The Basic Instincts of Sales!

It’s been 292 days since I last wrote a blog! Seemingly odd for me to have such a long gap between 2 blogs but nevertheless here I am with (what I hope are) some fresh insights on sales. If I wonder about what kept me away from writing for so long, I guess the answer would probably lie in today’s fast paced, vibrant and ‘wired’ world. Sales or Sales 2.0 as some would prefer, has become a complex process making sales-people work harder and smarter. The buyers these days are ‘googling’, ‘facebooking’ or ‘linking-in’, they have more tools, more knowledge and more reviews at their disposals. If you the salesperson are not on the same level as the buyers then you can kiss your sales career goodbye.

Today sales gurus, consultants, thinkers across the world are emphasizing on new rules, new processes, new strategies to deal with the ever-changing global scenario. Some strong advocates of Sales 2.0 as also erstwhile sales critics haven’t wasted any efforts in writing R.I.Ps for the classic Salesman. A more moderate and sensible view is that while the advent of technology has indeed made life simpler however at the same time it is impossible to replace the human element, so necessary in selling. All said and done, fact is that Sales as we know is no longer the same, every facet of it has changed and contiunes to do so. As the world moves from Internet to social networking to mobile networking, the world of sales is also evolving with it. Buyers today have a range of tools at their disposal to help them choose but these very tools are also available to we the sales-people. The smarter salesman can actually use Sales 2.0 to sell better and to sell more. The fact is that irrespective of whether it is Sales or Sales 2.0, you can’t change the basics of sales. As long as there is a human element involved in Sales process, basic principles of sales will strictly remain the same, which also brings me closer to the point as to why I felt necessary to write a blog after a prolonged absence.

Recently I was out in the market for a CRM for my sales force (I still am!) and happened to contact the topmost CRM provider in the market. Mr. X, a sales manager with this CRM provider contacted me in response to my inquiry. What happened later was very shocking for the salesperson inside me. I am not sure whether it was lack of training on Mr. X’s part or was it because he was selling a top-selling product, but I was pretty taken aback by the total absence of basic sales skills. I am listing down the ‘wrongs’ of Mr.X as they started happening-
1. Right from the beginning Mr. X was overly enthusiastic to me. Mind you, this entire sales process has been over the phone and using Sales 2.0 tools like gotomeeting etc. Now I know that we need to have a pleasant personality, a smiling face and what have you, however smiling and being pleasant doesn’t mean you be a jumping jack or smile from ear to ear. Moreover Mr. X called me without giving me an advance notice via email and found me in the middle of a meeting, but didn’t find it right to ask if this was the correct time to speak! Next Mr. X in his way too enthusiastic voice introduced himself and the company, the tone so grandeur as if I was the lucky winner of a lottery contest they had organized.

Basics: Having a pleasant personality (or a pleasant tone for tele-sales) and a charming smile is all that you need. You need to slowly/moderately make the buyer comfortable about your sudden appearance in his life. Too much enthusiasm may put off some, leaving them ‘comfortably numb’ rather than comfortable! Also always and always infrom in advance, schedule a call and then call. Unless you are cold calling why should you make unscheduled calls, especially since the buyer (in this case) has made an inquiry himself. Also even if it is cold-calling,  the most novice cold-caller will first ask if he/she is disturbing or is it the right time, that is not a basic principle of sales but basic mannerism.

2. Next Mr. X was in a great deal of hurry to take control of the call. I guess he must have been taught this a million times and he was blindly following it. While I was still reeling under a suspended feeling of transiting between what I was doing and the unexpected call, there was a flurry of ‘relevant’ queries that Mr. X started firing at me, with the intention of directing the course of the ship to its logical conclusion. What’s the rush? Why not know me more, why not talk to me more, why not find out about me as a person (a little at least)? To Mr. X’s credit, he handled the Q&A beautifully, asking relevant questions in a sequential manner and had the timing been right I would have given him full marks.

Basics: Know your prospects first, once you have made them comfortable with your sudden existence in their life, the next step is to slowly warm them up. Ask a bit about them, what they do and then about the company, their role and the present requirement. It’s only after this initial information exchange that you start measuring your prospect and start mapping a course for him and you to follow. The set of ‘relevant questions’ followed by a customized pitch (presentation) should be your 2nd or third call with the customer (exceptions would always exist). Rushing too soon only confuses your buyers and instantly makes them reach a point of no return.

