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The Sales Japan Series - 204: Virtual Selling - We Need A New Questioning Approach (Part Three)

204: Virtual Selling - We Need A New Questioning Approach (Part Three)

The Sales Japan Series

One of the sad things about salespeople is they mostly have no idea what they are doing. So we transfer that poor understanding of the basics to the online world and then wonder why they are not succeeding. Kata is a Japanese word to describe a set way of doing things. In Karate we learn kata and they must be done in the exact same way, every time. These are best practice modes and the idea is to perfect them. Sales also has kata, but few salespeople learn them, let alone try to perfect them. The online world requires new kata built on top of the old kata. You can’t move to the second level, until you have mastered the first level.

For those in the minority in sales, who actually enquired about what the client needs, this is only the start. Again, sadly for many, this is the end of their approach and they don’t know how to go further. They enquire about what the client needs and then they spend the rest of the meeting time with the buyer, trying to convince them to buy their solution. They hammer the buyer with slides brimming with information. The problem with this approach, although much better than the pitchfest quicksand most other salespeople wallow in, is that you become a transactional element in the buyer’s world.

Farming should be 80% of the effort and the other 20% spent on hunting for new clients. Let’s be clear, we are not looking for a sale. This is a critical point that many salespeople miss. We are not looking for a sale, because we are looking for a resale. As much as we love our clients and take super good care of them, there will be reasons why they drop out and so must be replaced. This is why we need to hunt. In Japan, there are few salespeople who can be successful hunters. In the online world this problem is really exacerbated. The upshot is you don’t have a big supply of talent to do hunting and this will make it difficult to grow your business. Better to have lots of farmers, who are in good supply and only depend on hunters for 20% of your revenue. Talking to existing clients online is relatively comfortable for most salespeople.

Sounds great but how do you get to 80% of your business coming from existing customers who are repeat buyers? Running around trying to fill needs will not get your there. It is a bit like today’s cars. When there is a problem the mechanic doesn’t even bother fixing the part. They just get a new one and replace the whole unit. Look under the hood sometime and what you see is a bewildering array of units, which are switched in and out. Forget trying your luck fixing it by yourself. When we are only satisfying needs, we become one of those replaceable units. The buyer switches us out and replaces us with a competitor.

The way to stay in the game is to become a trusted advisor. Sounds easier than it is. To achieve that aim we need to elevate the dialogue with the buyer. At the bottom of the ladder are wants and needs. Fulfilling those can become a commoditised effort. We don’t want to be a commodity because then we are chosen on the basis of price. We want to be chosen on the basis of value instead.

We need to engage the buyer beyond wants and needs to have a discussion about their challenges and goals. We are now entering the strategic partner zone, where we don’t just fix immediate needs, we start to get to the “design in” stage. In manufacturing certain products, the way to make the sale is to be involved in the design stage and get your widget “in” to the specifications. When we are clear about their goals and their barriers to achieving those goals, we are having a much richer conversation than our pitchfest or tactical needs fulfilment only competitors.

Asking about their strategy, their positioning in the market and where they want to be in the industry is where the trusted advisor magic starts to happen. This requires a lot more intelligent digging in the questioning stage and the development of quite different questions for the buyer. For example, “If we can supply the solution to this issue, how will this accelerate your strategy?”. If we want to go up the scale we can ask, “You have spent a lot of time, effort and money on brand building and marketing, so if we can solve this issue, how will it reinforce or improve the positioning you have desired in the market?”. At the top of the ladder we ask, “If we can solve this issue, how will this ensure you continue to be a leader in this industry?”.

This is a long way from just asking, “If we can supply it in blue, would you be able to make a decision today?”. This is the transactional kata. Rather, we want the trusted advisor kata using more sophisticated questioning and focusing on conversations about bigger picture issues than things like the colour range.

When you understand their problem, start digging in for the more strategic ramifications of solving their issue. To become a trusted advisor, you have to be able to solver bigger problems ...

09/22/20 • 11 min

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