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Slow Down, Sell Faster! is a must-read for salespeople and their managers. The book offers specific guidelines for analyzing customers’ buying processes and adopting the right approaches for advancing them through the various buying phases. Kevin Davis offers many real-life anecdotes to illustrate how the principles described can help individuals achieve better sales success. There are insightful pullout tips about different sales tactics, plus charts and grids to clarify the best ways to move customers from one phase to the next. The book is best read cover to cover to better understand the evolving phases of the customer buying process and the roles salespeople should adopt for each phase.
• Customers do not care about the selling process; they only care about their own buying processes.
• There are eight steps in the buying process: need for change, discontent, research, comparison shopping, fear, commitment, expectations, and satisfaction level.
• There are eight sales roles that are aligned with the eight phases of the buying process: student, doctor, architect, coach, therapist, negotiator, teacher, and farmer.
• The key to winning a complex sale is to identify key players on the buying team and selling to as many members as possible to turn them into sponsors.
• Sometimes the best way to reach C-level executives is to go down the corporate ladder to win sponsorship before going back up the ladder.
• The most effective way to coach a sales team is to concentrate on developmental coaching that looks for ways to improve in the future rather than emphasizing performance management in the past.
• By closely monitoring customers’ buying processes, and adopting the appropriate corresponding roles, salespeople distinguish themselves by the way they sell and not just by what they sell.
In Slow Down, Sell Faster!, Kevin Davis explains how to win sales faster by actually slowing down the sales process and focusing on the customer’s buying process. He provides a practical model for gaining insight about where the customer is in the buying process, and guidelines for moving the customer to the next step. Davis believes that selling at the right speed is an art that must be in sync with the customer’s needs.
Part I: Understanding Buying Is Where Selling Should Start
Why Slower Is Faster
The basic premise of Slow Down, Sell Faster! is that salespeople often attempt to put their prospective customers on a fast track to a sale without considering exactly where the customers are in the buying process. Salespeople overlook the fact that customers do not care about the sales process, but are instead focused on the buying process.
To avoid getting caught up in selling too fast, salespeople should:
• Ask the right questions to gain deeper insights into the customer’s needs.
• Get prospects to think about possible negative consequences of not making changes.
• Show that there is more than one need for change to create greater urgency.
• Ask about the customers’ buying processes.
• Request a followup meeting that includes other decision makers.
Good salespeople take the time to get into customers’ heads and to learn more about what they need to better define their ideal solutions. Customers typically go through eight phases during the buying process, and by recognizing these phases, salespeople can play a specific role that will move customers to the next phase.
During the buying process, salespeople must undertake eight corresponding roles:
Acting as a student by studying customers.
Acting as a doctor who diagnoses the customers’ needs.
Acting as an architect to design solutions.
Acting as a coach, analyzing the competition, and creating game plans to win.
Acting as a therapist to draw out fears and resolve them.
Acting as a negotiator to reach mutual agreements.
Acting as a teacher to show others how to get maximum value from solutions.
Acting as a farmer who cultivates customer loyalty.
Salespeople who move ahead of their customers in the buying process risk losing the sale. Instead, they must slow down and look at the purchases from the buyers’ perspectives and adapt an approach appropriate for that phase of the buying process.
Making a Sale to Multiple Decision Makers
It is rare for any type of big-ticket sale to involve only one decision maker. The simple purchase of new accounting software, for example, may require input from the software users, an IT specialist, an operations manager, and a C-level executive. Similarly, a car sale may involve the driver, a spouse, and additional family members. All decision makers have varying levels of influence on a sale. Salespeople must recognize that each decision maker will be at a different step in the buying process, so each individual must be addressed from his specific perspective. Salespeople must also keep in mind that there is usually one single person who makes the final decision about the purchase—this is the return on investment (ROI) authority whose budget is at stake. The ROI authority is most interested in the bottom line and the value received.
Buying teams usually have one or more users on board who deal with the product or service every day and are most interested in functionality. Although they probably do not make the final decisions, these people do have input and can endorse or condemn the options presented. An integrator who has expert knowledge is usually involved as well, and this individual looks at the solution from a technical viewpoint.
This person’s opinion can be used to eliminate some options and his approval is usually necessary for making the final decision.
There are two people who have the most power to hinder a sale: a power broker and a gatekeeper. The power broker has the most clout for influencing others on the team and is often a C-level executive or the ROI authority. The gatekeeper controls the flow of information, and can prevent salespeople from further interaction with team members.
Team members will either be for the sale or against it. A sponsor is someone who supports the solution purchase, and an anti-sponsor is someone who is against it. The key to winning these types of complex sales is for salespeople to sell to as many members of the team as possible.
The power broker is the most influential member, so it is essential for salespeople to establish a strong relationship with this individual. It is also important for them to cultivate sponsors who support the purchase and to be aware of how much influence a potential sponsor may have. The best sponsor is the person who receives the strongest benefits associated with the solution.
When selling to a complex team, salespeople must:
• Figure out who the members are, and determine their interests or stakes and their relative powers or influences.
• Understand that each team member identifies problems and solutions in different ways.
