Jeff Valles: Listen to their story; Then write your part
This sales advice is aimed at people who call on and work with principles and gatekeepers of companies.
This is not for the showroom salesperson working with good trade accounts and invested homeowners. We will address that later. OK, let’s go.
“An ideal audience isn’t one that’s available — it’s one that’s receptive.” — Bernadette Jiwa
When you have a sales call with a new account, be it a new distributor, designer or builder, you are there to change their mind. Or as psychologists put it, move them to include your brand story into their brand story.
Never forget, all humans that inhabit this planet listen to and remember stories. All else is either shoved down a person’s throat or ignored.
When you prepare to meet with your new target, always remember they believe their story 100%. Their story includes those who they now partner with, and that does not include your brand...yet.
Your job as a salesperson is to listen to their story and understand how they see their company. You must listen carefully and find your opportunities. If you disagree, fine, but keep it to yourself. Do not directly confront them with your opinion. We all deeply believe our own stories and will turn defensive at a direct confrontation. Your job is to write yourself into that story. Create the dynamic story of how you and your brand will make their story better.
Your goal, by the time you shake their hand, thank them for their time and schedule your next interaction, is that the story has expanded to include your services.
I am so weary of the myopic salesperson that simply starts to talk while tossing products on the table. Look at all the wonderful things we make! Wanna buy some? They have no idea what I am looking for in a partner. Simply spewing products and policies is a waste of both parties’ time. At that point, many people will simply shut down and not hear you at all. Remember, the person you are talking to has to believe in you. You are the brand.
Let’s start over. Ask for their thoughts on your category. Will it grow, how does it perform for them? These types of leading questions help bring your target into the meeting.
Even if they are pressed for time, do the best you can to get a part of that story. If you address them with respect for their story, they just might just find time.
Do your homework. Solid research about the company and the individual before you meet will be a big help. Make sure you know what product line or service provider you are looking to replace. How does your target company do business that is different from all its competition? If you have a history with them, what happened? The more you know the better.
Never forget that their business is doing fine and does not necessarily need your services or products. You are asking them to change and we know change is not easy. In fact, to motivate a person to change, you need to be considerably better than your competition. You have to be so much better than the competition that it is worth their time to understand why the change is important to the company and is worth the time and effort to make it happen.
Even if your line is THE hot line, it is not enough reason for change. Good companies are thinking long-term. Ask them why they think your product is so popular. Share the story of how you made this product and how the brand is working to repeat this success. Share your brand’s future plans. Play the long game of understanding your target and helping them appreciate how hard you will work for them to build a strong future together.
Stories are a powerful tool. Listen first, learn, plan and then rewrite the story with both companies working together to gain a better long-term result.
“The job of a drummer (salesperson) is to make the singer (client) or guitarist (product design team) sound really good. So it’s all about listening, and it’s all about improvising, responding to what’s going on around you.” — Ginger Baker