Trust Tip Video: The Single Biggest Sin in Sales
A lot of things can go wrong in sales – and often do. But there’s probably one thing that stands over all the other as the Ur-error of selling. This particular error is baked so deep into our behavior that you might call it the “original sin” of selling.
In this week’s Trust Tip video, I examine what that error is, and why it’s such an egregious mistake. Fortunately, the solution is not that hard – as long as you remember to use it.
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One of the biigest negatives given to us by the 5000 CEOs and Vice Presidents we talked to in my work , was that sales people told them how to run their company with really understanding what was going on. Salespeople obviously cannot understand the company like those who work there. So the initial objective is to gather information. But make sure you’ve done every bit to research that is in the publice domain. If you don’t you run the risk of stepping on the second landmine in meeting CEOs. They don’t like salespeople asking dumb questions – those are the questions you should know the answer to before you meet, those questions that can be answered by reading the press, researching on the web and even asking people who work for the company – you’ll be surprised how often employees will help you if they know you have a meeting coming up with the CEO!
BTW the third thing CEOs didn’t appreciate was, don’t tell me what my problems are – you really don’t understand what my job is like for me and what my real prob
ems are today.
Wow, great stuff. Don’t be ignorant, don’t ask dumb questions, and don’t tell me what my problems are.
Can you say a bit more about the 5,000 CEO and VP study you reference? I think that’s hugely powerful data, and would love the readers here to know a little more about the context.
And thanks for pointing out the consistency!
I was working for BT between 1992 and 2002. Between 1998 and 2002 I was called the ‘Killer Apps Manager’ for BT – a role that had me partly responsible for bringing the 40 internet products BT had at that time to the top FTSE 1500 companies in the UK. This had to be Board Level work in collaboration with BT’s 700+ sales people managing those accounts. By 1999, along with a friend from a previous company we developed what was called “The Riding the Revolution” programme – a title dreamt up by Robert Heller, a leading business author in the UK who worked as a guest speaker when the sessions became a series of management conference events.
We were focused on what the new internet technologies were going to do to the way business processes would change and the threats and opportunities Boards needed to be aware of. I spoke at countless business seminars and conferences which then enabled the account managers to follow up on all the issues, questions and sales opportunities generated.
During those four years I ran 24 workshops for complete Boards’ of Directors, hundreds of face to face meetings and speaking at conferences at least once a week. We calculated at one stage that I had been in front of 5000+ Directors (that would be VPs and CEO’s in the USA) of the top 1500 companies listed in the FTSE.
What came though clearly after two years was that building up the relationship through these workshops. Meetings and conferences, was more important than all the technologies we were offering up. They wanted someone they trusted to show them the way through the threats and opportunities – not a set of technologies answering a problem they had yet to define because they didn’t have the information to make any rational decisions.
This new understanding of what Directors wanted threw us into a flurry of activity, training the 700+ salesforce in how to develop the conversation with their Director level contacts – Relationship Development, or as we called it “Changing contacts into Contracts” (There had to be a sales slant in the title because this was the salesforce we were training.)
In developing the sales programme we then went back to the initial Director clients we had developed and asked them HOW they would like sales people to approach them, WHAT would a first meeting be like, and HOW they wanted to develop the follow-through after that meeting. It wasn’t a very scientific methodology because we needed a fast result that could be delivered as a sales course. But nothing like this had ever been done in BT before – so any research and subsequent training would be new. It was going to be very different to the, “Get in there, present the marketing PowerPoint script, close early, and get the money rolling in.” Directors told us they violently hated this approach – but it is still inflicted on them by so many vendors who are running their own sales agenda and believe in macho sales activity.
The three pet hates came from us talking to those Directors. I don’t think anyone had ever asked them these questions and we had to work hard to get through, “I HATE salespeople calling on me. I usually end up making decisions, despite the sales person, not because of them.”
Our new approach was based on a very short initial meeting lasting 5 minutes or less to ask if they were open to developing a discussion around new technologies. Followed by a second meeting where the focus was on gaining a deep understanding of the key issues and problems the company or individual directors faced. No products were talked about – just active listening and questions without giving them the ‘third degree’. It was a talk between ‘equals’ no an inquisition. The third meeting might be a presentation of the progress and potential answers to the issues – still not a sales presentation but a forum for more discussion, more searching for the right solutions. After this third meeting we were into a process that was more familiar to conventional sales people; develop a proposal, discuss, tune the proposal, decisions and contract. Then roll out the project
We ended up in 2001 with a programme just like yours Charles. Relationship first, trust based discussions and talks, focus on gathering information to enable understanding, match technologies and applications and test the match with the clients’ problems, move to agreements and contracts. We even had a book launch in 2000 . The book was a handout and theme for salespeople to set up initial meetings and get clients to see the approach was not a standard technology pitch they were used to, but a real attempt to get close to them and come up with the right answers to some of their problems. It’s still out there and called “Riding the Revolution” and details all the threats and opportunities we saw with what was then the new technology on the block – The Internet.
Wow. Brilliant. Spectacular!
What a great set of learnings!
Thank you Chris! (to be continued)