• Resist attempting to get to C-level executives without first having something to say. This often means going down the organizational hierarchy to gain information about the need for change.
• Maintain a good relationship with the gatekeeper to gain access to team members and the C-level suite.
• Develop strategies for working with the gatekeeper, such as asking questions the gatekeeper cannot answer in order to gain a referral to someone else inside the organization.
• Gather the necessary information and report back to the gatekeeper with recommendations that upper-level individuals get involved.
Closing the Complex Sale
When faced with multiple decision makers, salespeople must ask certain questions to advance the sale:
• Who will be involved in the decision and where are each of these people in the buying process?
• Who are the most influential decision makers and at what stages do they get involved?
• What are the problems/needs of each decision maker relative to the product or service to be sold?
• What is the attitude of the most influential decision maker toward the company proposing the solution?
Complex sales can be difficult because each decision maker has a different perspective on the buying process. Salespeople must learn how to help each person move through the process by adopting the right role for each phase.
Part II: The Eight Roles of Buying-Focused Selling
There are several clues that indicate where a prospect is in the buying process:
1. Change: Upheaval in the industry, marketplace, or the customer’s organization.
2. Discontent: The prospect makes statements such as, “I wish we could …” or “It would be nice if …” to the salespeople.
3. Research: The prospect asks questions about the solution or talks about what the desired solution should do.
4. Comparison: The customer asks, “What is unique about this product?” or actually submits a request for proposal.
5. Fear: The prospect brings up questions that indicate second thoughts or old concerns that have already been resolved.
6. Commitment: The prospect reviews the contract offering and complains the price is too high.
7. Expectation: The customer asks for assistance with implementation or indicates they cannot make it work properly.
8. Satisfaction: The customer states he is satisfied and shows proficiency with the solution.
Getting Started with the Eight Sales Roles
There are eight sales roles that are aligned with the eight phases of the buying process:
Salespeople at the first stage of the buying process must act as students learning about the decisionmaking hierarchy and the pressures that are bringing about the change. They must make it a point to learnat least three important things about their prospect’s business, such as changes affecting the business, the business’s goals, and its recent successes or failures.
They must also know three things about their prospect, such as how the person’s job performance is measured, the highlights of the person’s career, and some changes that are affecting the person’s position.
This information is often available through the company’s annual report posted at the investor relations page, and websites such as LinkedIn, InsideView.com, Google.com/finance, and Hoovers.com.
Salespeople must prepare for initial phone contact by collecting the names of other companies currently using their offered solutions. They should also know what specific questions to ask regarding the companys’ needs for change. Salespeople must then adapt an attitude of high persistence instead of high pressure, practice courtesy, demonstrate knowledge about problems, and put out the call to action by scheduling an in-person meeting.
Once the prospect recognizes the need for change, it is time for salespeople to assume the doctor’s role. Here, salespeople diagnose small problems, define painful needs, and learn how to get prospects to reveal the value of the solution with questions such as how much money will be saved if the problem is solved or how many more sales will it generate. This helps uncover the needs that make the solution more valuable.
There are five steps salespeople can follow to diagnose customer needs:
1. Breaking the ice by demonstrating knowledge about the business.
2. Establishing the big picture by asking about the number one goal, the obstacles in the way, or possible ways to overcome obstacles.
3. Asking diagnostic questions such as background history, problems or opportunities, causes behind problems, complication possibilities, and the ideal cure.
4. Determining who is on the complex buying team.
5. Offering a minimum prescription by remaining focused on the customers’ problems and not offering a total treatment plan right away
In the doctor role, salespeople must intensify customer discontent with leading questions so that the customers know more about their problems after the meeting.
Salespeople must get customers to reveal and explain their own problems since prospects cannot object to what they themselves have articulated. All meetings should be followed up with a Memo of Understanding (MOU). This is a brief email that confirms key points discussed, critical issues, and possible complications. The MOU helps confirm the prospect’s commitment to move forward.
During the research phase, salespeople must act like architects who clarify their customers’ visions and create blueprints of those visions. Architects design solutions in the ways that best meet their customers’ criteria and simultaneously offer them a competitive advantage. Customers will talk about what the solutions must do and will ask questions about the proposed solutions’ capabilities.
It is imperative for salespeople to identify criteria for must-have capabilities along with criteria for nice to-have features. As sales architects, they must help customers define these criteria, and through questioning and examples expose the customers to additional criteria that have been overlooked. Their goal is to shape the customers’ buying criteria to match the unique strengths of the products or services being offered.
Salespeople must be able to answer the question, “Why should we buy from you?” This requires conducting a market assessment that compares competing offerings to pinpoint differentiators that match up with must-haves and nice-to-haves. The must-haves most likely will not be the differentiating factors as much as the nice-to-have features combined with the must haves.
Salespeople must escalate the importance of the nice-to-have criteria that can be met, and diminish those that are weak in the solution.
While in the architect role, salespeople must:
• Conduct diagnostic probing.
• Establish solution criteria.
• Plant seeds that get customers thinking.
• Turn intangibles such as quality into tangibles with defined specifics.
