July 12, 2009

The ‘I Owe You’ Approach To Sales

Think about this relatively typical scenario: You have been calling the prospect's company for months, talking to personal assistants and secretaries, leaving voicemails and getting bounced from executive to executive until you eventually reach the right person. After exchanging several emails the executive agrees to a meeting.

You then spend a few hours in preparation and half a day travelling to the meeting itself. That is a major commitment on your part. You have done all the running and made all the effort. So what should you expect in return? Well, the answer is 'nothing'.

The Prospect Owes You Nothing.

Does that surprise you? After all your time is precious and your company’s products and services are very important. You are product specialist and don’t expect to be treated like a double glazing salesperson. However, as you deliver your presentation you notice that there is little feedback, or interaction from the prospect and that the level of interest from your contact before the meeting seems nowhere in evidence.

Perhaps as a consequence you turn up the amplitude as regards how good your product, or solutions are and push a little harder to ignite the buyer's interest. However, all too often you leave dissatisfied, perhaps mumbling under your breath ‘that buyer is a fool if he cannot see that his company needs our solution…’, or perhaps cursing the quality of the lead involved (where somebody else provided it).

Does all this sound a little familiar? Well, for sales people expectations of positive outcome are important and necessary in the context of the targets for this quarter and the next. We can only make a certain number of sales calls in a month, so if somebody is not interested we would rather than they not waste our time. That would allow us as quickly as possible to move on to the next real prospect of a sale. Isn't that fair?

Time for an attitude shift.

Swithching from an'you owe me' to an 'i owe you' mindset (the phrase first used in Smarter Selling, by Keith Dougdale and David Lambert) can increase your sales effectiveness and can save your sanity too.

Let us deal with the reality of the buyer-seller situation first. That is the prospect ‘owes you nothing’ – he or she does not have to take your call, agree to a meeting, engage with you when you visit, or ultimately buy from you. Making any of those things happen is not his, or her responsibilty but yours. That means you owe him, or her. Afterall, they have:

- Given you their time

- Taken the risk of exposing themselves to another salesperson

- Shared with you some information about their company

- Given you their email address, or direct line number

- Brought you inside their comapny and introduced you to their colleagues

This change in perspective from 'you owe me' to 'I owe you' can be challenging because it requires putting your ego in the back pocket. Yes, it is a slightly more generous attitude; however because it can significantly boost your success, it is far from selfless.

Adopting an 'I Owe You' Mindset:

Adopting an ‘I owe you’ mindset, involves asking the following questions:

· What will the prospect get in return for taking my call? Have I really got something timely, interesting and relevant to say about his industry, competitors, technology, etc?

· What will the prospect get in return for reading my email, or literature?

· How do I really make it worthwhile for the prospect to meet with me? What is he, or she going to get out of it? How to make sure it is not just another sales call?

· How do I reward the prospect for taking the time to meet me? What piece of information, or insight can I offer at the meeting to benefit the prospect?

· How do I distance myself as much as possible from a cold calling salesperson? How do I make the meeting a safe and comfortable place for the prospect to open up?

· What reason can I give the prospect to meet again, or stay in touch? How can I demonstrate that I am credible and trustworthy? How do I eliminate the fear of being sold to?

Notice what is happening here? It is classic marketing - appealing directly to the needs of the prospect and not the salesperson. However, in reality the two go ‘hand in hand’. When you adopt an ‘I owe you’ approach to your prospects you maximize the chances of success. It starts when you realise that what get is in direct proportion to what you give. In other spheres of life it is referred to the law of recriprocity.

Putting 'I Owe you' into practice.

Addressing the questions listed above will affect every aspect of your approach to the prospect, from your attitude to the sales message. Here are some examples:

· When you call, rather than launching into your sales pitch, you thank him, or her for taking your call and ask if he, or she has 3 minutes to listen. Now in many cases the prospect will say no, but that means you can ask for another more convenient time.

· Instead of sending a brochure, you send the prospect an interesting whitepaper, or article with more interesting and useful information.

· You talk less about how greater your company is and take care to recognize the prospect’s achievements.

· You talk less and listen more. You avoid the appearance of a salesperson by demonstrate your knowledge, expertise and credibility. You focus on helping instead of selling.

· Your sales message does not centre on your product and company, rather it offers insights on opportunities and challenges in the prospects business and industry.

· You adopt a keep in touch and relationship building mindset, even if the prospect does not represent a potential sale for this quarter.

How does the prospect reward your more customer focused approach? Well, with engagement.

Want to read more about the 'I Owe You' approach to selling, then we recommend Smarter Selling, by Keith Dougdale and David Lambert.

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