By: Alex Hawmi
I tell my class multiple times a semester, “It’s not enough to know how to sell; you need to know what you are selling and who you are selling to.” Knowing what you are selling means being an expert on the products and/or services you sell, because only knowing what is written on your glossy company brochure means when you hand the brochure to a customer, you are offering no additional value. However, the second facet — knowing who you are selling to — often gets lost in the shuffle.
Every professional salesperson should have the mantra, “What does my customer need, and how can I help them meet that need with my products and/or services?” Too often, I have seen inexperienced, unprofessional and/or poorly trained salespeople focus completely on the features and benefits of a product or service without any regard for whether those features and benefits are actually useful to or needed by the customer.
Consider this example: You own a shampoo company. Your shampoo is the best on the market. It is competitively priced, has great packaging, is made of all-natural ingredients, owns a strong reputation for performing as advertised is backed by a strong integrated marketing campaign to promote it, and has a trusted and respected celebrity endorser. Sounds great, right? But how would you convince someone with no hair to purchase this product? A person with no hair has no need for shampoo of any kind. And if this was a sales situation, spending time espousing product features and benefits to clients with no need for them is a waste of time, effort and resources. Keeping your sales force focused on what customers actually need results in a higher percentage of closed sales and a more efficient use of time and resources. Focusing on customer needs is the essence of a salesperson who is working smarter, not harder.
- What do you need?
- Why do you need it?
- Are you currently using a product/service in this category, or have you used one in the past?
- What did/do you like about past/current suppliers?
- What did/do you dislike about past/current suppliers?
Answers to these questions tell you: a) in your customer’s own words, what they need and why they need it; b) if your customer has any familiarity with the product/service category and; c) what your customer likes/liked and dislikes/disliked about their past or current suppliers. Why is this important? For one, you are not telling the buyer what they need based on your experience or what you have seen as other buyers’ needs in the past. The buyer is defining their own needs. An entirely different article could be written on the benefits of getting customers to define their own needs.
Second, discovering likes and dislikes of past/current suppliers is beneficial to you, as well. If you then can show the buyer that they can have most or everything they like about their past/current supplier, plus eliminate some or all of what they dislike about their past/current supplier, you have logically positioned yourself as a superior option.
Never assume you know your customer’s needs. Your customers are like snowflakes — each with unique characteristics.
Reference: Rackham, Neil (1988), SPIN Selling, Chicago, Illinois: McGraw-Hill Professional.
Alex Hamwi is an associate professor of marketing at Missouri State University. Hamwi specializes in sales and sales management issues. His research has been published in several major academic journals, including the Journal of Selling and the Journal of Sales and Sales Management.
This article appeared in the June 24, 2017 edition of the News-Leader and can be accessed online here.