Once a blueprint of a solution is created, salespeople must act like coaches by analyzing the competition, crafting a strategy, and creating a game plan to win. As coaches, they must develop a winning game plan by first scouting the competition and checking out their websites, advertisements, and sales brochures.
They can also ask existing customers who have considered switching to a competitor what swayed their decision, and create a list of competitors’ strengths in order to uncover competitors’ sales strategies.
There are five winning strategies coaches can pursue:
1. Drive straight up the middle by emphasizing solution strengths and minimizing weaknesses.
2. Run a reverse by leaning in the direction a competitor points the customer to, but then strive to redesign the customer’s vision of what they want to accomplish.
3. Throw down a challenge flag that can delay the sale since the customer’s needs, the market, or the economy could change in a few short weeks.
4. Take what the defense dishes out—if it is obvious the sale will not happen, attempt to convince the customer to go with a “hybrid” solution that includes components of different offerings.
5. Take advantage of sticker shock by forcing the customer to re-evaluate high competitor quotes.
Salespeople must choose appropriate strategies as early as possible. When making a presentation, they should provide clear descriptions of the customer’s challenges or opportunities and present direct links to the solution’s differentiators.
Once a customer has made the decision to buy, it is natural for some doubts and fears to arise. These can range from mild to severe, depending on whether things work out as planned. The customer will often go silent and hide behind excuses instead of the real reasons for not proceeding. This is when salespeople must become therapists to draw out those fears and dispel them.
The most common fear triggers for customers are:
• A major dollar investment.
• Re-entry of the ROI authority who questions the decision.
• Uncertainty about the future and long-term impact.
• Wrestling with trade-offs because it is rare for anything to be perfect.
• A change in operations that puts pressure on decision makers.
• Facing the reality of change and its possible disruptions.
• A disagreement among decision makers.
• Whether the solution is a radical new approach.
Salespeople must be sensitive, observant, and sympathetic.
They must understand and address the risks prospects are undertaking. At the end of any presentation, they should ask directly if there are any concerns that were not addressed. The goal here is to resolve peoples’ fears and get them to commit.
Once a commitment to purchase is made, salespeople turn into negotiators. Their objective is to work out an agreement that is a win/win situation for both parties. They must uncover reasons for any customer demands, address the reasons behind them, and propose alternative options.
Salespeople must not cut prices before customers fully recognize the value they are receiving. When pressure is applied, they should ask more questions about the customer’s needs. They must be aware of deadlines, maintain strong relationships with sponsors, and look to make the right types of concessions— those that detract little from the sale but add value for the customers. Even before beginning negotiations, salespeople must move toward commitment with questions such as “What is our next step?” or “Is there any reason not to move forward?”
At this stage of the buying process, customers are
eager to determine the value they are receiving. Effective
salespeople probe for what their customers need
and pinpoint their expectations, which if met, indicate
success. At this phase, salespeople become teachers
helping customers through the learning curve to
where they are fully competent with the solutions. By
being good teachers, salespeople can pave the way for
future sales and discover best practices to share with
Salespeople as teachers must take these steps:
• Help customers establish realistic expectations.
• Work with customers to create implementation
• Show customers how to use solutions.
• Test to measure progress and results with followup
The last phase of the buying process is all about customer satisfaction. Salespeople must always keep in mind that customer satisfaction does not automatically translate into customer loyalty. Becoming complacent about a customer after one sale can kill customer loyalty. Salespeople must act like farmers once customer satisfaction is achieved, and continue to cultivate relationships, conduct account reviews, ask questions about customer satisfaction, and strive to make another sale to the customer to create an even deeper attachment.
Most organizations classify suppliers as approved vendors, valued consultants, or strategic partners. Being labeled as a strategic partner is the holy grail of sales, and the best way to accomplish this is to become invested in the customer’s success. Salespeople must continue to study customers’ businesses to identify changes and new needs that arise. When seeking referrals, salespeople must ask at the right time when expectations are met or exceeded and customer satisfaction is high.
Part III: Coaching the Eight Sales Roles
Coaching a Sales Team to Success
One mistake sales managers typically make is concentrating on performance management, which is based on past data, rather than developmental coaching, which focuses on future improvement. Some key pointers for effective sales coaching including:
• Getting involved early in a sale to help with the student, doctor, and architect phases.
• Focusing on vital issues and looking for common threads that indicate an individual’s weak areas.
• Slowing down the coaching process and probing for any underlying causes that hinder a sale.
Once the buying process is underway, sales managers can help salespeople achieve success by:
• Making sure customers get well-articulated MOUs that clarify customer needs, issues, and opportunities.
• Giving feedback on presentations to ensure they clearly define customer needs and differentiating factors about the solutions linked to those needs.
• When transitioning from pre- to post-sale, asking salespeople to identify any issues that might arise, as well as the customers’ expectations and different ways to measure their satisfaction.
• By closely monitoring where customers are in the buying process and adopting the appropriate roles to move customers forward, salespeople differentiate themselves by the way they sell, not just by what they sell.
Estimated Reading Time:
5–6 hours, 262 pages
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