I was grabbed by this headline in the Independent yesterday (22/11/06). The article spoke of an unnamed salesperson for Oxford Scientific Instruments who had earned more than his CEO in the last six months by completely blowing away his sales targets. I’m sure that many people reading that article were thinking – Wow! Who is the salesman and how did he do it?

Well I don’t know for sure but I suspect that at least part of the secret of his success was that he didn’t make the same mistake that many “average” salespeople do.

The most common trap that salespeople of all experience levels fall into is premature pitching, that uncontrollable urge to blurt out all the features and benefits of you product you can think of as soon as the customer has said the slightest thing to suggest that they might have a problem that your product or service will solve .

I have spent over 20 years in selling and have studied top sales people in many different industries. One of the things that all these sales stars have in common is the presence of mind to spend most of their sales time getting the customer to talk about their unfulfilled wants and unmet needs.

Only after they have uncovered the customers whole shopping list, do they start to talk about their own product or service. By doing it this way, they are already well on the way to winning a much higher portion of deals than their eager beaver counterparts who think that they are not selling unless they are talking about their product.

Key benefits of this alternative approach are:

  • Their customers really feel listened to, and have a much better understanding of their own needs as a result of the questions asked by the salesperson. In other words the salesperson has become a valuable resource to their prospective client.

  • The salespeople really do understand the client’s situation in detail before they present so they are in a much better position to “sell” only the appropriate features and benefits that address the needs they have already identified.
  • It allows them, when they do present, to talk first about how they can solve the issues that are deal makers or breakers, in the prospective client’s mind. They can do this because the great salespeople summarise what the customer has told them and ask which of these is most important to you at this time, clarify the relative importance of the customers needs and wants.

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