Chapter OneWhat Is Customer Centric Selling?
What is this book about, and how can you use it to your benefit?
The main focus of this book is helping individuals and organizations involved in sales to migrate from one kind of selling to another. Specifically, we seek to help people move from traditional sales techniques to "customercentric" selling behavior. We believe that our methodology—CustomerCentric Selling—can help you become more customercentric, and therefore more successful.
We are in the sales process, messaging, and training business. The ideas in this book are the result of many years of field testing—first as salespeople ourselves, then at multiple levels of sales management, and subsequently as principals in a firm that teaches our methodology to our clients.
As teachers, we work with all levels within our client organizations. We teach chief executive officers (CEOs) how to own and shape their customers' experience. We teach sales executives how to define and manage their revenue engines. We teach marketing executives how to own and manage their content and create Sales-Ready Messaging. We teach first-line sales managers how to assess and develop the talent of their salespeople, manage a sales process, and build a quality pipeline. Last—but certainly not least—we teach salespeople customercentric behavior. In doing so, we focus on how to influence the words sellers use when developing buyer needs for their offerings.
What Is CustomerCentric Behavior?
What is this customercentric behavior? It has eight basic tenets. These are summarized in Table 1.1 and are explained in order in this first chapter. As you read these descriptions, we invite you to imagine a spectrum of selling behavior ranging from traditional on one end to customercentric on the other. Try to locate yourself on that spectrum. Are you where you want to be, to be as successful as you can be?
If not, what needs to change?
1. Having Situational Conversations Versus Making Presentations
Traditional salespeople rely on making presentations, often using applications like PowerPoint. Why? Because they believe that this approach gives them the opportunity to add excitement, in the form of highly polished graphics, animation, and so on. It gives them the opportunity to turn down the lights and increase the dramatic effect of their presentations.
In selling, we find that conversations are far more powerful than presentations. And yes, it is possible to converse with audiences using Power-Point—as opposed to presenting to them—but it is far more difficult. Have you ever had a conversation with a friend or a colleague that was based on a pre-scripted slide show? Of course not. So it shouldn't be a surprise that when senior executives see salespeople enter their offices with a laptop under their arm, many roll their eyes and sneak a peek at their watches.
In the same way, when they are making sales calls, how often do salespeople dominate by doing the majority of the talking? The salesperson has his or her own agenda of what they would like to accomplish. Good conversations require both parties to actively participate and exchange ideas. Sellers that do a great deal of telling and sharing opinions to have buyers draw the desired conclusions can be viewed as trying to manipulate buyers.
Here is the issue: In order to be effective, a salesperson must be able to relate his or her offering to the buyer in a way that will allow the buyer to visualize using it to achieve a goal, solve a problem, or satisfy a need. This, in turn, requires a conversation. For a variety of reasons, though, only a small percentage of salespeople are able to converse effectively with buyers, especially executives and decision makers.
CustomerCentric Selling has been designed to help you engage in relevant, situation-specific conversations with decision makers, without having to depend on canned slide presentations. In short, we can help you become more effective.
2. Asking Relevant Questions versus Offering Opinions
Traditional salespeople offer their opinions to their buyers, while customercentric salespeople ask relevant questions. It is far more comfortable for buyers if sellers focus on asking versus telling. This allows buyers to steer the direction of sales calls based upon their responses. It also allows them to draw their own conclusions.
Another potential issue occurs when sellers come to a vision of a solution to their buyer's goal or problem before their prospective buyer does. When a traditional seller sees the solution, he or she tends to project that vision onto the buyer, saying things like, "In order to deal with that problem, you will need our seamlessly integrated software solution."
But, meanwhile, what's happening on the other side of the table? Very often, the prospective buyer is thinking something along the lines of, "Oh, yeah? Do we now? Says who?"
People don't like their loved ones telling them what they need, much less a salesperson. Most people, when in the role of a buyer, resent it when sellers try to control or pressure them.
People love to buy but hate feeling sold. We have found that top-performing salespeople use their expertise to frame interesting and helpful questions, rather than to deliver opinions. Asking questions shows respect for the buyer. When buyers come to grips with a series of intelligent questions—questions that are on point and that can be answered, and the answers to which build toward a useful solution—they do not feel that they are being sold.
3. Solution-Focused versus Relationship-Focused
Traditional sellers are relationship-focused, and customercentric sellers are solution-focused.
