Selling from the same side of the desk
This article by commercial tire sales expert Jason Miller is the fourth installment in a multi-part series about how to land and keep commercial truck tire accounts. In the June 2008 edition of Commercial Tire Dealer, Miller discussed how to win potential clients’ confidence through relationship-building. In this installment, he tells you why it’s more important to address concerns than to spend time fighting objections. His book, “Selling by the Numbers,” is available through online booksellers like Amazon.com. For more information about Miller’s company, The Tire Consultants, see www.thetireconsultants.com.
At the conclusion of each of my seminars, I distribute an evaluation questionnaire. The last question asks, “What other types of training seminars would you like us to offer?” By far, the most frequent request is a seminar on how to overcome customer objections. The problem is, I don’t believe in overcoming objections, and neither should you.
Every time I think about objections, I picture a court trial. The prosecutor is about to corner the accused into saying something that will probably prove him guilty. The defense attorney yells out, “I object!” which stops the prosecutor in his tracks. If the judge sustains the objection, the prosecutor takes another approach, hoping to get the accused to say something else that will affirm his guilt.
Court proceedings have a lot in common with selling. The prosecutor is trying to win the case, while the salesperson is trying to win the sale. These are zero-sum scenarios; in order for one to win, the other must lose. Like in a courtroom setting, the potential customer’s objection only serves to stall the process. The salesperson will likely come at it from another angle until he or she finds a way to win.
When I receive a clear objection, I stop the questioning; something is wrong. Objections are a sign that my prospect has become defensive. If I am genuinely trying to find a way to improve his business, why would he or she object?
What are concerns?
Concerns are not objections. The difference between an objection and a concern is night and day. Objections typically sound like, “That won’t work!” Concerns, on the other hand, sound like “How does that work?” The difference can be very subtle.
I teach people to sell from the same side of the desk as the prospect. Together, the salesperson and potential client can try to figure out how to improve the client’s current program so they both get what they want or need. A traditional salesperson sells from the opposite side of the desk. In this case, it becomes a game he or she is determined to win even if it’s not in the customer’s best interests.
Many sales books and seminars teach how to identify a prospect’s needs. They teach salespeople to describe how their company or products can meet those needs. Then they teach salespeople how to overcome objections.
In the real world, sometimes objections don’t materialize. Often a buyer will feel intimidated and incapable of challenging an experienced salesperson. In other cases, a buyer may agree to a purchase just to avoid a confrontation. Other buyers agree to a sale just to get it over with. (Few buyers will look at a salesperson and say, “I don’t like you, I don’t trust you and I don’t want to buy from you.”) In some unfortunate instances, the sale is eventually made even though the process has ruined what was once a good working relationship.
Selling from the opposite side of the desk can be tricky. It may work in a one-shot retail situation, but it can be disastrous in a recurring sales environment, like commercial or wholesale tire sales.
Needs vs. wants
You have to convince your prospect that you have his or her best interests at heart. I found this out the hard way.
Late one Friday afternoon, traffic was building and since I had been on the road since 6 a.m., I decided to call it a day. As I turned toward home, I passed a large fleet I had been meaning to call on. I was tempted to pass them by, convinced that they would not want to talk tires this late in the day. Besides, this was one of those accounts that had no real program. Every location bought whatever tire they needed from whomever they wanted.
However, since I tell people to make that one extra call each day, I decided to stop in. It just so happened to be the same week that a new director of maintenance had started. He told me his top priority was fixing the company’s tire program. My timing couldn’t have been better!
After some discussion, we agreed that the company’s current decentralized buying program was not working. I outlined a strategy to pull it all together.
As we rolled out the program, I ran into a lot of resistance from the terminal managers who were doing business with their own suppliers. A couple of months later, the new maintenance director locked horns with the son of the company’s owner and was fired. Guess what happened to the business I had so methodically improved? Each terminal manager went right back to his old supplier! I asked each one if I had done something wrong. In general, they told me, “No, we switched to you because our director told us to. When he left, we switched back.”
