The Trusted Advisor: In the Beginning
I have a reality check for you. To be a great salesperson, you also have to be the trusted advisor of your customers. As with most young salespeople, in the first few months of my career, I struggled with what questions to ask of my prospects. I also wondered in what order I should ask them. On good days, I came across with enough confidence to garner respect. This resulted in minimal participation by my contact. On bad days, I got three orders. Get out. Stay out. And don’t come back!
On a particularly off day, I was bumbling through my sales call so badly that my prospect chuckled. He said with a smile, “Have you ever done this before?”
I replied, “What? Do you mean making a sales call? Or do you mean making a fool of myself by fumbling over my words?”
My prospect’s laugh continued to minimize the tension. He said, “You’re new at this, aren’t you?”
“Yep. I am. I have good days and bad days. You caught me on the latter.”
What followed was my own shallow attempt at mitigating my inability to perform a sales call. Surprisingly, this ended up becoming an invaluable part of my selling process. In fact, I still use and teach people this tact today.
The Trusted Advisor 101: “So, have you ever done this before?”
“Well, I’ve never been in sales. So no, I’ve never blown a sales call. But I have been involved as a customer buying what you’re selling. And, point in fact, I’m pretty darn good at it.”
And that began a fascinating conversation. This chat gave me incredible insight into how this buyer would make his upcoming decision.
Here’s the deal. It’s not that someone’s previous buying decisions allow you to predict their future decisions. However, the two are inextricably connected. When someone makes a decision to buy something, three things can happen. They either end up happy with their decision, unhappy with their decision, or completely ambivalent.
If they are happy, they will likely use the same criteria to evaluate new products and services. If they are unhappy or ambivalent, it is likely their criteria will change. This is an attempt to make the next decision a better one.
This information was incredibly valuable to me. If you understand the criteria by which the buyer made previous decisions, it gives context to the criteria by which they will judge you.
It turns out these questions for the trusted advisor aren’t smart-aleck, just smart.
It’s a little more than, “Have you ever done this before?” If you have the answers to these questions, you’ll have an excellent foundation on which to build the buyer’s criteria. Take a look at the things you and the buyer will know.
#1). “Have you been involved in the evaluation of these types of products and services?”
If the answer to this question is ‘yes’, questions 2 through 5 apply. What happens if the answer is ‘no’? Well, then you have an incredible opportunity to become more of a trusted advisor by helping the buyer understand how to make the best decision possible.
#2). “When, who, and what did you evaluate?”
Guess what? There is the possibility they evaluated your company’s products and services before and decided NOT to buy them before. Would you want to know that? And remember, they didn’t have to be working at their current place of employment when they were engaged in previous decisions. This can be critical when working with a new decision-maker at one of your current clients. You may feel you have a lock on a sale because of your relationship with your customer, but your new contacts previous decisions may not support that position.
#3). “What was the outcome and why?”
What if previous decisions were made primarily on the lowest price? Would you want to know that? Of course! If you are the lowest price provider, this may bode well for you. Otherwise, you know additional, favorable criteria would need to be developed for you to win. If they bought from one of your competitors because they felt they had superior service, would you want to know that? Of course. Would you want to know if they still felt their service was superior? You may also find they found their service to be less than adequate. Once again, this is invaluable information.
#4). “Will you use the same criteria for your next decision?”
This is where you can begin to determine whether or not the buyer(s) were ultimately satisfied with their previous decision. As an example, they may have found buying at the lowest price wasn’t wise, or that they needed to add more service criteria to their decision. Or you may find their criteria have changed because of changing business or economic conditions.
In any case, these questions and their answers provide a critical foundation for discussing ALL the criteria for their upcoming decision. And no matter what, if you use this line of questioning, you will definitely look like YOU’VE done this before!