What Gets in the Way of Selling Value?

Photo by Nik MacMillan

Have you ever done a good job of selling, but the buyer did a lousy job of buying? One of two things happened – you sold the right thing to the wrong person, or you sold the wrong thing to the right person. Either way, the result was no joy.

In a recent Reilly Sales Training study, we uncovered some of the greatest challenges facing salespeople when attempting to sell value. “Understanding the buyer’s needs” was toward the top of the list.

Salespeople fail to understand the buyer’s needs when they ask the wrong questions. Too often, salespeople ask self-serving questions. They ask questions to prompt a particular response. Buyers put their guard up when they feel they are being led in a certain direction.

Salespeople ask buyers about their needs the wrong way. Buyers are often unaware of their needs. The buyer’s problem-solving ability is limited to his or her understanding of your product solutions. Buyers are not product experts; the salesperson is. As a salesperson, your goal is to help buyers discover their needs and potential solutions. This only happens if you ask the right questions the right way.

Here are some tips to help you better understand your buyer’s needs.

Ask the right questions
Questions spark conversation. Enlighten and motivate buyers to change. Asking the right questions helps buyers discover their needs. If buyers are unaware of their needs, they’re unwilling to change.

Every salesperson has experienced the “No, I’m good” objection. Salespeople will visit a new opportunity (project or office) and ask the buyer, “Hey, do you need anything today?” Buyers typically respond by saying “No, I’m good.” In this familiar scenario, the buyer sees no need to change. A better question will help buyers discover their needs.

Questions should focus on key areas of concern for the buyer. These key areas include the buyer’s long-term goals, key project objectives, and concerns. These sample questions will keep the focus on the buyer’s needs:

  • What are your long-term goals for this project?
  • What is important to you when making this decision?
  • What concerns do you have about this project?

Each question reveals important information about buyers’ needs and wants. These questions help steer the conversation down a path of value, not price.

Deep listening
Deep listening is more than hearing words. Deep listening only happens by ignoring previous assumptions and entering a conversation with an open mind. Salespeople often listen for advantage. Salespeople hear things that fit their agenda. Buyers recognize this behavior and shut down. Buyers are less open to salespeople with an agenda.

In Peter Senge’s book, Fifth Discipline, he writes about the importance of listening and dialogue. Dialogue is a discussion between people to explore a topic or resolve a problem. It’s a free flow of information. For dialogue to exist, all participants must be open and honest. If we enter a dialogue with an agenda, buyers will be less open.

Sell the big three
Buyers have needs, wants, and fears – the big three. Needs reflect objective buying criteria. Needs state quality and service requirements; these include product specifications, logistics concerns, and financial interests. Wants and fears reflect subjective buying criteria; these are personal. Wants include ease of use, greater support, and safe alternatives. Fears are things to avoid; they include backorders, unsafe products, or financial risk.

Needs are rational. Wants are emotional. Your strategy is to ask questions that help you understand rational and emotional buying criteria and then listen fully. Draw out the big three – needs, wants, and fears. When it is time to present your ideas, sell buyers what they need, give them what they want, and help them avoid their greatest fears. Then, you will be selling the right thing to the right person for all of the right reasons.

The buyer’s need is the focal point of Value-Added Selling. The focus is on the customer and his or her needs, not on the salesperson and his or her agenda. The buyer’s needs aren’t always obvious. Observing the buyer, asking the right questions, and listening will reveal the buyer’s needs.

Never meet with a buyer assuming you know their needs. Talk with the customer and listen to his or her challenges. Deep listening is the key to understanding the buyer’s needs. Epictetus, the Greek philosopher, said it best, “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.”

Paul Reilly is president of Reilly Sales Training, a St. Louis-based, privately owned company that specializes in training sales professionals, sales managers, and service professionals. Reilly Sales Training offers public seminars, in-house sales training programs, and hiring and training assessments. For additional information on training programs, call or email Paul at 636.778.0175 or paul@reillysalestraining.com. You can also visit reillysalestraining.com and sign up for his free newsletter.

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