Grow by listening to clients

In a world where everything is going digital, let’s not forget that sales require discussion. Maximizing your company’s growth rate means doing more than improving your team’s sales skills; the process itself needs to improve. Go old school and give clients more of what they need. But, get there in a new way.

The coronavirus pandemic has revealed that there are new sales growth opportunities. Businesses must rethink how to leverage sales efforts to discover and direct the new and pressing needs of their customers.

Position yourself not as a salesperson, but as a strategic partner. Understand the client’s business and be part of their strategic plan. Prioritize their business and think like that business owner. In doing so, you will attract new customers.

Ask them what they need. And then ask “why” they need it. Then shut up. Resist the temptation to fill any awkward silence. Let your clients tell their story. You want to learn their problems so that you can create customized solutions.

One way to initiate this conversation is to ask them the Dan Sullivan question: “If we are having this discussion three years from today, and you were to look back over those few years, what has to have happened for you to feel happy about your progress?”

Then you must follow through. Listening to customers doesn’t make a difference if you try to push your cookie-cutter product onto their need(s). Nobody wants to buy a quarter-inch drill; they want to buy a quarter-inch hole. If you don’t make an effort to offer them a tailored solution, they’ll resent you because you’ll look inauthentic.

Maybe you develop a new answer, or you could partner with a vendor and bolt on the customized service.

Veronica, who manufactures glass vials at her Worcester-based company, utilized the bolt-on option.

Veronica was providing Graham’s New Jersey-based medical facility with one-third of his supply of glass vials. Think of the bottle sorter in the opening credits of “Laverne & Shirley.” That’s essentially what Graham’s company was using for a conveyor belt. The vials would move down the belt, then sorting robots would lift the vials, swing them around and they would be filled and capped.

Veronica asked Graham the Dan Sullivan question. After some contemplation, Graham thought he’d be cute and try to turn the question into a pricing negotiation.

“I want to save enough money to buy a new sorter,” said Graham.

Veronica asked for a tour of the facilities, took some measurements and asked more questions about why the new sorter would be a game changer. The main problem was that the vials had to be unloaded by hand and placed on the conveyor.

Veronica partnered with a vendor that manufactured packaging made of molded pulp from recycled cardboard. The containers fit Graham’s conveyor belt so that when the new packaging made its way down the belt, the machine reached down and picked up 20 vials, the maximum the robot arm could grasp at a time. If there were too many in a row, excess vials would continue down the conveyor, unfilled. If the robot picked up too few, it slowed manufacturing.

Now, Graham could easily load the box of vials onto the conveyor belt without going through the process of unloading them individually. Graham was able to produce product more quickly and increase sales to a market with an already high demand.

Graham ended up making enough money to upgrade his conveyor belt technology and invested in a top-of-the-line cartoner. Not only did Veronica retain the business after Graham no longer needed the special containers, but Graham’s business grew. That increased the demand for Veronica’s glass vials.

Veronica won the business that was flowing to other providers. She offered a lower unit sale price on the higher volume, so, both made more money.

Veronica benefited from partnering with Graham to find solutions to his problems.

Not all sales offerings are going to be this big. Often, a smaller level of customization is required.

Smaller decisions shouldn’t need to flow to the owner. It’s the whole organization that is delivering for the client, not just the frontline salesperson or the sales manager. Clients don’t want to work with someone who doesn’t have the capability to make adjustments. They don’t want to hear, “Let me talk to my supervisor.” Give your employees the authority, and encouragement, to “wow” clients with innovative attention.

This line of questioning and subsequent partnering is the new old school. Sophisticated buyers aren’t looking to buy from you because you took them to lunch, or played golf with them, and then you tried to sell them something. That’s the old, old school. There are not many organizations that are interested in hearing from that sort of salesperson anymore.

Buyers are discerning. People can see through a fake attempt to build a personal relationship. Even if the effort is authentic, if the buyer likes you but you don’t understand their needs or what they’re trying to accomplish, they’re not going to buy what you are trying to sell them.

Your clients are busy; they are trying to accomplish big things in their companies. Your sales team needs to anticipate potential problems and offer solutions and be ahead of those pain points. The type of sales process buyers want intends to understand their businesses and offer relevant solutions to help them solve their problems. Customers desire customized solutions that perfectly fit their needs.

Your sales team’s plan should be to listen, learn, deliver and succeed. You are successful when your clients are successful.

This article originally appeared in The Berkshire Eagle on February 20, 2021.