Trust-Based Selling: Finding and Keeping Customers for Life (2015)
Chapter 8. Building Trustworthiness
Get Ready to Start
Confidence is preparation. Everything else is beyond your control.
As we have discussed, the idea of relationship, or building trust, is a crucial element of closing sales. However most sale processes ignore this important fundamental. While your customer is in status quo, you are in the planning stage of the sales process. This stage is also ignored by process, and it is a great place to start building a foundation of trust. In this chapter, I address the “homework” activities you must do. This chapter helps you:
· Address your capabilities and learn to develop sales skills and product knowledge.
· Develop some simple messages that will engage your prospects in conversation rather than just deliver a monologue on what you do or sell.
· Construct an online presence that will instill trust in your prospects before you even talk to them.
Customers will evaluate you the moment you walk in the door. Trust is earned over time, but one element they can and will make an instant judgment about is your capability. Capability can be broken into three elements.
· Sales skills
· Industry knowledge
· Product knowledge
The demands on the salesperson are greater today than ever. An average salesperson working 10–15 years ago could get away with being a walking datasheet. The only way customers learned about new products was from salespeople visiting with them face to face. Customers had to listen to a salesperson go on about their products. Now, with the Internet, customers have instant access to your professional profiles, as well as your company and product information. Your customers have a good understanding of your products before you step foot in the door. They do not need a salesperson to tell them what they already know.
Today, customers expect their salespeople to bring value. That’s why you need product knowledge beyond the datasheet. They want to see that you are experienced and understand how your products fit into the larger picture at their company. They want salespeople who understand their company and issues. They want salespeople with industry knowledge. They want subject matter experts.
Let’s look more in-depth at the three elements that make up capability.
While sales skills are a capability, they are integral to your ability to show proper intent. Your customers want to know you are there to help them. The ability to listen, ask questions, and guide your customer through their buying process with ease will instill a sense of trust with you. I have already stated my opinion on sales skills. They are very difficult to change. As with golf, the quickest way to get better results is through better strategy. Continued improvement of your swing is still a must if you want even lower scores. Same with sales. Start by learning proper strategy, and then learn the sales process to keep you organized. But continue to become a better-skilled salesperson.
Ongoing sales training must be part of the planning process. This is your career, so treat it as so. It is ironic that the most important function in any company is sales, because salespeople are the least trained people in their craft. Sales brings revenue, and without revenue, there is no business. Lawyers, HR, IT, and finance all require four years or more of education. Each one of these also requires ongoing education, training, and certifications. Yet most salespeople have one sales course, which they half pay attention to, every two to three years.
There is a wealth of information on sales skills, strategy, and process. Aim to learn something daily.
Early in my career, I worked hard, but I just showed up. (By the way, showing up will put you in the top 50%, and working hard will put you in the top 30%.) I understood my products and services, and I followed up with customers. However, I was by no means a student of my career; I just winged it from a skills standpoint.
A few years back, I was eating lunch with a coworker at a sports bar. ESPN was on the big projection screen running a story on an all-pro linebacker who came into NFL training camp out of shape, and his job was in jeopardy. I remember saying to my friend, “What an idiot! If I was making $4 million a year, hell $500k a year, I would make sure I was in shape.” Coincidently, earlier that month one of our top salespeople made a huge sale, with a commission that propelled that salesperson to a commission in that range.
It then dawned on me. “I can make $500k selling. Why am I out of shape?”
Learn your craft, know your industry, and understand your offerings. Once you learn about them, learn to do them better. An all-pro athlete never stops training, a doctor does not stop reading medical journals, and your customers do not stop learning about new ideas on how to solve their problems. You should never stop learning.
Here is the simplest advice on sales skills ever: Be aware of you how much you are talking. After each sales call, ask yourself if you learned more about the customer than she learned about you.
Research your industry and your customer’s industry until you know it inside and out. This will give you a much better idea of your customer’s potential problems. It will also help you position your offerings much better, help you with messaging, and add value with your customers.
Also research the job titles of the people you are calling on. There are web sites specific to almost any title.
No matter your target prospect, there is plenty of information regarding the issues and trends that affect their roles. This knowledge helps you gain access to prospects and shows the customers that you can help. For example, if you are meeting with a CIO, and you know the top five concerns of CIOs at this time, your conversation with her will be much more than just about product. Your potential customers want to know how you can help them with their concerns before they want to hear anything about your product.
