By Harrell Kerkhoff
Maintenance Sales News Editor
Basketball legend Michael Jordan once said: “You can have all the physical ability in the world, but you still have to know the fundamentals.”
What is true about sports is also true when selling. It all comes down to fundamentals, the central message presented by David M. Fellman during an educational session at the ISSA/INTERCLEAN® North America 2015 tradeshow in Las Vegas, NV.
Fellman, who is an author, speaker, trainer and consultant on selling, discussed “Sales Wisdom of the Dinosaur.” He stressed the importance of taking a more fundamental approach to selling, even though some people may consider such tactics “prehistoric.”
“There are a lot of sales people today who are looking for a new way to sell. They feel the old ways don’t work anymore — that times and communication have changed,” Fellman said. “I, however, feel that the biggest problem many sales people create for themselves is when they move away from key fundamentals.”
What Is Selling?
In order to be successful at something, it’s important to know exactly what you are trying to do. This is certainly true when selling a product or service. Fellman asked the essential question: What is selling?
“It’s not about convincing people to buy what you sell just because you sell it, and it’s not about just taking orders. What selling is really about is being a consultant,” he said. “The more complex the product or service, the more likely it requires a consultative sale.”
There is sometimes a difference between a customer’s wants and needs, he added. The question is, which is more important to the sales person — knowing what a customer wants or knowing what he/she needs?
“Fundamentally, as a sales person, you have to give customers what they need, which sometimes means you have to convince them that what they thought they wanted is not what they really need. The better you understand their wants, and the more of those wants you can fulfill on the way to meeting their needs, the better off you are as a sales person.”
He noted that many products that a sales person is responsible for may be considered commodities. However, commodity items don’t necessarily have to take away from a sales person’s consultative approach.
“Probably the best opportunity for you to win all of the business from a customer, and to be able to sell commodities at higher-than-commodity prices, is to become a consultant. This involves helping that person with the other items you sell that actually require some input on your part,” Fellman said.
Four types of people were identified by Fellman on the buying side of most sales equations. They are: suspects, prospects, customers and maximized customers.
“Suspects,” he explained, are simply those people who a sales person feels may become a prospective client. A person should only be considered a “prospect” if there is real potential that he/she can become a true “customer.” Fully qualified prospects must buy exactly what a sales person is trying to sell, are capable of buying enough of the product(s) to make pursuing him/her worthwhile, and show real interest in buying from the particular sales person.
“You call people ‘customers’ only when they are actually buying from you; and they become ‘maximized customers’ when you are getting maximum value from the relationship. This is what you should be striving for in sales,” Fellman said. “The people who don’t return phone calls and emails can’t really be considered ‘prospects.’ It doesn’t mean you give up on them, but you must be realistic.”
Value vs. Pain
A fundamental question about selling is, What exactly drives a person’s buying decisions? It’s been Fellman’s experience that the most important factors between the buyer and seller are “trust” and “product knowledge.”
“Customer service is very important, but in the selling stage, customer service is really nothing more than a promise that every sales person makes. A big part of what you do (in sales) is to make promises,” Fellman said. “If you can get people to believe your promises, they will seriously think about buying from you. This helps build trust.”
People also often factor “pain” into their buying decisions and whether or not to change suppliers. Therefore, it’s important to know what represents “value” and “pain” to people.
“If you can’t or don’t want to sell on price, you have to sell on value,” Fellman said. “According to my research, there are certain things that represent true ‘value’ to buyers.”
