Five Misunderstandings about Serving vs. Selling

In many companies, belt tightening in recent years has resulted in fewer service specialists to assist customers after a sale has been made.

Similarly, many companies have opted to reduce the number of customer service representatives they make available to answer questions for customers. Automated systems, outsourced call centers and long wait times have become the new norm.

What this means for sellers is that the burden of service often falls on their shoulders. Some sellers resent this. Some refuse to follow through on orders, focusing exclusively on making a sale rather than following it through all the way to customer satisfaction. Other sellers overcompensate and find themselves doing all sorts of administrative tasks and service-oriented activities, barely leaving enough time to sell.

The most successful sellers over the long term are those who understand the crossover between serving and selling. They do not get caught up in these five misunderstandings that trip others up.

  1. You really can’t draw a line between service and sales. The lines blur, and every relevant and meaningful service activity increases the likelihood of continued sales. If you don’t serve customers, you won’t retain them.
  2. Service has reasonable limits. You can set boundaries by explaining to your customers what you can and what you cannot do. When you set reasonable expectations on the front end, they won’t be disappointed. And you won’t be swamped by all sorts of time-consuming extras.
  3. Buyers are empowered. What this means is that if you don’t provide a reasonable and clear level of service, your buyers will find someone who does. Make the service you provide a positive point of differentiation, but keep it all in balance.
  4. Meaningful service doesn’t usually require all that much effort or time. If you provide just one action of service, and it is highly relevant and important to your buyer, it will carry you a long way.
  5. If you find that you prefer doing the work related to order fulfillment, troubleshooting, production and other post-sale activities, consider that you may not be well suited to a sales position. That’s okay. Just don’t continue trying to do both jobs, because you won’t be satisfied or successful as you dilute your impact in both.

If you’re not sure what it takes to serve and satisfy your customers, why not ask them? Performing an occasional service check is a best practice. Simply say something like this “now that we’ve been working together for a while, I’d like to get your feedback on what I could be doing differently.” Accept the feedback graciously, take note of what you can change and change it. If your buyer asks you to do more than you are capable of doing, explain that. This way there will be an understanding rather than an unmet expectation that becomes a disappointment.

In essence, good selling is serving. Strike that balance, and your job will become much easier.

Connect 2 Sell Graphic smallThis blog post appears as the CONNECT! Community’s emphasis this month on sharing to connect with others. As a seller, giving and sharing with your buyers creates strong connections that lead to improved sales productivity. For our regular features on connecting with buyers, check out CONNECT! Online Radio for Selling Professionals, read DISCOVER Questions™ Get You Connected or participate in CONNECT2Sell Training programs. Be sure to subscribe to the CONNECT2Sell Blog for weekly tips and techniques that will help you become the one seller buyers actually want to talk to.   

Five Misunderstandings about Teaching as a Part of Selling

With the heightened awareness of and interest in insight selling, it has become popular for sellers to think of themselves as teachers. This is a positive step in the right direction toward genuinely helping buyers and creating value. However, there are some misunderstandings about how and what to teach that can backfire and leave sellers wondering “what went wrong?”

Here are the five biggest misunderstandings I’ve observed when it comes to sellers teaching their buyers something new:

You don’t need to have all the answers. Oftentimes, sellers shy away from teaching because they feel limited by their own range of knowledge. They fear that the buyer may ask a question that stumps them. Or they are concerned about getting in too deep and being exposed for what they don’t know. One of the very best teaching techniques is asking questions and bringing others’ knowledge and gaps in knowledge to the surface. Doing so makes you an indispensable resource to your buyers.

Buyers appreciate sellers who are knowledgeable… But product knowledge alone isn’t sufficient. Sellers most often feel comfortable and confident as subject matter experts in their own products. While it’s true that you should, indeed, know everything possible about the products you sell, don’t stop there. Your buyers expect you to also know about their industry and challenges. They want you to know enough about business and the work they do to offer credible solutions. With that additional knowledge (and some good questions – see #1), you will be able to explain and teach contextually. You won’t be spouting product knowledge in a vacuum. Instead, your teaching will be highly relevant.

You won’t offend someone if you offer to share new information. To the contrary, you will offend buyers if you make assumptions about what they do or do not know already. You’ll alienate buyers if you talk beyond their level of understanding. What’s basic to you (as the subject matter expert about the products you sell) may be mysterious and difficult to understand for your buyers.

You’ll need to customize every lesson. Every individual buyer is different. Each one brings different experiences, comparisons, questions and biases. When you teach your buyers, be sure to tune in to their responses and subtle reactions. Ask questions to probe for understanding and to surface any misunderstandings (which will later lead to objections). Don’t do canned lessons because they are no more effective than canned sales pitches.

Adults learn best when the teaching is interactive. Don’t lecture. Discuss. Ask questions to engage your buyer as a full participant in the instructional conversation. Talk about his or her specific situation and needs so what you are teaching is practical knowledge that can be used immediately (with the purchase of your product, of course). Along the way, let your buyers teach you some things, too, about their businesses and industries. Every single thing you learn is something you can use to teach some other buyer or, at least, to craft great questions for interactive and shared learning.