If the seller does not understand how the buyer will use his or her offering to achieve a goal, solve a problem, or satisfy a need, he or she really has no choice but to fall back on relationships. Why does this happen? In many cases, the answer lies in the training that the salesperson receives. Most sales organizations commission their product marketing department to teach salespeople about their products.
Not surprisingly, the result is a sales force that can tell you all about the esoteric features of their products but can't tell you how the products are used or how buyers can benefit from them. And the rare product marketers who do understand the uses of the products tend to have that understanding at the day-to-day user level, not the decision-maker level.
Salespeople who are not trained to initiate a dialogue with decision makers about product usage tend to gravitate toward focusing on their relationship with their buyers. Many traditional salespeople have convinced themselves over the years that the seller with the strongest relationship will win. And in situations where the seller is selling a product to a repeat buyer—where there are no differentiators other than relation-ships—we agree. But in situations where the buyer is attempting to achieve a goal, solve a problem, or satisfy a need, we disagree. Under those circumstances, the successful seller has to do far more than simply cultivate relationships. Given a choice of having a buyer like us or respect us, we'd opt for the latter. Certainly the two are not mutually exclusive, and after you earn a buyer's respect, there is a high probability that a strong relationship can be established.
4. Targeting Businesspeople versus Gravitating toward Users
Traditional salespeople gravitate toward the users of their products, while customercentric salespeople target business decision makers.
The strength of traditional salespeople lies in talking about their offerings, and users are the group most likely to be interested in or tolerate this approach. Note that selling to the users is not the same as selling to a decision maker in a way that allows that individual to visualize the usage of the product to achieve a goal, solve a problem, or satisfy a need. In order for salespeople to have the confidence to engage in a conversation with businesspeople, they must be prepared to engage in business conversations. A business conversation should be usage- and results-oriented, rather than feature-oriented. It focuses on why the offering is needed; how it can be used to achieve a goal, solve a problem, or satisfy a need; and how much it costs to use versus the benefits it presents.
Most selling organizations give their salespeople "noun-oriented" product training—that is, a great deal about the product's features but very little about how it is used in day-to-day applications. Not surprisingly, when these organizations hire salespeople, they are most comfortable gravitating toward people who are able to understand the product on that level—that is, as trained users—and then reinforce that perspective. In other words, it's a vicious cycle: a suboptimal selling structure perpetuating itself.
This cycle can be broken. As you will see throughout this book, CustomerCentric Selling maps out how marketing departments can make the transition from product training to product-usage training by creating Sales-Ready Messaging for targeted conversations. This approach enables and empowers traditional sellers to target businesspeople and engage in customercentric conversations.
5. Relating Product Usage versus Relying on Product
Customercentric conversations take place when sellers are able to relate conversationally with their buyers about product usage. Traditional salespeople—working for traditional organizations and using traditional product marketing approaches—have no choice but to rely on their product to create interest. They educate their buyers about products, assuming that the buyers can figure out for themselves how they would use them.
In some special circumstances, this strategy works—but only for a while. Here's a scenario you may recognize: A technology company introduces a hot new product. It finds a guru to endorse the technology, writes a white paper full of snap and sizzle, hires a good PR firm, and wows a couple of technology trade shows. Sales take off.
But how much actual selling took place in this scenario? Were the salespeople helping potential customers visualize how they could achieve a goal, solve a problem, or satisfy a need by using the new technology? Or was this a case where the early-market buyers were sufficiently smart and innovative to figure out their own product usage, through (or even despite) having a traditional product presentation?
So sales take off, and the people at the technology company come to believe that they are superior sellers and marketers. Then, mysteriously, sales plummet. What's happening here? Geoffrey Moore's insightful book Crossing the Chasm (2002) and subsequent books highlight the difficulties that technology companies face when they run out of Innovators and Early Adopters. The self-sufficient buyers—those who didn't need effective selling—have come and gone, and there is no one in line behind them.
We are frequently hired by companies that have fallen into this chasm. They have exhausted the supply of Innovators and Early Adopters, and now they have to figure out how to find a new kind of prospect—that is, targeted buyers who don't know that they need the offering and don't have a vision of how they would use it.
Where traditional sellers fall short, sellers who are customercentric succeed. This book will help you and your organization become customer-centric. It will give you a framework for creating Sales-Ready Messaging (that is, product-usage messaging) that will enable your traditional salespeople to evolve and become customercentric sellers.
