Sunday, October 09 2016
Salespeople are among the highest paid professionals in our society. They are obviously important to our economy. Why then, do so few people respect sales as a career? Employee turnover is higher in sales positions than in almost any other occupation. Ask college students if they want to be salespeople and you get a resounding “NO!” And yet, a large number of them will be in a sales position shortly after graduation. To save face, they call themselves “sales engineers,” “sales consultants,” “marketing representatives,” “account representatives,” and so forth. But a rose by any other name…
Why the lack of popularity? Why is one of our oldest and most important business professions looked down upon by the public as well as the practitioners themselves? The answer, in one word, is – PRESSURE! Internal, tension-inducing pressure causes the salesperson and every client he contacts to feel uneasy, displeased, and distrustful of the interaction.
Traditional sales continues to focus on domination and control by the seller over the buyer. The salesperson is taught techniques by the hundreds: techniques to ask questions that always results in “Yes” answers, techniques to handle any objection, “Closing” techniques designed to maneuver even the most reluctant buyer into the position where he almost has to say “Yes” (“Uncle!”).
Is it any wonder that salespeople sometimes feel bad about themselves and their profession? When you spend your days persuading people in a manner which can be construed as exploitative and manipulative, you can’t help but feel bad about yourself. And when you cannot persuade the client to say “Yes,” even though the client may really have no need of the services, you are taught to analyze why you failed to close. Failed!
The nature of today’s buyers adds still more to this pressure on the traditional salesperson. They are better educated, have greater exposure to media information, and have developed a strong aversion to exploitation and manipulation. They have lost tolerance for the domineering salesperson who seeks to control them. You know or can imagine the tensions that arise as the salesperson – who also hates to be manipulated – tries to control buyers with standard dominating sales techniques.
Such pressure is NOT a natural function of selling. It does not have to go with the job. It shouldn’t and it doesn’t have to be this way! This is what collaborative selling is all about.
Collaborative selling overcomes the unhealthy, tension-laden sales environment. It is not a new bag of tricks. There are no surefire gimmicks. In fact, it is a fresh look at some very long-standing and respected techniques used in clinical psychology, counseling, consulting, negotiating, management, and marketing. These non-exploitative techniques have been adapted to the selling environment according to the philosophy that it is neither healthy nor productive in the long run to attempt to manipulate and control other people.
Collaborative selling allows the buyer to feel that he has “bought” – not that he has been “sold.” The client operates from a heightened position of openness and trust because the seller avoids exploitation. Instead of “He’ll tell you what you want to hear to get a sale,” the salesperson using these guidelines is known for telling them “How it is” – even if it means no sale today. In the long run, sales will increase; clients will be more loyal; and, if you’re the trust-building salesperson, you’ll feel better about yourself and your occupation.
Collaborative selling is different from traditional sales. it requires a different way of thinking about the customer, the product, and the goals of the sales process. The two lists which follow point out clearly some of the major differences. They are characteristics which result from careful application of their respective selling techniques. Do you recognize anyone in either list?
The list makes several obvious points. Traditional selling is salesperson oriented. The actions of the salesperson are directed toward fulfilling personal needs by the shortest, most direct route. The traditional salesperson “persuades” the customer to see his or her point of view – to MAKE THE SALE the overriding goal. In collaborative selling, however, your goal is to MAKE A CUSTOMER. Note that we said a “customer,” not necessarily a friend, but rather a person who respects your opinion, trusts your recommendations, and buys from you on a repeat basis because of that trust and respect for your professional approach.
Applying the principles of collaborative selling results in reduced levels of fear, distrust, and interpersonal tension that can create severe problems for salespeople. High levels of fear and distrust result in defensiveness, communication barriers, and non-productive and counter-productive games. When this situation occurs, tensions increase in both the salesperson and the client and the “objection game” begins. Gone is the attitude of true problem solving. Instead, the situation becomes one of persuasion, exploitation, and control. The client defensively thinks up as many objections as possible, justified or not, to prevent the salesperson from breaking through his defenses. The salesperson resorts to more techniques to counteract the objections. It is an interesting game for a cocktail party, but it certainly is not a way to make a career rewarding – monetarily or psychologically. In the objection game there are no winners – only losers.
But how do you actually SELL in this collaborative way? First, you need to practice and then apply a new set of sales processes. These are fairly easy to state, but like every new skill, they take real desire and practice to use in an easy, effective way.
Most sales transactions go through similar sales processes information gathering, and follow-through. What goes on within those processes, however, spells a dramatic difference between traditional and collaborative selling approaches. The amount of time generally spent at each of the four stages in the collaborative selling process is inversely proportional to that spent by the traditional salesperson. You can see this by referring to the figure.
THE SELLING PROCESS
At the information gathering stage, the salesperson and client find out if there is something the client needs or wants for which the salesperson may supply help.
In collaborative selling, more time is spent on defining needs than on any other stage in the sales process. In any form of consultative selling, the client’s problems or needs must be fully and accurately defined in order to effectively solve those problems or satisfy those needs. Then the rest of the processes evolve from a solid, accurate, informational base.
