Our consultation meeting was scheduled for 10:30am and the client, Marvin G. Hill, strode decisively into our conference room with a noisy Blackberry clutched in one hand and green-hued Starbucks coffee cup clenched in the other.
“I’m a busy man,” he said while glancing at his watch, “so let me get straight to the point. My company sells inventory software to retail store owners across the region and I’m looking to grow the business. Tell me, how can I get more people to buy my products?”
That’s the common refrain I hear from businesspeople, big and small, every single day. The answer I always give them is not what they’re expecting hear: “You just can’t.”
Upon hearing my reply, Mr. Hill’s eyebrows shot up in surprise and he almost spilled his caramel latté on our conference room table. “Excuse me!” he sputtered. “But why in the world am I sitting here if you can’t even give me a realistic answer to my question?”
I was prepared for his outburst and already had my response formulated. “I can most certainly give you a real answer – but it’s not the one that somebody like you is hoping to hear.”
“Well regardless, let’s hear it,” he said warily.
“Alright,” I replied. “The fact is, people like to buy things. They do not like to be sold things. In other words, it’s not about the product that you’re offering – but rather, the way you offer it. If you think that growing your business is just a matter of pushing customers to buy more products, you’re mistaken. Provide the customer with a product they’ll want to buy. Then the product will practically sell itself.”
“Mr. Hill scratched his balding head thoughtfully. “I’m still not sure that I understand.”
“Let take a typical sales call that you go on,” I began. “You’ll start off talking about the weather, the traffic you encountered, and other pointless things. Then you launch into your sales pitch about how your product is the best on the market, right?
“Well, my product really is the best one out there,” bristled Mr. Hill.
“Fair enough,” I replied. “But did it ever occur to you that the salesperson from your competition told the store owner the very same thing about their product? And that the sales rep from the bag company also followed the same routine. Along with the janitorial service company, insurance agent, window display designer and everybody else looking to push their product or service.”
“Hmm, I never thought of it that way,” Mr. Hill mused.
“What if you were to start off the sales call by talking about their business instead of your product? Show a genuine interest in their challenges and a willingness to help the customer find the right solution – which may involve the use of your product. Do that and you’ll have them wanting to buy your product, instead of just you trying to sell it.”
“Very interesting,” said Mr. Hill in remarkably calmer tone. “It would also appear that the more I talk about their business, the more open they’ll become in sharing the many retailing issues they have. And once I can put my finger on those hot button issues, it’ll be a lot easier for me to show how my products can easily resolve them.”
With the tension now broken, Mr. Hill and I sat for the next hour and discussed the many challenges his company faced on a daily basis. After analyzing his situation, I worked with him to map out a detailed sales funnel and create a more systematic approach that would allow him to move a greater number of deals through the sales process in less time.
As the meeting came to a close, a shrill reminder rang out from the Blackberry sitting on the conference room table and Mr. Hill glanced at the screen. “I really enjoyed our meeting and want to continue this conversation,” he said. “But for now, can you just write up this meeting in an email so I can refer to it until next time?”
“Let’s do even better,” I countered. “How about if I wrote it up in a dramatic, storylike format – with your name and personal details changed – and sent it out to my entire email list, so they can benefit from it as well?”
“Do it!” he replied.
And I just did.