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Killer client centric selling insights every sales professional must know

1. What is Customer-Centric Selling?

Conventional selling involves the delivery of a prepared sales pitch focused around product features and benefits. Customer-Centric Selling (CCS) is different. With CCS, you help your buyer visualize how they will use your offering to:

1. Achieve one of their goals.

2. Solve one or more of their specific problems.

3. Satisfy a need.

In other words, CCS transforms the one-way sales pitch into a genuine two-way conversation where the buyer and the seller work together to achieve something worthwhile.

Customer-centric selling has seven basic tenets and thirteen core concepts.

The seven basic tenets of CCS are:

1. You’ll be far more effective having situational conversations with buyers than you ever will be making presentations. That is, instead of giving a canned PowerPoint presentation, clients would rather talk with you in conversation. If you’re smart, you’ll use that conversation to help the buyer visualize using your product or service to help do something useful for them – like solve a problem or achieve an objective.

2. It’s better to ask relevant questions than to offer your opinion. People love to buy things they like, but hate being sold things they don’t need. Traditional salespeople offer their opinions, which just happen to involve using their products. CCS oriented salespeople ask intelligent questions so as to help the buyer come to their own conclusion.

3. You’ll be more effective if you’re solution-focused rather than relationship-focused. Traditional sellers stress the importance of building a relationship with the buyer in order to influence the buying decision. A better approach is to be intensely focused on coming up with the best solution. This involves respecting the intelligence and opinions of the buyer rather than getting the buyer to like you and want to do business with you.

4. It’s better to target the key business decision makers instead of gravitating towards current users of your product. Most conventional salespeople tend to feel most comfortable with the people who are actually using their product. A CCS salesperson, by contrast, is results-oriented rather than feature-oriented. For that reason, CCS salespeople gravitate towards the business decision makers who share the same obsession with results.

5. Instead of relying on product features, you’re far better off if you focus on relating product usage instead. Traditional salespeople can talk for hours about product features and benefits, which is appealing to early-market buyers like technology enthusiasts and visionaries. If the product is advanced enough, this approach will work well at first. To reach the bulk of the market (the pragmatists, the conservatives and the laggards who make up 80-percent of any market), features alone just won’t do it. These people have to be helped to visualize your product or service solving one of their problems or assisting them to achieve a goal. In those situations, customer-centric selling becomes far more effective because potential customers learn how to relate the product or service to their actual needs.

6. Instead of managing the salesperson’s activity, it’s better to monitor the quality of their work with clients. Historically, sales managers have tended to monitor activity rather than progress because it has been hard to evaluate progress systematically. By contrast, customer-centric selling, due to its conversational nature, means salespeople know exactly where they are in the sales process at all times. They can then call on their sales managers to help them succeed in making the sale. This is a fundamentally better way of working.

7. Rather than persuading people to buy, a good salesperson will empower customers to achieve their own goals. The whole customer-centric sales approach revolves around empowering buyers to solve their own problems and achieve their own goals. From this perspective, salespeople become resources in the quest rather than annoyances or interruptions. This is a much better approach to business.

The thirteen core concepts of customer-centric selling are:

1. You always get delegated to the people you sound like. If you sound like a seller, you get delegated to the corporate buyer (who is used to dealing with high-pressure sales tactics). If you sound more like a problem solver, however, you’ll be more likely to get a meeting with a decision maker because that’s what they focus on.

2. A professional always takes the time to diagnose before offering a prescription. Effective salespeople ask good diagnostic questions. They’re not in a rush to start talking about what they have to offer. Instead, they find out about the buyer’s current situation, goals and challenges. Only if there is a good fit will they then offer a well thought out solution.

3. People like to buy from those who are sincere, competent and who empower them. Traditional salespeople have a “Here’s what you need” approach to selling. CCS-oriented salespeople help their buyers figure out whether they need and how to use their products, and then help them buy.

4. A philosophy of“quid pro quo”. A good seller will create a reciprocal business relationship with the buyer. Instead of expecting an order as a personal favor or handout, the seller should be giving something practical in return – like useful advice on how to actually solve a problem.