If you do not have immediate access to a prospect, share industry trends and news on a proactive basis via e-mail or regular mailings, which will get more attention. These items can be online articles, information your marketing department provides, or ideally content you have personally generated. You might not be in the position to do this if you are new to an industry, but if you can provide these kinds of materials, you will start to show expertise (capability) even before you speak to a prospect. This is more effective than sending product literature. Sending product literature before you qualify your customer needs will only put you out of buyer alignment. So don’t send product information unless it’s requested.
The other effect of doing this research is that it will give you confidence when you do engage your prospect, and you will better understand their pain and issues. This enables you to better position your solution. Plus, your conversations will have much more meaning for the customer. The information here is about understanding the industry challenges of your buyer. In the chapter on Niche Selling, we will introduce you to buying personalities of your customers. They will enable you to better position solutions to match their concerns.
This may sound illogical, but there can be some dangers to having too much product knowledge. I have been saying all along your focus needs to be on the customer. With an abundance of product knowledge, most salespeople have the tendency to talk too much about the product. It is okay to be an expert in your field, but you must concentrate on customer needs first.
Look again at the buyer concerns graph (Figure 8-1).
Figure 8-1. Shifting buyer concerns
The most important element of trust is intent. All too often, salespeople feel that capability of their products is the most important thing. Staying in alignment with your customer will allow you to show your capability in due time, without sacrificing intent. There is a time to focus on the solution, and it’s toward the end of the needs analysis stage. To help fight the urge to talk product too quickly, you need to define product knowledge beyond the features and benefits. Figure 8-2 shows general levels (categories) of knowledge you can have with your offering. The categories of product knowledge are slightly different for each industry, so I have attempted to make these as broad as possible.
Figure 8-2. Knowledge matrix; N stands for Need, and S for Solution
Again, there is a slight slant toward technical sales in Figure 9-2, but this matrix can be adapted for any industry. First, align the knowledge categories with the buyer concern graph. Start with analyzing the need from the business and technical aspects. You must understand the pains your products help alleviate. Then you need to know which questions will help you better qualify the customer and their needs. For clarity, in the Buyer Concern column, N means Need, and S means Solution.
The line between the Business and Technical focus is meant to be the highest level of knowledge, in other words, the “50,000 foot” view. As you move up the categories in business, and down in technical, the depth of knowledge increases. Notice that the high-level knowledge corresponds to the Needs development of the Buyer Concern graph (Figure 8-1). Again, as you move away from the high-level knowledge, buyer concern shifts toward solution information. As you migrate toward the evaluation stages and more solution information is needed, you may need assistance from management on the business side, and from the technical support team on the technical side.
The amount of knowledge you have on any subject can be endless. Which categories of knowledge will benefit you most? Figure 8-3 shows the sweet spot of sales knowledge—it’s all about customer needs. The major problem most companies have with training is they believe product training needs to be done by product experts. Experts are asked to “dumb it down” for the sales teams.
Figure 8-3. Knowledge matrix showing what product experts think are the most important items compared to what good salespeople know are the most important things
The product experts stay focused on the product, taking the simplest information about the product, and using it to educate the sales team. Look at the lower-right corner of Figure 9-3; you can see that they completely miss where sales should be focusing their conversations.
This problem is compounded with new salespeople. Here’s why. As mentioned, 90% of the time spent with new customers is in the planning and needs analysis stages. Your product experts are aiming the sales team past that stage, and directly at the evaluation stage. I will explore the importance of this in establishing intent with the customer in Chapter 11. At this point, just make a note that you cannot sacrifice intent for capability.
When you are studying your product, make sure you can talk in the sweet spot. Starting from the Business/Technical focus, first understand the business pain, along with the technical pain your solution can help eliminate. Then learn which questions can help you uncover that pain. Have a story about how you can help solve the customer’s business pain, and have a story about how your offering helps address the business pain.
Do not be satisfied with the product training provided by most companies. You might only have basic product training. If management will not provide you with this level of knowledge, analyze the customer’s pains and determine the questions you need to ask on your own. This is made easier with the more industry knowledge you gain through your own research and experience.
Let’s go back to the example of purchasing a home. Although Figure 8-3 is set up for a business-to-business sale in the IT industry, in this case I will define the categories of knowledge for a real estate agent who works in a new development/neighborhood.
The technical aspects become the housing and neighborhood data. I will start what is most important to the customer.
1. Why customers move in general.
2. Why this customer is moving, and what they are looking for in a home and community.
3. High-level knowledge about the community.
4. High-level knowledge on the quality of home construction.
5. Detailed specs of each home.
6. How the home was designed and built.
7. How the framing was done, electrical specs of the home, and so on.
As you can see, the depth of knowledge can increase exponentially. However, the selling sweet spot includes levels 1-3 and possibly 4. If the customer has more detailed questions about home specs, the real estate agent can rely on the contractor.
