By: Jeff Hoffman
I’ve been in sales over 25 years and I’ve received my fair share of advice and suggestions from peers, leaders and teammates. I’ve focused on what I consider to be the best and worst advice and explained why it is important to value or perhaps get rid of some sales practices you may have been taught. Here’s my top two pieces of advice to remember as we head into 2019!
Best Advice: Your Customer is Smarter Than You.
The best sales advice I’ve ever gotten was very early on in my sales career from a sales manager named Bob. He said to me, “Jeff, don’t ever forget this – your customer is smarter than you.” And this is by far the best advice I’ve ever gotten in sales.
Once you realize that your customer is smarter than you, it liberates you from doing any nonsense to prove your intelligence to your prospect. You’re not longer the expert, but the student. You’ve switched the paradigm from Seller-Buyer to that of Student-Teacher. This will work to your advantage and you’ll find your prospect is much more willing to answer your questions and give you more information. So next time, don’t start the conversation with, “I understand that…” Instead, start the conversation with, “I don’t understand that…”
“I don’t understand” gets engagement. It starts conversations, and it gets your prospect talking. If you believe that your prospect is smarter than you, then you believe that they can teach you something. And that will start great dialogues.
Worst Advice: Call the Prospect to Find Out Why You Lost Their Business and Didn’t Win the Deal.
This is by far the worst advice I’ve been given in my career. There are a couple of reasons for this. The first is that the people who told you “no” are not going to be an honest or transparent voice. They’ll feel guilty they didn’t buy from you and so the likelihood of their direct feedback is limited.
The second reason is that the information you will receive from lost deals doesn’t necessarily give you data or feedback that will help you win the next deal. For example, “We lost this deal because I didn’t get to procurement on time.” Ok, so now what do I do for the next deal? Get to procurement earlier? Ok, good luck with that. The underlying subtext here is that you lost a deal and the debrief of the deal indicates that it was something in your activity that caused this. It’s important to remember that it is rarely the sales rep that causes the sale, and it is rarely the sales rep that causes a loss.
The flip side of this is that if you want to learn about an outsider on a deal, start with happy existing customers. Why? Because they’ll be honest with you. Ask them not only why they bought from you, but also what might have prevented them from buying. Try asking them, “Where did I make mistakes that might have put our deal in jeopardy?” You’ll get way better feedback and advice from current, happy customers.
I can’t stress enough that there is nothing to be gained from calling a lost prospect. Imagine this scenario – a significant other dumps you. And then imagine that 2 weeks later you call them up and go out to dinner with them to ask about all the things that went wrong in the relationship. And if that isn’t awkward enough, imagine bringing your dad along for the dinner.
THAT is what a debrief call is equivalent to. And that interaction will guarantee there is no possible opportunity with this prospect in the future. This is the biggest release of social value that you could possibly do as a sales rep. And you have absolutely no chance of rebuilding this relationship later, for potential future business.
That is both the best and worst advice I’ve received throughout my sales career, and both have stuck with me all this time. If you plan to make any changes as you head into 2019 – remember these. Treat your customer as the expert in your prospecting conversations and call up your happy customers to gain insights into what will make you a better sales rep.