By Mark Overbye
We need a table, but not just any table, for our new boat brand soon to be in production. My wife’s an awesome cook and the prospect of her preparing food on the seat or the gunnel when boating with friends and family isn’t right. You’ve seen it too. Holding a drink between your legs while juggling condiments and concocting a sandwich isn’t fun. Your fruit plate on the floor isn’t any fun either. Any boat builder who understands their clients has a table for this very reason.
Our table has a list of specifications that are non negotiable. It has to look right. While in the service position it cannot block traffic. Certain dimensions have to be met so it fits in the storage area. Should it be round, oval, square? Stainless or plastic drink holders? What color? Wood, plastic or composite? Fixtures are critical so it’s stable in rough water. Mounts must be subtle to avoid tripping or inconvenience. Materials have to withstand the elements while being easy to clean. Like every other ergonomic decision, these are just a few of the specifications that have to be resolved, elections everyone takes for granted.
When it was time to address this item on the bill of materials it raised many questions about vendors, pricing and availability. Adding these variables to the table requirements became an another intensive effort for an engineering staff who already has a seemingly endless stream of pre production challenges.
In discussing this dilemma with the head of engineering we agreed that calling Brian was the right next step. Who’s Brian? He’s an independent sales rep with a broad quiver of solutions. When we meet with Brian, he often asks a lot of questions. He’s always making the effort to learn our business, how we do it, our objectives and our challenges. When we called Brian about tables, he answered right away and mentioned some suppliers who potentially had what we needed. Within a few days he had pricing and details, making it easy to settle upon a final choice.
Brian’s advantage is that he’s selling solutions above all else. Thus, he’s cemented himself as a reliable source and a stand out ally.
When I had my sales agency we attended scores of sales meetings. We represented great products with sports applications that also satisfied our personal performance objectives. So it was easy to get enamored with product constructions, features and specifications. Which is how we sold them. Today’s market requires an evolved approach for success.
Too often, the sales process begins with, “Let me show you this cool product and what it does.” What it should start with is, “What are your challenges and how can I solve them?” The trick is having a complete comprehension of the products being sold so when presented with the puzzle a client is trying to solve you know how those products may fit.
Old school Features And Benefits Selling misses the mark because the time spent on selling the product should be invested in understanding the problem. Today’s buyers are too harried and may miss the problem solving connection if they have to figure it out themselves. Smart sellers identify the problem and produce the solution.
Let’s say you’re selling Girl Scout cookies. Which sales path wins? 1. Asking what kind of cookies a buyer likes and then supplying that flavor. Or, 2. Presenting all of the available flavors, explaining their textures, consistency and packaging and then asking for the buyer to choose? If you want money in the bank with the least effort choose 1. If you want to introduce confusion, increase time expense and open the door to indecision and delays choose 2. If you’re still not convinced, spend your time on 2, while watching a smart seller quickly stealing your customer's open to buy doing 1.
Regardless of whether you’re an OEM widget manufacturer, an importer selling hand grenades to the military or a retailer selling nails, the combination of deep product knowledge combined with honed human skills is the fruitful path to putting sales numbers on the board.
If you’re selling anything consider your process as well as your mindset. The old days of spending time at sales meetings talking product 100% of the time should be replaced with 50% of time spent on product and 50% spent on how to interact with customers to most quickly learn what their challenges are. You’ll never lose by knowing more about your clients and what their problems are. If you’re doing it right you’ll develop a reputation as a preferred solutions provider and you’ll never lack for clients.