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As a sales executive, a great way to differentiate yourself from the competition is by helping clients manage the project your solution is supposed to help. While this is known as a “consultative sale” and might seem like nothing new, ask yourself: how many salespeople actually have a system for it?
Salespersons are trained to sell, not to consult. So most people do not do well in “consultative sales” despite what they said when they were interviewed.
Fortunately, those of you who discovered GTD have two great tools at your disposal. Specifically, they are David Allen’s “Project Planning Trigger List” and the “Natural Planning Model.” Learn to master those two tools and you are sure to increase your sales. [Editor note: you can find both models in the Getting Things Done book, or in this laminated set of GTD System Guides.]
For the truth is that your customer is probably overwhelmed by the project at hand. Maybe they identified a problem and finally got the boss’s go-ahead to look into purchasing a solution, and that is why you are in a dialogue with them. You and a few of your competitors, that is. Competitors who have products that might well be better than yours, or cheaper, or which have a better brand. Competitors who probably have a dashing salesperson with a bigger expense account and box seats and a country club membership.
The only thing you have to offer is to be recognized as the problem solver, and a lot of that includes identifying what exactly is the problem and to get there you need to ask a lot of really brilliant questions that your client has not even thought of. Let us consider an example of two competing salespersons.
Imagine yourself wanting to hire a contractor to put in a swimming pool for your backyard. One salesperson drives his dazzling new BMW M5 up your driveway. Being president of the largest pool contractor in the state has really paid off! He tells you about his millions in sales and what celebrities are sipping umbrella drinks in his masterpieces at this very moment, and his brochures are slick. You wonder, is that Jennifer Aniston floating in that pool? He then measures the yard, careful not to get his Brioni suit soiled, and then asks you what your budget is. Judging by his expression, obviously you are not going to be in the Jennifer Aniston pool. He smiles, though, and he tells you that you can have a pool of a certain size, but for 50% more money you can get a nicer look. He leaves some of those brochures for you, writes a quote and hands it to you. He must be going, he says. Will and Jada’s pool is finished and he needs to stop by for cocktails with them.
Then another salesperson comes in driving his F-150. He has a worn binder with product specs and photos, and the pages are mangled. Clearly he has taken the photos himself, and there is nothing near Jennifer or Will or Jada in any of them. He looks at your yard and then asks if you all can go into the kitchen and sit around the table to talk. He asks a lot of questions and takes notes. He asks things like:
- Who will be enjoying the pool? Oh, you and your wife, and the kids. Let’s get them to talk about what they hope for. How about the grandparents? Oh, they come over on weekends? Do you want to get an idea about whether they think it would be fun to have a pool?
- What is your plan for your house? Do you plan on staying for a few years? Every plan to expand the house? What’s the overall look you want?
- Who will be involved in decision making when the project is under-way? How do you want to be involved? How do you want us to communicate?
- How much money were you thinking of spending? Do you want to get the best pool you can afford or do you want to consider less expensive options too? Are you concerned about seeing an increase in value in your property, should you decide to sell?
- Do you have anything going on in the next fews weeks that might interrupt with the installation, such as parties, neighborhood activities, vacations, etc.?
- What is going to make you confident you got what you wanted, that we delivered as promised?
- Is there anyone else who needs to give approvals? Neighborhood boards and associations, etc.?
- Your neighbors are going to see you having a great time in the pool. Do you want to tell them your plans and make sure they know they are welcome to come over too?
- Do you need to check with the city ordinances? How about with your homeowners insurance policy?
- How about if we mark off the area where the pool will be and make sure you are comfortable with losing that land for other purposes, and we’ll show you how we will have to get the equipment in here too, OK?
- Would you like to read about the various technologies we have to offer, and hear my opinion on the pumps, filters, lights and surfaces that we can consider?
- Are you active in any groups whom you might want to entertain with a pool party? That’s a great way to start enjoying the pool to its fullest.
- Let’s make sure we understand the risks involved: we are going to be moving a lot of heavy equipment and tearing up the land, so we’ll make sure you understand what is involved. You need to be comfortable with it, OK?
- Have you thought about what a perfect pool experience would be? What would be a bad experience too? Let’s really spend some time thinking about those scenarios and see what we can learn before making any decisions, OK?
Tell me who’s just won your trust? (If you like the first salesperson, quit reading here.) I hope you like the second salesperson! For he doesn’t just know about pools–he is really looking out for you. He is thinking about the impact of a pool in all aspects of your life. He is thinking of how it effects your family, your community, your friends, your finances, your plans for the house, etc. He has just made you think about things you never considered–and they are all important. You just found the swimming pool genius, and no one has a chance to sell you a pool except for him, right?
How do you position yourself in that way as a salesperson for your company and product? The good news is you do not need to be a genius. (The other good news is you can have a BMW M5, celebrity clients, and still be a great salesperson.)
The Project Planning Trigger List is a great place to start. It is a brain-storming tool: it asks a lot of great questions to consider in order to clarify the project. If you have a planning meeting with the client and lead a brain-storming session based on these questions, your credibility is going to sky-rocket. Because not only are you going to uncover some real gems in the discussion, but you are going to demonstrate that you are a big-picture thinker. If you are selling to a company, you have proved you are thinking like the CEO because you are looking out for the company as a whole. The way you do that is to ask questions about the following.
- Resources: whose input is needed, whose could you use, what resources might you need
- Executive issues: how it relates to overall company strategy
- Administration: how are we going to manage this project
- Finance: what funds are available, what are the costs, what are the potential payoffs, etc.
- Operations: how does this fit in with other operations of the company, and how are we going to ensure delivery
- Quality: how to monitor progress
- Politics: whose buy-in is needed, and how to get it
- Stakeholders – considerations?: the board, stockholders, employees, vendors, customers, community?
- Legal: any issues to consider?
- Space/facilities/equipment: what do you need and how do you get it?
- Research: why might you need to know?
- Public relations: should you let others know what you are doing?
- Risks: what could happen and can you handle it?
- Creating thinking: push the limits of your thinking, consider wild outcomes, both good and bad
Compare these two lists and you will see I adapted the Project Planning Trigger List to the fictitious example of how to sell a swimming pool. I bet when you read my questions about the swimming pool you thought, “that Joyce guy must sell swimming pools!” Actually, I hardly know anything about swimming pools. I just picked a product randomly as an example, and I used the Project Planning Trigger List to help me think of some really good questions. Imagine what you can do with it by applying it to the products and services you really sell.
(Please look forward to Part 2, in which I will explain how to apply the Natural Planning Model to sales.)