Sure, this business is becoming more high-tech. But whether you are selling pipe and wire or wireless lighting controls, the basics of professional salesmanship still rule supreme.
Your products are commodities,” says the buyer. “It's all about price.” And we, discouraged and aware that other choices exist out there, some less expensive than ours, go back to the office and fight for a better multiplier, a bigger discount or better terms. But is it really all about price?
Have you ever won a sale when you knew you were not the lowest bidder? Of course you have. What made the difference? And while we're looking at our own experiences, have you ever lost a deal when you knew you offered the lowest price? Sure you have. Why? It's easy to say it all comes down to price, or to blame the product or our suppliers when we lose, but the painful truth is that we were outsold. An old saying in our profession is, “People buy from people,” and it remains true even in these days of eBay, craigslist and reverse auctions. Our customers don't need to get the lowest price. They need to get the best price, and that means the most perceived value for their investment. Whether we're talking pipe and wire, lighting or push buttons, the customer buys from the vendor they trust to give them the best deal, and that's measured by many factors beyond price, including availability, inventory, service, risk, terms, reputation and more. It's measured as you and all you bring to the party.
People buy from people they respect and trust. Have you demonstrated that you are trustworthy? Do you take notes in meetings? Do you follow through on what you say you'll do? What do you do when you make a mistake? Do you step up and admit it? Do you tell the customer as soon as you know you can't meet a deadline or promise date?
Power buys from power. Have you given yours away? Have you trained your customer that it's okay to disrespect you? To waste your time? To be less than honest? We get the behavior we expect and accept. Remember that customers don't see you because they are lonely. They see you because they believe you may be able to help them fill a need or solve a problem. You bring value to them in the form of your products, but also by your knowledge, experience and the resources you represent. Stand proud in that knowledge and respect yourself and you will see the customer's respect for you grow.
Do you only call on your customer base when there's a big buy coming? Then you reinforce the stereotype that salespeople only care about themselves and their income. Take the time to nurture your business relationships on a regular basis, even when times are rough. Your customers will remember who cared enough to check in with them when business improves.
Do you take the time to understand what's important to your customer beyond price? If it's a contractor, how are they impacted by penalties and charge-backs? Could the size of your inventory and your willingness to deliver according to their project schedule help remove that issue? If it's an OEM, are they trying to get more done with fewer people? Can your support team make a difference in their ability to get to the market in a timely and profitable manner?
Every day we have a chance to reinforce negative sales stereotypes or to create new respect for the sales profession. When we model integrity, empathy and follow-through, we are treating our customers the very way we want them to treat us. Step back and look at the whole picture. Your customer does. Even when he's telling you it's all about price, it's not.
Sharon Parker is the author of Selling with Soul Version 2.0: Achieving Career Success without Sacrificing Personal Integrity or Spiritual Growth. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.