February 2, 2010

Buyer-Focused Selling

By Gerhard Gschwandtner

Last year 500 Xerox office product dealers had the opportunity to send some 1,500 salespeople to Leesburg, Virginia to receive a very special kind of sales training that resulted in unprecedented sales results. After an intense five day program, many course participants showed sales increases exceeding 66 percent. Larry Domonkos, the originator of this unique course, agreed to share his groundbreaking concepts for a highly effective and universally applicable selling system.

How to Break the Habit of “Feature-Dumping”

“When dealer salespeople first come to us they say, ‘Teach us how to close, show us how to sell around price, give us some ammunition to handle objections,’ yet when I go out with them on calls, I find that their real problems are quite different. They may open a call with, ‘Hi, I am Mary Smith and I would to talk to you about your office productivity problems. We find the Xerox Memorywriter provides a wonderful solution. If I can have a few minutes of your time, I will show you what these new machines can do…’ and then they continue dumping feature after feature onto the prospect. That approach only invites prospect objections; it creates unnecessary tension and makes closing very difficult, if not impossible. We have found that if the sales process is product focused, selling is very hard, but if the sales process is buyer focused, selling becomes fairly easy.”

In the training course, Domonkos and his sales trainers begin with a simple premise: “Think of a successful salesperson that you highly respect. What characteristics would describe such a person?” Typical answers are: sincere, honest, knowledgeable, the ability to put the client at ease, etc. Then the trainer asks, “What are these salespeople doing to get the client to feel this way?” Most course participants mention the ability to ask the right questions and to listen patiently to the client’s problems.

Questions Bring the Customer into Focus

“Research in selling has shown that asking questions is a lot more effective than giving information; but how do you get this inside a salesperson’s head? We have created a little exercise where we ask them to team up with another salesperson and make a six-minute presentation which is recorded on an audio cassette. Then we ask them to play back the recording, add up the number of questions they asked and compute the number of times they made statements about the product. The nice thing about this exercise is it puts a smile on everyone’s face, and everybody’s looking a little sheepish. Typically, they make thirty statements and ask about ten questions, that’s a ratio of three statements for each question. After this exercise, many salespeople tend to agree that it is worthwhile to ask more questions before presenting solutions.”

Larry Domonkos relishes the next exercise. It involves a seemingly casual conversation about how we all shop for an automobile. He asks, “What was your old car like? What difficulties were you having with it? What were you looking for in a new car? What criteria did you use for shopping? What other cars did you look at? What buying procedure did you follow?” At the end of these questions, Domonkos filters out six very distinct stages that buyers move through before any purchase: 1) unaware, 2) aware (of need), 3)considering, 4) denoting preference, 5) shopping. 6) evaluating-buying. He then asks, “if a buyer moves through these stages, wouldn’t it make sense to focus your selling activity on these steps? Why not help the buyer complete each step with fewer hassles and greater confidence?” Thus buyer focused selling is introduced.

Walking In Step With The Customer

“We feel that we can teach best with action exercises. We developed a role-play scenario that involves a law office. Our typical dealer salesperson is asked to begin the call with a casual fact-finding conversation. The objective is to move the buyer’s attention from stage one to stage two, from unaware to being aware. Typically they would ask, “What type of documents do you produce in this office?” In response you may hear, “We do a lot of multi-page letters.” “Well, what type equipment do you use?” Another question might be, “Could you tell me about a typical day?” At this point we are just going to school to learn about one specific area of the customer’s business. Remember, we are not talking about problems and we are not talking about our products. The next step for the buyer to become aware of a need requires the sales representative to identify and magnify. In the identify stage, we want to pick up on some of the areas that would merit improvement. We’d typically ask, “You told me that you are producing a lot of multi-page documents, what kind of concerns do you have about the way you are processing them?” We don’t like to mention the word ‘problem’ – that’s too harsh – we’d rather talk about concerns, barriers, difficulties or limitations. Once the customer shares concerns with us like “Yeah, sometimes we’ve got to make revisions in those documents…” then we move on to magnify these concerns, like “‘What are the consequences of these revisions? Is appearance important? Does this mean overtime?’ We want to know the consequences, the impact, the repercussions, the ramifications of these concerns. In a sense, we’re operating like a surgeon. We have to expose the hurt and look at it through a magnifying glass before we begin our treatment.”

