Google This: Intelligence Trumps Information When Selling B2B

There are more than 40,000 toilet-related injuries each year in the United States.
More than 2 billion t-shirts are sold each year.
The average woman uses her height in lipstick every five years.
A dime has 118 ridges around its edge.
The average American owns seven pairs of blue jeans.

All of this fascinating information and much more can be found in less than one second on the internet. If you were a source of trivial information before 1992 and made your living selling it, my guess is your business has gone the way of the Betamax. (Google it.)

Google knows everything, but it's not smart. When you search for something, the search engine runs the words you type through an algorithm and presents the results that it (or an advertiser) wants you to see in the order it "decides." While it is true that Google may have insight into your preferences based on your past activity, Google cannot read your mind.

Because buyers today have immediate access to more information about products and services at their fingertips than most salespeople could possibly have in their heads, many people assume this automatically puts salespeople at a disadvantage or somehow diminishes their value.

This is true. But it's true only if your salespeople's primary value comes in the form of providing information about the features and benefits of your products and services. (And there's no doubt you should put that information in the hands of your salesforce as well, preferably in a mobile digital format.) Being an information gatekeeper is no longer leverage for the seller. He must be an expert on his product or service, yes, but one of the things that separates him from a search engine is his expertise on the prospect. Today's B2B salesperson must be able to make a buyer feel comfortable with him quickly ? comfortable enough to share vital information, such as the motivation for seeking a change.

For example, does a fast-food retailer believe that its uniforms no longer represent the brand image it wants to convey? Does an apparel chain seek a shift in the brands it sells because of a large rise in the number of Hispanic consumers in the regions where it does business? Does a prominent sports retailer want to take the tech performance of its footwear up a notch?

Buyers cannot filter or discern all of the information available to them, and often they may not know the right things to search for or the questions to ask to get what they need. In fact, sometimes buyers may want your expertise in determining the path they'd like to take.

Master these five steps to create value for prospects and win their business:

Get them to say it. Until your prospect has actually said something, it's not true. We must help the buyer share honest information about the gap between what she has and what she wants, her budget, and her decision-making authority. Don't assume you know any of this. You must understand her needs before you can establish whether or not you can help her. Most salespeople go at this backwards. "Let me show you how much better our products are!" generally leads to free consulting and long sales cycles. Instead of trying to convince prospects that you hold the answers to their business success, find out how you can help them.

Show that you listened. This is part and parcel of No. 1. Effective listening is not defined as "waiting for your turn to talk." Listen intently to your prospects. Discern and boil down what you think they said. Ask for permission to summarize what you heard, so that you can make sure you are on the same page. In order to summarize, you have to listen. It's a great discipline and shows that you value your prospect.

Be sincerely curious. I know you just read Nos. 1 and 2, but take it a step further. Mine for information that your prospect may not have even uncovered yet. For example, let's say your products feature high-quality hangtags printed with a QR code giving consumers access to a completely transparent view into your farm-to-retail supply chain. You know that's extremely valuable to a retailer whose customers actively seek to make socially responsible choices, but less so to one whose customers' primary motivator is price point. Still, priorities shift, and competition is driving retailers to seek new ways to differentiate themselves. Even if you have a pretty good understanding of your prospect, don't assume you know their business ? or what they may be imagining it to be in the future. Ask them what they are seeking. Also, sometimes what they value about your product or service may be entirely different from the features you might highlight, so be curious about how they see themselves and what they are looking for. Some questions you might ask could be:
*What drew you to our product line specifically? Is there something that stood out that you thought would appeal to your consumer?
*Do you believe there is a discrepancy between the brand image you intend to put forth and the one that consumers take away?
*Are there ways that we could help you highlight how you feature our product in your store?
*How do you market to your consumer, and are there ways we could partner with you to help drive traffic to your store and your web site?
*What have you identified as the top priorities of your target shopper?
*How would you like to see your business evolve in the next one to two years?
*We have talked a couple of times before, what made you call us today?

Even if you think you know the answer already, let the prospect tell you.

Tell stories from another's perspective. You can talk all day about the features of your product and the services you will provide, but sometimes the best selling points you can offer come from your customers, and you are likely in a good position to tell that story. Did you partner with a retailer on a marketing campaign, sending a $10 coupon to their customer base that drove new customers into the store and increased sales by 20 percent? Share that. Was one of your dresses worn by an A-list celebrity? Share that. If your products are good, they speak for themselves — and your customers will, too. Keep in mind that social media is also a powerful tool for gathering stories about your own business straight from your fans.

Make "no" your second favorite word. You're going to hear it a lot. The sooner you uncover a "no" the better off you'll be, because you'll be able to spend more time exploring new opportunities with customers who find your products or services to be a perfect match. But remember that retailing is in a state of constant flux. This is even more true in today's world of increasingly fast fashion and 24/7 omnichannel shopping. Your customers' needs will change quickly — as may your products and services. If someone says no, take that and move on, but don't delete that prospective customer from your contact list. It might make sense to circle back around at a later date to see if the company's needs have changed.

Google's algorithms are impressive, and like you, I take full advantage of them when I'm online. But I don't approach prospects as if I'm a search engine. As sales experts, we must establish intentional relationships with our future customers. We must uncover their motivation to buy. We must listen. Remember, you'll get paid a lot more for the information you get from prospects than any information you share with them. You don't have to go the way of the Betamax.

And be careful with toilets. Apparently, they're dangerous.

Walker McKay is the owner of McKay Consulting Group, LLC. He is an executive coach, a sales coach, and an advisor to management of B2B companies that want to improve sales performance. He can be reached at [email protected], on twitter @WalkerMcKay, or by phone: 803-917-2817.
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