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Transcending the Transactional to Drive Better Sales

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Tue, May 20, 2014 @ 04:05 AM

be the difference, selling against the tideA version of this article appeared in Building Products Digest in May, 2014.

After all the advice you’ve been getting from sales professionals, managers, trainers, and sales columnists over all these years, why is the transactional sale still so common? Why haven’t we swam against the tide and found a better way? Perhaps it’s because it’s easy. Someone calls, you quote a price, you get the order…or not. Move on to the next call. What’s wrong with that? In some cases, there’s nothing wrong with it; in other cases, there’s a lot. Let’s break it down.

 Transactional sales are easy and uncomplicated. That’s the irony. We love them. And that’s why your sales people gravitate to selling transactionally even when they know there’s a better way and even when they know that applying a sales process and applying better selling methodologies might give them better results. 

In an ideal world, we have the best product in a category with the best value that no one else has and everyone in the market knows we have it. Just sit back and let the phones ring, right? Imagine being an iPhone salesperson. I mean no disrespect to the helpful folks at the Apple store, but if there were ever a quintessential example of an order-taker, that would be it. And if your products were like that, you wouldn’t need sales people at your company either. Imagine if your people drove around with a hand-held order machine like those guys have. “And would you like your receipt emailed to you, Mr. Campbell?”

But your products might not be like that. There is always an alternative, to your product, to your company, to your category, or even to your people – more on that in a minute. And thankfully, this is so. It's why we need good sales people. It gives your people a chance to shine, to build value, to solve business problems, and to differentiate not only your products but themselves.

Maybe you sell a broad mix of products. Some are special. They might have a longer sales cycle as you try to get the product sold as a stock item, or at least regularly purchased as a tried and true product. Perhaps you’re hoping an end user will get hooked on a particular type of widget or that a dealer stocks a certain set of products. We’ve talked a lot about how to sell those items in other articles.

But what about the products that sell more like a commodity? What about the products for which customers call and say, “I need another 300 pieces.” What about the products that seem like price is the only thing that matters? That’s our domain today.

Let’s first divide the transactional sale into three categories so we can understand what to do in each case.

  1. First we have the customer calling who always buys this product from you.
  2. Then we have the customer who sometimes buys it from you.
  3. And finally, we have the customer who calls and never buys from you.

Case 1: In this first case, where they always buy from you, that’s as close as you’re going to get to selling iPhones. Be happy, but don’t be complacent. The key to it working long term is maintaining a great relationship with that customer. They’re not shopping you, therefore they like you. All of the other qualifications are there, by definition. So the only thing you can mess up is the relationship. Put your best account managers on it and cherish them.

Case 2: In the second case, where they sometimes buy from you, you’re locked in purchasing department purgatory. When I talk to companies about this group, I’m almost always told the same thing, “They only care about price.” I remember one such dealer many years ago who was purchasing primed wooden trim boards and everyone in distribution “knew” that price was all that mattered to him. Then one day, someone sold him PVC trim boards at three times the price. What happened? Different value proposition? Really? Are all primed wooden trim boards the same? This was a missed opportunity.

The key, in this case, is not accepting that the sale is transactional at all. They sometimes buy from you and sometimes someone else. Why? Is price all that matters? What is the product being used for? Are there alternatives? Have they ever had a problem? And what other problems did that problem cause? Does timing matter? Does having it in stock matter? What if it costs more to keep enough in stock to never run out? Who else is affected by this purchase? How often do they need it? How many more times this month? How else could we structure this to get more of their business? Why is this important? Who else cares? Should they be in the conversation? 

Find out who’s wearing the decision and get to that person. The best salespeople can do this. Then, have a business conversation. If all you do is quote the price, then you’re the same as the other guy but with a different phone voice. When the product seems the same, and the service seems the same, and the only thing that changes is the day of the week, then you need to be the difference.  Slow down the call, find out what other factors are on the table, and talk about their business. Be the only one who really gets it. When your people can do that, they are the difference.