5. You can’t sell to someone who can’t buy. And therefore, you’re better off spending more time working on solutions until you get face to face with a decision maker than you’ll ever be convincing the people who can’t make a decision. It’s the power to decide that counts, not the eagerness to learn about new technology or products.

6. It’s better to get bad news earlier rather than later. In many sales situations, there is a preferred vendor already selected and other vendors are invited to submit proposals simply to make the process seem more competitive. With customer-centric selling, it becomes easier to clarify when these situations have arisen because the relationships are well defined. Getting this type of news as early as possible is good because it will allow you to pull out of a potential no-win situation early rather than committing resources to going through the entire sales cycle without any realistic chance of success.

7. It’s easier to get a prospect to share a goal than it is for them to admit a problem. The CCS sales cycle doesn’t start until the buyer shares a goal with the seller. It is only then that the development of a viable solution can commence. And before a buyer will share a goal, they have to be able to genuinely trust the seller, not just know about them.

8. People are best convinced when they discover their own reasons for acting. Customer-centric salespeople ask questions rather than make statements. That enables the seller to convince themselves of the best direction to move rather than being pressured or cajoled into doing what the salesperson suggests. This is a much better approach than hard-selling, using fifteen different closes or overwhelming with details.

9. People like to buy from people who help them, not from “experts” who know it all. Salespeople who ask the prospect what they need and what they are trying to accomplish are far more effective than “know-it-alls”who grandly proclaim whythe customers needs their product. CCS encourages salespeople to ask more questions, which is good.

10. Only the buyer can recognize a genuine “solution”, not the seller. Customer-centric selling works on the basis the buyer determines whether or not something is a solution, not the salesperson. Solutions exist in the buyer’s world, not in the hype of the typical sales brochure or presentation.

11. Get on an equal footing first, then seek points of differentiation. Traditional salespeople try and compare their offering to others all the time. A better, CCS oriented approach, is to focus on the client’s goal first and foremost. Only once credibility and suitability has been established should the salesperson then attempt to differentiate his or her offering.

12. Buying is always an emotional decision, with value and logic being used to rationalize the decision afterwards. CCS focuses on selling with both logic and emotion. This is important because most people will buy based on their emotions, and will then retrospectively look for logical reasons to justify their decision. The traditional sales approach is to make the decision to buy blatantly obvious, which can backfire at times.

13. Never try and close before the buyer is ready. Instead of pressing for a decision, the customer-centric selling approach is not to ask people to buy until the salesperson knows:

• The buyer’s specific goals.

• The buyer’s current situation.

• Specifically how purchasing the product will help the buyer.

• How the buyer will cost justify the purchase.

• What will happen between signing the order and delivery.

• The buyer understands the seller’s ability to deliver.

• The buyer’s organizational decision requirements.

In other words, customer-centric selling stresses that the seller should never ask for the business before the buyer is genuinely ready to make an informed decision. This point is somewhat counterintuitive, since the conventional sales logic is to close a sale as early as possible. The CCS approach does, however, have the added benefit the sale is less likely to fall through because a good foundation has been laid first.

Conceptually, CCS centers around how your organize your firm so as to be able to deliver sales-ready messages to potential customers through intelligent conversations.

This process can usually be broken down into a number of milestones, each of which represents a step forward:

Inactive - Potential customers who may have not been approached yet

Active - Initial contact made and proposal being developed

Goal shared - Customer has specified their goals and objectives

Champion secured - An internal ally has been secured to champion deal

Agree to evaluate - Customer agrees to evaluate the solution put forward

Verbal OK -> Contract signed or Waiting -> Declined - Either a decision is made to move forward with the purchase or the proposed solution is formally declined by the customer

“We believe that a seller’s objective, going into a new relationship with a buyer, should be to help the buyer achieve a goal, solve a problem, or satisfy a need – and then be prepared to leave if the seller doesn’t believe the prospect can be empowered to accomplish one of those goals. This may sound like only a small shift away from a traditional sales approach, but in fact, it’s fundamentally different.”

– Michael Bosworth and John Holland

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