Are You Talking Your Way Out of a Sale?

This article was first published in Entrepreneur.com

What’s the best way to answer the question, “So, tell us a little bit about your company?”

If you’re like most salespeople, you view this as a sincere invitation to rattle off all those key points you’ve rehearsed, all those selling points and value propositions you’ve developed, tweaked and improved with each pitch.

But when customers ask that question, they are not, in fact, all that interested in hearing about you. It’s not that they’re lying to you, their intentions are good. The problem is they never went to buying school, and frankly they just don’t know what else to ask you.

Unfortunately, they use the words “tell us about yourself”—and we hear it literally. They’re not interested in your story—they want to hear about their story. This is often the fork in the road that can send you down the path of literally talking your way out of the sale.

How Do You Make Your Story Their Story?

First, if the client asks you to tell them about yourself, you shouldn’t embarrass them by refusing to do so. But you can quickly turn the conversation back to them. And once they start talking about themselves you have an opening to weave your story lines into theirs.

You may recognize this as a form of samples selling. Product salespeople know it well—instead of talking about the product’s features, give the customer a sample. If you’re selling cars, offer a test drive, if you’re selling ice cream, hand out little wooden spoons.

The way you do samples selling in complex, intangible services is to actively engage the client in a discussion about their situation. Now, in the context of their situation, you can demonstrate your capabilities in a meaningful and relevant way.

You don’t want to be a name-dropper or a show off (that’s just annoying), but if you’re having a serious conversation with the customer you’ll easily find places to say things like:

  1. “Ah yes, that’s just what Intel did in a similar situation,”
  2. “So, doesn’t that leave you with just choice a and choice b?
  3. “Most of the time, that ratio is less than half, isn’t it?”
  4. “The majority of my clients choose to do X rather than Y; which way did you go on that issue?”
  5. “Have you ever thought of outsourcing that process?”

Think of selling this way as showing, not telling. You are actively engaged in showing the customer how you fit into their story—and you’re helping them tell that story going forward.

Let your competitors sell by telling their story. It won’t work very well because the only story the clients are interested in is their own. You be the one to work your way into their story. Work your way into their story—don’t talk your way out of it a sale.

Why Should We Buy from You? Good Question!

This article was first published in Customer Collective

You know the scenario. You’ve worked to get the first meeting set up, and you’ve finally got it. It may or not be a full-blown pitch, but you know there’s going to be one question at the heart of the meeting. You may or may not hear the question phrased precisely this way, but it’s implicit:

“So—let’s cut to the chase; why should we buy from you?”

You have a strong feeling that the way you answer this one question is going to be crucial to your success. And you’re probably right.

What’s Behind that Question

The actual body language of the client may vary, but the emotion implied by the question pretty much translates as:

“All right, Ms. or Mr. Hotshot, it’s put up or shut time. You’re on the line. Do something to impress me; let me see what you’ve got. I’m just going to stand here with my arms crossed and watch you perform. And, it goes without saying—you’d better be good.”

It is, in other words, about as high pressure as it gets.

But if we can stop the fear for just a moment, we can ask what’s behind the client’s setting up of this little drama.

Often there’s a bit of a power game going on; the client is not-so-subtly telling you who’s in charge here, who’s got the decision-making power and who ultimately calls the shots.

But the client also has his or her own fears. They sense that in this one area, you have more expertise than they do; you know much more about the pricing than they do; and that they don’t even have a good idea of how they’ll make the decision. Those are good grounds for feeling fearful—and for perhaps wanting to even-up the balance of fear.

Additionally, the client generally doesn’t really know what else to ask (unless they are a professional purchasing agent). By saying “tell us about yourself,” they are trying to sound definitive, while internally just hoping you’ll say something that makes a great deal of sense to them, that will make their decision easier.

They also hope that by phrasing a question this way, they’ll get the ‘best case’ for each firm they talk to, thus making comparisons easier for them.

And finally, in one sense they actually do mean what they’re saying. They’d love it if you really could convincingly explain to them why they should buy from you—it’d make things easier, and give them a script for the uncomfortable job of telling others why they didn’t get chosen.

There’s a lot of psychology going on here, and your answer needs to deal with all of it. Fortunately, there’s a very good answer that does just that.

Your Answer Must Respond to Several Questions

Given all that’s behind the question, the ideal answer should do the following:

  • set the client at ease
  • make them feel they asked a great question
  • answer their question in a direct and literal way
  • give them a comfortable road forward.

So here’s a generic form of the ideal answer to, “Tell us why we should buy from you?”

“Gosh, I’d love to tell you why you should buy from us, but of course the truth is, we’ve just met. It would be arrogant of me to start telling you at this point what you should do before we know more about each other.

“I don’t want to be evasive, however, so let me suggest this. I can tell you right now the main two reasons our customers have chosen to buy from us. And, I can tell you two reasons why some people who chose not to buy from us made that decision.

“That should help a little. But to answer the question for you—the only answer that matters—I’d suggest we talk about your issues. We’re happy to take the lead—we see three key issues for you and will be glad to say what we suspect about them—but it should be a dialogue between us about how we each see those issues and what we know about them.

“And on the basis of that discussion, I think we’ll both know pretty well within 30 minutes whether you should, or shouldn’t, buy from us. It’ll probably be as clear to us as it is to you. And by the way, if it looks like you shouldn’t buy from us, we’ll be right there with you, because the last thing we want is to get involved in something that isn’t right for us.

“So, what do you say? Let’s talk about those three issues, shall we?

That answer sets them at ease, compliments their question, provides direct and literal responses, and offers clear next steps. And It has one added virtue: it’s the truth.