Now look at this from the business/money side.
1. Understanding the budget—minimum, maximum, and stretch budget
2. Understanding home owner dues or fees
3. Understanding the financial information required to qualify for a loan
4. Understanding the types of mortgages available
5. Understanding how each type of mortgage works
6. Understanding how the loan underwriting process works
Again the details can get overwhelming, and the real estate agent can get help from a mortgage broker. The selling sweet spot is 1 and 2, and possibly 3. When you stay in the sweet spot, you are showing proper intent.
You don’t ask an electrical subcontractor to teach the real estate agent how to sell the community. But this is exactly what happens in most business-to-business sales—the product experts teach product knowledge. You therefore need to educate yourself on buyer concerns to get an idea of what matters to your customers.
Messaging will be discussed more in the next chapter. I’ve kept this pretty simple here, but remember that when developing stories you need to take into consideration who you are talking to at the prospect organization. Different customer titles have different concerns and buying behaviors. Messaging needs to be tailored to your audience.
What Do You Do?
You need to learn to answer the question, “What do you do?”. This seems like a very simple exercise, but when you ask most salespeople this question, it takes them way too long to answer. Whether it is on the phone, on a web site, in an elevator, or during your first meeting, you need to be prepared for this trap. I call this a trap because it pushes you in the direction of presenting a monologue, when your goal should be a conversation.
Be careful, because even management is directing you into this trap by making every salesperson memorize an “elevator pitch.” This is typically a 20–30 second monologue about how the company is great and how they can help the customer. Elevator pitches come across as memorized; they all sound the same, and are filled with buzzwords and marketing hype. Worse, the customer stops listening 10 seconds in (and I am being generous). It should be called the elevator shaft. Your goal is a conversation with the customer.
So, what should you do when asked about your company? Instead of an elevator pitch, you need to develop an elevator “hook.” An elevator hook helps you start a conversation with the customer. I will take some time here to set up the concept of the elevator hook, but it will take no longer than eight seconds to deliver it. The hook returns the focus to the customer and initiates a conversation.
Selling is simple; ask questions to stay focused on the customer.
The elevator hook engages the customer in a conversation and includes a reference story that implies a referral. With customer referrals, you gain more trust. With conversations, you show more intent, and therefore more trust. This process will keep you in alignment with buyer concerns. This keeps you in the qualifying stage, focused on needs, rather than jumping straight to the solution, which is well into the buying process.
The first objective is to turn the question “what do you do?” into a conversation. The best way to start any conversation is with a question. So, when you are asked, “what does your company do?,” you respond with a question. That’s the hook. You ask a question that engages the customer. A question solicits a response and curiosity from the customer. Come up with questions centered on issues that you know affect most of your customer base. These questions should solicit a quick yes or no. There is a time for opened-ended questions when you are exploring the customer needs. However, in this case you want to box the customer into a yes response. If you understand your customer, the industry, its challenges, and how you can help, this is simple.
These questions are simple to develop. You can simply Google “top concerns for hospitals, CFOs, CIOs, universities, manufacturing, IT organizations,” or what have you. You can have different questions for different job titles and vertical markets. Again, your goal is to hit an obvious issue confronting your customers today. Examples include:
· “Do you think you spend too much on paper copies?”
· “Do you have issues with explosive data growth?”
· “Does the introduction of mobile devices by your employees onto your network cause you problems?”
· “Do you know how complex it is to set facility security properly?”
· “Are your receivables at the level you would like?”
· “Do you know how hard it is to accurately forecast 90 days out?”
You now have the customer set up with the elevator hook. If you hit on an issue customers have, their response should be, “yes.” This will grab their attention, and you already got them to admit they have an issue. And, the yes is an invitation to say what you do, but without the details. Your response at this time is simple: “We help with that.”
You have checked for interest. They said they have the issue, so they will want to know how you can help. Now you can proceed with a reference story, one that starts to build trust. I will break this down further, but frame your reference story like this:
A good illustration of how we help is by what we did for a customer in your industry. This company had issue X. We helped them fix that issue, or we delivered a solution that added Z value. With our solution, the customer experienced Y results.
The goal of this method is to build your trust meter (Figure 8-4) with a simple paragraph. The elements of trust need to be woven into the story. Let’s break down the story based on the trust elements:
· Intent: You helped the customer.
· Capability: You understood their problem. You brought a solution that fixed their issue.
· Dedication: You stuck around to implement and measure results.
· Results: The customer was able to achieve what you promised.
