Annually, on New Year’s Eve, I make resolutions for the upcoming year, usually as I’m cooking up unhealthy snacks while watching the televised ball drop in Times Square. There is the 10-lbs I want to lose, the extra exercise I want to accomplish, perhaps the changes I need to make in my diet. I’m not alone, every January weight loss clinics overflow, gym membership peaks, and healthy eating options fly off the supermarket shelves.
A strategy is customer initiative to improve their business. For example, the customer with construction equipment may desire to reduce their equipment downtime. An office may want to reduce their supplies expense. A bank may want to drive more customers towards automated banking. Strategies are the initiatives customers often dream up between Christmas and New Year’s, or whenever they are considering the future of their business, like as one fiscal year is ending and another begins. Think of strategies as the business equivalent of the New Year’s Eve resolution.
The telephone sales representative who calls just to “touch base” to see what is going on, may hear about any problems the customer has top of mind. But these are only one third of the business, there are also opportunities and strategies. Strategies are deeper, and customers rarely articulate strategies unless they are comfortable with the relationship, and we’ll address building a strong relationship over the phone in a later blog. To learn about opportunities and strategies, the salesperson must ask. The best way to ask is to leverage from what you know to what you don’t know by deploying the salesperson’s best friend, the open-ended question. For example, “if you could wave your magic wand, what would you change next year in your business”, or “when you and your other managers discuss how to improve the business, what changes would you make?” The telephone sales representative who has earned the trust of the customer, and it does not take all that many calls, will be able to learn customer strategies, long before the implementation stage when the details of the strategy become just problems and the selling organization becomes just another vendor on the request for proposal. The key to being successful is to explore strategies with the customer before they become just a detailed shopping list.
The salesperson who brainstorms with the customer how to accomplish their strategies can position their solutions as a way, as a mechanism, to realize the customer’s goals. At this stage, the representative is not a salesperson, they are a strategy consultant, creating an exciting business partnership between the selling organization and customer. If the salesperson waits until the customer has boiled their strategy down to a series of problems to be solved on a task list, they are simply a salesperson of a vendor, one of dozens perhaps, and ratcheting down their selling price is the customer’s chief concern. The customer has already figured out how to accomplish their strategy, now they are just filling their cart.
So, on New Year’s Eve, what strategies are your customer’s cooking up for the upcoming year? Do you know? Do you ask?