No business buys something that they do not believe that they need.  Before the seller can sell anything, they need to identify that need and position their product as the solution.  If not, then they are wasting their time trying to sell to the buyer.  This means that the buyer’s need must be established before the solution is ever presented. 

The elements of training associated with Needs are:

N1 - Needs Identification; how can we find out some basic needs that we think our customer may have?

N2 - Validation; asking questions to determine exactly what needs they have and how important they are.

N3 - Active Listening; making sure that we listen to what our customer is saying.

Any or all of these modules can be built into a customised training course designed around your products and services.  Please contact us for more information.

Needs Identification

No one buys something that they don’t need.  There may be a semantic argument over whether it is a need or a want but I would argue that it is always a need.  There is a logical progression from a decision to do something to a need to buy something.  The debate over wanting to buy is really a debate over the decision to do something not the decision to buy.

So, when we talk to our customers, we are looking for what they need to do and trying to identify what solutions we can help them with.   The process starts before we ever go to talk to them.  We review everything that we can about them, what their current plans are, what projects are ongoing, what their strategy is.  We look at our history with them, what have they bought in the past, what have we proposed to them, what are their buying patterns.  Not all of this information is always easy to find.  However, almost every company has a website and social media profile that provides information.

This information doesn’t generally state a need, it states what they are doing.  From that, a sales person needs to use their knowledge to infer what their needs might be.  You may see that they are looking to hire new staff so will require new software for them.  They may have merged with another company and so will require integration services.  You may see that their revenues are declining so need sales support or a new strategy. 

Once you have identified potential needs, you need to validate them.  This is where you start to question the client further about these needs to find out as much as possible about them.  You need to understand what has caused the need, what problems it is causing and what those problems are costing the client.  This will determine how you propose your solution and enable you to build a value proposition specifically for your client. 

In this module, we review what we should be looking for, where to look for it and what that information means.  Once we have done this, we can move on to the next stages.

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Validation is about asking questions.  When we get face to face with our potential customer, we need to find out as much as we possibly can.  Up to this point, we have been accessing public information, gossip and intuition to try to understand how we might be able to provide a solution for them.  Now, we need to fill in the gaps and validate what we have learnt.  Most importantly, we need to find their issues.

Most conversations will start with some general discussions, finding some specific information that we are lacking and understanding the general work programme that the company is pursuing.  You should have some idea of the possible problems that might come from this, sufficiently general problems that you can ask relevant questions.  From there, you need to drill down to understand things in specific detail so that you know enough to be able to craft a solution for them.  

Most people like talking about themselves and their work.  The skills of the sales person is to ask the right questions that allow them to find out the information that they need.  Continually thinking of the next question to ask is hard work (try playing the yes/no game to see how hard it is) so we want to ask questions that get the customers talking and the sales person listening.

Asking open, opinionated questions will do this.  Open questions start with who, when, where, what, which or how.  For example

  • What are the major projects your group will be managing this year?
  • What activities are coming up in the next few months?
  • How do you manage that process?
  • Where do you start with a problem like that?

All of these questions give the customer the opportunity to speak at length about the subject.  This means that you get lots of information from a single question.  Closed questions, that can be answered with yes or no, make it much more difficult to get so much information and require the sales person to work harder.

Preparation is essential.  By preparing well and having an idea of the sorts of problems the client may have, you can think of your opening questions. However, you need to be prepared to continue to ask questions to get to the real issues or to develop the conversation further. Be ready for unexpected answers and think about how you might deal with them.  Your questioning should have a structure, open, probing questions at the start, confirmation and clarification questions as you progress and solution questions towards the end. 

To best position our products, we need to know what the value of the solution is to the client.  This means that we need to know the cost of the problem and/or the effect that we can have.  It is critical that you ask about this.  You cannot sell value if you cannot define it for your specific client. 

In this part of our training, we practice asking various questions in various scenarios before role playing a meeting with a customer.  This allows the participants to practice asking questions and also to feel what it is like to be the customer.  This practice is one of the most important parts of any sales training.

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Active Listening

In sales, we spend a lot of time asking questions.  Our preparation for a meeting should include defining all the questions that we want to ask.  However, all of this is wasted if we don’t listen to the answers.  Listening is one of the most important skills you can have. However, it is not quite as simple as it sounds!

Research suggests that we only remember between 25 and 50 percent of what we hear.  This means that over half of what is said is lost!  Think about all the useful information that we never hear.  However, listening is a skill that we can improve.  By becoming a better listener, you will improve your effectiveness as a sales person and win more deals.

The way to improve your listening skills is to practice "active listening."  This is where you make a conscious effort to hear not only the words that another person is saying but, more importantly, try to understand the complete message being sent.  There are some simple ways that we can do this:

  • Give the speaker your undivided attention – avoid distracting thoughts and have strategies to deal with them if they come into your head!
  • Use your own body language to demonstrate that you are listening – this encourages the speaker to say more.
  • Confirm what has been said by repeating it back to the speaker in your own words – this helps you to remember it and ensures that you have indeed heard correctly.
  • Wait for an appropriate opening before you ask a question, don’t just interrupt the speaker.
  • Respond appropriately – don’t argue with opinions but state your position if required.

Active listening is a skill that can be acquired and developed with practice. However, it needs to be worked on and not just in meetings.  Have practice meetings with your colleagues so that you can practice both asking questions and active listening.  All professions practice their skills – sales people should be no different.

All of these techniques are practised using a variety of exercises to improve the skills of the participants.

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