Fellman has collected quotes focusing on different subjects, during interviews with hundreds of buyers over the years, that represent true “value” these buyers say they have experienced while working with sales people. Examples include:
• Familiarity — “The more any supplier knows about our business and the way we do business, the better they’ll understand and be able to meet our needs;”
• Absolute Honesty — “Don’t hide bad news from me, and don’t ever put me in a situation where it’s the last minute and I don’t have any options. If you can’t do something, tell me up front, or at least the very minute after you realize we’ve got a problem;”
• Price —“You don’t have to have the lowest price, although you do have to be competitive. The more you give me in terms of value, the more I’m willing to pay;”
• Dependable Quality — “I want all of my orders to look just as good as those samples you’ve shown me;”
• Sensitivity —“You have to understand that I don’t set the deadlines, they’re imposed on me by the people I work for. I understand that I can cause problems for you, but you need to understand that I’m really passing along a problem that’s been dropped on me. If you can help me solve my problem, I’ll love you;”
• Additional Services — “When I find people I like doing business with, I want to do as much business with them as I can. You can’t believe how excited I was when I learned that my Website guy could also help me design our catalogs;”
• Desire —“You can see the difference in service when a salesperson really wants you as a customer. I’ve worked with some who never showed me that, and that’s why I don’t work with them anymore;” and,
• Predictability — “I want to know what I’m getting, in terms of quality, service, everything. If I can count on that, I’m a very happy camper.”
Fellman also discussed quotes from buyers he has collected that represent areas of “pain” when dealing with suppliers. They are as follows:
• Miscommunication/untimely communication — “It’s hard to trust a salesperson who tells you one thing and then a completely different thing happens. And why do they always wait until the very last minute to tell you about a problem?;”
• Order/acknowledgement problems — “I still don’t understand why they bounce so many orders back to us, saying they need more information. Aren’t they supposed to be the experts? If we’re doing it wrong, teach us how to do it right;”
• Untrained salespeople — “I think I know more about the products than the salesperson, and I probably know more about selling, too. She’s nice enough, I guess, but she’s really not good for much more then picking up orders and having someone from her office call me back to answer my questions;”
• Additional charges — “I awarded the order based on the quoted price, and then I find that I’m charged a different price. If you want to keep my business, you’d better tell me up front how much it’s going to cost, and spell out all the possibilities for additional charges so I can avoid them;”
• Procedures violations — “We have prescribed ways of doing things — requisitions, purchase orders, shipping standards and requirements for packing lists with every delivery. All our suppliers know this, but they still mess up our procedures most of the time;” and,
• Lack of Responsiveness — “There generally are only two times when I’ll call a salesperson — when I have something (an order) for them or when I need something from them. Either way, I want to hear back quickly.”
Fellman added that “value,” like “beauty,” is in the eye of the beholder. A buyer ultimately gets to decide what value the seller truly offers. On the other end of the spectrum, “pain” is a pivot point. Pain makes people think about changing suppliers.
Prospecting In The 21st Century
Fellman defined prospecting as, “An activity chain which begins with the identification of suspect customers and ends with the first substantive conversation.”
“When prospecting for customers, you are looking for people who have pain and problems. If they have pain and problems, you have a consultative opportunity. If they don’t have pain and problems, it’s very hard to take their business away from another supplier,” Fellman said.
When prospecting in the 21st century, he added, it’s important to identify suspects, identify decision-makers, make the first connection and hold the first substantive conversation.
“Prospecting ends at that first substantive conversation,” he added.
When looking for suspects at a company, according to Fellman, it’s important to identify the person “who buys what you sell.”
“As a sales person, you don’t really sell to a company, you sell to people. You don’t sell to XYZ Hospital, you sell to John Smith at XYZ Hospital,” Fellman said. “It’s important to find actual job titles of your suspects. Many companies have Websites that include staff directories. If you have to ask who is in charge of purchasing, make sure you also know that person’s correct job title. This helps you stay on the right track.”
The more familiar a sales person becomes with job titles within a company, the more likely he/she can find other people within the organization who also have the power to purchase products, Fellman said.
He also recommended sending introductory emails to potential customers as opposed to simply making cold-calls over the telephone.
“A good email example would be, ‘Hi, my name is David Fellman from David’s Sanitary Supplies. I am writing to you because I’ve been told you are the person who buys (a specific product) for your company. I think you might be interested in talking with me. I specialize in this product and have been selling it for a long time. I’m going to call you tomorrow and ask to set up a meeting. Please be expecting my call,’” Fellman said. “When it comes time for my phone call I would say, ‘This is David Fellman from David’s Sanitary Supplies. I sent you an email yesterday and promised to give you a call to see if we can set up an appointment. How is your schedule for later this week?’”