Aim to be the “guide on the side” instead of the “sage on the stage” when you are teaching something new to your buyers. This approach will build connections and facilitate mutual sharing. It will also help you to advance more sales more quickly.

Connect 2 Sell Graphic smallThis blog post appears as the CONNECT! Community’s emphasis this month on sharing to connect with others. As a seller, giving and sharing with your buyers creates strong connections that lead to improved sales productivity. For our regular features on connecting with buyers, check out CONNECT! Online Radio for Selling Professionals, read DISCOVER Questions™ Get You Connected or participate in CONNECT2Sell Training programs. Be sure to subscribe to the CONNECT2Sell Blog for weekly tips and techniques that will help you become the one seller buyers actually want to talk to.   

Five Misunderstandings about Storytelling for Selling

You’ve heard, by now, the importance of telling stories to persuade buyers and from quick connections with them. Unfortunately, many sellers have missed out on reaping the benefits of storytelling by misunderstanding what the stories they tell should be about and/or how to tell an effective story.

Here are the five biggest misunderstandings I’ve observed when it comes to selling with storytelling.

  1.  It isn’t your story that needs to be told. Think of yourself as the hero, not as the main character. The main character is either the buyer you are talking to or one that is so similar that the buyer can readily identify with him or her. As the hero, you will enter into the story only briefly as the conduit for change. Think of all those childhood stories you read – the hero doesn’t really save the princess so much as he coaxes out her full potential. That’s your role in the story.
  2. Stories start with Once Upon a Time and end with Happily Ever After. You can’t tell an incomplete story and expect your buyers to fill in the blanks. Be careful not to start in the middle and not to end there either. Sales stories need to include the background information about the main character and the problem he or she is experiencing. The story needs to include a before-and-after narrative with clear transitions and a positive change. Then, building up to the close, the story should paint that picture of a happy ending.
  3. To captivate others, your storytelling needs to be descriptive. Not flowery, but authentic and vivid so it brings to life the change you are prescribing. Don’t really on adjectives so much as action verbs so what you are describing are actions that the main character, your buyer, will take in order to reach that state of Happily Ever After.
  4. The measure of a good story isn’t its length. In fact, more people will readily listen to a short story than to a novel. Padding your story with extraneous details and verbose descriptions isn’t necessary. Just stick to the most compelling aspects and include enough of them to tell the whole story.
  5. You can’t tell the same story over and over again without losing oomph. Your stories should be fresh and relevant every time. Canned stories bore people and make you seem unoriginal. You may have a general framework for a story you retell, but don’t over-script it and take all the spontaneity and personalization out of it. By making the story unique to every buyer, the story will become a glue that connects you to this buyer. Good stories are like shared experiences.

Review the stories you’ve been telling. Strip out as much as possible that starts with “I” and “My” or any other self-focused emphasis. Weave yourself into the buyer’s story instead of trying to make the buyer an add-on to your story. At the same time, be sure you are sharing enough of yourself to illustrate that you will be an integral part of living Happily Ever After.

Connect 2 Sell Graphic smallThis blog post appears as the CONNECT! Community’s emphasis this month on sharing to connect with others. As a seller, giving and sharing with your buyers creates strong connections that lead to improved sales productivity. For our regular features on connecting with buyers, check out CONNECT! Online Radio for Selling Professionals, read DISCOVER Questions™ Get You Connected or participate in CONNECT2Sell Training programs. Be sure to subscribe to the CONNECT2Sell Blog for weekly tips and techniques that will help you become the one seller buyers actually want to talk to.   

Five Ways Asking Questions Leads to Connections

Because we customize all our People First Productivity Solutions sales training workshops, we routinely survey participants prior to training. This gives participants a voice in shaping the focus and content of their training.

By asking a series of questions, we learn a great deal about the sales culture, practices and strengths of a team. We also learn about gaps and perceived limitations for each seller. This is all intentional, and the surveys are written to mine for this kind of information.

Surprisingly, there’s something more that comes from every survey we do. We didn’t set out to make this happen. It just did. People responded warmly, openly and with gratitude. Our training engagement levels, feedback scores, rate of skills application and number of social media followers all began to skyrocket. Training participants connected with us.

Perhaps we shouldn’t have been surprised. After all, asking questions also yields these same benefits. It just hadn’t dawned on us that survey questions would have the same impact.

Quality questions always foster connections for these five reasons:

Quality questions demonstrate an interest in the person you are talking with. Sellers who talk about their own products and services inadvertently demonstrate that their only interest in the other person is whether or not they will buy. Sellers who talk about generic value or assumed benefits demonstrate that their interest is merely casual, perhaps even lazy. Real, genuine interest prompts us to explore what the other person is thinking and what matters most to them.