After the salesperson has identified and magnified all customer concerns, the next step for the sales rep is to get the customer to reconfirm the salesperson’s understanding like, “So what you are telling me is that your present equipment is not set up for quick revisions and as a result, you are spending quite a bit of money on overtime. Is there anything else that we haven’t touched on?” The Xerox dealer salesperson is then instructed to complete the agree step which will confirm if the buyer wants to do anything about the situation. This step starts with a trial close like, “Do you think it would be worthwhile to try and resolve some of these concerns?” At this point, it is important not to move too quickly into the product presentation. Like a good poker player, a good salesperson has to exercise patience to make the opponent feel that he has the winning hand.

The Power of Influence

“The next step for the sales rep is called the influence step which is designed to help the customer verbalize his preference of features, products, manufacturers or source to obtain the product. In other words, we review the possible solutions to the customer’s concerns. “I’ve got a good idea of your concerns. However, there are still many products you could choose from. To get the right fit, let’s just check which way you think we should be going. For instance, you mentioned the tedious job of retyping, so when you shop for a piece of equipment, you want to be sure that the information can be stored, so that you don’t have to retype it.” In other words, you are assisting the customer instead of telling.

“Your job is to expand the customer’s understanding of the available alternatives. Instead of pushing the customer into a predetermined solution, you are offering the customer a clear road map to arrive at the best solution to the specific situation. This way your customer can objectively compare products, features and sources of supply which will ultimately lead to the purchase.

“With this list of criteria at hand, we ask the customer to prioritize the items on the list. ‘I am starting to get a good picture here. Tell me, looking at this list, what would be the most important point? What would be number two?’ After we have established priorities, we use another trial close like, “Do you think that this list represents a reasonable approach for dealing with the concerns we’ve talked about?” Remember, up until this point, we have not shown any product literature. We haven’t talked about what we sell, we’ve developed a composite sketch of the ideal product and asked the customer, “Is this what you are looking for?” The beauty of this approach is that by this time, we’ve increased the customer’s curiosity to the point that he or she is eager to examine the range of solutions.”

The next stop for the salesperson is called the recommend step.

This will help the buyer through the shopping process. This step is nothing but the conventional feature/advantage/benefit presentation with a slight twist. The salesperson uses the customer’s previously drafted list of preferences and presents the product features in the same order. Like “With this 6020 Memorywriter from Xerox you can store the documents you type as you can see on this display. You can edit information and make changes quickly and easily. As a result, you will be able to minimize your overtime expenses which is what you said was important to you.” Remember the salesperson’s presentation plan is limited by the customer’s preference list, therefore talking beyond the close is virtually impossible.

Closing the Sale

“Our closing step is very simple.” Larry Domonkos explains. “First, we summarize the benefits and confirm the customer’s understanding: like, ‘Mr. Smith, let’s just step back and review for a moment. You can see that with the Xerox 6020 Memorywriter, you are going to get ease of operation, you will reduce the time you spend on revisions and you will have our same day service guarantee with this machine.’ Then we simply say, ‘Mr. Smith, I’d like to do business with you today.’ I know that many salespeople would rather continue to talk benefits; however, nothing happens until the sale is closed. This little sentence is far more productive than anything else we’ve tested. It works.”

The Fine Art of Follow-Up

A Xerox dealer salesperson does not stop the sale with the close. The final step is to prevent buyer’s remorse. After the order has been signed, the sales rep follows up with something like, “Mrs. Jones, I want to congratulate you on a very wise decision. I am confident that you’re going to be more than satisfied with the solution we’ve worked up today, and I’ll look forward to working with you in the future. Thank you for the opportunity to be of service to you.” In essence, the entire sales plan is designed to make every sales call objection proof. Graduates of the training course report that price problems virtually vanish, sales calls become shorter and referral sales more frequent. As Larry Domonkos says, “After the course, the most sales experienced salespeople sing the praises more than anyone else.” To them, selling has become easier, their confidence has increased and so has their income. Since many graduates report sales increases of well over 66 percent, this approach is certainly worth copying.