Skip to main content

We're forgetting how to sell

I’ve just returned from a conference in Rome where I listened to a procession of impassioned CRM managers from car companies telling an audience of CRM managers about their latest marketing initiative to increase sales and keep customers loyal. All made good sense. All faced similar challenges – legacy IT; recalcitrant dealers; experimentation in new media channels; no money; harsh market conditions (ie no-one’s buying cars these days). But many of them missed arguably the single most important factor which will affect their figures – Selling!

Marketing people, and increasingly their sales colleagues along with top management, believe that it’s all about giving the customer what they want, when they want it. Seems logical and sensible. But it‘s only half the story. Sure every business has to do that, and better than their competitors. Sure we need to make the processes involved in attracting prospects, responding to any interest they express, and achieving a happy sale for both parties as comfortable as possible. But by leaving the decision making at every step down to the customer alone, without attempting to coerce them into making a decision, we’re turning businesses into little more than order takers. Not much better than websites. Businesses need to be proactive as well as competently reactive. They need to rediscover the art and science of Selling and not leave the sales process down to crossing fingers and hoping they’ve done enough to encourage people to buy their products.

The job of a salesman (and woman of course) is to Qualify the Customer; Counter Objections; and Close the Sale. Every sales course in the world teaches salesmen the techniques involved in each of these steps. But I didn’t hear one speaker at this CRM conference mention putting the prospect (ie not a customer yet) under any pressure to buy. It was all about making them feel good about the brand. Giving them everything they needed to make a decision. Trying to predict their needs and offering them inducements. But always leaving the buying decisions entirely down to the prospect. ‘Don’t upset the customer’ was the mantra. Of course you mustn’t upset them, but there’s nothing in the rule book of business that says you shouldn’t put them under pressure. Are marketing people these days getting soft? Are they afraid of asking for business? Are social networks, for example, making everyone scared of being branded ‘pushy’?

The hardest thing in the world is to liberate Pounds, Euros and Dollars from people’s bank accounts – especially these days. If somebody doesn’t really need to buy something, particularly something as expensive as a car, they will procrastinate and delay the painful decision to release their hard earned money for as long as the sensible side of their brain prevails. Because in the final analysis, we probably don’t really need to buy all those things we do buy. We can get by, usually, on what we’ve already got or on something cheaper. But human nature seeks pleasure. And owning something new or better is a pleasure. Like the old adage about boats: The two happiest days of your life, the day you buy it, and the day you sell it! So the indulgent side of our brains needs to be stimulated – which is where good salesmanship has to play its part. It’s not hard to persuade someone that buying a new car is going to give pleasure. The problem is that we naturally resist temptations, especially expensive ones, so it’s the job of the salesman to maximise desire (through careful Qualification) whilst helping the buyer to overcome their natural resistance (by Countering Objections), and coercing them into signing the order (Closing the Sale). Each of those steps needs encouragement for the process to happen at all… and for it to happen as fast as possible.

The US and the UK are sometimes regarded as a sophisticated markets for car sales in comparison with most other European countries. One of the reasons for this is that the average period in the UK and US before a customer changes a car is around 3 years. In most European markets it’s 6 or even 10 years. Clearly there’s little difference between markets in the appeal of a new car. They all use broadly the same marketing techniques, and finance schemes are now universal. My view is that one of the key differences between those markets is an appetite for selling. Proactive hard work by skilled salesmen and women (indeed women typically outsell their male colleagues in the same dealership) will make a huge difference. Not letting a prospect off the hook is clearly key.

A question my company 10ACT is often asked after presentations of our TrackBack product (which measures the speed of lead follow-up by phone) is “Aren’t you putting pressure on the customer?”. Damn right we are. If you leave it up to them, and them alone to make that buying decision, they’ll either not bother or will make it when they get around to prioritising it. Worse still, they might be persuaded by a hungrier competitor. A call from a salesman will not only move the buying decision to the front of their mind, if handled efficiently it might actually result in a visit to a showroom and a sale. So don’t leave it all to the customer and cross your fingers. Make selling a high priority through better training, incentives and measurement – because you can’t improve what you can’t measure.


Popular posts from this blog

Phillips screws - yes I'm angry about them too

Don't get me wrong. They're a brilliant invention to assist automation and prevent screwdrivers from slipping off screw heads - damaging furniture, paintwork and fingers in the process. Interestingly they weren't invented by Mr Phillips at all, but by a John P Thompson who sold Mr P the idea after failing to commercialise it. Mr P, on the otherhand, quickly succeeded where Mr T had failed. Incredible isn't it. You don't just need a good idea, you need a great salesman and, more importantly, perfect timing to make a success out of something new. Actually, it would seem, he did two clever things (apart from buying the rights). He gave the invention to GM to trial. No-brainer #1. After it was adopted by the great GM, instead of trying to become their sole supplier of Phillips screws, he sold licenses to every other screw manufacturer in the world. A little of a lot is worth a great deal more than a lot of a little + vulnerability (watch out Apple!). My gromble is abo

Introducing Product Relationship Management - it's what customers want.

Most businesses these days have Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems which store and process vasts amounts of information about us. They use this information to generate communications, amongst other things, which target us to buy their products and services. CRM is all about how a business relates to its customers: Past (keeping them loyal through aftersales and service), Present (helping them buy through bricks and clicks channels) and Future (prospecting). Most businesses will at some stage have declared themselves 'customer-centric'. They will probably have drawn diagrams on whiteboards that look something like these: But there's a problem with this whole approach of keeping the customer at the centre of your world and the focal point for everything you do. Is it what the customer wants ? Of course companies who ignore their customers eventually go out of business. And those who treat their customers well, tend to thrive. But is it really in the best in

The Titus Trust Deceives British Parents to Brainwash their Kids

I have a son who went to a well known preparatory school (7-13) in Surrey. He came home one day clutching a leaflet for fun activity holidays that the school promoted every summer. The Titus Trust operate several camps around the UK where they organise fun outdoor activities for youngsters. Something caught my eye in the leaflet hidden in a paragraph in one of the sections describing the holidays. They used the word Christian. It was the only place in the whole leaflet that the word was used. My suspicions raised, I hunted around the leaflet for more clues and found the imprint which said something like 'A Titus Trust Charity' (the name of the camps was on the title of the leaflet). I dug deeper and found some disturbing evidence of who was behind these 'fun' camps. This is what I wrote at the time to the headmaster: Dear Headmaster XXXX came home the other day extremely excited about an outward bound camp next summer that he and his friends had been told about by a r