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Sales Training Article - How to Think Like Your Customer

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Published: Monday, April 26, 2010

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Sales Training Article: How to Think Like Your Customer
By Mike Bosworth, Co-founder & Co-author of CustomerCentric Selling® - The Sales Training Company

In order to think like the customer, salespeople need to talk less about product features and talk more about real life situations to which customers can relate. In CustomerCentric Selling®, we call this a usage scenario. Usage scenarios work when selling any product or service to any business or consumer. Over the years, we've worked with a wide range of companies in a variety of industries spanning the gamut from retail banks and companies offering credit card sales to merchants, overnight delivery services and temporary housing providers. All benefited from this approach, even in cases where the offering was just one in a crowded field of entries. In fact, our experience suggests that in situations where the offering is perceived as a commodity - that is, interchangeable with the competition - the most powerful differentiator is the buyer's conversation with the salesperson.
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Many salespeople tend to lead with their product - that is, to push hard on what they perceive to be the distinguishing characteristics of their offering. This approach is fraught with peril. It often fails, for example, to establish a salesperson's competence.

It short-circuits meaningful discussion of the buyer's needs. It may lead to premature price discussions, cause sticker shock and result in no sale at all. Many salespeople fail to realize that only the product attributes that buyers agree they want or need are what is relevant. Part of the problem is the salesperson's familiarity with the product or service - most often thought of as a great asset. Think about the way salespeople learn about their products. In many cases, they are sent off to "product training" during their first weeks on the job. Many organizations refer to this as "sales training," which is inaccurate. If your company emphasizes the importance of your product during training, naturally your salespeople will share that vast knowledge with each prospect. Is that really what you want?

During sales calls, should salespeople focus on what the product can do for the prospect or should they focus on how the prospect can use the product to achieve a goal or solve a problem? Without a doubt, salespeople and their buyers should be focused on product usage, not product features.

What is a feature? For our purposes, a feature is an attribute of a product or service. Features include things like size, weight, color, material used, modules and specifications. Many marketing people take artistic license with these facts, adding adjectives to heighten the feature's presumed sex appeal to make it even more irresistible. For example, in technology offerings, words like "robust," "seamless" and "integrated" creep into the lingo.

The primary problem with teaching salespeople to lead with features is that this approach counts on buyers knowing whether or not the feature is useful and, therefore, relevant. Yes, countless salespeople lead with product features in their sales pitches every day and experience good results. However, it works best when buyers already understand how to use the product or service, understand the value of using it, trust the seller and trust the seller's company.

In my early Xerox sales training, I was taught to talk about benefits. "Because of Feature X, dear buyer, you can expect to get Benefit Y!" But strangely enough, we were not encouraged to find out what the buyer wanted to accomplish before we made our initial benefit statement. In that sales culture, the alleged benefit of a feature mainly existed in the mind of the seller. How many salespeople are making these presumptuous "benefit" statements every day?

Let's say a salesperson is going to make a sales call on a senior executive. The prospect is the vice president of sales of a Fortune 1000 company. The salesperson's mission is to convince his/her prospect to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a customer relationship management (CRM) system, an application the prospect doesn't fully understand. How should the salesperson relate to this buyer? How can he/she have a conversation, rather than make a presentation?

One of the features of your CRM application is control over access to specific data - that is, who can see what - in a company's database. Most likely, a technical buyer can understand this feature and relate it easily to his or her own use. In our experience, however, most senior executives are not adept at understanding how software can help them to achieve their business goals or to solve their business problems. What can a salesperson do?

Well, most senior sales executives understand high employee turnover. Suppose your salesperson asked a question like: "What if you heard through a reliable source that one of your top salespeople was going to leave your company to go work for your competition?" If the prospect becomes engaged, your seller could then pose another question: "Would it be useful for you to be able to go into your CRM system and suspend that salesperson's access to your prospect and buyer data - from any location, even if you were traveling?"

When debriefing sales calls, salespeople need to get into the habit of discussing the prospect's goal(s), what is preventing the prospect from achieving their goal(s) and with which usage scenarios the prospect best related; then the salesperson should craft a letter documenting these elements so the prospect can validate the usage scenarios.

Usage scenarios work because they are so specific. In the previous example, the usage scenario allowed the salesperson to lead his/her prospect to a vision of how he/she could use the data security feature to protect his/her company assets in the event of employee turnover.

If salespeople can use and document usage scenarios to help buyers visualize how they may use their offering to solve problems, achieve goals, make money or save money, they will find themselves having to close much less often!

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