When I was little, my dad used to take me to the pond across the street from our house, and we’d spend an hour or so fishing for perch — a spiny little fish that can easily thwart the efforts of the average 6-year-old angler. Every time my line would suddenly go slack — the telltale sign that the little bugger had slipped the hook — I was crestfallen. I can still remember turning to my dad, shoulders slumped, the obvious question hanging between us: What did I do wrong?
As it turns out, those frustrating days by the pond turned into handy life lessons for the corporate world. As a production director for a digital and content marketing agency, I see a parallel process every day — buying and selling, especially for software solutions. Production teams are almost always buyers, meaning I’m the one deciding which bait to chomp down on. But, just like those frustratingly sly perch, sometimes I’ll slip the hook, too — and not always because of the price. So, sellers, take it from a fish — next time your team heads out to the market to peddle your wares, avoid these things to bring more buyers into the boat.
Lack of Respect for the Buyer’s Research
It’s never been easier to be an informed consumer. Need a product review you can trust? Ask your social media network. Want to read up on your options before you sign that contract? A quick web search can put dozens of options at your fingertips. Buyers are well over halfway through the buying cycle before they interact with your sales team. Let’s first talk about how this should be reflected in your website. Buyers are looking for solutions to their pain points and possible solutions (including your product), so provide that in the form of content. They’re already out there talking — make sure you’re part of that conversation with a vibrant content marketing program including social media execution.
Once that interaction occurs, remember that in the product sales world, blind dates are a thing of the past — and your pitch should reflect that. Luckily, this is an easy adjustment to make. Before you hit your sales script, tell your potential customer you want to respect their time, and then start with a two-part question — simply ask how much they know about both your product and your industry as a whole. They might surprise you — and when they do, adjust accordingly. If you’re dealing with an informed buyer, tell them you’ll skip the basics and move straight to the nitty-gritty. But be sure to tell customers to ask questions if you move too quickly.
Rigidly Adhering to the Sales Script
Nothing breaks the flow of an effective sales call more than suddenly returning to scripted material. As a buyer, if I hit on a thread that gets me dreaming of an unexpected functionality, help me play that out. Brainstorm with me a little bit and be prepared to think creatively about how your product can provide solutions to unorthodox problems.
As the seller, if you’re worried about time, I respect that — but let the buyer decide on how to proceed. Wait for the right moment, and then tell me these magic words: “This is great stuff — I want to keep on this line of thinking, but we only have ‘X’ minutes left. Do you want to keep going, or should we pause and cover your other key topics?” You can always have another call later in the week, and that’s a price smart buyers are willing to pay if it gets them the time they need to be forward thinking.
Inability to Answer the Right Questions
As a buyer, I don’t expect my sales rep to know the answer to every product question I might have. When a customer asks you something about which you’re unsure, don’t fake it — be honest and tell them you’ll have an answer by the end of the day. As a customer, I can work with that — within reason. Once I’ve heard that three or four times in one call, I will start to have concerns about the seller’s competency.
And while I may not expect a seller to have in-depth engineering knowledge or coding expertise, I absolutely expect my primary rep to be able to give me pricing and onboarding schedule options at the drop of a hat. In the rare instance that pricing cannot be determined in a second-stage sales call, at least give me a ballpark so I know what to expect. If a seller pushes me to a third call without price transparency, I’m assuming cost is a weak point in their offering and will adjust accordingly.
While volume sellers may have to slog through dozens of calls every day, each buyer is unique — and customers need to know that you feel the same way. If a seller doesn’t take quality notes in a call, this is where the price is paid, because generic (or misdirected) follow-ups are the burst balloons of the buying world.
Check your grammar, and get my name right — obviously. But also accurately restate my needs and tell me you’ve thought about how your product can address them. Send me a little reading material to keep me interested while you huddle up with your team. Give me a clear idea of next steps, and highlight any action items I need to take. Most importantly, prove to me that you listened to what I said and that you’re dedicated to being the kind of partner my company needs to be successful.
After all, you’re not the only angler at the pond — and you certainly don’t want that line to go slack.
Travis Stewart is D Custom’s director of production and digital delivery. Want to sell him something? Send him a well-written note at firstname.lastname@example.org.