Editor’s note: Greatest Sales are true accounts of how successful salespeople closed the deal despite sales objections, buyer inertia, cutthroat competition and other obstacles. In this installment, an account manager for a New England specialty metals supplier explains why his “reasons why” sales pitch was falling short — and how he fixed it. In the interest of confidentiality, the details are disguised.
For a long time I considered myself a pretty good salesperson. I was skilled at presenting the facts in a way that buyers could easily understand.
But I was troubled by those who wouldn’t listen to reason. Here’s a story about a prospect who was so unreasonable that he forced me to think in a different way about my sales technique. He made me a better salesperson.
An ‘obvious’ decision
We sell metals used in manufacturing. Our company holds patents on new alloys that are more durable than other metals and can save companies money.
Early on, getting people to convert was challenging because we were new and we seemed risky, and because our prices were higher. But over time we got exposure in the industry and amassed lots of testimonials from customers who saw the long-term payoff.
After a while, I got really good at explaining our value proposition. So by the time I met with Prospect X, I figured I’d be able to get him on board with our superior products, even though I knew he’d been using a now-outdated technology forever.
In our first meeting I laid out all the advantages. I knew his processes well and was able to show precisely how we’d save him money on spare parts, labor and turnaround time.
He listened politely, admitted that our product was impressive, and said he’d “think about it.”
“Why do you say our product is ‘impressive’?” I asked.
With surprising accuracy, he fed back to me all the reasons why he should buy from me on the spot. But he admitted he probably wasn’t ready to make a change.
“If you understand the benefits, help me understand why you’re not more interested,” I said.
“I like my supplier,” he said.
He explained that they were the industry leader. He’d even met the company president, whom he’d often seen on TV. I left that meeting realizing that the guy had deep emotional reasons for not switching. He felt proud to be associated with my competitor. Compared with that, what was so important about saving a few bucks?
This story would have had an unhappy ending, but I got a lucky break. And I used what I learned that day to make the most of it.
About a year after we met, my competitor was involved in an accounting scandal. Suddenly, it wasn’t so prestigious to be doing business with them. Remembering how important prestige had been to this buyer, I called him and set up a meeting. Now his attachment to my rival was working in my favor. He’d been burned and was ready to do business with someone with a little less glitz and a lot more substance.
That was just luck. But it helped me realize that I needed to consider the emotional side of the sale as well. Now I spend a lot of time trying to understand what motivates each buyer, and making sure I address those issues as well.
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