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  • Writer's picturePatrick D. Holman

Sales strategy: the Question ~vs~ the Crackhead

Updated: Jun 29, 2022

Meeting with a potential customer can be nerve-wracking for any salesperson. After all, the encounter might lead to a long-term relationship, or it might crash and burn like Chris Farley’s “Tommy Boy” attempting to sell brake pads. While the latter is an extreme (and hilarious) example, it’s also an example of a salesperson who doesn’t understand his prospect. That’s why, when trying to convert a prospect into a client, the first question every salesperson needs to ask is:

“Do I know enough about this person and their needs to help them?”

A lot of salespeople will walk into a meeting with a potential customer and just start pitching all over the place. You’ve seen it before: it’s a downpour of chest-beating, industry buzzwords, and posturing. What it is not is the right way to start a relationship. If you’re talking more than you’re listening, you’re doing it wrong.

We need to remember that salespeople and buyers are not equal. Sure, we’re all people, and no person is better than the other, so that’s not what we’re talking about. But like the captain of a ship and his crew, or a doctor and her patient, there are roles in this relationship. In this particular relationship, the customer’s needs must come first. Let’s say it in a different way: if the salesperson puts their priorities ahead of the customer’s, the relationship (and therefore, the salesperson) will fail. On the other hand, if you first find a way to help your customer, your success will follow. do you do that? I’m glad you asked. Here are a few easy steps that will help you be successful when talking with customers.

Step 1: Do your homework

The internet has made this step simple. Google the company and read your prospect’s LinkedIn page. Walking into a meeting ignorant of the company and the person you are about to meet is inexcusably lazy. The internet is filled with information that can help you get a basic understanding of the person and the company, as well as who their main competitors are and the latest industry news. This will give you some general ideas on what their needs might be and how you can help.

Step 2: Be on time and ready to roll

Arrive at the meeting or call into the Zoom call early, and have your notes organized and ready. Prepare a quick (1-2 minutes max) introduction on yourself and your company. Write down all the questions you need to ask to determine if you can help the customer.

Step 3: Don’t take on too much right off the bat

Sometimes you’ll run into a potential customer that presents a laundry list of needs and wants your help with all of them: jackpot, right? Well, sort of. While it’s great to have this kind of trust right away, taking on too many projects at the same time from a new customer can lead to a lot of wheel spinning. When you find yourself in a situation like this, it’s usually best to acknowledge the need, and then work with the customer to prioritize the list and start with just one or two projects at a time.

Step 4: Identify and qualify the project, then talk about your company or product

When in doubt, “listen before you speak” is a good practice. Once you hear what the prospect needs, and you think you can help them with it, repeat their requirements back to them to confirm your understanding. Only once they agree that you understand the problem they are trying to solve, and you are confident you can help them, now you should propose how you will do it. And always, always make sure that your proposal includes a clear timeline.

Step 5: Leave the meeting with actionable next steps

Now that you have identified the customer’s need and have made a plan to address it, tell them what you will do next, and what they need to do, to move the transaction closer to a sale. And once you are in front of your computer, summarize this information in an email.

This kind of customer-first approach will pay dividends in the long run and help you develop long-lasting relationships (and maybe even a few new friendships) with your clients, which reminds me of a story...

I’ll never forget the day my CEO sat down to talk to the head of technology at my largest account – also one of the company’s largest accounts. My company had worked with this customer for over a decade, as he was deploying data centers for some of the largest names in technology. And then he landed at a fast-growing company I had supported from its infancy. Because my company had recently been acquired, this was the first opportunity my new CEO had to meet this customer, so he thanked him for his business and asked him, “could you please tell me why you like working with us?”

You might think he would mention our extensive product line or our deep technical bench of engineers, but you’d be wrong. That stuff didn’t come up. His response was, “you hire good humans.” He expanded on that by explaining that, “most of the time salespeople

don’t act like partners, they act like crackheads frantically looking for a deal at the end of their quarter, but your salespeople don’t do that.” We all had a good laugh, mostly because we knew

how much truth there was behind his joke.

His joke summed up what being a good salesperson is all about. I like to paraphrase his comment this way:

Don’t focus on your goals; focus on my needs.

If you can help me be successful, you will be successful.

I understand why salespeople get deal-hungry and go looking for that last quick sales “fix” at the end of a quarter: sales are measured by forecasts and results on a quarterly, monthly, and sometimes weekly basis. Salespeople have quotas they have to meet, and the financial rewards can be significant.

But here’s the thing. While this might be your reality, your end-of-quarter quest for that elusive sale isn’t your customer’s problem, and your customer doesn’t want to participate in it. So, if you want to be successful, play the long game and first focus on your customer’s success.

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Oct 27, 2021

great article with some great anecdotes

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