3. After the initial set of relevant questions, Mr. X started suggesting a solution to me immediately or rather pushing that solution to me. The thing that struck me hard was that his solution absolutely mismatched with what I needed.

Basics- Since Mr. X was already in a rush hence he made the mistake of hearing but not really listening to the answers I gave. As a salesperson you should not only ask the relevant questions but be a very good active listener. Sales is an art and like any other art form, requires creativity on a constant basis. Ask the correct questions, listen closely and then formulate a solution that sells itself rather than you putting any efforts. Yes Mr. X’s solution was perfect based on my current team structure but what Mr.X completely missed was the fact that I was projecting a 100% increase in my workforce in the next 6 months. This also meant that I was actually interested in a higher version than what Mr. X was suggesting at the moment. Mr.X did hear me speaking about how I had used their product in the past, but he actually didn’t listen to the fact that it meant I knew all features and all versions. The fact is that you can’t underestimate your prospects and think on their behalf. Mr.X’s solution was based on his own understanding which reflected on poor listening skills. You need to ‘listen’ and not just hear what your prospects are telling you. Your prospects should see enough compatibility between what you offer as solution and what they had mentioned as problems.

4. Mr. X next fixed a gotomeeting session with me and thankfully this time he did schedule a time for it. Next thing I know is that I come online for that presentation and wait for half an hour before leaving the session frustrated. Mr. X calls me forty minutes after the scheduled time and initially says that “we were waiting online for you”, which makes me use a stern language and tell him how I wasted 30 mins inside the virtual meeting room. Mr. X does the unthinkable and rather than keeping up with his first lie, he blatantly blames technology! Thankfully the presenter is a different person and I got some return out of the time I had invested thus far.

Basics: There is really no basic sales principle to highlight here, rather it is a question of basic mannerism again. You have to, have to honor the time you commit to someone. Also if you are a sales guy, the last thing you want to do is lie and then be so pathetic at doing it! Like any other profession, sales is a very honorable profession and its a pity when sales people resort to cheap lies to get some brownie points. Lying is simply unacceptable in sales.

5. Right from the start of this entire sales process Mr. X had committed the grave mistake of assuming that he was the only contender in the race! So when in the 3rd call he wondered aloud on why I haven’t taken a decision yet, he was shocked to find that I uttered the name of a competitor. It seems that Mr.X had never imagined sharing the stage with any competition so he did what I personally consider a sin. He foul mouthed the competitor, taking me on a 15 min ‘educational tour’ about the competitor’s misgivings, misdeeds and what have you. He didn’t stop there but also sent me an email couple of days later expanding on his initial information about the competitor. As expected, I was totally disgusted by this time.

Basics: Like I said, it is a sin to bad-mouth others. If you want to win something, win it on your merit and not at someone else’s expense. Had Mr.X conducted the basics mentioned in the above points and avoided doing what he actually did, I am sure he would have had enough firepower to win this deal. As Sales people we are here to win buyers’ trust by showing our expertise and then helping them buy what is in their best interest. You can’t afford to misguide or lie to your buyers especially not when the sales scenario has changed, empowering buyers more than before.

There is nothing new that I have highlighted or taught through this recent experience of mine. These basic principles have been around for as long as Sales has been there and I see no reason why suddenly we should stop ignoring them. When Basic Instinct-2 was produced, times had changed, audience was different and thus in keeping with time the producers used a new storyline, a new plot but they kept the one basic element common i.e. Sharon Stone! Now I agree that this may be a bad example to quote but I guess it comes out as a tribute to Stone who dominated the fantasies of my generation who were in their teens during Basic Instinct :). All said and done I would also like to mention that Mr.X belonged to Salesforce.com and the company he so badmouthed was Zoho. I don’t have a personal vendetta against Mr.X or Salesforce.com however I do hope that someone in the company reads this and improves the quality of their own salesforce!

Lastly, I would just say this Sales 2.0 may be a new phenomenon but like they say ‘Change is the only constant’ and the quintessential salesman blends in the environment, changes style, innovates smartly but always and always stays on top. So keep the basics right and ride the tide.

Happy Selling!!!  🙂

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2 thoughts on “The Basic Instincts of Sales!

  1. Hey Ashwin,

    You always guided me when you were here and now also it feels the same by going through your blog.
    Hope to see more from you.

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