Imagine you and your significant other have decided to catch the latest thriller at the local multiplex movie theater. After purchasing your ticket, you head directly to the new candy station that allows you to choose a few pieces of each of your favorite brands. You formulate a plan: You'll eat the jelly beans during the previews, then the nonpareils during the first part of the movie, and save the malted milk balls until the thrilling climax. As you head toward your theater, you fail to notice the teenager leaning against the lobby wall, his foot just slightly in your way. You trip but catch yourself before you fall. Your candy, however, isn't so lucky. It is strewn all over the lobby floor. You didn't even make it to your seat! What about your plan? How are you going to enjoy the movie now?
What does this have to do with selling? All too often, we salespeople do the equivalent when we interact with a new prospect. We have a plan in mind for the initial sales interview. We have learned that it is important to ask a lot of questions; that "selling isn't telling." We know we want to gather as much information as we can before we make our "pitch."
We shake hands and sit down, and after a little bit of rapport-building banter, the prospect asks us questions like, "So, what can you do for us?" or "Why do you think we should do business with you?"
Unfortunately, we have become so well versed in our features, benefits, and advantages that we can't help but share our excitement about our wonderful products and services, about all the wonderful things we have done for other people, about how our stuff is the greatest in the world, and best of all, it comes with us, who will provide the best personal service in town.
The prospect might then ask how much this stuff will cost, so we share our pricing schedule with them, and perhaps launch into a return-on-investment analysis to show them that other clients have recovered the investment in as little as six months.
Then, all of a sudden, it dawns on us: We just "spilled our candy in the lobby!" What happened to our plan to get to know their business better, to ask more questions? We've been there for an hour, and we were talking for fifty minutes of it!
Why is this a problem? Because they have our information; they have our price - in other words, everything they need to start shopping us around, or maybe even do it themselves. And what do we have? Only a sore throat from talking too much.
The challenge lies in how effectively we can learn to use our product and industry knowledge. We certainly know a lot of stuff - we proved that when we talked for fifty minutes without a break. But did we accomplish our goals of finding their real issues, determining their budget and understanding their decision processes?
We use our knowledge effectively when we ask the right questions - questions that will allow our prospects to discover that we are the answer to their problems.
Next time, don't spill your candy in the lobby!