Here’s the second part of my interview with Jeff Thull, CEO and President Prime Resource Group and the author of Exceptional Selling: How the Best Connect and Win in High Stakes Sales (Wiley, 2006):
LGL: Why do you think people neglect to do their homework on prospective customers?
JT: The exceptional salespeople don´t neglect their homework! I think a larger percentage of salespeople don´t see any difference between one prospect and another because not only do they not do their homework, they really don´t pay much attention to the nuances of the prospect when they are interacting with them. There was a study done a few years ago and salespeople in one company were asked if they felt the solution they sold was pretty much the same for each customer, or was it somewhat unique for each customer. Seventy-plus percent said the solution was pretty much the same — obviously it is what they believed and that is what they no doubt portrayed to their prospects. The interesting part of the study is that they were the low performers in the organization.
LGL: You suggest that salespeople often answer "unasked questions." Can you explain and also why does this happen?
JT: Answering an "unasked question" is providing the customer with information they are not looking for and therefore are not able to connect to any part of their business or job responsibility. It occurs because of the outdated myth that salespeople should be presenting features and benefits and creating interest. Answering questions the customer doesn´t have or even know they should be asking defies the common sense of the doctor´s diagnostic approach.
LGL: Can someone learn how to bring value to a conversation? Isn´t it just about attitude or is there some other ingredient?
JT: We see four levels of value in a conversation. I think your mindset or attitude is the foundation of your conversational style and substance.
Level 1 is actually negative value. You might have a pleasant interaction with a current customer, discussing family, sports, hobbies, etc., but when you leave, if the customer realizes 45 minutes are gone and they’re backed up with work, there is a negative regret to having that conversation.
Level 2 is "Confirming" — The customer has the information, is not totally sure of its accuracy, but you reinforced their information and they are grateful.
Level 3 is "Additive" — The customer knows what they are looking for, they know where to find it, but they haven´t taken the steps to get the information and you fill in the blanks.
Level 4 is "Informative" — At level 4 you are asking a question the customer has not thought to ask themselves, you are connecting a possible cause and effect that they never would have though to do. At level 4 you will hear the customer say things like: "That´s a great question," or "I don´t believe we´ve ever thought of looking at it that way." There is exceptional value in a conversation that enables the other person to increase their insight and understanding of their situation and if you are the guide, you are a valuable resource.
LGL: You mentioned in the opening of chapter one that many salespeople are actually "self-sabotaging" their efforts, why would anyone do that?
JT: I don´t think anyone would sabotage himself or herself intentionally, but we certainly do it unconsciously, or actually by doing things we´ve been told we should do when we are "selling." For example, we´re told to establish credibility and we’re told to let customers know how much we know. Well, when that is verbalized as "One of the problems you may not realize is"?¦" or "Many people in your position do not recognize…" it serves up what I like to call a "dangling insult." The insult is not said, but it doesn´t have to be; it´s strongly implied. You’re suggesting the person you are speaking to is lacking knowledge and insight and thank goodness you are there to save them.