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Salespeople pay attention! Or lose the sale

Selling is never easy. Never. But salespeople often make it even tougher for themselves by letting customers get away empty-handed. It isn’t that customers don’t find what they want or what they’re looking for. It’s just that they don’t want to deal with the salesperson.

With the 800-pound Internet gorilla lurking over every sale, today’s customers are much more demanding when dealing with salespeople. If the experience doesn’t meet their expectations, they’re gone.

More often than not, misreading customers causes them to look elsewhere — missed sales. It doesn’t need to happen and here’s how to avoid it:

1. Be sure you’re speaking with the right “customer.” Wrapped up in every customer is a few customers who behave differently depending on the situation. The first job is figuring out which of these customers you’re dealing with at the moment so you can respond correctly. They are:

• The “I want to know more” customer. This customer requires patience, so ask clarifying questions and get them talking. Don’t push, but gently pull them along until they’re comfortable.

• The “I have all the answers” customer. Let this customer talk and tell you all about it; don’t cut them off. This person wants to be the salesperson so let them feel they made the buying decision on their own.

• The “I know what I want” customer. By listening carefully to these customers, you may find inconsistencies in their thinking. Then by asking them follow up questions, these customers may recognize that what they thought they wanted was not a good idea after all.

• The “I can’t make up my mind” customer. Here, the salesperson becomes a resource, offering options and comparisons and making note of the customer’s responses so the person can recognize the best solution.

By making sure you’re talking with the right customer, salespeople take a big step toward making the sale rather than losing it.

2. Think individuals, not groups. Even though everyone is unique, we lump people into groups — doctors, servers, business owners, blue collar, boomers, Gen Z, old people, Hispanics, and on and on. In reality, we know that all Hispanics, accountants, or electricians are not the same. For example, out of the nearly 80 million 18- to 35-year-old millennials, there’s a segment of 6.2 million with an annual family income of $100,000 or more. They’re the affluent millennials and they’re different from the other 62 million nonaffluent millennials of the total group.

According to a study, Money Matters: How Affluent Millennials Are Living the Millennial Dream, this group is in a second phase. “Compared to nonaffluent millennials, affluent millennials overindex when it comes to changing jobs, buying a home, and making home improvements in the last 12 months,” and they also “overindex when it comes to expecting a child in the next 12 months,” states FutureCast, the study sponsor.

It’s clearly good to be cautious when making marketing and sales assumptions about any group. Basing decisions on opinion, inaccurate information, or hearsay leads to misreading customers — and missed sales.

3. Don’t stop with first impressions. A marketing manager called about setting a meeting to talk about working with his company. After a 400-mile drive, he arrived in a near-ancient pick-up truck, wearing ragged jeans, a wrinkled shirt, and dirty boots. There was little doubt about that first impression: The meeting was going to be a waste of time.

Not recognizing it, we instantly pigeonhole customers — and that can be a mistake. First impressions may not tell the whole story. The man in the dirty boots is a good example. He was for real; his company became our largest account.

Never get carried away with first impressions, and be prepared to discard those that don’t fit.

4. Always offer options. There’s a lot to learn from companies that do a great job capturing customers by offering options. The Honda Accord, for example, comes in several models, each with a basic price: LX, Sport, EX, and EX-L. Choices engage customers so they don’t go away.

To be effective, options must be realistic and not so many that they become confusing or frustrating to customers. A financial advisor may present three scenarios for a client’s consideration, while a real estate agent may show a client several styles of homes. Options should create discussion and further interaction.

5. Don’t tell customers what to think. “Do you love it?” said the interior decorator after delivering the reupholstered sofa cushions. The couple murmured a few words, “It’s bright and different.” But at that moment, one thing was certain; they didn’t love it.

Far too often, salespeople make the mistake of trying to “guide” customers, tell them what to think: “This a great buy.” “Isn’t this a perfect floor plan for your family?” “Don’t you just love the color?” “This is going to look great in your home.”

Customers want help and suggestions, but they don’t want salespeople telling them what to think. When that happens, it’s a turn off.

5. Forget about customer loyalty. It’s only human to believe that we have loyal customers. When some leave, we make excuses as to why they left. It’s tough seeing customers leave. It’s as if they are rejecting us. It negates everything we’ve done for them. Breaking up is painful, particularly after making customer care a top priority and bending over backward to satisfy them.

We think that customers show their appreciation by being loyal to a company, brand, or salesperson. However, what we label as loyalty may be something quite different. It may be nothing more than convenience, price, laziness, inertia or habit. Nothing more.

In other words, customer loyalty is an illusion. It lets us think the interchange with customers should result in their loyalty — and that’s a big mistake. Today, nothing — absolutely nothing — stands in the customer’s way from getting what the customer wants, the way the customer wants to get it, and where they want to get it.

We misread customers and lose them when we expect their loyalty. Our task is to focus on doing everything possible to give them a great experience. That’s the only reward that counts.

Misreading customers costs sales. To prevent this from happening, it takes doing battle with our assumptions, particularly those that influence how we think about customers and what we expect from them.

John Graham of GrahamComm is a marketing and sales strategist-consultant and business writer. He publishes a free monthly eBulletin, “No Nonsense Marketing & Sales Ideas.” Contact him at jgraham@grahamcomm.com, 617-774-9759 or johnrgraham.com.

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