Decision makers prefer to deal with subject-matter experts, who pass along knowledge and experience confidently – without stepping over the line into “know-it-all” territory, which is like Death Valley for buyers.
Industry expertise, carefully communicated, builds confidence and trust, leading the customer to feel better about his decision to buy your solution. But how do you get from here to there? Here are six steps you can take to begin to develop a reputation for expertise:
1. Join the trade associations or industry groups your customers do. Associate memberships are available, and often less expensive. Even if you don’t join, you may be able to attend meetings, to learn about “hot button” issues and trends your customers are worried about. You’ll get to rub elbows with prospects, connect with industry insiders, and get the inside scoop on what competitors are up to.
Use these opportunities to build your network, not to sell. Don’t let your guard down, though. Stick to your “A” game, and avoid any inappropriate behavior, which can cost you plenty.
2. Read what your customers read. Study their journals, trade magazines, blogs and online discussion groups. When you know what they are up against, and understand the challenges they face day to day, you can add value to any sales meeting.
Inside tip: Reading “letters to the editor” and comments will tip you off to hot-button industry issues.
3. Stay current with breaking news and industry trends. The Internet makes it easy, which means you have no excuse for being uninformed.
You can simply enter keywords or phrases in Google or Bing to track prospects, clients or the competition. Google Alerts is another option. It will send you e-mails whenever Google finds new entries for terms you want to track.
4. Track your competitors as closely as you can. What you are looking for here are new product or service launches, the competition’s approach to business, and any vulnerabilities you can exploit.
For example, if a competitor jumped into a new market, you can bet they did their homework. Figure out what they figured out.
Look outside your sales team for others who know what’s going on – for example, your engineers, field technicians and customer service reps. Reach out to sales reps at other companies who are likely to call on your competitors.
Another angle: Follow your competitors on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter or other social media. That will tip you off to how customers feel about them.
5. Ask other salespeople for help. Question them about industry trends, customer questions they run into, or ways they serve customers. Network with sales reps from other companies as well, to learn how they handle issues they deal with, and share your own experience.
6. Look and act the part. This may seem obvious, but top sales experts know the important role appearance plays in nonverbal communication.
These days, not every expert looks like a McKinsey consultant. Depending on the industry, an expert may be someone in khakis and a polo shirt. Or look like an academic. Or a practitioner.
Find out whose opinions your buyers respect. Then go see how these experts get their ideas across. Do they use charts and graphs, or rely more on anecdotes and ideas? Are they inspirational or analytical? Follow the lead of the ones who are most successful.
Source: Adapted from Sales Flashpoint, by Harris and Dickerson. ISBN 1599183889.
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