Quality questions build trust. We trust people who ask us questions and openly accept our opinions and input. We remain skeptical about those who proceed without checking in with us or checking on their own assumptions. Questions build trust by building mutual understanding.

Quality questions give you common ground and a foundation for a relationship. Only the shallowest of connections are facilitated by our online research about the buyers we call on. While you might be able to open a conversation on a common interest, cause or affiliation, you can’t construct a strong foundation on that common ground without questions. Questions personalize the connection and reveal deeper and more meaningful links.

Quality questions invite sharing and an open exchange. Questions promote sharing. Your questions signal your genuine interest and give permission for others to share. When they’ve shared with you, they’ll be more open and ready to what you have to share. Questions get the party started.

Quality questions stimulate thought and insights. As a seller, you don’t need to know all the answers. Insight selling doesn’t mean that all the insights are your own. Instead, you discover and co-create new insights in a rich dialogue with your buyer. When you ask thought-provoking questions, you bring information to the surface. That’s what leads to new insights and ideas.

All five of these connections come from asking QUALITY questions. So what’s a quality question? It’s one that comes from genuine interest in the other party and yields rich information in return. You can read more about our research on questions and how they help build buyer/seller connections in our bestselling book DISCOVER Questions® Get You Connected.

Connect 2 Sell Graphic smallThis blog post appears as the CONNECT! Community’s emphasis this month on connecting with others. As a seller, continual focus on strengthening connections with buyers and others is an essential ingredient of success. For our regular features on connecting with buyers, check out CONNECT! Online Radio for Selling Professionals, read DISCOVER Questions™ Get You Connected or participate in CONNECT2Sell Training programs. Be sure to subscribe to the CONNECT2Sell Blog for weekly tips and techniques that will help you become the one seller buyers actually want to talk to.   

In Sales, Don’t Fake It ‘Til You Make It

The notion that you should “fake it ‘til you make it” will damage your credibility with buyers.

Buyers know when you’re faking it, and they don’t give you bonus points for trying. Instead, because there is already a trust gap between sellers and buyers, they shut down if they sense you are inauthentic, uninformed, or poorly prepared.

You won’t fool them by faking it. Nor will you feel good about the work that you are doing. The worst stereotypes about sellers come from this notion that we should fake it ‘til we make it, and it’s time to put a stop to that ineffective practice.

 

Although some sellers try to “fake it ‘til they make it” in all parts of the sales cycle, I’ve recently been observing this in two distinct areas – cold calling and pitching.

Here are three ways sellers derail their own prospecting efforts by attempting to fake their way into a meeting:

-          They grasp at straws to find even the slightest hint of a connection, often using a tool like LinkedIn to latch onto something – anything – that provides common ground. True story: one seller recently opened a phone call with me by saying “You’re on the radio, right? Well, I’ve listened to radio programs before. So I thought we ought to talk about the office automation tool that is rated #1 by…”
-          They claim they’ve been referred by someone. Name dropping is only useful when there is an actual referral involved. It’s also a risky business. One seller recently name dropped about a business owner’s former partner, only to get an earful about the ugly lawsuit about the dissolution of the partnership.

 

-          They pretend they returning a phone call or following up when, in fact, this is the very first contact made. I had a chance to toy with a seller who tried this last month, putting him on the spot to tell me who he spoke to here, when and about what. His hemming and hawing was a credibility-killer.
The “fake it ‘til you make it” strategy also fails when it comes to providing value. Many sellers offer a pretense of value rather than providing actual value that is meaningful to the buyer. Here are some signs that you might inadvertently be doing this:

  • The value proposition you use is generic, and you use it over and over again.
  • You refer to “value” because you think it’s a buzzword that will help you make the sale. Your intent is all about making the sale, and it is not about finding, creating or delivering value to your prospect.
  • You are confusing price with value. You discount prices and call that value.
  • You don’t know much about the people you’re calling on, their needs or their current priorities. You may even think that taking time to learn about individuals will be a nuisance for you.
  •   You rely on your products and your company to provide value and added value. You leave it up to marketing to build value into your sales pitch.

If you fake it ‘til you make it, you’re not going to make it.

Instead, work to be authentic. Start by developing a mindset that is founded in an intent to truly create value for each and every individual buyer. Doing this will make more difference in your selling effectiveness then any artificial or trumped up approach you can take. Don’t be lazy, don’t fake it, and don’t ignore the impact of being a seller who truly focuses on the customer.

When you bring value, you will make sales. But you can never do that until you stop faking it.

Connect 2 Sell Graphic smallThis blog post appears as the CONNECT! Community’s emphasis this month on connecting with others. As a seller, continual focus on strengthening connections with buyers and others is an essential ingredient of success. For our regular features on connecting with buyers, check out CONNECT! Online Radio for Selling Professionals, read DISCOVER Questions™ Get You Connected or participate in CONNECT2Sell Training programs. Be sure to subscribe to the CONNECT2Sell Blog for weekly tips and techniques that will help you become the one seller buyers actually want to talk to.

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