Trading Spaces

When was the last time you sold from the customer's point of view?
Magazine Contributor
3 min read

This story appears in the November 2003 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

For years, I've interviewed my customers' customers to find out what they like and dislike about my customers' sales teams. After all, no one can tell you how to sell better than your customers. Based on that feedback, here are five universal factors for selling success:

1. Knowledge: Customers expect you to have broad knowledge about how your product is made and used or how your service is applied; about your company, its background and its selling policies; and about your industry as a whole.

Customers also expect you to understand their business, customers and competition. They want a rep who understands their company's positioning and target markets without resorting to regurgitated information. As one customer said to me, "I want somebody who can explain the product without going through 100 pages of studies, charts and graphs. I need to understand how the product is going to work for me."

To give yourself a knowledge boost, spend 30 minutes with a valued customer, and ask him or her to tell you how you can improve your service. It will be the most educational half-hour you'll ever spend.

2. Empathy: Empathy is developed by improving your listening skills. When you ask targeted questions, listen carefully to the answers. Once you know your customer's goals and challenges, you can tailor your presentation to that customer's specific needs. Don't forget that your customers have pressures and stress- must weigh many factors in the decision-making process. Be sympathetic to that fact, and do whatever you can to make the process easier. Always let your customers talk, and take notes on what they say. Concentrate on discovering what's most important to them at this moment. Let them know that you understand their concerns and will do your best to help alleviate them.

3. Solutions: You're not just selling products or services; you're selling solutions to problems. It's your job to find ways to make customers' lives easier, help them expand their businesses, grow their customer bases and take their businesses in new directions. One customer told me about a salesperson he admired: "This person went to meetings at our company- meetings she could attend. She learned about other departments and the bigger picture of our company. The solution she gave us was based not just on our goals, but on the company's goals as well. She exceeded my expectations of what a salesperson could do."

4. Hard work: Customers appreciate salespeople who put in extra effort and sometimes extra hours. They like to know they can reach you early in the morning or late in the day. They want to know they can get 110 percent effort from a salesperson who cares about them and their business. Extra effort builds credibility. I know one salesperson who installed equipment on a weekend so he wouldn't interfere with his customer's business. The customer was so appreciative of the salesperson's hard work that he bought several more products worth many thousands of dollars.

5. Straight talk: Be honest with your customers. Over and over again, customers say they want to know upfront all the details of any agreement. They'll go back to a vendor who made a mistake and owned up to it, but they'll rarely do business again with a salesperson who misled them and tried to cover up an existing problem. Simply put, honesty is the glue that holds every relationship together.

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