6. Competing to Win versus Competing to Stay Busy
Traditional salespeople and their organizations focus heavily on quantity rather than quality when building pipelines. Salespeople may avoid asking tough qualification questions, fearing that the buyer may decide not to proceed with their evaluation. The challenge lies in failing to ask these questions and as a result, buyers may decide to do business with another vendor or decide to make no decision because they never were qualified.
"Winners never quit and quitters never win" is an expression sales organizations use to justify attempts to hang onto every opportunity in the pipeline. Traditional sellers embrace this expression, yet deep down there is a more valid reason for their approach. If they were to disqualify a sizeable opportunity, they would have to proactively find another opportunity to replace it. If a seller is unable or unwilling to prospect for new opportunities, they will have a hard time deciding to walk.
Superior sellers enjoy two major advantages when it comes to disqualification. By initiating buying cycles at higher levels, they find that those buyers do not want to waste their time nor their staff's time. Therefore, it has to be a mutual decision that allocating resources is worthwhile. Competent salespeople also place a high value on their time and recognize early signs that they don't have a fair chance at winning and decide to withdraw.
Companies focus on their cost of sales, but we suggest taking a slightly different approach to realize the expense of going the distance and losing. If you subtract your average win rate from 100 percent and multiply it by your total cost of sales, you will have a different figure: the cost of competing and losing.
To sum up the difference as it relates to allocating time, consider that an unsolicited RFP (request for proposal) gets delivered to salespeople from two different companies. The first is a "B Player" who anxiously reads it, decides it looks like a good fit (despite the fact that another vendor wired it), and willingly spends hours to respond with a win rate below 5 percent. But when an "A Player" receives the RFP, he asks for access to the buying committee and if denied, he will most likely decide not to submit a bid. The time spent by the B Player responding and losing could be used to find better (more winnable) opportunities.
7. Close on the Buyer's Timeline versus the Seller's Timeline
Suppose you know a salesperson who has been working on a major opportunity for the last three months. You ask when he believes it will close, and he provides a date. Let's also assume you know the buyer or the decision maker and have the ability to ask her when she believes they may be ready to buy, and she provides a date. Whose date do you think will be earlier? Our bet would be that the seller's date would be sooner.
Salespeople and sales organizations are under pressure to not only deliver revenue but to do it on a monthly, quarterly, and annual basis. This often causes close dates to be based upon when the vendor wants or needs the order without regard for when the buyer will be ready. This causes potential issues because when asked for an order before being ready to buy, the decision maker will feel pressured. If the seller pushes too hard, he or she can lose the sale. Often the best result is getting the order, but only after the seller offers a discount to motivate the buyer to order sooner than desired. Frantic quarterly or year-end closes smack of traditional selling. If done on a regular basis, buyers may purposefully delay decisions until the end of a month or quarter.
Wouldn't it make more sense to incorporate how and when the buyer wants to buy? Few A Players have the ability to look at an opportunity as a buy versus a sales cycle; if they did, sellers would see a way to merge the needs of a buyer to make a decision in conjunction with what a seller needs in order to make a detailed recommendation. Those steps can be agreed upon, so that both parties can reach a mutual deadline. This also gives a buyer or buying committee some control over the process.
8. Empowering Buyers versus Attempting to Sell Them
During our workshops geared toward salespeople, we conduct an interesting exercise. We ask participants to take out a blank sheet of paper and pretend that they are the authors of their own dictionaries. Then we ask them to define selling.
We're always astounded at the perceptions that salespeople have of their own profession. For example, they define "selling" as convincing, persuading, getting someone else to do what you want, handling or overcoming objections, taking at least five no's before giving up, negotiating to get what you want, and—of course—the big one: closing. ABC—always be closing. Close early! Close often!
Looking at this list and thinking about the mindset behind it, it's no wonder that most people—even salespeople—do not like being approached by salespeople.
We also work with buyers, and when asked to describe salespeople, most buyers use terms like aggressive, insincere, pushy, manipulative, over familiar, prone to exaggerate, poor listeners, and so on. When asked to boil these negatives down to one word, the number one response we get from buyers is pressure. When buyers deal with sellers, they feel pushed, manipulated, and pressured into doing things that they end up wishing they hadn't done.