However, when I asked about the impact of the changes I had implemented, I ran into a flurry of objections! They suddenly became defensive and clearly were not going to indulge me by acknowledging any positive result of my program. It was obvious they complied because they needed to, not because they wanted to. Since I had not built relationships with them, once they were no longer forced to buy from me, they went back to the person they wanted to buy from.
Shortcuts produce objections
I discovered there is a series of steps you must go through to get from introduction to implementation.
If you take shortcuts, you will encounter objections.
It all starts with your initial call. The purpose of your first call is to simply convince your prospect that you’re worth talking to. Here’s how to do that:
1. Smile. It displays confidence and congeniality.
2. Be friendly and courteous. Nobody wants to do business with a grumpy person.
3. Be sensitive to your prospect’s demeanor. If he or she is busy, ask if there’s a better time for you to visit.
4. Never insult the competition. When you insult your competitor, you also are insulting the person who chose them.
5. Bring a professionally prepared document or folder with details about you and your company.
6. Pay attention to the prospect’s style. Mirror that style in future meetings so he or she feels comfortable with you.
The next step? Asking for permission to get to know your prospect’s fleet a little better. Tell your prospect that until you have a thorough understanding of their operation, you are not in a position to recommend any product or service. Here are a few things you can do to get to know the prospect and his or her operation better:
1. Perform a fleet inspection, looking for anything that’s impacting their tire budget. Notice how loyal they are to any given brand.
2. Do a scrap tire analysis to determine what is causing tires to come out of service.
3. Talk to the terminal and shop managers. They can provide a wealth of knowledge about what the company has tried in the past, what is working and what doesn’t work. As a bonus, they’ll feel like they’re part of the solution.
4. Look through the tires that have been staged for retreading. Make note of how much tread remains, how many times each casing has been repaired, what brands are being removed and what conditions the casings are in.
Don’t forget to document everything you find, using photos and charts if possible. When you present your information, don’t say, “Here’s what I found that’s wrong.” Instead, show your prospect what you’ve discovered and then ask, “Can you tell me about this?” As the dialogue ensues, use follow-up questions like:
1. “How frequently do you see this?”
2. “What have you tried in the past to address these issues?”
3. “How does this impact your tire budget?”
4. “Who in your organization might know more about this?”
5. “What is your current supplier doing to alleviate these issues?”
Now you’re ready to ask your prospect if he or she would like you to develop potential solutions. Pay attention to how they answer.
Admitting there’s a problem does not mean they’re ready to fix it.
When you ask if they would like you to help them, you are looking for a simple, “Yes.” If you hear, “I guess so,” beware. The solutions you are about to present are likely to be met with objections. In other words, the prospect may admit they need to change but is not yet convinced he or she wants to change.
If you sense reluctance, say something like, “If you don’t mind me saying, you seem a bit reluctant. I hope I’ve convinced you that I’m a long-term player. But if this isn’t a good time for you to look seriously at solutions, I’m OK with that. What do you feel is the appropriate next step?”
Remember, when presenting a solution, be thorough, considerate and careful. Anticipate concerns and present options. Most importantly, propose a trial solution with minimal risk. Ask the prospect to pick a single location that can stand improvement or a few trucks that might benefit from your help.
In my article in the February 2008 edition of CTD, I described my solicitation of a tanker fleet in west Texas. You may recall they decided to try my program at one small terminal. Within one year, I had the entire account. If there’s one point in this series that will have the greatest impact on your success, it’s this: When you propose an all-or-nothing solution, you are asking your prospect to take an enormous leap of faith.
Failure on a trial basis is a learning experience; failure on a large scale can be a catastrophe! Prospects rarely object to small trial programs.
Finally, you must identify and include everyone within the prospect’s organization who will be impacted by your program. Anyone who’s left outside of the process may stand in the way of its success.
The world does not run on logic; it runs on emotions. Until you have captured your prospect’s emotions — until they genuinely want to do business with you — you will be selling from the wrong side of the desk.