Turning a Negative into a Big Sale

Published on December 11, 2008

In today’s economic turmoil, the question facing all sales executives is how they can close business when no one is buying. This reminds me of my first sales position when I was hired by Royal Business Machines in 1980 to sell copiers. They just came out with the Royal 115 Copier, their first plain paper, dry toner copier. It was a sleek machine producing fine quality prints at 15 pages per minute. During the interview process, a timeline was given to me for when the new models with added features, such as collating and stapling, were going to be released.

As luck would have it, the introduction of these models was severely delayed. How in the world was I going to meet my sales numbers by selling a slow copier that was incapable of meeting all of the needs of my customers? I needed a full line of copiers to sell. At least that’s what I thought.

Having only one type of copier to sell forced me to change my game. By “game”, I mean the conversation I was having with the customer. After being thrown out on my butt way too many times, I realized if I kept trying to sell one size copier to fit all needs, I was going to keep failing. I asked myself what was I really selling? When I got beyond the fact that I was selling a copier, I recognized that the real outcome I was selling was improved communications.

This one realization allowed me to start my conversations differently. Instead of asking about the features they were looking for (knowing that I could not satisfy most of them), I inquired about the challenges they were having with their current communications process. What would they change if they could? Of course, this question was asked in regard to the copying system they were using. The answer invariably was that it took too much time for a receptionist to walk to the third floor where the copier of all copiers was located. To make a single copy usually took around 20 minutes once you factored in the time for the walk and the side conversations that were held along the way.

This allowed me to position my slow but quality copier as the answer to their challenges. Why not place a Royal 115 copier on each floor to handle the small jobs? This will remove the challenge of wasting so much time to go to the third floor and drastically improve productivity. The end result was that I started to sell more machines. In fact, I was now selling multiple machines to each company vs. the one unit I would normally sell.

The key learning point is my sales started to increase when I stopped worrying about what I could not offer and started concentrating on my strengths. In today’s economy, it is tougher to make a sale. Instead of concentrating on why someone will not buy from you under these difficult circumstances, concentrate on why they need your products and services more than ever before. To do this, you need to elevate your conversation above the features and focus more on the outcomes.

Today, organizations and people need better outcomes. You can help provide those outcomes! What are you going to do to change your conversation and sell more in this down economy?

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