You may be familiar with a story about baseball legend Ted Williams, who is still considered by many to have been the best batter the game has ever seen. In the story, a young reporter said to Ted, “Gee Mr. Williams, you’re the best batter in baseball. You must be a great student of hitting.”
As the story goes, Ted replied, “No son, I’m a great student of pitching.”
Similarly, if we hope to excel at selling, then we should do our best to study buying.
The Rain Group recently published some useful data that might help us to better understand the buying process, thus increasing the effectiveness of our selling efforts. Here are some of their findings about what today’s sales professionals can (should!) do to more effectively influence buying decisions, based on a survey of over 500 buyers and sellers across the globe:
- Uncover the full set of buyer needs. Their study indicated that seventy-one percent of buyers said that “a thorough discovery of their concerns, wants, and needs is highly influential in their purchase decisions.” This aligns well with our findings over the past twenty years, which has shown that difficulty in closing sales can frequently be traced back to gaps in the assessment step of the selling process. Rain’s data also indicated that “sales winners demonstrate they understand buyer needs 2.5X more often than second-place finishers.” The article offers some good ideas for improving assessment skills, such as asking more implication or “aspirational” questions, planning questions in advance, and using a checklist. It might also be helpful to recognize that buyers can sometimes impede sellers’ attempts to conduct comprehensive assessments by prematurely asking for pricing or proposals. In too many cases, a sales person who is eager to please agrees to this request and, consequently, is unable to incorporate a compelling value proposition in their “quote” because they don’t really understand the “full set of buyer needs.”
- Show buyers what’s possible. According to the study, sixty-eight percent of buyers said they are “highly influenced by sellers who show them what’s possible or how to solve a problem.” Interestingly, Rain’s study showed the ability to do this was ranked as the #2 top challenge for sellers, as 89% said they found it challenging.
The article suggests one of the best ways to show buyers what’s possible is to walk them through a convincing story. Once again, this aligns precisely with our view, as well-crafted stories represent powerful “social proof,” one of the six universal principles of persuasion or social influence. It’s also important to recognize that if a seller fails to conduct an appropriate assessment as noted above, it is difficult to come up with the “right” story.
- Listen. This may not be a surprise to many, but beware! We have found that a high percentage of people who are poor listeners are unaware that they have a problem – simply stated, they don’t know what they’ve missed. Rain’s study indicated that buyers are highly influenced by sellers who listen to them, and that only 25% of sellers are effective listeners. To improve listening skills, sellers can start by making an intentional effort to talk less! Consider that it is not possible to listen well if we are talking. Planning sales calls in advance in writing can also improve our listening capacity, as it minimizes the common distraction of thinking about what we’ll say next instead of actively listening. Repeating key points back during conversations and sending a confirmation email after-the-fact (either proves we listened well or uncovers disparities before it’s too late!) are also effective actions for sellers.
- Differentiate. Fifty percent of buyers surveyed said a seller’s ability to differentiate from the competition is influential and only 21% of sellers are effective at differentiation. We have consistently found that differentiation must be done on multiple levels. A simple rule-of-thumb for accomplishing this is to “First sell yourself, then sell your organization, and then sell products and services.” Selling one’s self involves developing appropriate levels of trust and mutual respect. Properly positioning the organization and any relevant post-sale support capabilities should be a standard as well. Once the “relationship” is formed there are two important outcomes:
• Buyers tend to be more forthcoming during assessments.
• Buyers are more likely to listen to and buy-in to sales presentations.
Another simple way to stand out is to be well prepared for each and every sales call or conversation. Whenever possible, share a written agenda. Not only will you notice that your interactions will be better, but so too will your customers and prospects.