Figure 8-4. Trust meter after your reference story
Here is quick example of a good reference story.
We helped Acme (intent) by evaluating their supply chain inefficiencies and made recommendations on how to improve their systems (capability). The implemented improvements increased their inventory turnover rates by 100%, resulting in $2,000,000 of savings. (We remained after the sale, which shows we are dedicated. And we measured results.)
Use the 15 seconds the customer gives you to build trust, not to bore the customer with the canned elevator pitch. You need to practice these reference stories just as you practice the company pitch. But with questions, hooks, and stories, use conversational English, not marketing hype. Unlike with elevator pitches, you do not need to include the latest buzzwords or marketing fluff. Don’t try to include everything you can do for the customer. Focus on an unique value you bring to customers. If you offer something unique, there is a better chance the door will open.
The elevator pitch is not the most effective tool. Using an elevator hook, in contrast, helps you start a conversation, pique interest, and frame a customer reference story. This is much more powerful. Once you have the reference story down and deliver it to the customer, you should focus right back on the customer by asking more about their business.
Your Online Presence
When you initially contact a customer whether through email, cold call, or referral, what is the first thing they are going to do? They will Google you, your company, or both.
Google yourself! What comes up—pictures of your last New Year’s Eve bash, or a professional LinkedIn profile? Knowing what you look like online is the first step.
Today’s leading networking site for professionals is LinkedIn. What does your LinkedIn profile look like? Is it like most others? Does it stand out? Does it offer anything to the customer? Is it simply a resume, or does it express the value you can offer?
You need to use your profile to show proper intent and strong capability—the value you can bring to customers. Most profiles are nothing more than a resume import. LinkedIn actually guides you into this mistake by importing your resume to build your profile. Although it is okay to show your career history, it should not be the first thing people see. So do not be lazy here! The intent you need to demonstrate is how you can help your potential customers. Customers do not care about your resume. They want to see the value you can bring to them.
The first things your customers see on your profile are your name and headline. Use the headline to indicate your specialty, or your area of subject matter expertise. The next section in LinkedIn is the skills section. List your industry expertise in more detail. When describing your skills, concentrate on customer trigger points:
· “I help customers develop their disaster-recovery strategies.”
· “I help doctors increase in-office revenue streams.”
· “I help customers drive business efficiencies.”
· “I strive to understand my customer’s business first.”
If you truly want to be aligned with the buyer cycle, ask questions in your skills section. You are using the elevator hook to keep them interested, so they will read on:
· “Is your data storage a bottleneck of performance?”
· “Does your broker become a stranger after he collects his portfolio management fee?”
· “Are government regulations bogging down your finance department?”
· “Are you concerned with patient security?”
You can make the skills section as long as you like. I recommend that you make it long enough so that the customer has to actively scroll to see your work history section. Positioning your skills section in this manner can show proper intent and capability. That way, you can get a jump on building your trust meter (Figure 8-5).
Figure 8-5. Trust meter when you do a good job with your online profile
You can demonstrate dependability via recommendations. Do not hesitate to ask colleagues for recommendations that talk about your character. Expect to be asked to reciprocate by writing a recommendation for them.
As part of your profile, list industry articles you have written, as well as blogs you write. This is the “give to get” mentality discussed earlier.
As part of your profile, do not forget to include your contact information; if someone is looking for help, help them find you!
Once your profile is up to snuff, it is time to ramp up your activity and contribute to the industry.
Proactive Online Presence
Your professional profile is a passive entity that gets no attention unless you are proactive. How do you become proactive online to get yourself noticed? First, understand which groups your customers are members of. When you connect with customers and colleagues, take the time to look at their groups. Join those groups.
Look for discussion threads that you can participate in.
Become a subject matter expert, a thought leader. Much like in the earlier planning stages, you do this by subscribing to industry magazines, regularly checking in on industry web sites, and then formulating your own thoughts, posting comments, or starting a discussions. If you are not an expert, look for whitepapers, industry articles, or professional development material you can share. Just make sure you give proper reference to others’ work. Your goal is to develop an active online presence. With increased activity you become more visible to peers and potential customers. You want others to view you as an expert, thus increasing the chance they will call you.
When you are establishing your territory, or trying to penetrate a new account, you will spend 90% of your time in the planning and qualifying stages. As you progress, planning becomes easier. The information you need to gather will already be at your fingertips. Planning becomes more of an updating exercise. When you are new, all this up-front planning will pay off. With everything you are doing to plan, make sure you have the end game in mind—building trust. The next chapter discusses what service or product is best to use when securing new customers.