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How Do You Stop A Sales Person From Talking?

by David Brock on March 4th, 2015

Sales people love to talk. They want to talk about their company, their products, how their products and services help solve a customer problems. Turn them on, and they won’t stop, questions don’t deter them.

That’s probably not an inaccurate, but perhaps slightly unfair generalization of sales people.
But try an experiment with your team. Ask them to prepare a prospecting call with a senior executive, giving them the following instructions: You can’t talk about products and services, you can’t take any brochures or catalogs with you, you can’t do a Powerpoint presentation.

Then role play the call.

Once you get past the greetings, too often an awkward silence sets in.

There may be a few questions about the business, maybe some hopeful questions about needs that would enable the sales person to immediately start talking about products.

Maybe to cut the awkward silences, the sales person might ask, “How are things going,” “Sure great weather we’ve been having (unless you are in the US Northeast),” “How’s your golf game.”
But the most uncomfortable conversation, yet the one the customer is most interested in is their business. To be fair, most sales people know just enough questions to ask to be in a position to transition the conversation to be about them, their products and their company.

But to get into a deep conversation about the business, about the challenges, about the priorities, about their dreams or opportunities. To then drill down understanding what these issues really mean. How the issues impact personal and business performance. How the issues impact the perception of customers, how the issues impact positioning in markets and with competition is a huge challenge for sales people.

Then drilling down further in to the customer’s metrics, financial operational performance. Discussing the implications of what’s happening, exploring ideas of how performance and the customer’s numbers might be improved.

All these put too many sales people in a difficult place. They don’t know how to carry on these discussions, they don’t know how to understand what’s going on in the business and the implications on the customer. They struggle to connect the dots to, “How can we help them?”

But these are the conversations that matter most to customers.  These are the conversations customers are hungry to have.  They are struggling with difficult issues, their views of what others are doing, new innovations, disruptions in their industry are limited or far outside their experience base. They are eager to learn and understand.

When you look at this issue, it’s not really the sales person’s fault.  Look at how we train sales people, look at how we introduce products, look at the call scripts we develop.  All of them focus on us, our capabilities, our products, and our solutions.

We don’t train people on our customer’s businesses.  We don’t train people in critical thinking or problem solving.  To us, “problem solving” is suggesting our products when we find a customer that has the right needs or requirements.

I was looking at a client’s plan to introduce a major new product line.  They had lots of collateral, lots of training, lots of marketing programs focusing on the product and how “revolutionary” it was.  They had materials on what it could help the customer do, as long as the customer recognized they had a problem.  But they provided nothing to help the sales person guide the customer to recognizing they might have the problem.

They provided no guidance to  “how do we connect the dots from the organization’s top 3 priorities to where we might be able to help them address those.”  Everything depended on the customer doing that for themselves, recognizing they had a need, then researching the web, ultimately calling on the sales person.

I was doing an account review with an outstanding sales person.  He had done a fantastic job of trying to understand what was really driving his customer’s strategies and priorities.  He’d identified a specific issue that was driving the customer to transform their approach to business.

The challenge was, connecting the dots to how his company’s solutions could help the customer address the issue.  Initially, it wasn’t really obvious.

We had start peeling back the layers this particular strategic priority, brainstorming the impact to the company, brainstorming the impact to the parts of the company this sales person’s solutions could impact.

After a little discussion, we could see a clear and compelling path, both on the impact they could have with on the customer, but also on the discussions he could engage customers, at various levels, about how he could help them address these issues, contributing to the top initiatives of the company.

We don’t really want sales people to stop talking.  But we want them to talk about the things customers care about.  We want them to be able to understand their customers’ businesses.  We want to give them the tools to dissect the businesses, connecting the dots to where and how we can help.

Doing this drives a profound change in the conversations and relationships we have with our customers.  It increases our value, differentiation, and the impact in every conversation.

But we need marketing, product management, sales enablement to help equip the sales person to have those conversations with confidence.  We need to coach and develop sales people as business people who can relate to other business people.

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4 Comments
  1. Martin Schmalenbach permalink

    We don’t want sales people to stop talking.

    We do (at least, I do!) want them to talk less.

    Much less.

    And instead, we (I!) want them, heck, NEED them(!) to start asking some really high quality questions. Not too many. Not too often.

    Oh, and then to listen. REALLY listen, which does NOT mean thinking about the next question or how to talk about product while the client is talking in response to the question the seller just asked.

    What do I mean by ‘high quality’ questions? For me, these are questions that change the mental state of the client contact, for example, by having the client stop dead in their tracks, pause, and then say “You know, I had no idea!” or, “I hadn’t looked at it that way”.

    And then be invited by the client to continue… “tell me more!”

    AND THEN to resist the invitation as an excuse to talk product in a monologue… but to continue to ask great questions about what’s really going on in the client’s business.

    A recent example I coached one of our sales managers on…

    He asked me how he might deal with the demand for a price reduction from a long-standing client. He had a meeting coming up with the VP of engineering, the head of marketing, and 1 or 2 others. I asked the sales manager if anybody from procurement would also be there. He told me no, that the drive for this price reduction was not through procurement.

    I shared with him that in my experience, when non-porcurement folks at a reasonably senior level are engaging suppliers about cost and price reductions, they have a much bigger issue, and it’s got nothing much to do with price/cost.

    And almost everything to do with falling sales revenues and the requirement to maintain profit levels for shareholders.

    So in our coaching we developed the core of a conversation with the clients about value – some insight about our view they had a revenue problem and a profit problem, potentially even a cash flow problem, and that we had plenty of experience in helping clients generate more profitable revenue and manage for cash better. Curiosity would be generated further by suggesting that existing products could be repositioned for higher ASPs, and new markets potentially penetrated. Finally, with this as the basis for the meeting, we suggested their CFO might also find it useful to attend.

    Too often sales people accept the premise of the question or demand from clients, and are only too happy to talk about what they’ve been asked to, especially if it is an easy route to balthering on about products!

    The sales manager in question hasn’t had this meeting yet. He’s a great sales manager, leader and sales person. At the start of the coaching he was really not sure how to tackle things, especially as we’re really no longer in the business of giving much at all in the way of discounts…

    At the end of the coaching he was really pumped, and partly because he now had a great strategy to share with the rest of his team, a way for him & team to no longer be seen as ‘just another PITA sales person’ but truly valuable contributors to the value creation objectives of his clients. That whole conversation with him took less than 10 minutes. And you know, when you truly help a client avoid a very painful period in business, it will be a cold day in hell before they jump to another supplier just because of lower prices…

  2. Dave,

    As usual – spot on commentary that points up a glaring issue in sales training: failure to ask (discover) and listen so that they can build on the issues/values/goals of the customer.

    I love this! … and I won’t be holding my breath waiting for my manager to train me on it. 😀

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