This system, he added, eliminates the challenge of having to sink or swim with telephone cold calls.
“It’s important to lessen the overall challenge of getting a potential customer’s attention by breaking the process into two forms — an email and the follow-up call,” Fellman said.
Early Stage Obstacles And Objections
Selling isn’t easy. There are often obstacles and objections in the way from potential customers. Common responses to a sales person’s initial inquiry can include: I’m busy right now; I don’t need anything right now; We’re happy with our current supplier; I’m happy with my current supplier; and, Just send me some literature.
Fellman provided advice when dealing with each type of response:
• I’m busy right now — “If they tell you, ‘I’m really busy right now,’ you can respond, ‘When would be a better time to call?’ Simple enough.
“If the person then says, ‘Call me in a couple of weeks,’ I would not respond, ‘Can we set a time now to call you in a couple of weeks?’ I think that would be pushing too hard against what is essentially a soft obstacle. I think when people say, ‘Call me in a couple of weeks,’ they are generally saying, ‘Yes, I’m interested, but I’m really busy right now.’
“Therefore, if I hear, ‘Call me in a couple of weeks,’ I respond, ‘You got it.’ That is all I would say.”
When time comes to make that call after a couple of weeks with the potential customer, Fellman said he would say the following: “Hi, this is David Fellman from David’s Sanitary Supplies. I hope you remember we spoke briefly a few weeks ago, and you asked me to give you a call at this time. We were talking about setting up an appointment. How does your schedule look for later this week?”
If the potential customer wants to be called back later, such as six or so months, then a different strategy should take place. The sales person should specifically ask the potential customer if he/she is at all serious about making an appointment.
“The unpleasant reality is, you can’t sell to everybody. None of us can, but consider this, you don’t have to sell to everybody. You don’t need everybody to say ‘yes.’ If you get a couple of people every month to say ‘yes’ when prospecting new business, this can have a substantial impact on your sales volume, your earnings and your value as a sales person,” Fellman said.
Prospecting is simply the search for people who show good attitudes.
“If I hear a bad attitude when selling, I’m tempted to move on,” Fellman added. “However, it’s important to remember that the default position of most humans, when faced with the opportunity to meet a sales person is, ‘Oh God, no.’ Sometimes you have to push a little harder when showing how you can bring value to a person’s life;”
• I don’t need anything right now — If faced with this response, Fellman recommended the following simple reply: “When would be a better time? When might you need something?”
• We’re happy with our current supplier — “When hearing this, please don’t say anything like, ‘Well, I respect and appreciate that. It is good when people are loyal to their current supplier.’
“When I hear people make this statement, I ask myself, ‘Are you crazy? How did you get into sales?’ We should be angry every time somebody says, ‘I don’t think we need to buy from you.’
“But consider this, instead of getting angry, maybe it’s possible to be funny. If somebody tells me he/she is happy with a current supplier, I ask, ‘Who are you buying from?’ They will say something like, ‘Bob’s Cleaning Supply.’ I will respond, ‘Oh yes, Bob’s is very good. They are probably the second best cleaning supply distributor in this area.’ I’m then hoping there is a giggle from the potential customer, which tells me that he/she got my joke. Then I would say, ‘They are very good, but so are we. Don’t you think it’s worth 10 or 15 minutes of your time to explore the possibility that we might be better than them?;’”
• I’m happy with my current supplier — “You will sometimes hear this from the gatekeeper or decision maker of a company. This can be two different statements, depending on who you are hearing it from,” Fellman said. “I have found that gatekeepers seem to really be saying, ‘I don’t think Mr. Jones (the actual decision maker) will want to talk with you. I think Mr. Jones is very happy with our current supplier.’”
It’s the objective of every good sales person to get past the gatekeeper.
