Lead the Conversation: Help Your Customers Get to the ‘Promised Land’

Published on March 26, 2009

Lead the Conversation: Help Your Customers Get to the ‘Promised Land’ Exerpt #2 from my new book, ‘Lead, Sell or Get Out of the Way’ https://LeadSellorGetOutofTheWay.com

By Ron Karr My brother-in-law Dan resigned from his position as a junior partner at a well-established law firm. He had a choice: He could continue working really hard and take only a small portion of the fees he brought in, or he could start his own firm, hire lawyers under him, and increase his share of the profits. Dan knew one of the secrets of sales leadership.The Leader’s AdvantageYou will make much more money through the efforts of others than you ever could make solely through your own efforts. 

Beyond the Lone Ranger Whether you are selling an idea, professional service, or a product, you are probably hoping to sell more this quarter than you did last quarter, in less time, and at a higher profit. You cannot do this on your own, if indeed you ever could. To hit the targets you now face, you must build and sustain coalitions that will support you and act on your behalf. The “Lone Ranger” selling model may have worked in the past; in fact, many successful Lone Rangers were promoted to sales managers. Unfortunately, what made them successful as a Lone Ranger sometimes becomes their biggest obstacle to success as a sales manager—namely, their inability to get things done through other people. 

Leaders Don’t Puke 

Let’s start with something you probably already know: Customers today don’t want to be sold. In fact, the moment they feel they are being sold, they head for the hills—either by disengaging from the sales process or by simply ending the conversation, either audibly or silently. What customers do want is help in making the right choices. They don’t need you to puke up all the features that your products and services have to offer. You may wonder why I use the word “puke.”Well, for starters, it’s memorable. Members of my audiences tend to keep the “don’t puke” rule in mind for a long time after I share it with them. Second, the word perfectly describes the basic problem we’re looking at: When you puke up all the features you have to offer, you spray lots of junk around, you make a pretty big mess, and people try to avoid you afterwards. This idea of puking connects to one of the biggest mistakes that some salespeople make: They educate prospects, but don’t sell very many of them. 

PUKE stands for: People who Utter Knowledge about Everything.  About 10 years ago, a prominent fashion designer was seeking advice on how to sharpen her sales skills; she came to see me. She brought along her portfolio, and I asked her to role-play a little bit, to let me play the buyer and in this way walk me through her salesprocess. She agreed and immediately launched into a little memorized routine. Without bothering to connect with me in any meaningful way or get any sense of what my priorities were, she immediately opened up her portfolio and went into a long, boring, and extremely detailed description of each of the designs in her folder. I was being as patient as I possibly could—she was, after all, quite well known in her field. When she got to the eighth design, though, I said, “Stop.” Quizzically, she looked at me and asked what was wrong. 

“Well,” I said, “just suppose that the first seven designs you just described didn’t work for me. Do you really think you would have had my attention by the time you got to the eighth design?”  She thought about that for a moment and then smiled sheepishly. She had made the classic sales mistake of believing that she was at the highest level of influence when she was doing the talking. Actually, as sales leaders know, the opposite is actually true: The person speaking is generally at the lowest level of influence. Your level of influence rises only when the other person becomes engaged in the conversation and participates actively.The Leader’s AdvantageEven if customers are still looking at you as you speak, they are likely to shut down and stop listening when they decide you are trying to sell them. 

If we are to have influence as salespeople and as leaders, we need two things from our prospects: their time and their attention. When we start a one-on-one meeting with someone, the only thing we can be certain that we have is this person’s time. We have no idea whether we’ve got his or her undivided attention. If we’re doing all the talking, the other person could well be thinking about what else needs to be done today, what’s going to be on the menu for lunch, or when this salesperson is going to shut up. These days, thanks to the Internet, customers could read all about your features online if they wanted to. They don’t need you to puke on them! 

I shared this lesson with the aforementioned fashion designer; she took it to heart and stopped puking everywhere. She started to meet her prospects, build up a little rapport, and find out what they were trying to accomplish in the market. Then she would review the one, two, or three designs that seemed most likely to produce the person’s desired outcomes. She noticed a dramatic increase in interest for her designs, and she closed more business. She learned to do what sales leaders are supposed to do: help their customers get to the promised land — the place they want to go. That’s your job as a leader: connect with people and find ways to get them to the promised land. Your job is definitely not to puke all over potential customers; rather, it is to find out where the customer is trying to go. Identify the OUTCOME that makes the most sense for both of you, and then remove the obstacles in the way. Your job is to be creative and help customers find more efficient ways of doing things. Your job is to manage multiple constituencies and alliances, and to use those alliances to identify new and better ways of generating the desired results. Your job is to do what most salespeople don’t do: lead the conversation with your prospects and customers about the results they need, the problems they have, and the obstacles they face. Solving these issues will lead them to promotions, increased business, higher profitability, higher productivity, enhanced competitive advantage, and a better quality of life.  The Job of Being a Sales Leader Never Ends Leadership selling is not restricted to the selling process. You have to excel at getting people to the promised land throughout your entire relationship with them! Once you stop acting as a leader — once you stop trying to identify the interests of the customer and build alliances on behalf of those interests — you can rest assured that your base of business will start to evaporate.The Leader’s Advantage

——  Excerpted with permission of the publisher John Wiley & Sons, Inc. (www.wiley.com) from Lead, Sell or Get Out of the Way: The 7 Traits of Great Sellers by Ron Karr.  Copyright © 2009 by Ron Karr.   To order the book on line at one of your favorite retailers, go to https://LeadSellorGetOutofTheWay.com

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