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Posted by Sarah Brown on 04 Mar '14

Do you listen enough?

{img_title} Recently I listened to an interesting presentation about sales and the changing nature of how to sell. It reinforced my view that social media and the internet  have changed how we relate to customers and prospects in general. Anyone in business, particularly smaller businesses needs to think of themselves as a salesman.

Before the internet prospects and customers often needed education now they feel they can learn everything they need to know from the internet whether it be review sites or your competitors or your own website. So the role of salesman or customer service person is more of curator or information sorter i.e. helping people to understand how the product or service can actually meet their specific needs. This requires the ability to ask intelligent searching questions so you can understand their needs and then the wisdom to match what you offer to those needs being aware that any exaggeration or economy with the truth is likely to be found out if people then do research on the net.

So what does this mean in practise. The archetypical salesman that everyone recognises is the car salesman. In the past they would have focused on explaining fuel economy, speed to 60 mph, safety statistics etc. Now a consumer who is interested can find all that out at the touch of a button so their role has become more complex. How do you want to use the car? We, for example, want enough space to take our camping equipment away on long journeys.  Understanding that so you relate ow the storage works for odd shaped bulky items and the fuel economy is great made us think of a prius when we had never thought of one. What are the stories that the salesman can tell to bring the car to life – Toyota talk about only having 2 batteries returned in sales of  millions of Prius over the last decade + – this is a subtle way of stressing reliability. If a person turns up at a showroom they are likely to want to sit in the car and test drive it and may not need any of the initial verbal sell that often turns people off.  When we were purchasing our last car everyone recommended a certain make and brand for what we wanted when we asked on Facebook so we duly went off to the garage to look at the car and test drive it.

Unfortunately our salesman was an ‘old’ style salesman where the sale takes a particular route so he expected to inform us, show us and then for us to come back for a test drive, despite us saying we wanted a car the next week. He didn’t have the flexibility to understand that much of the sales process – what used to be the features and benefits might have happened before the prospect even meets the company so he didn’t believe we could be ready to buy that quickly – he lost the sale as we went on to Toyota who recognised we wanted to get on with it and listened and matched our needs. (They then backed it up with exceptional customer service but that’s another blog)

People are definitely now buying people, everything else they feel that they can get from the internet, be that true or false that’s what they believe. The danger comes when people think they don’t need the person and so they buy off the internet just on price, in the new world of business you need to make your prospect or customer understand how you add value, are different and why they should buy from you – that will be the story you tell not the stats and if you get the opportunity the understanding you can show when you meet them.

The great thing about all this is that people who were previously uncomfortable with sales can now relax as the new world is about understanding and matching the needs of your customers not hard sales. That might mean that they want to buy a car without the ‘foreplay’ – if he had listened he would have known that.

Are you listening?