Doing The Deal Or Solving The Problem
I wrote Solving Our Customers’ Problems several days ago. My friend Martin Schmalenbach, of Microchip Technology, wrote a long comment about his real world experiences as a customer of sales training and sales enablement solutions. The comment provided such a vivid description of the customer perspective and his reactions to several very different approaches to earning his business.
I asked Martin’s permission to publish his story here:
We’ve just completed another sales boot camp here at Microchip – 64 Field folk from all over the world, here at our corporate HQ for 2 weeks of an experience (rather than training) – and no focus on products and brochures and so on – that comes later.
“We’ve just completed another sales boot camp here at Microchip – 64 Field folk from all over the world, here at our corporate HQ for 2 weeks of an experience (rather than training) – and no focus on products and brochures and so on – that comes later.
“The huge ‘ah-ha!’ that these folk take away is that we are truly focused on helping the customer out with solving problems and/or exploiting opportunities. It’s not enough to paper over your real intentions with nicely crafted pitches and elevator speeches etc if you are fundamentally, in your heart as well as your mind, not utterly focused on helping the client out. When that light bulb switches on, you see a real change in that sales person – gone is the trepidation about having a touch conversation with the client about pricing or the usual thing we get hit for – replaced by a strong desire, almost an impatience, to create those tough conversations with clients because THAT is where the client will get the most learning & insights about their situation and clarity on the path to take going forward – which COULD include staying on the path they are currently on. A successful conversation doesn’t have to always end up with us getting an order in the end, but it DOES have to end up with the client getting some true value from the time they spent in discussion with us.
“I get a LOT of emails from people trying to sell me sales enablement and training. I also get on average 507 emails a week (yes, I actually counted & averaged it!), many from internal colleagues, but many from people trying to tell me stuff. They have a lot of work to do to catch my attention! I’m sure for every sales person out there it is the same challenge.
“I have recently had 3 conversations with sales people from some truly excellent organizations. Two we do business with today, and another we will likely do business with in the next 6-12 months.
“What has really caught my attention is the contrast in approaches. In two cases the sales person has pointed out how other clients have really benefited in hard $ terms from adopting some of what they have to offer. In the third, the sales person there was utterly focused on helping me deal with some immediate challenges, which when addressed, will create a real large scale need for his company’s offering, and which we are already using on a limited but big scale. He wasn’t interested at the time in closing a PO, although the start of the conversation had been as a result of looking to sell us more of what we already had. Every conversation I have with him is time well spent, because it is utterly about helping me & my company get to where we need to go.
“The other 2 sales people have made good cases for why other people buy their offering. The problem is, we’re not ‘other people’. We don’t have quite the same issues and challenges, and we aren’t quite so caring about the metrics they cite. Yes, they are having a conversation with me about adding value to what we do, but their conversation plans are clearly rooted in getting me to award the PO soon, because it will soon be end of month/quarter etc. They are focused on how their offering will help me tackle my challenges. And it will, but I have other challenges to overcome before we can be ready to do anything else, with them or other potential partners. And this is what the 3rd sales person realized, I suspect instinctively. He is ALL about helping us, and me in particular, get to where I need. Now his offering is priced the same as a competitor’s offering, to the penny – not down to me saying ‘meet the price of competitor X’. But with the value he is bringing, and the authenticity behind it, I would pay him 2x!
“It’s only when I saw truly an example of a sales person utterly focused on helping me out rather than a veiled approach to get me to buy so they can make their quarter etc, that I could compare and contrast properly. I think most sales people aren’t aware of this, or don’t buy in to it, and so they are doomed to forever look, sound and be like everybody else out there. And with 507 emails a week I don’t have time to sift through their same-old-same old to see why I should even respond to them, let alone spend 30 minutes talking with them. I wonder if truly the sales person’s biggest problem is his/her own self?!”
Martin provides powerful reinforcement to the ideas that the greatest value we can create is helping our customers solve their problems.
With respect to Martin’s final question, “Is the sales person’s biggest problem his/her own self?” I think it is a combination of the mindset of each sales person and how each individual views their role in helping their customers, as well as the leadership, coaching and direction of sales management. However problem solving focused a sales person might be, if management doesn’t see the value of this approach in building strong relationships and growing business, then even the most customer focused sales person will have to do what their managers expect.
The tone, coaching, training, direction, reinforcement and personal examples set by sales leaders is critical to driving the behaviors of sales people.
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