In traditional sales, this stage is limited. Much of the time is spent in “small talk” designed to break the ice. Little time is spent on defining the client’s specific needs. In fact, the traditionally manipulative salesperson often tells clients their needs and moves quickly into the presentation process. Of course, many sales are made in this way; but the foundation is weak, and the client is the loser.
Both traditional and collaborative selling methods allocate about equal amounts of time to the presentation process. That is where the similarity ends.
In collaborative selling, the presentation is both custom-tailored and participative. It is custom-tailored in that the salesperson only discusses the relevant aspects of the product or service as they relate to the specific needs or problems previously identified with the client’s help. In addition, only a limited number of features are presented and they are presented in their priority of importance to the client. This allows the salesperson to spend more time on each of the high priority features of the product. As a result, client interest tends to be high and to be maintained. After all, it is the client’s problem being tackled, not the salesperson’s product being pushed onto a defensive buyer. Each collaborative presentation process is unique because individual client problems and their priorities are unique. There’s no canned presentation here.
The collaborative presentation process is also participative. The client takes an active part in designing a new action plan to meet specific needs. The approach encourages the client to talk more and the salesperson to listen more.
The traditional manipulative salesperson enters the presentation process with little specific information on that client’s needs. Even if the client has outlined his or her needs, the salesperson has no established method to assure that the client has stated them accurately; the traditional method focuses primarily on the product. Often the presentation is “canned” – memorized – to assure that the salesperson covers the crucial features. Frequently, a shotgun approach is used where each feature of the product is touched on while the salesperson looks for features that will interest the client. If the first few features are not relevant, the client tends to “tune out” the salesperson before the relevant aspects of the product or service are presented. But if the client doesn’t listen, the presentation fails. Moreover, if the first few features are relevant, the time spent on them is no more than on the irrelevant features to follow. Another traditional approach is to focus on the assumed need of the client. That’s fine, if the guess is accurate; and some salespeople guess very well. If the guess is not accurate; the client’s time is wasted. The collaborative selling approach eliminates the guessing.
The commitment process is the focal point in terms of time spent by the traditional salesperson. It is proportionately the least time-consuming for the collaborative salesperson. The traditional approach takes so long at this level because it involves overcoming objections and closing the sale. In fact, the raising of objections is really an information gathering situation placed late in the process. The importance of this approach was aptly discussed in an early sales book called “The Sale Begins When the Customer Says No!” The feeling at that time was that when a client said NO, then the salesperson was really able to exhibit his or her selling (persuasion?) ability overcome the client’s objections, and close, close, close! What effect do you think this approach has on the client’s tension level – or the salesperson’s?
The commitment process in collaborative selling is where the agreed-upon solution begins to be implemented. It does just the opposite as that of the traditional approach – it removes pressure; it occurs in an atmosphere of mutual trust and respect. No separation occurs between “selling” and “closing.” With client problems, needs, and objectives mutually identified during the first stage of the sales process; with solutions arrived at mutually; with the client totally involved; the client commitment to the solution typically occurs at the end of the presentation process. The commitment process in collaborative selling, when deemed appropriate, becomes “when,” not “if.”
Another difference between collaborative selling and the traditional approach in terms of time and effort occurs in the follow-through process. The collaborative salesperson believes that the sale begins when the client says YES. At this point, the salesperson makes a commitment to the buyer to service and assist that client throughout their business relationship. The collaborative seller spends a lot of time at first establishing ways to be sure the service promised is the service provided.
Other sales techniques minimize this follow-through process. Of course, all salespeople keep in touch with customers, but so often the service concept is lost because of the stress on the product, not the client. And when a new sale is sought, the traditional salesperson has a lot to do that the collaborative salesperson needn’t do because the service and rapport is already established.
Satisfied customers are a salesperson’s greatest asset. They talk about the benefits they have derived from the product and the salesperson, and they often leave their listeners with a feeling that they, too, should buy from the same salesperson. Just as a satisfied customer becomes a source of future sales, a dissatisfied customer will prove to be a source of negative advertising and lost sales. Collaborative selling depends on long-term, trust bond relationships; and this is best accomplished through attentive after-sale service.
Correctly used, collaborative selling allows for information gathering in an open, honest atmosphere of trust and helpfulness. The client gains solutions to identified problems. The salesperson gains the support of a client who is fully committed to solving the identified problem. The collaborative salesperson deservedly feels pride in a rewarding sales profession.
Collaborative Selling will undoubtedly rattle the cages of traditional salespeople who rely predominantly on their speaking skills, objection-handling skills, and closing techniques to make the sale. It is meant to do that.
Collaborative Selling will disturb traditional sales managers and sales trainers who rely predominately on the hard sell. They may shun collaborative selling, thinking of it as a soft sell approach. If “soft sell” means that you run from the customer at the first sign of resistance, they are wrong. If “soft sell” means that you do not ask for the order, they are wrong. If “soft sell” means that you treat the customer with respect, communicate openly, and avoid sales when they are truly not in the best interest of the customer, they are right. Fortunately, for us, collaborative selling works better than the hard sell. Not only does it lead to more sales, but it makes people feel better about dealing with you and allows you to feel better about yourself and your occupation. These are the bottom-line benefits of collaborative selling!
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