Case 3: In the third case, where the prospect frequently asks for a quote, but never, or rarely, gives you the business, we must take a different approach and it might sound something like this. 

Salesperson: “You call a lot asking for a quote, and you’re real nice; you say we’re competitive, and you say good things about us, but we never get the business, why is that?”

Prospect: “It’s just business.”

Salesperson: “Is it fair to say you’re in business to make money?”

Prospect: “Aren’t we all?”

Salesperson: “And if you never get the business, how can you make money, and how can you be in business?”

Prospect: “Look, I get a lot of quotes from people who don’t get the business, and I give a lot of quotes for my company and don’t get the business. That’s what it means to be in business.”

Salesperson: “That doesn’t work for me. With all this price quoting, I’m spending a lot of time and not getting paid. Tell me what it’s going to take to do business with you and if it makes sense, I’ll give you another quote.”

Often, what’s happening in this third case is that you are being used to keep someone else’s prices low. The prospect is behaving as if business is devoid of relationship, both with respect to you and to the incumbent. And they will keep behaving that way until someone shows them a reason to change their thinking. Why not be the first one to do that? You have nothing to lose. They’re not your customer, but they called you. Seize the moment.

In summary, we tend to like transactional sales because they are easy. But we are leaving much on the table. We’re either vulnerable to the competition, we're stuck in a price war and a race to the bottom that no one can win, or we’re getting walked on while letting good potential business slip away. 

Can your sales people cope with these issues and reverse the transactional tendency? Can they change the nature of the conversation and reverse the downward pressure on margins? Can they sell more consultatively and become the primary differentiator? Getting the answers to these questions could be the beginning of transcending the transactional sale and having your best year ever.

 

Image credit: ajcotton / 123RF Stock Photo

Topics: Consultative Selling, sales management, role play, transactional sales, better sales people

Retail Selling, the Role of the Salesperson, and Missed Opportunities

Posted by Dennis Connelly on Sun, Nov 17, 2013 @ 09:11 AM

LuxuryStore Mall 250pxJust yesterday, I was walking through the Time Warner building at Columbus Circle in New York with my son. After getting our free chocolate truffle from the Godiva store, we stumbled into a famous luxury goods store while we enjoyed our little confections. I should note that if you like chocolate, the Godiva membership is one of the few that gives away something for nothing. One need only wait until the calendar changes to the next month to get your yummy treat. You don’t need points; you don’t need to buy ten to get one; you don’t need to spend a nickel – ever. You just show up and get your free truffle. 

This isn’t a marketing blog but there’s something there worth noting. I know Godiva fully expects that I’ll buy stuff along the way. But that’s beside the point. While other companies work to build “relationships” with their customers with all kinds of strings, caveats, and quid pro quos, Godiva is acting more like a friend. “Here, have one. I ask for nothing from you.” Seth Godin writes copiously about this kind of behavior toward customers becoming increasingly important in a noisy, information-rich world of companies desperate for your narrowing spans of attention. And Frank Belzer, whose new book Sales Shift is in the running for Top Sales World "Top Sales & Marketing Book" of the year. Vote here.

But I want to talk about the luxury good store experience because we can learn something about selling. We walked in, turned right (just like the research showed we would), and started looking at stuff in the glass cases. Art deco lighters, fancy cigar holders, and thousand-dollar pens were among the items so you get the idea of the type of store we were visiting. The young salesperson walked toward us and asked, “Can I help you find something?” I replied, “No.” He said, “Okay,” and backed away. That was it. Poor “ol’ sport,” I thought, having just seen Gatsby and having not yet completely purged that phrase from my head.

How do you spend a fortune renting retail space at Time Warner on the ground floor, with carefully-designed layout (the result, no doubt, of all the latest in psychological testing), and the best in customer acquisition strategy, and still manage to neglect the part about actually getting the sale? If inbound marketing gets you 70% of the way to making the sale (their figure), in this modern era, the upscale retail shop is designed to go even further. It has to, after all, given the expense of all the bricks and mortar they took the time to assemble. If it didn’t work, they wouldn’t keep building them. Humans, occasionally, like to get up from their computers and move around. We get cabin fever, eventually, and continue our voracious shopping habits in person.

