering if he was pulling my leg.
Superficially this statement may seem rather insignificant or simplistic however Harry elaborated on what he meant by this by explaining that whatever you were selling there will always be customers for whom your offering is the optimum solution and other customers for whom an alternative product or service would be a better bet.
Harry explained that he could always expect to see a quantum leap in the sales performance of his trainee sales engineers once they had worked out which of his customers would see his product as the optimum offering and which would not.
Firstly, their closing rate would skyrocket and secondly their forecasting accuracy would suddenly improve. Even their targeting of new business would be far better than before. It becomes a virtuous circle.
In Harry’s view knowing who your customers really are is the key moment where a trainee sales engineer experiences a moment of revelation and truly “gets” the job. It is almost a magical overnight transformation. A eureka moment if you like for these trainees. For those who have been in sales for a while it is sometimes interesting to be reminded of lessons past and to revisit the subject through the eyes of the new sales person even if it is just as a reminder of what best practice really is.
The rationale behind this sudden step change in performance for the trainee sales engineer is that a customer for whom your offering is not the optimum offering is inevitably going to continue shopping until they find the alternative and until such time as they sign the deal with the alternative supplier, they will string you along as the next best option using your quote as the benchmark.
So, in this instance (i.e. where your offering is not the optimum option for a prospective customer) you will have a sales person forecasting on an illusory sales pipeline and investing time in chasing up on a quoted job that is never going to close (unless the customer is either daft, desperate, doesn’t care or just runs out of time to explore alternatives).
All the while the sales person is wasting time with a customer who isn’t likely to buy, whilst simultaneously torpedoing their credibility with this customer. I say this because the customer probably already knows or is imminently about to find out that better alternatives to your proposal exist elsewhere.
In Harry’s ideal world the sales engineer should be able to analyse the customer’s purchasing position far better earlier in the piece to ascertain whether the customer is likely to get a better outcome with his offering or with an alternative option.
This is what he defines as knowing what a customer is. Once you truly know what a customer for your business is then there is no more need to produce unnecessary quotes or to make unnecessary site visits let alone compound the problem by including this type of prospect in a sales forecast of any sort.
Harry’s sales people are even encouraged to ask why the customer hasn’t considered the alternatives. In other words, he teaches them to run the duff leads out of their pipeline. There are some other positive payoffs to calling it early. Firstly, the prospect may have a future project for which your offering is the optimum choice and secondly, they may like your honesty enough to refer you to a friend or colleague. Perhaps the main benefit to this approach however is what economists would call “opportunity cost” and what Harry would call “Not mucking about”.
opportunity cost the loss of other alternatives when one alternative is chosen.
In essence, time spent on a duff lead is time you lose which could otherwise have been spent on a real customer. Some sales people call this approach pre-qualification or pre-closing- it’s nothing new but what is remarkable about it is that it marks a watershed moment in the life of a sales person.
People like Harry call it common sense or to quote him more accurately and using the full Yorkshire vernacular;
“It saves a heck of a lot of time and stops any mucking about”.
I couldn’t agree more.