“When you actually hear this statement from the ultimate decision maker, it’s more serious. However, the good news is you are actually talking with the person making the final purchase decisions. You get the opportunity to change that person’s mind,” Fellman said; and,
• Just send me some literature — When faced with this response, Fellman recommended the following reply: “I can do that, but don’t you think it’s more important to talk with me face-to-face about your needs?”
The First Substantive Conversation
The word “substantive” is defined as: “Having a firm basis in reality and therefore important, meaningful, or considerable.”
In selling, according to Fellman, the first substantive conversation with a potential customer takes place at the end of the “prospecting stage” and the beginning of the “convincing stage.” Most importantly, it’s at the heart of the “opportunity stage.”
“Your first substantive conversation is not an opportunity to go in and make a presentation and show samples and tell people about all the cool stuff that you sell. Rather, it’s your chance to see if (a potential customer) has any problems you can solve, any pain you can relieve, and/or any opportunity you can help them capitalize on,” Fellman said.
The first substantive conversation, he added, must be conducted with people who meet the three criteria for being “fully qualified prospects.”
“They must buy what you sell, they must buy enough of what you sell to make pursuing them worthwhile, and they must show actual interest in buying specifically from you,” Fellman said. “It’s fairly easy to sell to a fully qualified prospect. It’s pretty much impossible to sell to a non-prospect.
“Your first substantive conversation with a potential customer is about qualifying more than anything else. Ask, ‘Do you buy what I sell? Do you buy a lot of it? Tell me about your problems?’”
Dealing With Price Objections
An objection over price by a potential customer is not necessarily the end-all to a selling proposition. In fact, such an objection can lead to a positive outcome.
“When a price objection comes up, it may just mean that somebody is really telling you, ‘We think your prices are a bit high.’ You are being given the opportunity to negotiate,” Fellman said. “This is not something scary. In fact, it’s something you should embrace. When people invite you to negotiate, they are simply inviting you to justify your price.”
When a negotiation starts, there are three areas up for discussion. They are: value, cost and price, Fellman said. This is the order in which a sales person should approach any negotiation.
“Negotiating on value is all about telling a potential customer why he/she should buy from you, even though your price may be higher than what he/she wants to pay,” he said. “My observation over the years has been that most people will pay what they have to pay to get what they really want and need.
“Also, (many buyers) don’t actually know how much it will cost them to adequately have their needs met. We all want to spend less money, but your challenge, as a sales person, is to convince buyers that the smaller (price) may not lead them to what they really want or need.”
Fellman added that many people who work in purchasing attend seminars to learn how to properly negotiate with sales people. These buyers are often taught aggressive negotiation skills in order to lower a product’s price.
“Sometimes these people will complain about your price just to see if you are weak enough to meet their demands. They know a lot of sellers are weak,” Fellman said.
For buyers who are more serious about receiving a lower price, Fellman stated that negotiating cost is all about the application of product knowledge. This includes the possible use of an alternative proposal.
“Maybe a buyer’s budget won’t support your Cadillac product. Perhaps a lower price point is the best option. It may be a little less expensive, with fewer bells and whistles, but if it can take care of the customer’s needs, then it’s still a win/win situation,” Fellman said.
It’s important to remember, he added, that lowering the price of an item, with no corresponding reduction in cost, means the sales person is essentially giving away the product. There are situations when this can be justified, such as quoting the list price on a product that comes with a high profit margin. It may also be OK to lower the price on an item if the sales person is trying to get his/her foot in the door with a potentially large account.
“I have no problem with using aggressive pricing if it’s a good business decision. However, you shouldn’t do it as a knee-jerk reaction to some buyer trying to use intimidation,” Fellman said. “Anytime you give something up, you want to receive something in return. This makes it a win/win situation — a real negotiation.
“If all you are doing is simply lowering your price, then you lose; and you may lose the respect of your customer. There are buyers who can smell fear. Once they learn how to intimidate you, they will probably try to do it again.”
Negotiating price, he added, is all about getting something of value in return for anything that is given up.
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