As I’ve said before, I am not a sales CEO. I’m not even much of a customer-facing CEO. But I’ve been on the other end of a lot of sales pitches, both from our competitors when I was a practicing lawyer and more generally.
Here is how I think about effective sales.
The fundamental rule of effective sales is that solving my problem is your job, not mine. You are talking to me because I have a problem to solve. I want to hear only those things that help me decide whether you are the company who will solve that problem for me.
Everything else is annoying. When there is too much “everything else,” the annoyance becomes anger. Sometimes I will buy a product even when sales doesn’t do a good job at showing me why their company will solve my problem; but in those cases, I am buying in spite of the sales effort (i.e., because I can see for myself that the product or service will solve my problem), not because of it.
So where do salespeople often go wrong?
— No deep understanding of the product. If you have me on the phone, it is infuriating to hear that you need to rope in other people (generally sales engineers / technical folks or domain experts / integration folks) to answer my questions. My first real-time interaction with you should be with someone or some group of people who can answer any question I am likely to have.
— No deep understanding of the domain. I don’t want to explain to you what I do if that is something you already should know. Nor do I want to hear you tell me about what I do when it is plain that I already know what I do. And I certainly don’t want to spend the first 15 minutes confirming with you that what you should already know I do is in fact what I do. Put another way: I don’t want you to learn about me on the call. I want to know, from what you say and what you show and how you act, that you are like me, that you understand me already. Show this, don’t tell me it’s true.
— No deep understanding of the space. I am looking at alternatives. To help me pick intelligently, you need to compare and contrast yourself to those alternatives. The alternatives are not only other products, but solutions other than products; in greenfield sales, you need to compare and contrast yourself to the status quo. And you should be giving me new information, not obvious things I’ve already thought about, when you do this.
— I don’t (want to) buy on features or specs. What I am really after is not a list of features or technical specs or even a discussion of how particular features or specs will help me solve my problem. I do not want to be in the position of asking hard questions about these things (will it do X? will it do Y?) because I might miss something; you know what questions to ask much better than I do. Feature discussions and social proof (logo slides) are second bests or means to an end.
What I want is confidence that you’ve thought these things through and solved them correctly, by which I mean “in the way I would want them to be solved if I had all the information.” I want to trust that you know what you’re doing and what I’m doing and that what you’re selling will solve my problem. I then want your company to stand behind that trust and deliver something that just works.
Solving my problem is your job, not mine.