The mentality that led to such poor salespersonship at “Luxury Store” reminds me of the approach that car dealers take, where the role of sales is misunderstood and misdirected. (More on that in another article.) The corporate executives undervalue the role of sales, rely on imagecraft, market positioning, aesthetics, and prestige, etc. and for the most part, it works. People walk into the Honda dealership because they already like Hondas, not because they have no idea what they want and lucky for them, the nice salesperson is there to help them figure it out. Gazillions are spent on advertising to help minimize the role of the salesperson, whose job is to get the person to stay long enough to experience the paper-shuffling, manager-approving Jedi tricks and sign on the bottom line.

The good ones don’t lose the sale. The lousy ones make people furious. Really, haven’t you had that experience, or know someone who has? Don’t you know people who will never buy a car from so and so till the fiery underworld remodels itself as an arctic getaway? But what about real salespeople? Can’t they make a sale where there wasn’t one? Of course they can.

Let’s replay that conversation with Ol’ Sport using a simple conversational technique I learned from TopSalesWorld Hall-of-Famer, Dave Kurlan. “Hi! Should I say welcome, or welcome back?” Me: “I haven’t walked in here before.” OS: “Then welcome. What made you walk in here today?” Me: “You were across from Godiva and I was too busy enjoying my chocolate to notice which store I was wandering into.” OS: “Perfect! If there were a reason to wander in here, what would it be?” Me: “I like cool pens.” OS: “Do you have a pen collection?” And so on, which might include questions like, What’s your favorite pen? Why? Is it sentimental or design or quality? Etc. “You know,” I might think to myself, “I wasn’t expecting to have a real conversation.”

Instead, OS stood back, afraid to say anything more, and eliminated the risk that he would lose a sale that he thinks might otherwise automatically happen. Why is this allowed? It happens because the leadership of Luxury Store, the manager, the marketing department, the board of directors, the finance team, and the sales staff are all on the same page. They undervalue the role of sales. Sales is increased, in their thinking, by the clever product creation, history, story, reputation, design, store layout, inbound strategy and marketing. The sales associate is there to open the glass cabinet, make light conversation, and ring up the purchase, right?

This is a missed opportunity because it’s possible to dramatically increase sales.

  • How many of your sales people are falling into this trap?
  • Is your company fostering the problem?
  • How much pressure do salespeople have to not blow the sale?
  • Do your sales people have the necessary selling skills?
  • Do they have the DNA to overcome their own weaknesses?
  • Can they listen?
  • Can they react in the moment?
  • Do they have the presence to be the added value themselves?

Maybe it’s time to evaluate your sales organization? Maybe it’s time to look at what you might be missing from your sales team. What are their current capabilities? How much better could they be? What would it take to make them better? And how long would it take?

Someday, I’ll buy a super nice pen because I like pens. When that happens, there was nothing about my experience at Luxury Store that puts them on the short list. But there could have been. It was a missed opportunity to make a sale much more than it was a careful execution to not lose one.

 

 

 

Topics: sales competencies, sales assessment, Dennis Connelly, Dave Kurlan, Consultative Selling, sales management best practices, recruiting sales people, sales hiring, Baseline Selling, Sales Coaching, retail sales, retail, adapting to changing sales environments, roleplay, role play, alignment of sales and marketing, alienate the prospect, CEO, changes that sales people need to make, change sales behavior, developing better sales teams, gimmicks in sales, getting your foot in the door, dysfunction, improve sales, hard selling, losing the attention of the prospect, losing the business, sales competency, losing the sale, sales mistakes, sales management training, sales leadership training, sales strengths, SOB Quality, selling process, what gets in the way of selling, amazon, sales shift, frank belzer, David Kurlan, Kurlan & Associates, Living Sales Excellence, sales excellence



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